School Choice: It’s Common Sense? Installment 3.5 Wormhole

Before returning to the accountability history of Johnston and Eastside Memorial, I would like to take a moment to share some remarks from a recent school board meeting where I critiqued the proposal to move the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA) to the former site of Anderson High School (the school for African Americans under segregation) in East Austin.  (LASA’s influence at Eastside Memorial is discussed in last weeks post)

(LASA) is a selective public magnet high-school. The demographics of the school ethnicities are 23% Hispanic, 3% Black/African-American, 51% White, 20% Asian, 2% American Indian, and 1% Hawaiian/Native Pacific Islander for a total enrollment of 796 students (Lamb, 2014). LASA is collocated within LBJ High School (LBJ), LBJ is an Early College High School with different ethnicity/race demographics: 30% Hispanic, 39% Black/African-American, 15% White, 1% Asian, 14% American Indian, 1% Hawaiian/Native Pacific and a total enrollment of 648 (Lamb, 2014). Counted as one school, on paper LBJ and LASA are a model for racial diversity and their closely related socioeconomic status indicators, but in reality the two schools are worlds apart.

LBJ may have college in its name but on average sixty-six percent of the students agree with the statement, “I will go to college after high school,” thirty-four percent say “maybe” (AISD, 2014). At LASA ninety-three percent of students say “yes” and six percent say “maybe” (AISD, 2014). Even the response rates to the survey of both schools is telling. LBJ was sixty percent, LASA was eighty-eight percent, and the district average was seventy-three percent on the Student Climate Survey. Not only are students from the neighborhood being served by LBJ less likely to participate in sharing their voice, but students are also less sure that college is in their future. On the other hand LASA students not only show greater participation but also have generally more optimistic perceptions of their school climate.

It is with the above passage in mind that I drafted the subsequent citizen’s communication last week at the Austin ISD board meeting:

“Janelle Scott points out that historically the imposition of middle-class values and pronouncement of the liberal creed of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps,” is heralded by white men claiming to know what the best course of action should be.

The choice the Austin school district made to house its most prestigious academic track at LBJ did not occur in a vacuum but was influenced by a historical context white consultants from Washington DC are likely ignorant to. A desire to both recapture students leaving due to white flight as well as to increase enrollment in an economically and racially stratified part of Austin drove the district’s initial placement of the magnet schools at Johnston and LBJ, subsequent consolidation, and is driving the proposal to relocate the campus.  I argue that one of the major reasons the school choice movements has come to flourish is because rather than confront the glaring inequalities of a society stratified by race and class by standing up to the underfunded mandates of TEA and teaching critical pedagogy and Praxis, public schools allow the same disparate outcomes as separate but equal under the guise of equal opportunity in a post racial society. Researchers describe schools like LBJ as characteristically displaying “higher-than-average suspension rates and lower-than-average graduation rates” (Fabricant & Fine, 2010 p.121).  Therefore the STAAR test serves to discipline LBJ while simultaneously ennobling LASA to participate in social reproduction and white supremacy. In 2014 26% of LASA students were nonasian minorities, that number is nearly three times as much, 69% of students at LBJ are nonasian minorities.

Magnet schools, like LASA, take on air of democratic equality, but from the brief example above there is little equity in a system where some parents can choose and participate in the best public education has to offer, a choice often accompanied by the social capital to be informed about the program, and the ability to afford the supplemental supports- academic, social, and communal- to make their child a viable candidate.  On the other hand, parents at LBJ have a reduced ability to choose based on broader historical, racial, and economic contexts.  Contexts which are tertiary concerns at best when consultants are hired to evaluate facilities and efficiency in an ahistorical fashion.

Therefore I ask that Black Anderson (now the Alternative Learning Center) not be repurposed to house LASA, Representing the erasure of culture, perpetuating the burden of desegregation disproportionately placed on our African American community, and representing the final gentrifying nail in the east Austin cultural coffin”.

*Photo Credit for this installment goes to Rodolfo Gonzales retrieved from:






School Choice: It’s Common Sense? Installment 3- Nomenclature

Johnston High School, in Austin, Texas was the first school in the state to be closed (rather than reconstituted) by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  The high-stakes accountability defined by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was after all incubated in Texas under then Governor Bush.  Senate Bill 618, passed in 2003, which codified school reconstitution for schools failing to meet the mark two years in a row.  The bill aligned with NCLB, the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and signaled an end to local control; 135 schools in Texas were reconstituted in the ensuing decade (Cumpton, 2015).  The closure of Johnston in 2008 and subsequent repurposing as Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus is an opportunity to witness the intersection of market-based reforms, racial identity, community history, gentrification, community organizing, and educational decision making.  The confluence of macro political and economic forces cannot be ignored when examining the intersection of public school policy and private interests due to their impact in shaping individual and organizational perspectives (Kamat, 2004 p. 156).


In 1959 Riverside High School opened to serve the graduates of East Austin’s predominately Hispanic Alan Junior High.  A year later the school would be renamed after Albert Sydney Johnston, a soldier in the Republic of Texas, United States, and Confederate armies (Bearden, 2011).  Austin, like many urban centers, began to experience white flight following Brown v. Board in 1954.  Despite the Justice Department’s approval of a desegregation plan for Austin in 1955, it was not until after a 1971 U.S. District Court Judge’s ruling that Austin ISD was forced to implement bussing (Cuban, 2010).

Neighborhood schools’ attendance boundaries were redrawn to allow for two-way bussing. Previously the closure of the historically African American Anderson High School placed the burden of bussing and integration on the East Austin community (Cuban, 2010, Interview 5, 6, 9, 11, & 13).  Following District Court Judge Jack Roberts ruling to implement a three tiered approach to desegregation which included two-way bussing, affirmative-action hiring processes, and bilingual education, the federal government provided 3.4 million dollars in emergency aid for the district (Reinhold, 1983).

The 1980’s were a time of significant change for Johnston High School due in large part to judicial and state bolstered financial intervention.  Johnston became a nationally recognized model of school desegregation as its demographics shifted from 99% Hispanic and African American to 50% White, 30% Hispanic, and 20% African American, a population more reflective of Austin’s overall racial composition, and reduced the number of students below grade level in math from 90% to 52% (Garcia, Yang, & Agorin, 1983 p. 95).  President Ronald Reagan even cited a Time Magazine article featuring Johnston, as a model of community investment without the interference of the federal government in transforming the community, apparently not recognizing the federal judicial and financial interventions which were instrumental in bringing about the change (Reinhold, 1983).

