Sunday, October 21, 2012

Buras, Lack, and Winerip- the Face of Innovation?


            I found the contrast between Lack’s and Buras’s articles interesting, to say the least. Buras highlights the shock and awe side of the Recovery School District charter school movement in New Orleans, while Lack focused on the KIPP schools, a less commonly critiqued branch of the charter school movement. In each of these widely disparate instances, the proponents of the schools would have you believe that the charter schools are able to embody the spirit of innovation, thus paving the way for the success of each of its students. Whether this occurs through the concept of parent ‘choice’ and competition (the good ol’ neoliberal way, which the New Orleans residents were literally crying out for) or through the enforcement of military-grade discipline (which just drips with the essence of efficiency,) parents- or ‘consumers’ - are led to believe that their school are progressive, responsive to ‘what really works’, cutting edge- in short, they would serve their children better than any run-of-the-mill public school could. As a result, charter schools are viewed as the way out, the only way for individual success.
             In demanding ‘innovation’ and choice, several key factors are missed. If parents could see past the novelty and the ‘innovative’ label that has been stuck on these schools, they would find that what they perceive as innovation is, quite often, really just the maintenance of the status quo, a restriction of creativity, a departure from the development of critical thinking. Innovation in and of itself can be a frightening thing. Innovation needs a goal- in education, this ought to involve the development of students as both individuals and members of society, able to think critically with concern for society, rather than conforming to society because someone- someone ‘innovative’- told you it is more efficient that way. Also, innovation may, very likely, translate into experimentation, especially when the less powerful members of low SES are concerned. We find, in these instances, that the concern of the innovators seems to lie beyond the students with whom they are working.
            With all of the outcry for change and the warm reception of charter schools, a tension seems to exist between what is demanded of public schools with respect to innovation, and the leash they are given to accomplish it. Parents, students, teachers, and other citizens acknowledge the need for change, yet public schools are denied the flexibility which is granted to charter schools, and instead are tied down by standardized tests and the like. It seems that the public is disgruntled with the state, lacks faith in the collective and its ability to innovate and progress, doubts the strength of its teachers, and is willing to take a chance on the innovators behind the charter schools- those clever and ambitious entrepreneurs who are so attractive by our neoliberal standards. When frustrated with the state (the scapegoat), who wouldn't choose to try something new? Especially when it promises you the world, and its 'innovative' novelty is so shiny.

11 comments:

  1. Hannah’s discussion of “innovation” in her post does a good job of explaining why so many parents and students turn to charters in hopes of escaping the bureaucracy of the state. All of this week’s readings explain in one way or another that “bureaucracy” as an idea is used rhetorically to signify the negative influence of government and standardization of schooling. This characterization of the state helps movements like charter schools appear to be full of “innovation,” freedom and choice. While innovation, choice and freedom are all positive in theory, when it comes to application in schools, we must realize the danger of a system that privileges “what works” over everything else, as the KIPP charter system does (Lack, 139). Running a system solely based on “what works” undoubtedly decontextualizes students and their backgrounds in the schooling process, and further causes many charter schools to fail to look at the possible negative ramifications of a system based on results. Schools like KIPP and the Harlem Children Zone privilege compliance and academic achievement over almost everything else, and they are not afraid to undermine democratic ideals in order to do so.

    A particularly striking statistic in this week’s readings was the fact that KIPP students receive up to 62% more instruction time than their public school counterparts (Lack, 133). Theoretically, this increased amount of time in school helps open up the possibility for more “innovative” teaching methods which regular public schools might not have the time for. However, Lack’s observation in KIPP schools demonstrated that “innovative” teaching forms were rarely present (if ever), and that increased instruction time did not seem to have a drastic effect on student test scores. Statistics like this make it clear that choice and innovation are not the end-all-be-all that they are cracked up to be. Unfortunately, many parents of low-income students often feel helpless when it comes to assuring that their children receive an adequate education, and in these situations of helplessness, parents are duped by the promises of “innovation,” “freedom” and “choice” that charters so often claim to offer but rarely succeed to provide.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I want to respond to Ally’s discussion of “what works”- she explains how KIPP embraces this harsh means-to-an-end philosophy, which eclipses very important social factors in education. What I find so interesting about this approach is the ambiguity of whether “what works” actually WORKS. Put another way, there is no strong evidence that KIPP is actually teaching students better than traditional public schools, according to Lacks. He cites three studies in particular (pp 131-133) that favor the movement, yet are flawed in various ways: lack of control groups, testing students during times that will produce certain results, and other experimental inconsistencies. It seems ironic that a charter school movement so based on results and testing standards would not actually make any improvement in this area, even with the extra 62 percent of time they spend in school.

      In regards to testing, I also found it interesting that Lacks brought up the white-washing of students’ opinions about KIPP—he even uses the word “disturbing” to describe this silencing (p 138). This made me realize that throughout all of our reading about charter schools, I have not once noticed a student voice. Do charter school students enjoy their experiences? Does the militaristic ethos make them feel empowered or trapped? I realize that qualitative studies like this are probably hard to execute, given the strict security and privacy that we saw in HCZ. However, I think it would add to this field to understand the student perspective—especially since the students (not the researchers, not the donors, not the politicians) are the ones forced to sit through 750 additional hours of school.

