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Whose schools? Our schools.

May 29, 2007 am31 12:58 am

There has been a discussion running on Fred Klonsky’s blog (me, Leo Casey, and Fred) (and continuing on Edwize) about Green Dot and tenure and our attitude to “hybrid forms” (semi-public charter schools). Leo is excited, it seems, to have found a charter-operator who is not anti-union. Fred is more cautious. I am still listening, but I think I go beyond caution. It’s still a charter, and while a unionized charter is better than a non-unionized charter, real public schools are better than either.

In the course of the discussion, Leo says:

your [jd’s] argument is based on a serious conceptual and strategic mistake: the identification of public schools with a late 20th century organizational form of public schooling — hierarchical, bureaucratically organized and centrally run public schools, each one a ‘factory model’ school. …

Fred later puts this question to me:

JD
If the other side owns charters, who owns the schools I work in? Who owns the Chicago, NY or LA public schools?

Do you think it is us? The people of Chicago, NY or LA?

While I would think that Leo would be more skeptical about charters, I think his point about the present nature of traditional forms of public education has a lot of merit.

And here’s my response (just below the fold –> )

I meant that the other side “owns” the issue of charter schools. And yes, whether we like it or not, we “own” the issue of public schools. 1. Free. 2. Public 3. Universal. 4. Comprehensive. 5. “Equal” (separate is inherently unequal). And I add “with strong unions.”

Within that range there is a whole lot of repair that can be done, but make no mistake, the people on the other side are aiming at unequal, perhaps unfree, and certainly without strong unions.

Unequal is the most obvious. Which kids in NY are getting stuck in empowerment and “Partner” schools? In New York, our mass-replicated small schools have been foisted on the poorest neighborhoods in the poorest boroughs.

How did they prepare the public to accept these train wrecks? Partly, the schools they replaced were doing poorly. But in part the NYC Board of Education manufactured failure. As they “reorganized” a school, they shunted the weakest, most vulnerable, most violent, most needy students to a second group of schools, whose numbers predictably plummeted and were used as a reason to reorganize that second group of schools. Once again the most troubled students were used to destabilize another group of weak schools.

The union finally listened when our members in the field, first oppositionists, and then supporters of the leadership, started speaking up, loudly.

And I think that’s the answer, as much as we may not like it. These huge, rotting schools? Our members think they are ours, and want them defended from the predations of the privatizers, and want them repaired, both physically and organizationally.

Ironically, I agree completely with this part of Leo’s vision:

… I would argue that the only defense of public schools that has a long term chance of success is not one based on the defense of an embattled status quo, with all of its flaws, but one based on a vision of change that would would more fully realize the public character of our schools — public schooling organized in a more democratic and more thoroughly public fashion.

I just think it has everything to do with remaking our existing schools, and nothing to do with charters

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