Increased funding for the school allowed for investment in renovations, technology, and expanded course offerings.   This change in trajectory though was short lived.  Austin was absolved from its federally mandated desegregation in 1983 and formally ended bussing in 1987 returning to neighborhood schools and the de facto segregation and lasting impact of restrictive covenant, residential housing patterns, and the bisection of the city by Interstate 35 (Cuban, 2010).[1]

In Austin, magnet schools of “choice” were an attempt to attract white, middle-class families to the Eastside schools through tracked prestigious academic and arts academies insulated from the comprehensive neighborhood schools within which they were collocated (Cuban, 2010).  The LBJ Science Academy opened in 1985 and Johnston would be home to the Liberal Arts Academy starting in 1987 when two way bussing was discontinued to prevent another round of white flight.

Johnston did maintain its vocational programs and magnet status which built on a community tradition in providing vocational education for a predominately Mexican-American and Chicano community (Interview 7, 15, 19).  However with ever increasing emphasis on achievement scores, enrollment and graduation rates continued to decline, and by the late 1990’s Johnston saw a thirty percent spike in already inflated teacher turnover (Reeves, 2007).  The subsequent decision by the district to relocate the magnet arts academy to LBJ high school in 2002 only served to exacerbate already tenuous circumstances.  The parallel histories of school choice, at the local and national levels, indicate the interconnectedness of education policy from the top down.  Therefore, interruption or resistance to these types of reforms indicate that there is also a potential to influence policy from the bottom up, setting the stage for Pride of the Eastside.

-To be continued.


[1] For more information on Austin’s mixed history of progressivism and discrimination see Eliot Tretter’s work: Austin Restricted


School Choice, It’s Common Sense?Installment 2: New Policy Networks Emerge

Johnston High School, in Austin, Texas was the first school in the state to be closed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  The closure and subsequent repurposing as Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus is an opportunity to witness the intersection of market-based reforms, racial identity, community history, gentrification, community organizing and educational decision making.  The confluence of macro political and economic forces cannot be ignored when examining the intersection of public school policy and private interests due to their impact in shaping individual and organizational perspectives (Kamat, 2004 p. 156).

This case of how IDEA, a privately owned public charter school, with significant institutional support, was met with resistance from the community it was reputed to serve, provides a unique opportunity to examine how a diverse group of individuals organized and acted on both sides of the issue.  In particular, this case of community resistance and ultimately vindication demonstrates the democratic possibilities when communities are faced with state directed take overs and other top-down school reforms we will undoubtedly see under the Devos regime.

Background on School Choice in Texas

Texas, like Washington D.C., embarked on its own efforts toward reform during the 1980s.  Texas Governor Mark White, pressured by business interests, appointed Electronic Data Systems founder Ross Perot to chair a special committee on education (Cuban, 2010).  Their report, eventually signed into law as House Bill 72, instituted “no pass no play,” and included new education objectives and standards, required achievement testing, equalized district funding from the state, referenced charter schools, and strengthened top-down accountability measures (Cuban, 2010).  The appointment of Texas business leaders to the helm of education reform echo similar trends in tailoring education to the “needs of the state” dating back to the early 1900’s (Kliebard, 1987, p. 99).  The economic interest of the state benefits from the common sense that students should be prepared for employment and self-sufficiency.

New policy networks include alliances between the business community or chamber of commerce, legislators, think tanks, educational philanthropy, and school regulatory commissions.  Policy shifts over time in Texas represent a movement toward market based reforms like an increased emphasis on competition through the expansion of charter school organizations associated with new policy networks (Debray, et al., 2007; Anderson & Donchik, 2014).  New policy networks contribute to the inception, promotion, and ultimately legislation which benefit privately run public charter schools like IDEA.

The history of IDEA Public Schools dates back to 1998 when two Teach For America alumni, Tom Torkelson and JoAnn Gama, founded an after school program in Donna, Texas.  In 2000 the state granted the Individuals Dedicated to Excellence and Achievement (IDEA) a school charter.  The following should serve then as no surprise when an IDEA administrator Mx. Bishop shares,

Understanding more how the private sector can be a more constructive partner in helping address issues of equity, race, social justice, including education, but also affordable housing, and the revitalization of distressed communities. I just thought there was a lot more that the private sector could do…. I became aware of IDEA Public Schools when I was a staff member in the Texas legislature… I had a meeting with the CEO Tom, identifying, basically find legislative ways to improve equity in funding for public charter schools.  (Interview 14, 2015)

This quote illustrates the articulation of discourses on equity and revitalization with the private sector.  This resonates with the propensity of neoliberal economic policy “…to bring education, along with other public sectors, in lines with the goal of capital accumulation and managerial governance and administration” (Lipman, 2011, p.  14).

A Closer Look at the Influence of New Policy Networks

According to and AISD Trustee, Mx. Holbrook, the vetting process for IDEA Public School’s contract with Austin ISD spanned one year (Interview 7, 2015).  However, Austin ISD identified IDEA Public Schools as a potential partner during the initial reconstitution of Johnston High School in 2008.  To be fair, there is some evidence as to the efficacy of in-district public charter school collaboration, the good sense of cooperation found in the common sense of school choice (Gulosino, & Lubienski, 2011).  However, this partnership warrants further examination due to the influence New Policy Networks appear to play in facilitating the process (Debray-Pelot et. al, 2007).

In 2008 AISD asked for assistance from the Texas High School Project which is an arm of Communities Foundation of Texas, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.   According to their website, Communities Foundation of Texas started in 1953 in Dallas through the efforts of various business and civic leaders.  Contributions of land and charitable gifts built the organization, and a tax law change created a larger incentive for contributors to donate to community charities rather than private charities.  In the sixties the foundation expanded its scope and began focusing on free enterprise stating, “Though times have changed, the Institute’s mission remains the same – to offer education and training for today’s entrepreneurs” (CFT, 2016).

The Texas High School Project was launched in 2004 in order to “create meaningful change for Texas students. By strategically connecting the diverse stakeholders committed to this cause — from legislators and funders to business and civic groups to school administrators and teachers — Educate Texas is leveraging the power of collaboration, bringing together resources and expertise” (CFT 2, 2016).  In addition to helping schools with redesign initiatives the group was successful in bringing 20 Charter Management Organizations to scale and invested thirty-five million in capital, “to achieve tenfold growth and maximize the alliance’s statewide impact” (CFT 2, 2016).  The emphasis on small schools and technocratic solutions to education challenges are some of the hallmarks of both the Gates and Dell foundations (Debray-Pelot Et. al, 2007; Burch, 2009).  The partners helped AISD find entities that met the criteria of open enrollment, governance, capacity, technical assistance, cost, and external partnerships.

The resulting document of recommendations made specific mention of IDEA Public Schools as a potential partnering entity should they be willing to convert their state charter to a district charter conversion based on IDEA’s connections to external partnerships (AISD September 22, 2008).

To be continued in Installment 3.




School Choice, It’s Common Sense?