      Delete
  2. In my opinion, one of the most striking aspects of the charter school debate is the immense exclusion that is created in many realms. Buras speaks about the way that community members are silenced and left out of decision-making by those with political clout who support and implement such schools. In New Orleans in particular, Buras notes the “substantial local opposition” (162) of the community and the strict guidelines that govern school board member selection that inherently dismiss poor and working-class parents from having a voice in their children’s education at charter schools (174). By looking at these instances of exclusion, it is clear that those most affected by the implementation of charter schools are silenced and the only people who have any power are those who are distantly removed from the community and care about political and capitalist interests.

    Not only are local community members silenced, but critical discourse about charter schools is also silenced in mainstream media outlets. Lack spends considerable space discussing the absence of KIPP criticism. In particular, when statistics and “success” rates are released about KIPP schools, so much is eliminated. For instance, even the KIPP schools that are showing slight gains on their public school counterparts do not factor in the fact that these charter school students are in school about 750 hours more, while their success is not significantly higher (131). Nearly all discourse about academic achievement also ignores the sociopolitical contexts that are present (133) and are reproduced with such disparate schooling endeavors. These readings have strongly reinforced the notion that charter schools provide unequal opportunities to children and families and silence the voices of people who are directly impacted and involved in educational changes and upheavals.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. As Hannah discusses, charter schools are commonly viewed as “the way out” or the answer to “what really works” in our failing education system. Parents are led to believe that they now have a choice in their child’s education. Charter schools will provide their children with a substantial education that in turn leads to upward social mobility. However, as Hannah states, charter schools in reality work to “maintain the status quo”. In Lack’s article, he discusses how KIPP does little to alter the status quo. He points out the fact that KIPP serves a student population that is 95% African-American and Hispanic (130). In this program, these students are encouraged that if they work hard, they will escape poverty and achieve success. These students must agree to embrace the five pillars of success that are laid out. If they do so, they will reach post-secondary institutions of education, which is the mission of the program. What I found particularly striking about this program is the militaristic discipline that’s in place. The schools have very structured curriculums, incredibly long school days and rigorous disciplinary standards. Because these schools serve mostly poor, minority students, this militaristic system is arguably another form of institutional racism, as Lack says (142). These students’ education is under the control of the two highly educated white males who hold the power over the program. It is assumed that these students need to be under this strict system in order to become good consumers in our market-based society. This discussion relates to Buras’ article where he argues that educational markets are raced and have differential racial effects (165). The push toward charter schools and programs like KIPP only perpetuates inequality among people of different races. As Hannah says, the public recognizes the need for change. However, programs like KIPP seem to only create greater differences among people of various races and social classes.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I agree with Ally that KIPP schools and many other charter schools who use the “whatever works” mentality focus on academic achieved while undermining democratic ideals. Ally referred to the required extra hours per day within KIPP schools. Our society uses the phrase “practice makes perfect” however, this might seem like a great idea but it also brings up many problems. Who will be willing to teach these children? When they aren’t receiving any benefits in return. I was also shocked with the disciplinary standards and action required at these types of schools. The ways in which KIPP schools discipline the students may reflect the problems with race and education. Brown in Lack argues, “that while a culture of privileged and freedom takes pervades the schools of the wealthy in the U.S., a culture of discipline and militarism pervades the schools of color and the poor” (141).
    Both Buras and The New York Times article speak of race as a huge underling issue with the development to increase charter schools. Buras writes, the increase interest of developing Charter schools in New Orleans is not based on issues of benefitting poor, black, minorities students because these issues have been around for decades, but to stop issue infringing on white students. The development of charter schools in New Orleans is viewed as an economic opportunity for rich white dominated corporations. Buras explains under the current reforms in New Orleans “the public schools attended by African American schools children have been rapaciously commodified by White entrepreneurs (and their Black allies), who care much less about improving the life chances of Black youth and much more about capitalizing schools, obtaining contracts, and lining their pockets with public and private monies” (168). The “white entrepreneurs” Buras speaks of are the Hedge fund executives written about in the New York Times article. The new Charter School supporters do not reflect the agenda of most teachers and administrators who wish to creating a democratic space that nurture critical thinking within with respect to the collective good of society. When creating reform programs it is critical to think who decides whose interests would be served?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hannah describes innovation as something that is highly attractive in school reform. This idea of social entrepreneurship that is imploding discourses, even at Colgate University, is one that loves innovation. Business meets social equality and social entrepreneurs swear that the two can join hands. Of course, many of us accept this because it’s easy to believe that consumption can fix inequality when all it requires is a card swipe from us. However, what we are failing to talk about is that the two are inherently contradictory. Free market sustains inequality. Both of the authors are arguing that market ideology is inherently flawed and will always create inequity. Even though the two are not compatible to create equal education, we literally buy into the idea because we can feel good about ourselves without having to address major issues, kind of like buying fair trade coffee or something. The large disconnect fails to be discussed in public discourse, as Lack mentioned most of the writing on KIPP resembled praise and applause. I think one thing to hold onto from the Lack article is the hope that this discourse will move beyond the ‘ivory tower’ and into media. It is a complicated thing, especially for people of privilege to think about of to criticize.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The Lack article provided an interesting yet disconcerting perspective into what KIPP schools do and how academia and the media have somewhat falsely commended them. Reading the background of the program and learning that college acceptance is supposedly the ultimate goal obviously made the program seem appealing and effective. However, the capitalist and militaristic traits that KIPP possesses undoubtedly leads to unfit academic settings for some students. Like Olivia, I was baffled by the disciplinary actions taken by the school. This, coupled with the corporate nature of the program, really emphasized how the program was just another capitalist move. Most of the attention that the media and academia give KIPP deals with its academic achievement gains rather than the sociopolitical concerns linked with the way it functions.
    Another factor that affects more families than it should is the issue of exclusion from charter schools. Buras refers to the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) money in Louisiana. The fact that money does not follow students who are removed from a charter school and are sent instead to open-access, state-run public schools, is simply ridiculous. That money remains with the charter school, which clearly has prioritized its own wealth over the well-being and education of the child (Watkins, 173). The entire situation of public schooling in New Orleans is troubling and speaks volumes about how our public education system has the potential of sliding so downhill in any traumatized city. The fact that most teachers were first-year teachers belonging to programs such as Teach For America post-Katrina shows how little care went into prioritizing education in a time of trouble. The problem was then exacerbated by the fact that most of the teachers quit almost immediately due to struggles in the classroom.
    Additionally, reading a firsthand account of what two students had to deal with in charter schools in Harlem was equally disturbing. The NYT article sheds light on the fact that rigid disciplinary measures often take precedence over educational matters in the classroom. This notion in some ways reminds me of the failures of NCLB. The program seems to work on the surface, but when it comes down to it, the lives and educational opportunities of the kids are greatly at risk.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  8. I agree with Hannah’s critique of the discourse about charter schools as the only way out for low income, minority families—as the means to give the parents more choice and freedom in their child’s education. Buras’s article about the charter school movement in New Orleans demonstrates that the charter school movement actually robs parents of any type of real voice in their child’s education, therefore robbing them of a fundamental democratic freedom. Her focus on school boards and the raced and class qualifications needed to serve on these governing institutions highlights this point well. These strict qualifications shut out most low income and minority parents from serving on these boards because they lack the social, economical, and political capital to do so. Because these school boards govern major decisions on curriculum, education policy, and faculty, these groups of parents are denied a voice in their child’s education, illustrating the dishonesty behind the claim that parents will have more freedom and choice with charter schools. Furthermore, the qualifications do not include anything about experience with education or an understanding about the needs of those the schools are supposed to be serving.

