Tuesday, October 1, 2013

DISTURBING NEWS ON DESE PLANS (via St Louis Schools Watch/Susan Turk)

St. Louis Schools Watch

The Writing on the Wall
By Susan Turk
October 1, 2013--St. Louis
In a unanimous vote of approval, the state board of education authorized the Department (DESE), "to move forward with the execution of the plan of action outlined in the long-term plan for unaccredited districts," during their August 20, 2013 meeting.   The motion was made by first congressional district representative to the state board Mike Jones by the way, St. Louis' own rep. The quote is from their minutes.   Just what does this mean?
According to a press release DESE issued later that day,
"Today the State Board of Education approved the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's recommendation of developing a plan to direct the transformation of failing school districts in the state. The Department issued an invitation for bid last month for comprehensive analyses of school system challenges in unaccredited districts with the aim of developing strategies that will deliver dramatic improvement in student performance.

The Department is considering options to address chronic under-performance in Kansas City, Riverview Gardens, Normandy and other struggling school districts in the state. To act effectively, the state needs an intensive, broad analysis of the school systems' challenges, focusing on contributing factors such as governance, educator quality, and operational practices and policies.
The Department issued an invitation for bid last month and has selected CEE-Trust (the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust) to conduct the analysis in the Kansas City Public Schools. They will provide recommendations for state action to transform district policies, practices, systems, and governance (where deemed necessary) in ways that carry the potential to lead to dramatically improved student outcomes that are sustained over time. CEE-Trust is one of the nation's leading experts on city-focused education reform strategies, and leads a network of 33 independent education reform organizations in 26 cities across the country. Their work will include a review of the conditions that enable high performing urban schools in Missouri and across the country and will culminate in a report containing recommendations for the transformation of educational services for the children of Kansas City that can be adapted for other struggling districts across the state."

The report will be completed by January, 2014, just in time for the start of the 2014 Legislature. Recommendations from the report are expected to influence legislation. 

Guess who the CEE-Trust network member is in St. Louis?   None other than the mayor's office!   Now aren't you glad Francis Slay was re-elected in April?   In Kansas City, the Kaufman Foundation is the network member.  

One would be forgiven for wondering why the good people at DESE feel they need to leave the building to find expertise to do this.   Then again, given their track record; they couldn't fix the 600 student Wellston school district; looking elsewhere for expertise might be understandable.  The dilemma here is that CEE-Trust is not known for empirical research. They represent and promote a particular school of thought.

According to the Education Task Force of Metropolitan Congregations United, a coalition of 35 churches representing 10,000 members in St. Louis City and County, "CEE-Trust (The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust) is a pro-charter and privatization group that has used pseudo-research in their studies throughout US cities to promote privatization takeovers in struggling school districts. Missouri State Commissioner of Education Dr. Chris Nicastro has recommended to the State Board of Education to hire this group to study Kansas City Public Schools, and the Board has done so. Findings from the study may also be used in Normandy and Riverview Gardens School Districts, and any other district that becomes unaccredited.

In cities in the U.S. where CEE-Trust has recommended reforms for struggling school districts, the following recommendations have been made:

Closing many traditional public schools.
Substantially increasing the emphasis on high-stakes standardized tests.
Dramatically expanding the number of charter schools.
Outsourcing management of public schools to outside organizations.
Reducing the labor protections for teachers and school staff.
Reducing costs by hiring teachers with less experience or without certification.
Having schools compete against each other like businesses, with the lowest performers being closed.

Metropolitan Congregations United/Gamaliel of the Heartland is opposed to this study and these recommendations. We support community based schools, because they make our communities strong We support local control of our public schools so that parents and community members will have a voice in their children's education ." (cited from the flyer MCU members handed out at the House Interim Education Committee hearing at SLCC-Meramec on September 23, 2013)

MCU is considering doing their own study to counter the predictable cookie cutter findings they expect from CEE-Trust.

The state board of ed's decision to hire CEE-Trust hardly seems wise.   Doesn't Kansas City have enough charter schools already?   It appears DESE has been completely taken over by the disciples of Michelle Rhee.

After a meeting with the St. Louis Board of Education, earlier on September 23rd, Nicastro was asked by MCU City Organizer Brittini Gray about why DESE staff recommended the CEE-Trust for this assignment. Nicastro indicated that CEE-Trust won out over other applicants because of their inclusion of governance recommendations in the report they would produce.   Shades of Danforth Freeman!   Two of the charges of the Final Report of the Special Advisory Committee on St. Louis Public Schools issued on December 17, 2006 were to "review issues" and "clarify concerns" regarding governance for the SLPS.   Consequently, a thorough national analysis of school governance models was included in the report and is now gathering dust on many shelves. Perhaps it is being ignored at this time because it concluded that governance of the SLPS should be returned to the elected board of education? The Special Advisory (Danforth Freeman) Committee only addressed St. Louis, however, so one could be charitable towards the state board and surmise that a study addressing Kansas City and other struggling districts, one of which might be St. Louis, but we aren't saying, wink, wink, nod, nod, might yield different results.

According to the CEE Trust's website (cee-trust.orgCEE-Trust is a network of city-based foundations, non-profits and mayor's offices that work together to support education innovation and reform. Founded in 2010 by The Mind Trust, they currently have 32 members and affiliates working in cities across the United States. The Mind Trust is an Indianapolis based non-profit focusing on reforming the Indianapolis public schools. Former Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson and an advisor, David Harris founded The Mind Trust in 2006 to support their charter school expansion and school reform efforts.   They serve as a charter school incubator and provide grants for charter schools and education entrepreneurs.    According to the Mind Trust's website, " We gather the full CEE-Trust network annually and lead smaller working groups on topics like supporting the launch of excellent charter schools; developing innovative school models; and reforming school governance. Through our various gatherings, we share lessons learned, foster communication, document best practices, and help cities improve their efforts to drive the education reform agenda forward."

