Friday, August 12, 2011

Chapter 21: Choice Schools

Chapter Twenty-One: Hook, Line and Sinker

Is it true that the more honest you are, the more easily hoodwinked you are?  Is it true that people who tell the truth are at a disadvantage when up against liars?  Is honesty really just naivet√©?  Is kindness foolishness?  Is it true that nice guys finish last?
In another NY Post article during this summer of 2011, Kathleen Kernizan defends the “charter school option” for New York City kids.  Since she makes all the arguments she is meant to make and appeals to the very honest people she is meant to appeal to, this article is a good case study in the workings of disinformation.  Ms. Kernizan has swallowed the reform school fraud hook, line and sinker.  She took the bait and that’s why this article appears is the reputable Murdoch rag.  [Apologies to Mushnick.]
On page 27 of the Aug. 11, 2011 edition of the NY Post appears the headline: “Stop Attacking Schools That Shine”.  The sub-headline, which appears in the midst of the text reads: “The new test scores are more proof that the UFT / NAACP embrace of failure will only hold back thousands of children.”  As all good disinformation does, this states the exact opposite of the truth as if it were the truth.  One of the best ways to lie is to say it straight out with a straight face and shamelessly.  Better than that, however, is to get someone else to actually believe the lie first and then have that person tell it.  If you believe what you’re saying, are you lying?  That is the ultimate goal of disinformation – the true lie.
I don’t doubt Ms. Kernizan’s sincerity.  First of all she believes that there are “objective” statistics that demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that charter schools outperform what she describes as “local (zoned) schools”.  Here’s what she says – and what better person can you get to tell your lie than a mother with a small daughter:

“When I looked at the schools my daughter could attend in central Brooklyn, I chose Leadership Prep Ocean Hill Charter School because it seemed to offer a far superior education than our local (‘zoned’) school.”  [me – note that the word “Charter” appears to be part of the actual name of this faux prep school – “believe me” when I say that this is a PREP school!]

What convinced Ms. Kernizan of this were a couple of basic statistics: this charter school claimed that 60% of its 3rd graders were reading at grade level (compared to 44% citywide) and that 91% of those kids were “on track” in math (compared to 57% citywide).  Statistics, of course, never lie, especially objective ones, but assuming that these claims were valid and that it’s true that her local “zoned” school was doing even worse that the city average, as she says, then the “choice” was certainly clear.  Who wouldn’t have made that choice?
What makes these statistics far from “objective”, of course, is that they compare 2 different demographics.  By definition a ‘local zoned school’ serves the kids in the neighborhood and serves all of the kids in the neighborhood, not merely the ones whose mothers are taking them around to find out where the best results are found.  The very fact that Ms. Kernizan was involved in her daughter’s choice of schools sets her child apart for a large percentage of the kids attending the local school, where as many as 40% of the students have no adult support at home at all.  It is certainly true that parental involvement is one of the primary factors in the academic success of kids.  It is equally true that lack of parental support is harmful, although there are plenty of exceptions – kids who succeed purely on their own, sometimes in spite of their home environment.
But we’re talking statistically here and the statistics are the bait.  It’s easy to show that one school outperforms another when you are controlling who gets into each school and when you’re controlling the gathering, collating and disseminating of the statistics and when you’ve got expensive PR staffs to spin things in your direction for the media that you control.
“Hey, that’s not fair!  Just because the mayor is a billionaire and owns radio and t.v. stations doesn’t mean he’s controlling the flow of information.”
“Didn’t he choose a woman with a publishing background as his new chancellor?  Coincidence?”
Thankfully that was an utter failure but getting back to Mr. Kernizan and her defense of the people who are using her, the fact is that even statistically, as far as that goes, overall the charter schools in NYC so far have only done marginally better than the local schools at best – well within the margin of error or should we say the margin of spin control?  Even if this “Leadership Prep Ocean Hill Charter School” is doing as well as it claims, many of the 124 charters schools in the city now are struggling in the same ways that regular public schools struggle.
The UFT isn’t against the idea of providing the best school for every child or choice and neither is the NAACP.  This is another big gulp for Ms. Kernizan.  These organizations simply refuse to accept the discussion as it is being framed by the powerful Washington education establishment, led by a man, Arne Duncan, who, like Klein and Black, never spent time in a public school.  Their bogus PR spin tries to get us to accept the premise that more charter schools means more choice and fewer charters means less choice.  That is their argument and it is another red herring.  To accept that is to fall into their trap.  If you accept this, you are hooked into the real purpose of charter schools.
The real purpose is not to give parents choices but rather to create a second tier school system above the public schools, paid for with tax money, and to break the UFT and every other union.  In other words, they want to get their hands into the pockets of some of the last unionized U.S. workers and use tax money to pay for their own kids’ “prep” school educations.  Worst of all they want to turn the last great American socialist experiment, the most successful one, the one that created the middle class as we know it – I mean public education, of course – they want to turn it into another for-profit business and we know who is going to be getting those profits, all of which will be subsidized by us.  After sucking all the money out of the middle class mortgage, this is about all that is left for them to loot.
As an Ocean Hill parent, Ms. Kernizan, is this what you really want?
Another thing that ought to be obvious: there are many ways to create better schools within the public school system.  You don’t need the new layer of private bureaucracy that charter schools bring.  At the moment, more charters may mean more choice for some but the organizations like the UFT and the NAACP are looking at the entire school system, every mother and child, not just Ms. Kernizan and her daughter.  What’s needed is access to choice for every student / family.  Charter schools are not that now and do not mean to be that.  Look at the extent to which Ms. Kernizan has digested the bait:

“Choosing a school is one of the most important decisions any parent makes – but in disadvantaged communities, the difference for a child’s future between a good school and a bad one can’t be underestimated.  I’ve never understood why the UFT – and especially the NAACP, an organization that, as a black woman, I’ve revered all my; life – would impose terrible schools on children who most need something better.

Let’s go line by line.  Choosing a school is, of course, very important.  This is one of the partial truths that is used to disguise the larger truth.  The difference between a good education and a bad one is important and more important for the more disadvantaged because it may be the one access to power for that group.  This is another partial truth used as a ruse.  Then comes the lie that these two partial truths are supposed to lead to – opposition to charters means opposition to choice.  It seems to make sense but it only makes a kind of no-other-choice sense if you rule out any other possibilities.  There are literally hundreds or thousands of other possibilities for creating choice within a public school system or more generally for improving the delivery of education and creating safe environments.  I’ve put forth my suggestion on that throughout this “memoir” and I’ll do it again at the end of this chapter.
Now there is another bogus conclusion to be drawn from this fraudulent discussion: organizations that are supposed to be for the disadvantaged are actually against the disadvantage; therefore you can’t believe anything that the UFT or the NAACP says anymore.   Even Ms. Kernizan, who has accepted their parameters for discussion, notices the great disconnect to the statement that the UFT and NAACP are “imposing” terrible schools on disadvantaged kids.  That’s obviously false but it’s one of the false conclusions you’re meant to draw once you accept their premises.  So now they’ve got her hooked into drawing conclusions that she knows can’t be true.  Ms. Kernizan has allowed them to frame the discussion for her.  Charter schools are the only way to provide choice.  Anyone opposed to charters schools is opposed to choice and is therefore “imposing” bad schools on kids.  The UFT and the NAACP, therefore, aren’t what they came to be.  Don’t forget that part of the hidden agenda is to undermine the UFT and all unions – get rid of them, in fact, so that the “free market” can lower wages, benefits, etc.
So of course, you don’t understand this, Ms. Kernizan.  You have not only accepted their bogus premises; you have tried to draw the bogus conclusion from these bogus premises – their conclusion.  You can’t understand nonsense.  Don’t you see, Ms. Kernizan, how they have baited you with the buzz word “choice” and led you on to the conclusion that they want you to reach?  Only by allowing the debate to be framed by “them”, whoever they are, does their bogus conclusion seem to fall into place.
I’ll tell you who they are.  They are those who can see that the middle class in America is disappearing and disappearing fast.  Most of the middle class has its eyes closed to this fact as they struggle to figure out how to catch up on that mortgage.  But the power of the bureaucracy and the power of the media are strong enough to delude us into thinking that these are the issues, that these are the problems, that these are the questions that need to be asked and that they have the answers – to their own questions!  Never mind that when you analyze their premises, they don’t add up.  They are the people who control the flow of money.  In this case they are the Washington education bureaucracy run by Arne Duncan but controlled by the people who put Duncan and Obama in power.  Those are the people framing the debate and they are powerful people, indeed.  Their power comes not from public education – most of them have elite Yale and Harvard educations – but from money.
The biggest lie here is that the only way to provide “choice” is the charter school system.  Not only is that not the only way to provide “choice”, that is not truly a “choice” at all because charter schools are not on the same playing field as public schools, don’t play by the same rules and don’t have the same goal of serving every child no matter what sort of problems the child brings to the school.  What would have happened to that kid who threw the desk in my classroom when he discovered that he’d missed the pizza if he’d done that in a real prep school, one that charges anywhere for $20,000 and up per kid per year?  Most likely he would have suffered the fate of Holden Caulfield.  If he’d been in a real prep school, he probably would have had access to a private therapist to help him cope with getting thrown out of school and wasting his parents’ money.  Charter schools aren’t real prep schools – yet.