    It is extremely ironic that those that the charter school movement is supposedly serving, the low-income families that have been oppressed for so long, are deliberately robbed of any real voice in the process that is supposed to be a means to help them out of poverty. Furthermore, those governing the school boards are creating policies that only hurt the families they are supposed to be serving, with their emphasis on test scores and their guidelines for entrance into the charter school, which serve to leave the low income and minority students behind. The raced and classed restrictions about who can serve on school boards is robbing entire groups of parents of any meaningful voice or active participation, two fundamental freedoms essential to democracy. How can proponents of charter schools make the claim that they aim to provide a way out for those who have been oppressed when they are robbing them of fundamental freedoms—when they are, in a sense, reducing them to a status similar to slaves?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hannah rightly points to the desire for innovation in schools as an essential but also problematic driving force in the charter school movement. The desire of parents and students for innovation is an understandable one. They want a school that will provide children with an education that will best serve them in life. Pedagogies and schools should evolve to make sure that they are providing the best opportunities for students and using the best methods of teaching.
    The Lack article in particular shows how innovation has gone awry in the charter schools that have aggressively pursued forms of innovation that either don’t serve their students. Lack pointed out how KIPP schools require students to spend far more time in class even while students report “a difficult adjustment” (138). He notes that KIPP employs “harsh disciplinary features” (140) that developmental psychologists have refuted. He points to a 2005 ethnographic study that showed that KIPP schools rarely observe “systematic individualized instruction… performance assessment or student self-assessment.” (134) This makes it seem like charter schools actually fly in the face of the scientific approach to innovation that they claim to espouse.
    The goals of charter schools in their innovation also fit only with very limited definitions of success. Lack reports how the use of KIPP dollars gives students the idea that “working hard to purchase more is a sure-fire route to goodness and happiness” (142). KIPP’s emphasis on obedience and conformity is “clearly a means of preparing students for participation in social, bureaucratic, and industrial organizations” (141). In other words, KIPP students are being taught to perpetuate the economic systems that placed them in unequal circumstances in the first place. The Winerip article also showed how the Harlem Success Academies had a very limited idea of what a successful student is. The Buras article further showed how the goals of White reformers were not only limited in scope to White ideals of success but even further exploitative practice towards Blacks. This is certainly innovation that has lost track of its true purposes.

    ReplyDelete