CEE Trust is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.   Their executive director is Ethan Gray.
In a July 17, 2013 article about Gray in Andy Smarick's By the Company It Keeps blog, Gray said, "We're not a charter school organization, or a blended learning organization, or a governance reform organization, but we think any strong harbormaster should have strategies dedicated to creating a vibrant charter sector, fostering blended learning pilots, and transforming outdated governance models.   Further along in the article Smarick asks Gray,
"You know my thesis: Urban districts are broken, can't be fixed, and must be replaced. What do you think?"  
Gray replies,
"I think you're probably right. No big urban district anywhere is living up to its mission. There are a lot of really, really smart people who have tried to fix districts. There are a lot of really, really smart funders who have invested in fixing districts. And there are a lot of talented educators who have given their hearts and souls to their kids in urban districts. I think we need to agree that it's not the people; it's the system.
No offense to our members or funders who work closely with districts, but districts don't seem to create the conditions system wide that great schools need to thrive. ...I still think we need … to help education leaders plan for a future with a different district structure that's capable of delivering better results."
Later Gray adds,
"When I was vice-president of The Mind Trust I worked intensively on the "Opportunity Schools" plan for transforming Indianapolis Public Schools. As part of that project, The Mind Trust and its partners at Public Impact looked at high-performing urban schools nationally and identified a few core conditions that seemed necessary to their success. These conditions were autonomy (over staffing, curriculum, culture, calendar, etc), accountability, and choice. Districts aren't really designed to give individual schools full autonomy, nor are they staffed to serve as authorizers, nor do most districts provide full school choice to their families. With CEE-Trust's focus on helping city harbormasters create the optimal conditions for great schools, we plan on continuing to focus on school governance and district transformation as a long-term change strategy."
Smarick, by the way, is a senior policy fellow at the conservative non-profit education policy think tank, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which is identified as a "policy partner" by the CEE-Trust. So, these astroturf groups wash each others hands to sanitize their so-called expertise.

CEE-Trust is currently engaging in Philadelphia. They are hosting a two day conference September 30 and October 1, 2013 titled, All of the Above: How Donors can Expand a City's Great Schools. According to an article by Tamara Anderson in the September 30, 2013 Philadelphia Examiner, a group of high school students from the Philadelphia Student Union along with educators and advocates for public education held a demonstration outside of the conference.

"None of the attendees represented the School District of Philadelphia and its students or employees. It is as if the 149,000 faces of the SDP are invisible and worst, unimportant. In fact, attendance is restricted to those who contributed at least $50,000 in charitable contributions. One attendee politely informed me on the steps that, "Teach for America teachers are the only teachers that really teach."

According to Will Bunch in the Philadelphia Daily News' September 30, 2013Attytood Blog,

"Millionaire vultures" are "in Philly to pick over carcass of public education".
Bunch writes, "I guess we should be flattered that so many rich folks so suddenly care so much about the education of poor and working-class kids here in Philadelphia, which has the highest rates of deep poverty in the nation. But unfortunately, too many of these folks are involved in the corporate education reform movement are in it a) because they're Cato Institute libertarian crack pots who think that the "free market" that made them billionaires can save urban school kids despite research that shows no such thing b) they're hucksters who want to get richer through corrupt charter schools or companies that profit on standardized testing or c) they want to crush unions, because that's what they do, never mind the studies showing the correlation between a strong labor movement and a more prosperous middle class."
And now, thanks to the spineless staff at DESE, the CEE-Trust is bringing their brand of education reform to Missouri.
The only reason an, albeit, enfeebled board of education even exists in St. Louis today is that 1,000 people turned out for a hearing at Harris Stowe State University in January, 2007 to demand that the board remain the authority governing the district . The requirement for holding that type of public hearing has since been stricken from state law as a result. If anyone still believes,absent massive citizen activism demanding it, that an elected board of education will ever be allowed to govern the SLPS again, I would advise you to read the proverbial writing on the wall.

October 2, Wednesday, community forum on the future of Mann and Shenandoah Schools, 6.p.m. to 8 p.m., Roosevelt H.S., 3230 Hartford Avenue. 63118, Parking available from the lot entrance on Compton Avenue.
October 5, Saturday, community forum on the future of Mann and Shenandoah Schools, 10 a.m. to Noon, Central VPA, Cleveland ROTC H.S., 3125 Kingshighway 63139. Parking lots are located on the south side of the school building accessible from Kemper Avenue.
October 8, Tuesday, regular monthly Board of Education meetingp.m.,Central VPA/Cleveland ROTC  3125 Kingshighway 63139. Parking lots are located on the south side of the school building accessible from Kemper Avenue.
October 9, Wednesday, irregular bi-monthly SAB meeting, 6 p.m., 801 North 11th Street, room 108.  Note: SAB meetings are subject to change of date and time at short notice. It is always advisable to check http://www.slps.org/ to verify when they are meeting.
October 24, Thursday,  irregular bi-monthly SAB meeting, 6 p.m., 801 North 11th Street, room 108.  Note: SAB meetings are subject to change of date and time at short notice. It is always advisable to check http://www.slps.org/ to verify when they are meeting.
October 26, Saturday, Board of Education Town Hall Meeting, Noon, Carpenter Branch, St. Louis Public Library, 3309 South Grand Blvd., 63118

Please note, The Schools Watch has a new mailing address, P.O. Box 1983, St. Louis, MO 63118. Our email address continues to be SLS_Watch@yahoo.com