This blog series, “School Choice, It’s Common Sense?” serves as a counterstory to the current dominant narrative of school choice and neoliberal privatization. Each installment will introduce critical concepts currently being debated in education policy. The series is taken from personal field research conducted over the past two years. Ultimately, the goal of this work is to stimulate a more inclusive dialogue and depict the significance of a democratically run public school board’s expulsion of a privately owned in-district charter school following public pressure and community organizing.
Making the Case:
Overall student achievement is stagnant over the past four years in states like Texas (Weiss, 2015). Urban school districts are increasingly partnering with charter school networks to build their portfolio of schools in the name of meeting accountability measures and improving public education (Levin, 2011). This is observable in urban settings in Texas; therefore understanding how funds are actually being spent is important. In particular, this series will examine one site in Austin ISD, Eastside Memorial High School and the efforts by IDEA Public Charter School and East Austin College Prep to occupy the campus through in-district charters.

Charter schools often adopt similar curriculum and pedagogical practices as traditional public schools thus garnering institutional legitimacy which can act to limit differentiation (Huerta, & Zuckerman, 2009). Wholstetter et al. (2013) cite Christensen and Rainey in asserting charters, through focusing on differentiating themselves, were not innovating new programs as much as repackaging what already existed. Analyzing public school responses to new practices such as marketing demonstrates how public schools are simultaneously adopting business strategies in response to increased market pressures. The diversion of public funds from instruction to private media companies and marketing consultants is an overlooked topic, often overshadowed by discussions on efficiency and achievement. Critically examining the isomorphic tendencies of both public and private governance structures, we begin to tease out substantive from inessential changes (Lubienski, & Lee, 2016).

The current political climate begs the question, why are charter schools able to increase enrollment, further legitimizing the policies promoting their expansion without demonstrating a significant improvement in student outcomes? I argue, one way charter schools are growing is through marketing, advertising, and public relations. Also, charter schools often appeal to notions of good sense including equity, efficiency, and innovation. Finally, their advocacy by way of presidential authority, extends from George H. W. Bush to Barrack Obama and the new policy networks shaping legislation (Frankenberg, & Siegel-Hawley, 2013; Anderson, & Donchik 2014). One question, relevant to the scope of this research, posed by Kahlenberg and Potter (2014) is whether or not charter schools cooperate or compete with regular public schools? Marketing and advertising are one overt way schools compete for students.

The debate in this country about whether the public school, or common school as it was known back in its day, should be treated as a public or private good, spans over a quarter century (Mann, 1848). Scholars provide several frameworks to evaluate the intent and efficacy of education policy (Labaree, 1997; Jencks, 1988). In research conducted for my MA Thesis I coded twenty-four interviews which asked how participants felt about spending public dollars on advertising, and the results were mixed. Some saw it as common sense considering the return on their investment in terms of increasing enrollment, while others perceived this type of spending to be a waste of finite resources in a climate of scarcity and austerity. Another group endorsed their use enthusiastically.
The availability of the information regarding marketing expenditures for the Austin Independent School District (AISD), IDEA Public Charter School (IDEA), and East Austin College Prep (EACP) can all be found on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website. However, there is a lack of uniformity in their filings which is one barrier to accurately measure expenditures which should be addressed in policy with the intent of more easily disseminating the information. Before perceptions can be analyzed we need an accurate picture of actual expenditures in order to improve our understanding of context (Cucchiara, 2016). Figure 1 contains the three most recent years of available data for each school.

Figure 2 depicts these expenditures in terms of per pupil expenses.


The figures above indicate that marketing expenditures are increasing over time. Examining enrollment patterns demonstrate growth for IDEA during this time frame and declining enrollment for AISD and EACP. The decision by AISD to begin formal marketing in 2015 indicates that democratically run public schools are in this case adopting the strategies of the competition in order to recapture students. Increasing competition for students and their accompanying average daily attendance funding play a marked role in shaping school behavior during an age of austerity.
The next installment will trace the history of Johnston High School culminating in the Austin ISD School Boards Decision to partner with IDEA Public School in 2012.
(References are available upon request)


Timeline of The Austin, Texas Story by: Vincent Tovar


How an East Austin Community kicked a charter school out of the Austin Independent School District (AISD), voted in a progressive school board majority, and continues to fight for public schools with the grassroots leadership of student, parent, teacher, staff, community, and school board volunteers.



 October 20, 2011: AISD proposes to have IDEA, a charter school organization from South Texas, take over an East Austin Elementary School, Allan, in order to help Eastside Memorial High School (EMHS).

 December 12, 2011: With mounting protest, AISD postpones the vote on IDEA to December 19, 2011.

 December 19, 2011: AISD School Board votes to approve IDEA at Allan Elementary.

 Spring 2012: IDEA recruits new students with billboards, radio and TV ads, and aggressive phone calls.

 Fall 2012: Despite the initial intent to have IDEA rebuild the local community schools, less than 18% of its school population, in the fall of 2012, is from the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team Community.

 November 2012: Four new AISD School Board Trustees are elected.  Three of them, with community pressure, would work to get IDEA’s contract on the agenda for the December 17, 2012 Board Meeting.

 December 17, 2012: AISD votes to terminate IDEA’s contract, effective June 2013.

 Spring 2013: The Eastside Memorial Vertical Team (EMVT) Community works to replace IDEA with a new partner for Eastside.  A Community Request for Proposal Committee is established to choose the new partner, which would become Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Development Secondary.  The EMVT Community is informed about the possible closure of EMHS if the Commissioner doesn’t approve.

 June, 2013: Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Michael Williams announces his approval of Johns Hopkins at Eastside Memorial at their 2013 High School Graduation.

 Fall 2013: AISD works with community partner and local non-profit Austin Voices for Education and Youth to host Community Meetings about proposals for the future of Allan Elementary’s former facility.

 Spring 2014: Allan Ad-Hoc Facility Committee, comprised of EMVT Student, Parents, Staff, and Community Members, meets to make recommendation to the Board on the Future Use of the Facility.

 Summer 2014: 5 School Board Races will launch for the upcoming November election.

 November 2014: As Austin elects 10 City Council members, of 10 single-member districts, a Mayor, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor, 5 of 9 School Board Trustee slots will also be at stake.

 Winter 2014 and Beyond:  After electing progressive leaders, we must continue to work (and celebrate)!

 For more information, visit On Facebook and Twitter!


October 20, 2011: AISD presents four Proposals for the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team in Eastside Memorial’s Cafeteria.  Three of the four proposals feature IDEA at Allan Elementary.  The last one invites the Community to present a better option.

AISD Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen publicly presents the need for IDEA as part of Eastside memorial’s Reconstitution Plan and the pressure she’s receiving from TEA Commissioner Robert Scott.

