I have been writing this column since the election of the new Board Majority majority and if you've been following it, you've seen the unfolding of a carefully orchestrated plan to push forward that group’s agenda, including “dis-assembling” the District and turning over our school buildings to charter schools. But the truth of the matter is that the Board’s majority aren't the only ones who have an agenda when it comes to the Buffalo Public School District, its assets and its resources.
At the end of last year, Chancellor Merryl Tisch of the NYS Board of Regents wrote a letter to the Governor about educational problems in the State. She opined as to how State Ed had done “everything humanly possible against a lot of odds” to help Districts such as Buffalo. She specifically cited reasons why Buffalo is a prime example of a District needing drastic intervention and called on the Governor and the Legislature to craft legislation to allow the State to take over “failing” Districts. As Buffalo has come into the spotlight, or should I say cross-hairs, of so-called “reformers” who seek the take-over, take-down and/or turn-over of our District, the chorus of “dis-assemblers” is getting louder and adding more influential voices.
Enter the New York Times Editorial staff. Never mind that New York State, mind you, the State’s school system, has been identified as “the most segregated in the nation”. The Times( 1/10/2015) linked that report to Dr. Tisch’s letter noting that “minority children are disproportionately trapped in schools that lack the teaching talent, course offerings and resources needed to prepare them for college and success in the new economy.” Buffalo again rose to the top as a district most urgently in need of a fix, in part due to the current Civil Rights complaint. Furthermore, the editorial writer pointed to the history of better days when Buffalo was a model leader in the school desegregation movement.
Touching briefly on changes that negatively impacted this model program, the article ended predictably by enumerating some stereotypic accusations for Buffalo’s problems: the “teacher’s contract”, the district’s “inept leadership”, failure to submit “acceptable, legally required plans” to the State. But they threw in a new problem, thanks to the Buffalo News; “troubling questions about the accounting for funds…for rebuilding…crumbling schools.” No questions were posed about the accountability of the State Education Department; for imposing unfunded mandates, for a disastrous roll-out of the un-validated Common CORE, for the expanded reliance on standardized tests as the primary measure of student proficiency and thus school failure. Funny thing, there was also no mention of the problem of segregated neighborhoods in our urban and suburban communities, for example, that just might contribute to the schools’ segregation problem. But I guess that’s for another editorial.
I know I've taken what seems to be a detour from the subject of this article. But there is a connection between the recent escalation of attacks on our District and the move to bring in charter schools to take over our school buildings. The case is being made for charter schools as the remedy for our “failing” schools. Last week, three area charter schools submitted requests to take over Bennett High School and School #39 (out- of- time schools). East High is the target of a proposed charter that has yet to be approved by the State. As the Board begins deliberations on the plans for the out-of-time schools, listen for the promotion of these charter schools: Tapestry, Charter School for Applied Technology and the Health Sciences Charter.
Like everything else, language plays an important role in the campaign to privatize public education. The designation of “high performing” will specifically be used to describe these schools. This descriptor serves to differentiate these charters from other charters as the reality is that many charters are no higher performing than their counterparts in the public sector. What will these charters provide to the students, who are currently attending the out- of- time schools? That should be a critical question. Keep in mind, however, that their requests are for the buildings and contents, not to serve the current students. Make a special note that there was no request to take over Lafayette, the only school of the four that was not renovated as part of the Joint Schools Construction Project.
More about the charter school requests in the next article.