Posts Tagged ‘school privatization’

The 3 Big Lies in the Won’t Back Down movie

Friday, September 21st, 2012

I saw the “Won’t Back Down” movie last night. The crowd loved it, and I would have liked it, too, if I hadn’t known why it was produced or been aware of the three big lies at the heart of the movie.

After all, it’s just a movie, right? And a successful feel-good movie at that. Not being at all connected to reality (despite the big announcement at the very beginning that it was “inspired by actual events”) shouldn’t matter, right? I mean, did “Coma” accurately depict the way medicine really works? Could scientists reproduce all the effects in the “Star Wars” movies? Would a celebrity impersonator like “Dave” really get away with switching places with a comatose president and make government serve the people again?

Of course not, and no one attacks those movies’ accuracy.

The difference here is that the producers of “Won’t Back Down” have publicly acknowledged that the movie was designed to sell parent trigger laws to parent and state legislatures. Our screening in Chicago was introduced by, among others, a staff member from New Schools for Chicago, which pushes charter schools. The “goody bag” we were all promised at the end of the movie ended up being a WBD totebag with a brochure for New Schools for Chicago in it. Oh, goody.

As propaganda, then, the movie’s lies are fair game.

WBD Big Lie #1: Teachers union contracts do not allow teachers to stay after school to give children extra help.

Anyone who has been in a public school for more than 10 minutes knows this is a lie. Teachers are there after school, before school, and during lunch and recess helping students.

But this lie is a critical dramatic device in the movie, Mom Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first major “aha” moment. When she runs into the classroom in the middle of what passes for a lesson in Terrible Teacher’s room, demanding that the teacher stay after school and tutor her child, the teacher says, “School ends at 3 pm.” Mom runs out of the room, a furious and defiant look on her face. Later conversations reinforce the lie that teachers are not allowed to stay after school to “give the children what they need.”

WBD Big Lie #2: School turnarounds result from parents and teachers voting to “change the school.”

The movie shows teachers agonizing over their vote on the”Fail Safe” program, the movie’s name for the parent trigger. But the real parent trigger laws DO NOT ALLOW TEACHERS A VOTE OR A VOICE. One could brush this difference off as mere dramatic license, but the movie depends completely on the alliance between Mom Maggie and Teacher Viola Davis, who is depicted as an angel of a teacher as well as a deeply loving mother. Yet the premise is a lie.

WBD Big Lie #3: Great schools are easy.

This was honestly the most idiotic part of the movie. Not that it’s easy to portray something complicated in movie language. But really. Mom Maggie goes to the district office. She has coffee with the receptionist who tells her about the “Fail Safe” law. Maggie’s takeaway? All you need to turn a school around is to “get one teacher, and  stick it out.”

Later we see Mom With Two Part-Time Jobs and Dyslexia personally writing a 400-page proposal for the new school, which includes fun “ideas” from various teachers like “field trips” and “Shakespeare.” Hero Teacher Viola contributes the idea that the curriculum should be “integrated.”

Yes, it’s a movie. “Coma,” “Star Wars” and “Dave” didn’t have to prove that they were valid in the real world.

But when people use a movie to disrupt and potentially damage the real lives of real children and real adults, they do have to be held accountable to the rest of us.

Houston math teacher + internet = Chicago “miracle” cure

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

It only took Houston high school math teacher Gary Rubenstein a few minutes on the internet to bust the latest Chicago Public School myth – the “triumph” of a “dramatic turnaround” specialist principal now working her magic at Marshall High School, as described by a recent Tribune article.

Gary writes:

“I’m not an education reporter. I’m just a guy with a computer and a healthy amount of skepticism and internet access. I also am someone whose been in education for twenty years and am fearful about the direction it has been taking.

“So when I learn about a new miracle school I get worried since whatever statistics are being used to praise that school are also being used to shut down and fire the staff of another school.”

It turns out that Gary’s skepticism is well-founded. The new principal at Marshall, whom the Tribune sets up as a miracle worker, comes from a four-year stint at another CPS turnaround, Harper High School. Gary’s internet research on Harper finds that a third of the students left, while test scores barely budged over the past four years.

The Trib reports that “the state poured in millions of dollars to turn (Marshall) around.” So far, all they seem to have to show for it is a drop in enrollment – the school “lost” 161 students out of an enrollment of about 1000 – and stricter discipline.

Yet the school is made to sound like an absolutely fabulous place where “school officials expect significant gains over 2010” test scores. Yeah, that’s what we call a school miracle in Chicago – a place of rapturous expectation. We learned that from Arne Duncan’s “dramatically better” promises.

Media outlets like the Tribune are still using this sort of empty cheerleading to prop up Fed Ed Head Duncan’s demand, funded by millions in Race to the Top money, that we must move fast to fire experienced teachers and replace them with, well, other people.

But turnarounds aren’t really making a difference. You don’t have to take my word on this. The conservative Fordham Foundation released a report a few months ago saying that regular schools and charter schools (gasp – charter schools?) simply haven’t changed much even after being turned around:

After identifying more than 2,000 low-performing charter and district schools across ten states, analyst David Stuit tracked them from 2003-04 through 2008-09 to determine how many were turned around, shut down, or remained low-performing. Results were generally dismal. Seventy-two percent of the original low-performing charters remained in operation—and remained low-performing—five years later. So did 80 percent of district schools.

But it’s the false rhetoric of success that’s fueling the propaganda machine which has successfully convinced a lot of policy makers to get on board with the drive to dismantle teachers’ unions, privatize public schools, and turn teaching into testing.

We need to listen to Gary and to other sensible folks like him. We need to do our own research and share it just like Gary has done. It’s not so hard to do. It’s also essential if we’re going to save public education for our children and for the future of our democracy.

Great Washington Post story on SOS March

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Teachers and parents together – powerful stuff!

Valerie Strauss offers comments on her blog today from teacher and SOS march initiator Anthony Cody and Parents Across America co-founder Rita Solnet on the need for an alliance between teachers and parents to stop the twin scourges of high-stakes testing and privatization that is destroying public education in the US.

If you haven’t joined up with the SOS March, do it today!


R2010 Fund promises millions more to CPS charter schools

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Somewhat overshadowed by the growing controversy over Mayor-elect Rahm’s schools pick, this Tribune story shows the intention of the privatizers not to listen to the research about charters or to the reasonable concerns of interim CPS CEO Terry Mazany, who said about his decision to postpone consideration of new charter contracts at his first board meeting last January: “We simply do not have any budget flexibility to allocate dollars that will not lead directly to improved educational outcomes for all of our students.”

According to the Trib:

Under the initial $50 million fund, Renaissance gave up to $750,000 each to 70 schools…. With the new fund, charters will get $1 million to $5 million apiece over two to five years. With the additional money, fund executives hope to attract outside charters like California-based Rocketship, YES Prep from Texas, East Coast-based Uncommon and more KIPP — Knowledge Is Power Program — campuses. The latter is the nation’s fastest-growing and most academically successful charter group with a school in Chicago.

While they’ve made academic gains in struggling communities, KIPP and other large charter networks have come under fire recently for high student attrition rates, discipline issues and failing to meet states’ standards.

“These are not innovative charter schools,” says Gary Miron, professor of education at Western Michigan University, who co-wrote a critical report on KIPP. “What we’re talking about are corporate schools or franchises.”

Whether charters are making significant academic gains remains a question, and until that can be resolved, CPS should hold off on adding charters, says Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education.

“Reports show they’re not outperforming neighborhood schools, and they’re taking resources from neighborhood schools,” she said.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.