In a break-out session specifically focused on Allan Elementary, Ramona Trevino, former Chief Academic Officer of AISD, informs Allan Staff and Community Members that, as part of IDEA’s existence, current Allan teacher s “will be phased out”.  In the same break-out group, AISD District 2 Trustee, Sam Guzman is hovering over parents as they fill out their questionnaires.  Trustee Guzman is telling parents which option is best.

The resounding, initial question, from the EMVT, at this meeting was, “Why can’t we do it ourselves?”  Why couldn’t our Vertical Team be given this opportunity at [IDEA’s implementation of] Direct-Instruction, which happens to go against all of the ‘Best Practices’ that AISD has pushed forward for years?  Why couldn’t our school-community wishes be respected?

Austin school district proposals upset some community members

The Austin-American Statesman is the first print medium to cover this story.

Austin Independent School District’s Latest IDEA

This documents the first of many instances in which AISD staff are afraid to speak.

November 3, 2011: First Community Meeting at Martin Middle School.  Tom Torkelson, CEO of IDEA, responds to an Eastside Memorial student’s question about Special Education.  Torkelson states that he doesn’t believe in dyslexia.  “Dys-teach-ia” is the problem.

Community Members speak about how studies have proven that Charter Schools are not any better than Public Schools. They reference:  “Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States”

After the meeting, community members approach Dr. Carstarphen and ask if they can present our “Plan D”, the community’s alternative proposal to having IDEA take over Allan, at the next Martin Meeting.  She agrees.

November 5, 2011: East Austin community deserves voice

The Statesman begins to shed light on the need of our Vertical Team Community’s respect from AISD.

November 8, 2011:  AISD invites Parents and Community Members to visit the IDEA-Donna campus located in Donna, TX.  Trustee Sam Guzman states that it would be a better bus ride for everyone if he wasn’t on the bus.  Sam does not attend.

Laura Heinauer, a Statesman reporter, is publicly shamed and told, by Ramona Trevino, that she can’t interview anyone on the bus.  Laura informs her of AISD’s prior consent to both ride on the bus and conduct interviews.

On the tour, in IDEA-Donna’s elementary classrooms, we see no work hanging from the walls.  The only student products we see are “Hats Off to Drugs” and “Scare Drugs Away” paper plate decorations on classroom doors.  (Aside: Isn’t “Hats Off” a gesture of appreciation?)  In a high school classroom, we do see student-made posters comparing and contrasting U.S. leaders.  As we look closely at all the posters, they all have the same answers using slightly different words.

When we speak with the school counselor, she informs us her process of helping provide social services to the kids.  After they disclose a personal issue, she hands them a piece of paper with the contact referral information of outside groups, agencies, etc., and sends them back to class.

After we tour IDEA-Donna’s campus, Tom Torkelson is asked, “What are the drawbacks of IDEA?”  He cannot generate a response.  Ramona Trevino interjects and replies that IDEA neither has Music nor Art classes.  This marks the beginning of our work to uncover the drawbacks since neither IDEA nor AISD were informing the population of Austin, which includes the communities in which IDEA would invade.

November, 2011:  Allan Elementary hosts its monthly Campus Advisory Council (CAC) Meeting.  At the meeting, IDEA informs the Allan CAC Members they will provide more information so the CAC can make an informed decision about their approval or disapproval of the IDEA proposal at Allan.  Note: Allan would not have its next CAC meeting until after the December 19th vote in which AISD approved IDEA.

Texas law and district policy require AISD to authentically include CACs and local communities in school planning and in coordinating the effective use of community resources to serve the needs of students.

Instead, AISD’s central office and Board makes decisions and takes action without authentically engaging the community in the process.

November 9, 2012: Our Community Working Group meets to formulate “Plan D”, the Community Option that counters the IDEA proposals.  We learn from Dr. Carstarphen, after asking, that the Reconstitution Plan doesn’t state the need for a charter, or charter school, as stated in previous meetings;  but rather an “entity”.  We struggle to find the Reconstitution Plan online:

AISD School Board Meeting May 23, 2011.  Agenda Item 9.2

November 15, 2011: Ed Fuller presents his report Are IDEA Charter Schools a Good IDEA for Austin?

This report would be ignored by the majority of AISD’s School Board, but would do AISD’s job by informing our Vertical Team of other data.

Study challenges IDEA charter’s success claims

The Statesman understands the need to inform our Vertical Team Community.

November 16, 2011: Second Community Meeting at Martin Middle School.  After weeks of communicating with administrators, staff, parents, students, and community members about an effective “Plan D”, we consolidated our collectively agreed-upon points and waited to present.

At the beginning of the meeting, we discovered that AISD had introduced its own “Plan D”.  Our plan was now bumped to “Plan E” without any warning.  As we presented, all of our talking points, and this is not an exaggeration, received applause.  Although time was not facilitated well throughout the event, Ramona Trevino interjected towards the end of our presentation and said “One Minute”.  Our presentation of “Plan E” received a standing ovation.  Now, it’s in school binders with other plans put forth for our Vertical Team.

Differences remain over charter school proposals

Will District Support Neighborhood Schools?

November 19, 2012: Telephone Survey to Eastside Vertical Team families with misleading questions.  Was Eastside under threat of closure?  The results from the survey were hardly mentioned, and are still ignored to this day.  The question in regards to rethinking our transfer policy is incredibly important, and the answers are surprising.  Why don’t we address these answers?

Full Picture on charters needed

November 21, 2011: AISD Public Hearing. Only Dr. Carstarphen and Trustee Cheryl Bradley are seated to listen.  Why have a Public Hearing with only one Trustee?  We spoke, but saw no need to return to Public Hearings with such a small audience.

In-District Charters: Carstarphen’s Big IDEA

Note both the comments below this report.  Caroline Sweet testifies that Dr. Carstarphen did not meet with her and speak about IDEA, and the other comment features a former IDEA mom exposing her frustrations with IDEA in South Texas.

November 25, 2012: AISD Parents, Teachers a Tough Sell: AISD Board slated to vote on charter school

November 28, 2011: AISD holds a Public Hearing in regards to the IDEA Proposal for Allan Elementary.  Alejandro Delgado speaks as a native Austinite and former IDEA teacher.  He states, “AISD has had their turn.  Now, it’s IDEA’s.”  Delgado would later become an administrator at IDEA-Allan for the 2012-2013, and 2013-2014 School Year.

December 6, 2011: IDEA Community Meeting at Metz Recreation Center.  As we arrive early, we look for another area to wait until IDEA is ready for folks to sit in their meeting room.  We walk down the main hallway towards the game area, and Alejandro Delgado informs us that we’re not allowed to be in there.  It’s clear that we are allowed, and we proceed.  IDEA begins to attempt intimidation efforts.