It’s easy to see why they have chosen “choice” as their bait.  Who in America is opposed to choice?  We’re supposed to be free.  We’re supposed to be able to do whatever we want.  I can imagine that meeting of the National Governors Association ….  Offer choices, people grab at it.  If you don’t like this one, we’ve got another that you surely will like!  Get one free (for every one you buy)!  I’ll give you a check (refund in the mail if you fill out the paperwork) with each purchase!  So how do you hoodwink people about education?  (And yes, I’m probably using that word “hoodwink” because I just finished the Marable biography of Malcolm X.)  You pretend that anyone against YOUR plan is against CHOICE.  It is brilliant disinformation – these people are pros, you’ve got to admit.
The solution is obvious – track the public school system so that children are grouped in schools with other students performing at their level.  That would provide the choice that everyone is looking for – a school with a safe environment and effective teachers and students who reinforce positive habits and routines on one another for the high-functioning students.  That would provide various environments for the dysfunctional students where they could get the help they need and where they will not be able to obstruct the progress of the high-performing kids.  It is so obvious that this ought to be done, the fact that it isn’t being done ought to suggest to all of us that there is some underlying purpose or reason for not doing it - a hidden agenda, in other words.  They will never come out and say that they are trying to privatize education because they know very well that public education is the greatest of all American successes, which, as I’ve said, is the very reason that it is a threat to those with power.
What is wrong with privatizing education?  Just think of what we have today?  There is a private school system for the wealthy.  There is a public school system for the rests of us.  Traditionally all but the ultra-rich attend public schools.  The middle class has always been the “product” of public school education but the middle class is disappearing.  They know this; we don’t know it only because we dread it.  We can see it all around us every day, however, the disappearance of everything that was once considered “middle class”.  They’ve been destroying unions since the Reagan days.  They shifted private retirement plans into the stock market where it is rare that the average investor comes out ahead and the safest thing is to stay in a large group.  They’ve taken homes through the mortgage “crisis”.  We never really had medical coverage and we’ve got less now than ever.  They’re taking back Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and every other “entitlement”.  What else is this contrived recession about?
The charter school movement is a movement to create a third-world, two-tier society – them that got and them that don’t.  Charter schools will become the educational system for them that got but rather than paying for it themselves, as is the case now, the working class will be paying for it.  The working class will also be paying for their own public schools, too, of course.  There will be no in between.  How’s that for “choice”?
The way to divine a hidden purpose or motive is to stop allowing those with the agenda to frame the discussion.  Rather than accepting what they say, we ought to be thinking about what is not said and asking why it isn’t being said.  Why do they never speak of tracking the school system, for example?  Rather than try to answer their questions, we ought to be asking why they are asking these particular questions and thinking about the questions that are not being asked.  Most of all we cannot just accept what they say, especially when it comes in the form of “objective” statistics.  We have to notice when they’re comparing apples to oranges.  We have to start assuming that whatever they say, it’s at best only part of the truth, the part they use to disguise the whole truth.
If you’ve read any further in this “memoir”, you know that ultimately I’m in full agreement with Ms. Kernizan.  I agree that she ought to be able to send her high-functioning child – assuming that the kid is, of course – to a school of her peers, “peers” being other high-functioning students.  That should be what happens in the public school system.  It is what happens still in many public school systems across the country.  Students are tracked but with the possibility of changing tracks based on performance and behavior.  But that’s just one alternative.

