A Defeat for School "Reform"

In what may hopefully be a small sign that the tide could be turning against a corporate-funded K-12 school “reform” movement that thrives on autocratic administration and the denigration of veteran teachers, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy has resigned at the request of the school board, The New York Times reports today.  The controversial Deasy, “a strong proponent of new technology in schools and of holding teachers accountable for improving student test scores, had faced mounting criticism from board members and teachers.”

No doubt Deasy’s demise was closely tied to his hare-brained scheme under which the L.A. district spent $1.3 billion (yes, that’s billion) to purchase iPads for every one of the 640,000 students in the city’s 900 public schools, an initiative that had no visible impact on learning but, no doubt, a modest but real one on Apple Corp.’s bottom line.  Students quickly learned how to hack the tablets and used them to play games or go on social media rather than follow Deasy’s new digital curriculum.  A new school data system introduced this fall also ran into snags, leaving some students unable to get assigned to classes or obtain transcripts for college applications.  Deasy, it should be mentioned, had previously been employed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major funder and promoter of educational technologies and corporate-style “reform.”

Readers of this blog, however, will recall Deasy as the double-talking “reformer” who boasted widely of his successful efforts to rid his district of allegedly “deadbeat” and unproductive veteran teachers, but then testified in the Vergara lawsuit that state teacher tenure laws unduly restricted his ability to dismiss failing teachers, thereby making it impossible to in fact do what he had been loudly bragging about doing!

Los Angeles is not the only place where the efforts of autocratic school administrators in service to corporate “reform” interests have met opposition from teachers and parents.  As the Times reports:

Michelle A. Rhee, a former chancellor of the Washington public schools, drew hostility from teachers with her efforts to lift performance in the district. In Newark, community leaders have objected to many of the changes pushed by Cami Anderson, the superintendent there, who has closed low-performing schools and reworked teacher evaluation systems. Two years ago in Chicago, the teachers’ union went on a nine-day strike, in part to protest new teacher evaluation methods that were imposed by the State Legislature and strongly supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Obama administration has vigorously supported sweeping changes to public education, including pushing for more rigorous academic standards and using standardized test results as a measure of a teacher’s quality. But in response to enormous protests from educators and parents who decry what they see as an overemphasis on testing, Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, announced in August that states could delay using test scores in teacher performance ratings by another year.

Some have suggested that Duncan, Deasy, Rhee and their ilk have failed because they were insufficiently diplomatic and failed to involve the necessary “interest groups” in moving their plans forward.  But increasingly it is becoming clear that these alleged “reforms” are most often simply undesirable no matter how carefully presented.  Take, for instance, the campaign against “teacher tenure” in which Deasy was a star player.  The reality is that efforts to remove a relative handful of failing veteran teachers ignores the real problem increasing numbers of school districts face — a growing shortage of new and qualified teachers, a shortage now exacerbated by the demoralizing denigration of the teaching profession by the so-called “reformers.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers’ union, said Deasy’s departure could signal “a national shift towards a more collaborative style.”  The L.A. Board announced that Deasy would be replaced on an interim basis by veteran school administrator Ramon Cortines, 82, who was L.A. superintendent before Deasy and previously served at the head of the New York City schools, before his abrupt dismissal by then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.  Cortines said he wants to begin a “civil and respectful” dialogue involving the district, board, teachers, administrators and parents.  “That’s not what’s been going on,” he added.  To say the least!

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