After Matt Randazzo, IDEA’s Chief Growth Officer presented to dozens of people, he’s asked, “How does it feel to end the history of Allan?  Allan is doing fine.  How does it feel to end Allan Elementary as a Community School?”  Randazzo’s response can be summed up as “Whatever it takes” a la Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone motto.  As the next question is being asked, Ramona Trevino comes up to us from behind and whispers that she wants to talk to us about Allan.  We let her know that we were interested, but listening to the next question being asked.  She walked away and whispered “Allan is not doing fine.”  Over nine months later, Ed Fuller would publish a report documenting how Allan Elementary was both on a positive trajectory, and incredibly close to being “Recognized” by the TEA.

At the end of the meeting, we spoke with all the parents in attendance.  All of them were either Metz Elementary parents or other Vertical Team parents opposed to IDEA, except one couple.  One couple was interested in IDEA.  Where did their child attend school?  Matthews Elementary near Downtown Austin.  We would later find out that the parent of the student was Tina Fernandez.  Tina would later be exposed as an ardent supporter of Teach for America (TFA), a generous donor to the pro-charter Austin Kids First (AKF), and the only Austin resident who would serve on the IDEA-Allan School Board.

December 8, 2011: We met with then-TEA Deputy Director Lizzette Reynolds.  She represented the unavailable then-TEA Commissioner Robert Scott.  She noted that, “Nobody’s talking about closing Johnston”.  She made it very clear that Eastside was not under the threat of being closed, which countered Dr. Carstarphen’s October 20th claim that it was under such a threat.  It also made the November telephone survey suspect in regards to the question that misleads the community to think Eastside could possibly be closed in the following academic school year.

December 9, 2011: Allan Elementary holds their Winter Festival.  We are allowed to have parents sign a petition to ask the Board Members not to approve IDEA.  Throughout our conversations, we learn that nine out of ten Allan parents hadn’t heard of the proposal to have IDEA take over Allan.  This is three days before the vote is scheduled to take place.

One hour before the program starts, an employee of Southwest Key (which operates a nearby charter school – East Austin College Prep) and opponent of IDEA gets into a verbal disagreement with us.  Throughout our struggle with IDEA, Southwest Key’s representatives indicated that their employment and charter school neither had an impact on their support for Allan Elementary nor opposition to IDEA.  After December 19th, Southwest Key representatives never attended another community meeting.

December 10, 2012: IDEA rents out the Metz Recreation Center for a Community Meeting, but no-shows.  Not a single IDEA representative showed up to inform our community about its cancellation.

Too many holes in charter plan

December 2012:  A Wells Fargo Representative, from South Texas, and advocate for IDEA emails Tom Torkelson and states that it would be reasonable to pack up the tent and back out of IDEA’s future in Austin.  Torkelson states that our work is something “ginned up by the union”, and not to worry.

December 11, 2011: Dozens protest plans for charter-run schools

This article states, ”Pre-kindergarten students and others who do not wish to enroll at the charter, which would be run by IDEA Public Schools, would be assigned to Govalle or Ortega Elementary Schools…”  In January, Dr. Carstarphen would surprise our community by announcing that AISD would house a Pre-K facility co-located at IDEA-Allan.  This plan was never a part of the pre-January discussions.

IDEA hosts an informational meeting at Santa Julia Church in between its church services.  Community is outraged that IDEA is utilizing the church to inform and recruit community members.  This unethical tactic would reappear when Rev. Dr. Jayme Mathias runs for School Board in the Fall of 2012.

December 12, 2011:  AISD plans to vote for or against IDEA at their Regular Board Meeting.  Hundreds of Eastside Memorial Vertical Team Community Members marched and protested against IDEA; but, more importantly, they voiced their support for the Eastside Vertical Team.

On this rainy and frigid night, community members are left to watch the meeting outside.  Two of the community members are my wife and two year old daughter.  IDEA, however, has at least 15 reserved seats in the Board Auditorium.

Citizen’s Communication

Amber Welsh, future Co-Founder of Austin Kids First, posts a statement on the Facebook page of Teach for America’s Austin Alumni Chapter.  She states, “Come out and show your support for IDEA”.  In October and November of 2012, Amber Welsh will repeatedly deny that Austin Kids First is pro-charter.

December 15, 2011: East Austin Folks Going Unheard

December 17, 2011: There’s no rush for in-district charter

December 18, 2011. 12pm:  Our Vertical Team Community Working Group meets with Cheryl Bradley at Angie’s Restaurant.  Trustee Bradley expresses interest in Allan as a K-8th school that helps feed students into Eastside.

7pm: Eastside Memorial Vertical Team Community Members sleep outside of AISD’s Carruth Center, with the help of Occupy Austin members, to guarantee all thirty speaking slots, for more Vertical Team Community Members, to speak during Citizen’s Communication at the December 19th Board Meeting.  AISD refuses to give us access to its bathrooms.

Austin district to take up charter school issue today

December 19, 2011. 5am: IDEA Representatives arrive to form their own line for Citizen’s Communications Sign-Up.  Alex Sanchez, AISD Public Relations Spokesperson, honors our line, but gives IDEA reserved seats for the Board Meeting later that night.

6am:  As we move our line, locked by elbows, from the 6th street sidewalk (since AISD prohibited us from camping on the grounds even though parents have historically camped out to transfer their kids to other schools) to the Board Auditorium doors.

7pm: AISD holds a Special Board Meeting specifically to vote for or against IDEA to be at the Allan Elementary Campus.

Citizen’s Communication

December 20, 2011. 12am: AISD School Board votes 6-3 to approve IDEA at Allan Elementary.

Winter Break, December 2012: Former IDEA staff and parents contact us with their own testimonials about the negative experiences they’ve had at IDEA.  The emails they send are lengthy and shocking.

January 2, 2012: Emails show IDEA Public Schools approached Austin school district about charter school proposal

This explosive article featured:

[Ramona Treviño]  asked for demographic profiles of IDEA students, rates of IDEA graduates attending college and information on the services and programming IDEA would provide to different kinds of Austin students, such as English language learners and special education students.

When Treviño asked for an “accurate dropout rate” for IDEA students, [Matt] Randazzo responded that IDEA tracks “student persistence. Last year our organization-wide persistence rate was 93 (percent) as measured August to August. That is the percentage of students who persisted from 8/2010 to 8/2011.”

Those numbers were later challenged by Pennsylvania State University researcher Ed Fuller, who found that 35 percent of IDEA ninth-graders withdraw by 11th grade.

Treviño also asked Randazzo whether IDEA would be willing to sign a noncompete clause.

Randazzo replied, “We will likely not sign a non-compete clause unless the district agrees to provide, over time, enough facilities to serve roughly 12,000 students.”