Cut to the next meeting of the National Governors Association.

Gov. #1: Okay, let’s get this thing going.
Gov. #12: Great lap dance last night, huh.
Gov. #14: Yeah, yeah,
Gov. #12: Did you get your socks back?  He he.
Gov. #14: Yeah, they were under …. 
Gov. #1: All right, we’ve got business to conduct.  I assume that none of you saw the email my secretary sent out last week.
Gov. #43: Just tell us what we have to do.
Gov. #17: Did we take any more federal money?
Gov. #1: Yes, you all got “Race to the Top” money.
Gov. #32: What did we promise for that?
Gov. #1: We promised to use it to set up charter schools.
Gov. 18: What’s that?
Gov. #1: You know, those schools where they use tax money to subsidize private companies.
Gov. #26: Oh, like real estate.
Gov. #33: Like oil.
Gov. #41: Like agriculture.
Gov. #36: Like mining.
Gov. #1: Yes, yes, it’s the same thing.
Gov. #12: There’s a lot money in kids – I must have stuffed two hundred ….
Gov. #1: Okay, okay.  Anyway, we’re committed to using this federal money to set up these sort of private charter schools.
Gov. #25: So let’s do it.
Gov. #1: Well, that’s easier said than done.
Gov. #2: Why’s that?
Gov #1: Well, you know, we have to give them money that’s supposed to be for public schools.
Gov. #19: So?
Gov. #1: Just think about it for a second.  The more money we give to charter schools, the less we have for public schools.
Gov. #19: What’s wrong with that?
Gov. #1: Nothing, but people won’t go for it.
Gov. #27: Why not?
Gov. #39: Where’s the poll?
Gov. #1: Well, you know, most people think public education is good.
Gov. #27: Oh, right.
Gov. #1: So the PR people are telling us to come up with some excuse to give this money to charter schools.
Gov. #40: Like what?
Gov. #1: You know, something they’ll buy.
Gov. #9: You mean like lottery tickets?
Gov. #1: Not buy – would you wake up Gov. #8.  I mean, believe.  We’ve got to come up with something to convince them that we shouldn’t be giving so much money to public schools.
Gov. #46: Are they really going to check up on this?  Can’t we just dump the money into one of the slush funds?
Gov. #1: Listen, Hack, didn’t Acme Prep Schools, Ltd. underwrite your last campaign?
Gov. #46: Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.
Gov. #1: They’ve got a lot invested in this.  They want their cut.
Gov. #7: Not to mention Schools ‘R Us.
Gov. #15: Bob’s Schools.
Gov. #37: Schools for Dummies.
Gov. #44: Aunt Betty’s Can’t Miss Institutes for Pre-school Achievement.
Gov. #29: Jimmy’s Discount Prep Schools.
Gov. #22: The 99 Cent Academies.
Gov. #1: Right, a lot of people are in this and they expect a return on their investments in or campaigns.  So we have to start funneling them some money.
Gov. #40: Right, those school lobbyists are in my hair every day.
Gov. #34: But this is all legal, right?  I’ve already got three commissions on my ass.
Gov. #1: Not only legal, it’s illegal not to do it.
Gov. #42: So the feds gave us money to pay back our contributors?  Nice.
Gov. #1: Yeah, it’s a sweet deal but we’ve got to do our part.
Gov. #28: What’s that?
Gov. #1: I told you.  We have to come up with some excuse, I mean, some good reason to give this money to our buddies, I mean, you know, the education people.
Gov. #11; Well, we could do what oil does, give them a tax break.
Gov. #34: The Education Depletion Allowance.
Gov. #1: Not bad, pretty good.
Gov. #36: Yeah, since everybody forgets everything they learn, there’s your depletion right there.
Gov. #1: Sounds legit to me.
Gov. #39: Where’s the poll?
Gov. #2: But I thought we were talking about money in the bank, not write-offs and accounting gimmicks.
Gov. #1: Oh, yeah.
Gov. #2: Didn’t you say the feds gave us some money for something?
Gov. #1: Right, we’re talking about money we have to get to these private education people.
Gov. #19: [To his secretary] Make a note of that Education Depletion thing.  Maybe we can do something else with that.
Gov. #21: What money?
Gov. #1: I told you.  We all took money to use for private schools.
Gov. #21: You mean we’re supposed to give tax money to private schools?
