Friday, September 04, 2009

Carrie Jacobson's response to an Eductopia Corporate Charter Article

Keep the PUBLIC in public schoolsEducator Carrie Jacobson was kind enough to give me permission to reprint her response to an Eductopia article on corporate charters and privatization.

You can read the article and other responses at -- "Public Schools Changing into Charters"

It goes very deep. Deeper than most think.

First, I should say that I am a teacher in a West LA middle school that is specifically being targeted by a hostile charter takeover, because we are the neighborhood school of a highly paid "consultant" of one of the largest corporate charter operators in existence, who also happens to be a city official with strong personal ties to the mayor and the organizer of the most vocal of the parent groups advocating for charters.

With that said, let me give you a little background of our demographics and experience, and then I will respond to your article.

Roughly, 71% of our student population is living in poverty and are on the federal lunch program, a la Title 1, 23% are special ed with moderate to severe learning disabilities, and 35% are english language learners. 12% are Caucasian, 33% are African American, 55% Hispanic. We have a nominal amount of Asian and Pacific Islanders, but not enough to make even 1%. I would say that of the 12% Caucasian, about 10% come from the neighborhood with the rest of the school's population bussed in from Mid-City or beyond.

For many years, parents that visit our campus have expressed fear when they see our diverse student population. They ask if it is true that we've stopped busing, or that they want their child in the gifted classes because "those" children do not have the work habits or would be a negative influence on theirs, or that we have a reputation for a culture of failure and have a "gang" problem (we don't). They've actually been rude enough to say these things directly to myself and others that work here, with students within earshot.

Frankly, they are afraid of the very thing that the teachers, administrators, and staff members believe is one of our greatest assets: We are a true microcosm of Los Angeles. We are unique. Thirty different languages are spoken on our campus. We have a student body that is growing up without racial prejudices and biases because they are personally familiar with the variety of cultures, sub-cultures and ethnicities that exist in this city - the very thing desegregation was to promote. It is working on our campus!

Yet, we are a PI 5+ school primarily due to the lower test scores of the Ells, special ed, and the kids living on the edge in poverty and/or homeless, AND the fact that many are holier than thou, nothing-can-affect-or-touch-me, the devil may care, young adolescents (as we all once were) - just as most schools across the country are. Yet they "fail" to score well on an upper-middle class normed test.

Their scores have nothing to do with their learning. I personally get them all to read and critically discuss Shakespeare, yet we are a "failing" school.

Now my response:

You should be very afraid of the corporate privatization of public schools. It is the new form of segregation, union busting, and graft. The robber barons are back.

The mayor in Los Angeles has been seduced by the money and power in the Westside - the greatest opponents of desegregation still. And this mayor has the majority of the school board in his pocket, as well as the promises of support by the wealthy charter EMO/CMOs.

Particularly on the Westside, it is the final push back, the last, bitter act (for now) of the white flight that began with the desegregation of public schools and the busing that began in LA in the 1970s. It is also brown flight in South and East LA (read up on Ritter Elementary, for instance).

All of these people will profit greatly by charterization - don't let the term non-profit fool you. Most of the PI schools are in South and East LA, and there are way more of them than on the Westside.

When you really study the Chicago and NY models, you will see the lack of access to neighborhood schools for special ed kids and the behavior problems when they get expelled from their neighborhood charter - if they can even get in on their lottery systems (which are a part of the charter movement here).

In Chicago, I believe this has a direct connection to the rapid rise of violence and murder rates of children this year. These kids are very, very angry as they become more and more disenfranchised. Here in LA at Locke HS, Green Dot expelled 8 kids last year - who must take multiple buses now to attend regular public schools (if they go at all).

Finally, the rhetoric that has been ingrained in the masses through the continuous marketing of "failing schools" and NCLB has clearly worked. Schools are judged strictly by this one test, not by what goes on in the schools themselves.

It seems that the soldiers for democracy and the true advocates for children are now left to fight this monster alone, as they sweat in their classrooms, offices, cafeterias, and the maintenance sheds in their schools. Fortunately, many parents and students are right there with them, too, otherwise we would all simply walk away to earn a better living in other fields that require our level of education. We do not have many friendly outlets to allow our voices to be heard above the clamor and rhetoric of the special interests that would like to monopolize our schools for profit and/or political gain.

To your assertion that the problem lies in capitalism, my reply is simply that democracy is neither easy, nor pretty, and requires an educated populace. However, a fully educated populace creates a society that questions authority - something that capitalism can not have in order to function to its fullest profit potential, or even function at all. Capitalism requires the system of haves and have nots. Think about it...

Carolyn Jacobson
Emerson Middle School
Grade 7 Los Angeles


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