That would amount to about 14 percent of the district’s approximately 86,700 enrollment, and, in the final contract, IDEA agreed not to operate any schools that would have the effect of competing against the Austin school district.

In advance of the vote, Treviño said in emails that some school board members wondered why the district needed IDEA’s involvement at all in its work at Eastside Memorial High School, which has struggled to meet state academic standards in the past, and schools that feed into it.

She asked Randazzo for help answering the question, “Why can’t AISD do this with Eastside Vertical Team ourselves?”

Randazzo replied, “This requires too long an answer for email. ;-)”

January 4, 2012:  Emails reveal district bent to fit IDEA needs

January 2012: An internal AISD email is sent to AISD staff stating there can be no bad sentiments towards IDEA now that it’s an AISD school.

January 11, 2012:  Tovar, Sweet: No More Silence about our Schools

Unanswered questions arise, and continue to exist, in regards to IDEA’s preparedness for special populations, which include:  English Language Learners, Special Education Students, and Teen Parents.

January 14, 2012: As Austin district works to open charter school, opponents plan boycott

This reporter, Melissa Taboada, repeatedly pressured me to say “boycott” instead of “opt-out”.  I didn’t, but she still put it in her headline.

January 21, 2012: PRIDE of the Eastside hosts a former IDEA family from the Valley.  A fifth grader speaks out about his experiences at IDEA in South Texas.   “I don’t want kids to suffer like I did,” Eduardo Ramon, 5th grader from South Texas.

January 23, 2012: At an AISD Regular Board Meeting, Dr. Carstarphen makes a surprise announcement that Pre-K will exist at Allan Elementary as an AISD grade level.  It was a surprise because it was never discussed before this meeting.  We speculate that it will serve as IDEA’s feeder population for its Kindergarten class in the 2013-2014 school year and school years to come.  We also know that IDEA does not have experience serving Pre-K children.

January 31, 2012: Dr. Carstarphen visits Eastside students.  In conversations with both staff and students present, we learn that the Superintendent repeatedly blames the students for the school’s situation.

February 2012: IDEA-Allan Billboards appear on Riverside, 7th Street, and Manor Rd.  IDEA Radio and TV Ads begin to appear on Fox and Univision.  Unanswered questions, that continue to go unanswered, arise about the amount of money IDEA is spending to recruit families.  Unanswered questions, that continue to go unanswered, arise about the overall cost-per-pupil, inclusive of advertisements, buses, uniforms, free t-shirts, etc. at IDEA-Allan.

February 9, 2012: IDEA Community Meeting at Allan.  The Allan PTA was forced to present as a disguise to make it seem like the event was a PTA Meeting.  IDEA representative Irma Munoz tells parents that they can neither eat lunch with their kids nor celebrate their kids’ birthdays at school.  An Allan mom asks, “Do you celebrate Christmas?”  Everyone laughs.

February 14, 2012: IDEA no-shows at their scheduled presentation to fifth graders at Metz Elementary.  It would not be their only no-show in their series of eight, recruitment presentations to fifth graders within the Vertical Team.

February 24, 2012: The Opt-Out Deadline is extended two weeks amidst community pressure that an insufficient amount of time and an inadequate amount of information has been given to Allan families about their rights to opt-out.

March 6, 2012:  IDEA to expand recruiting efforts as new opt-out deadline approaches

Arismendi, the new IDEA-Allan principal, said the only people who have been called more than once were those who did not answer.  This is a complete lie.

March 10, 2012: New Opt-Out Deadline for Allan families wishing to opt-out of IDEA.

March 23, 2012: IDEA Still Hunting Enrollment

In this article, Vanessa Barry of IDEA says, in response to the extension of the opt-out deadline, “Whatever made the community happy, we were pleased to do.”  In retrospect, ‘whatever made the community happy’ was not to have IDEA, but why didn’t IDEA respect that community wish?

April 13, 2012:  Applications for IDEA charter school jump, officials report  Matt Randazzo touts that IDEA has recaptured 70 AISD kids from private and charter schools.  What is that number now?  And how many families left AISD after the IDEA vote, from December 19th to December 2012?

May 17, 2012: IDEA holds its Lottery.  Alejandro Delgado asks me for help when it comes to key issues and questions within our vertical team.  I respond, “We didn’t want IDEA, and now you’re asking for our help.  Does that make sense to you?”

May 19, 2012: Allan Elementary hosts its Farewell Fest.  AISD discourages Allan from calling it a “Farewell Fest”.  During this end-of-school year period, IDEA both rejects Allan’s library books and Allan’s historical mementos.  IDEA neither wants a traditional library nor any artifacts of Allan’s past.

May 30, 2012: Last Day of School at AISD.  Allan teachers must be off campus, with all their belongings, by the end of the day on May 31, 2012, the day after the last day of school.  Some teachers had already started packing well before the last day of school.  They were told to put stickers on their belongings.  IDEA put stickers on what they wanted to keep, took pictures of class sizes while kids were in the room, and AISD reps counted every individual desk, computer, etc, while Allan kids were in classes and teachers were teaching.

May 31, 2012: An extension has been granted for teachers to pack up and leave Allan, but there is still pressure to hurry.  AISD’s Transitions Representative for IDEA’s takeover of Allan is out of town/on vacation.

June 1, 2012: Eastside Parents watch AISD and IDEA dismantle their neighborhood school

June 30, 2012: IDEA-Allan has its Summer Gathering.  At the gathering, we learn, through a flier distributed by IDEA-Allan, that not only does IDEA-Allan have spots available for all of its grade levels, Kinder-2nd and 6th, it’s also offering a free uniform to families who refer  other families to register at IDEA-Allan.  Free IDEA-Allan T-shirts are given away at the Gathering.  Unanswered questions resurface, and ask how much IDEA is spending per-pupil when it can give away t-shirts.  Unanswered questions arise to argue IDEA’s non-competitive and ethical positions as they offer free uniforms to families who recruit other families.  This practice is also similar to Southwest Key’s Charter School, East Austin Prep, who offered $100 to families that held informational, recruitment gatherings at their households.

July 13, 2012: IDEA still trying to fill seats

Note that Juan Salinas comments about me and this article.  Juan Salinas was hired to recruit families for IDEA.

September 2012:  The Eastside Vertical Team Community is informed about the AAFR’s slated for our schools.  Two include strengthening STEM, but one is solely focused on “Blended Learning” and its implementation at our campuses.  Where did this AAFR originate?  Stories from different AISD staff lead us to think that IDEA introduced it, especially since they implement blended learning in South Texas.  We ask, “What is the realistic future of STEM in our Vertical Team if IDEA is expected to take control?”