Gov. #1: That’s what I’ve been saying!
Gov. #43: Okay, so?
Gov. #1: So we need to sell the idea.
Gov. #17: So let’s just call it “smart” money.  You know, “S” is for scholarships and so forth.
Gov. #12 “A” for nice ass.
Gov.. #1: Hey, you might be onto something.  It seems to me I heard something about that.  I think the PR people like that word “smart”.
Gov. #35: Didn’t we already do that?
Gov. #18: What?
Gov. #35: Use that word “smart” for something.
Gov. #1: What are you talking about?
Gov. #8:            Yeah, we used that last time.
Gov. #12:            How would you know?
Gov. #8:            I was there.
Gov. #12:            How many totalitarians did you have last night?  He he.
Gov. #8:            I knew where Bill’s socks were.
Gov. #1:            Wait, let’s have the stenographer read back the minutes from the last meeting.
Stenographer:            Okay, resolved:
1.  The word “smart” is to be used in the marketing campaign for NBLC.
2.  The word “smart” will be applied to the word “goal”.
3.  The word “smart” will be used as an acronym.
4.  The letter “S” will stand for “surreal”.
5.  The letter “M” will stand for “magic”.
6.  The letter “A” will stand for “ABCs”.
7.  The letter “R” will stand for “repercussions”.
8.  The letter “T” will stand for “pterodactyl”.  Did they ever do anything about that?
Gov. #1:            About what?
Stenographer:            You know, pterodactyl.
Gov. #1:            What about it?
Stenographer:            Well, it doesn’t start with a “T”.
Gov. #1:            Really?
Stenographer:            It starts with a “P”.
Gov. #1:            No kidding.
Gov. #47:            Who cares what it starts with.  Can we get back to this private school give-away thing.  It’s almost nine o’clock already.
Gov. #1:            Good idea.  Keep thinking.  “Smart” is out.  We need something else.
Gov. #48: For what?
Gov. #1: To convince voters that it’s good to cut back on public education.
Gov. #9: Why don’t we do what I always do when I have to cut back on some popular entitlement?  Why don’t we call it a “choice cut”?  That’ll get their mouths watering and they’ll forget that they’re being shafted.
Gov. #1: What the hell does that have to do with education?
Gov. #9: I don’t know.  I was really just thinking of lunch.
Gov. #10: Hey, I like that.
Gov. #9: Me, too.  I move we choose to go to lunch.
Gov. #10: I mean that word “choice”.  That’s almost as good as “smart”, isn’t it?  You know, “choice meat, choice school” – same thing.
Gov. #1: Not, bad, maybe you’re onto something.
Gov. #7: Why don’t we get them to change the name from “charter” school to “choice” school.
Gov. #1: Pretty good.
Gov. #7: Who would object to giving money to a “choice” school?
Gov. #39: Where’s the poll?
Gov. #44: So we just say that this money is ticketed for choice schools and they’ll just figure that we’re giving it to the good schools.
Gov. #31: I like that.
Gov. #1: Pretty good.  What do you say?  All for “choice” cuts, er, schools.
                       [48 ayes]
Gov. #1: Okay so let’s see.  We’re going to start funding Choice Schools run by Jimmy’s and Bob’s and so forth.
Gov. #3: But don’t these Choice Schools actually have charters?
Gov. #1: Good question.  Anyone know that?
                       [Governors scratch their heads.]
Gov. 47: What’s the difference?  We’ll just get the PR people to shove this down everyone’s throat.  If you want the money, you call it a “Choice School”.  That’s all.
Gov. #46: Acme Choice Prep Schools – they’ll go for that, I think.
Gov. 12: If it sounds like a choice cut of meat, it’ll be a piece of cake.
Gov. #47: Right, that’s their problem.  That’s what they do.
Gov. #39: Where’s the poll?
Gov. #9: Hello!  It’s nine-thirty.  I thought there was a motion on the floor.
Gov. #8: What?
Gov. #1: What was that?
Gov. #9: I moved we adjourn for a choice lunch ten minutes ago.
Gov. #12: Seconded.
Gov. #1: All in favor.
                       [48 ayes]
Gov. #1 Let’s get out of here.


NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.


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