September 13, 2012:  I meet with the new Executive Director of IDEA in Austin, Larkin Tackett, and AISD Chief Schools Officer Dr. Paul Cruz.  I had over a dozen questions that IDEA hadn’t answered, and still didn’t answer at this meeting.  A couple stemmed from a recent Statesman article about IDEA-Allan:

The first alludes to unanswered questions about where IDEA-Allan’s students were from:

-Vincent “When you reported, to Laura Heinauer, that 25% of our vertical team kids attend idea-allan, how did you know that number?”
-Larkin “I guessed”
-Vincent “How did you guess?”
-Larkin “I asked kids, as they pass through the hallway, ‘What school did you go to last year?”
-Vincent “On the registration form, does it ask for “Former School”?
-Larkin “yes”
-Vincent “So, a spreadsheet should exist that lists those former schools. It should take less than an hour to compile that data into percentages. I could do it in 30 minutes.”
-Paul “We have so many people working on so many things, it’s hard to pull people away in order to do that.”
-Vincent “Claudia Kramer-Santamaria and Parent Support Specialists were pulled away to call and recruit families to attend idea, but why can’t district employees pull away folks to answer these questions?”
-Paul “Claudia and PSS’s aren’t the appropriate people to answer these questions”
-Vincent “I know that, but other district employees could”

-Vincent (to Larkin) “In Laura Heinauer’s article, it states that idea has an 80% free and reduced lunch population. How do you know that?”
-Larkin “I guessed”
-Vincent “How did you guess?”
-Larkin “Based on the conversations I had with the families”
-Vincent “What percentage of families are free and what percentage are reduced?”
-Larkin “I don’t know the difference (in percentages)”

September 21, 2012:  IDEA enrollment numbers reportedly fall short

September – November 2012:

In almost every School Board Candidate Forum and almost every article covering the School Board elections, the issue of IDEA is mentioned and utilized in order to determine candidates’ dispositions on community engagement, charter schools, and IDEA itself.

As elections get closer, the group co-led by Amber Welsch who supported IDEA in December 2011, Austin Kids First appears and raises money for Sam Guzman, Mary Ellen Pietruszynski, and Amber Elenz.  They claim to be neither for or against charters, but the vast majority of them are Teach for America alumni, one of their co-leaders, Edwin Ochoa, worked for IDEA in South Texas, and Ben Maddox, one of their co-founders, is a lobbyist with one client – Austin Kids First.

November 3, 2012:  While campaigning in the Linder community, I observe Amber Welsch removing campaign literature from a door I had just visited.  After confronting her about it, she states that she felt bad “for what just happened”.


It’s beyond difficult to put my feelings into words.  I constantly communicate with students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators, community leaders and members, media, surrounding  Austinites, and non-Austinites who care a great deal about the work we’ve done, and especially those who are doing the work.  At this point, I am honestly worried about what the future of my daughter’s Vertical Team will be.  I know that this issue extends beyond Austin and we have a great deal of work ahead, but it will be disastrous to have IDEA continue to exist, let alone grow, in our school district.  On December 17th, the AISD School Board can terminate IDEA’s contract, and also build something that the East Austin School-Communities desperately need –   a bridge of trust, honesty, respect, and hope with the school district.

Special Notes:  Please contact me if you would like to speak with any persons mentioned, anonymous or not.  Please understand that PRIDE of the Eastside Members, Supporters, and Sympathizers completely defend this personal account.

  • Vincent Tovar, Govalle Elementary First Grade Parent



Venture Philanthropy’s Policy Influence

The emergence of venture philanthropy and new policy networks wrestles away educational expertise from colleges of education and educators placing it instead in the hands of business, advocacy, and law experts (Scott, 2009).  Scott (2009) posits their arguments around frustration with the slow pace of growth of charter schools that are closing the achievement gap, specifically for racial minorities.  Arguing the charter school movement will ultimately improve public schools as well, groups like The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are aggressively investing time and money into private programs, think tanks, and schools.  The Gates Foundation is particularly influential donating over eighty million dollars nationally (Dillon, 2007).  Funding a variety of research grants, school choice organizations, and foundations such as The New Schools Venture Fund, the Gates Foundation shapes federal policy to the point where Dianne Ravitch (2006) regarded Bill Gates as the country’s true superintendent.

The Turnaround Challenge: Why America’s best opportunity to dramatically improve student achievement lies in our worst-performing schools, by the Gates Foundation funded Mass Insight Education and Research (MIER), I argue, both influences federal language and perpetuates the claim that public schools are a failure.  According to the report:

The state must not only support the capacity of outside providers to assist with turnaround (or lead the process); it must create the structures and policies necessary to ensure that single providers act as systems integrators, coordinating the roles and contributions of other collaborating partners (see the graphic on page 85). Turnaround partners can include non-profit and for profit organizations, professional associations, and colleges and universities. In addition, an important role of any partner serving the “systems integrator” role in turnaround schools is establishing strong connections with social service providers and agencies, which tend to play strong, visible roles in the communities served by chronically under-performing schools. (Mass Insight, 2007, p. 78)

One of the key provisions of the MIER report is the concept of a high-poverty, high-performance (HPHP) zone that schools can theoretically create.  The report concedes that, “There are very few HPHP schools and they are likely to mitigate, but not erase, the effects of poverty” (MI, 2007, p. 26).  Despite this concession, the report proposes it can identify the “DNA” of these schools thus making it replicable at “scale”.  It continues by outlining nine, deficit based “risk-factors” of poverty.  Risk-factors are turned into “design-elements” for systemic change that will lead to increased performance on standardized tests.  The report believes public schools have been ineffectual because the reforms have been too mild and therefore not able to affect student growth.  Page 29 reads, “Poverty’s Force Comes in Three Mutually-Reinforcing Forms” and labels students of poverty and their families “at-risk” over a striking graphic of a hurricane approaching the Eastern Seaboard.

The 100 page “supplement” to this 116 page report includes an entire section on poverty titled Poverty’s “Perfect Storm” Impact on Learning and the Implications for School Design: Three Colliding Factors = A Hurricane of Challenges (MI b, 2007, p. 74).  The message MIER is sending is clear.  Schools have failed to address any of the nine factors outlined and therefore need more radical approaches from outside of the school system, what MIER terms “whole school reform”.  Additionally, the use of the hurricane metaphor subliminally reinforces two false claims. First, that poverty is a natural disaster rather than a result of social and class construction.  Second, it reinforces the crisis motif that continues to permeate the discussion of school reform with RTT today.  MIER positions the HPHP model as a “New-World” model departing from the “Old-World” model:  “HPHP schools do not try to solve the problem of poverty, nor do they use it as an excuse for lower achievement. They do respond with innovative strategies that acknowledge and address the daily disturbances caused by student mobility, learning deficits, disruptive behavior, neighborhood crises, and a host of other poverty related circumstances. They start with the premise that their students can learn at a high standard, and then they do whatever is necessary to remove barriers to learning as well as create new paths for students to pursue achievement” (MI, 2007 p. 30). Not only does MI promote their strategy as “New” and thus progressive, but also then position their critics as in opposition to progress through maintaining the status-quo.

While acknowledging poverty creates circumstances that disturb learning, MIER asserts HPHP schools remove barriers to learning without actually addressing problem of poverty.  These new paths for students to pursue achievement, admittedly circumvent the root cause yet simultaneously reinforce the rhetoric that “Old-World” schools both fail to address poverty, and also use poverty to excuse their failure.  According to Thomas (2011) addressing only the achievement gap serves to further script and narrow the child’s school experience.  Rather than using the classroom to create agents of social change it is actually these “New-World” ideas that serve to protect the status quo of structural and class inequalities (Thomas, 2011).

Examination of the MIER report’s authors and contributors finds broad ideological underpinnings that make for unlikely partnerships.  The compelling discourses contained in the report appear to come from a strikingly divers group of people and organizations.  Three of the reports four authors have experience in consulting and business backgrounds.  One author studied education history at Oxford and is an expert in standards-based curriculum.  The contributors include managers, consultants, private and public business leaders, private and public college professors, think tanks with both conservative and liberal leanings, economists, public officials from SEA’s, state governors, and middle and High School administrators.  Broad political, market, and advocacy forces have aligned behind this report and others like it propelling the growth of charter schools and choice movements along with shaping the federal mandates of RTT.

… Schools serving the disadvantaged have far more pressure to improve performance than more affluent neighborhoods with less minority presence. The current community based resource model, even with supplementary funding from SIGs and RTT, inhibit access to a meaningful education experience for students born into poverty (Thomas, 2011). Housing discrimination is highly linked to educational outcomes. Segregated housing linked to segregated schools diminishes minority’s achievement (Orfield, 2013). Even when schools are integrated, reliance on standardized achievement test outcomes stratify students resulting in tracts (Thomas, 2011). Typically white students are found in the upper academic AP classes where they find lower student to teacher ratios, the most capable teachers with regard to content knowledge, and richer curriculum (Thomas, 2011). Title I schools and lower academic tracts become narrow test prep academies where typically novice teachers adopt strategies from academic coaches known to increase aggregate performance on particular tested learning objectives. The resulting narrowed curriculum adversely limits the scope and depth of curriculum minority students come into contact with and additionally, creates resistance in the students based on less authentic relationships with their teachers. According to Tienken and Zhao, (2013) in effort to meet AYP goals, schools serving minority students engage in many counterproductive measures to raise test scores that actually serve to widen the educational opportunity gap with respect to their white peers.

In particular school choice is increasingly stratifying the racial makeup of schools. Research suggests strong evidence that color blind school choice initiatives have increased racial segregation in the US (Scott & Wells, 2013). These schools tend to have longer hours, strict behavioral standards, contractual obligations for families and dress codes (Scott, 2009). These groups not only limit enrollment through these measures but influence attrition with strict discipline policies (Scott, 2009). Public schools however are bound to serve each student yet there is no flexibility in comparing achievement outcomes.

SIGs and RTT serve to provide cultural masking of inequity, promoting myths of freedom and equality through school choice and common core standards. Business interests continue to shape education policy, reaping the benefits of a workforce customized to their liking without paying their share of taxes. The think tanks and philanthropies people like Bill Gates support become tax shelters ensuring business does not pay their share. These groups then influence policy as seen in MIER (2007) exploiting the equity gap that exists in schools to promote a diverse cadre of goals.

Ultimately minority students will continue to suffer from poverty and inequality while think-tanks and the FDOE publish reports about the progress of a few HPHP schools. We will miss yet another chance to move from a scripted classroom experience for minority students, to an authentically situated individual experience where students become agents of social change in the classroom. Children of color can then enact a new social vision rather than continue to be enacted upon by those with power and money claiming to see well. As the UNESCO (2014) report proposes, we cannot create sustainable changes unless we change our actions and thinking. By continuing to rely of standardized test scores and the influence of business and policy entrepreneurs the education reform movement changes neither. RTT and SIGs do little to enact agency at the local school level and continue to splinter and marginalize young minority children while purporting to be their saving grace.

Education, Uncategorized

Columbine, Brutal Paradox, & Frank DeAngelis: in search of a new humanism

Spending two days with Frank DeAngelis, former principal of Columbine High School, puts it all in perspective. Education is a sphere encompassing both the best of and worst of our times. The victims: Cassie, Steven, Corey, Kelly, Matt, Daniel, Danny, Dave, Rachel, Isaiah, John, Lauren, and Kyle are rightfully mourned, like so many others snuffed out too soon. Survivors of the tragedy offer hope where the killers demonstrated arrogance and cowardice, but more importantly Frank shares how to turn tragedy into triumph. This aspect of leadership is the antithesis of George Steiner’s “Brutal Paradox” where Nazi Germany turned triumph into tragedy and demonstrates the nonduality of a world constantly in flux.

Steiner’s works often attempted to address the question as to why and how high culture failed to humanize the barbarian (animal nature) inside each of us, or at least temper it (Karier, 1990). The killers at Columbine too were highly intelligent, entitled, motivated, and believed themselves superior based on the premise of the other as less than. In the quest for universal and life-sustaining truths Steiner advises teachers of the humanities that “Humanism must be partisan… ‘an ice-axe to break the frozen sea inside us’” ( Karier, 1990 p. 51). The forces of good and evil do exist and neutrality only serves to enhance those evil forces yearning to freeze our hearts with fear and pain ambivalent to the sufferings of others as a kind of self-defense or justification of evil acts. Frank chose to melt the ice with love rather than chip it away, and the two methods are not mutually exclusive.

According to Karier (1990), Steiner asserts social injustice is the price one must pay for high culture, what post-modernity would describe as a zero-sum game where you can’t build one without taking from the other. However, one principal of leadership Frank shared was that in being a heart led leader, giving energy gets energy, and allowing opportunities for each person to grow into their best self makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. This infinite potential, in particular the capacity of our hearts to grow, provides a counter argument for Steiner’s assertion. Classical humanism is rooted, argues Karier, in civilization and all the accompanying stratification and differentiation. Our coursework here has exposed many ways this definition has impacted those on the margins characterized as inferior often degraded, institutionalized, and/or exploited. Therefore, a new humanism is warranted.

Love, while an amazing human emotion, quickly justifies repression and coercion of factions or ideas seen as threatening to those people and ideas most cherished, thus quickly giving way to hate. So while I agree with Frank that the heart led leader is important I do not believe it can be rooted simply in love.

Whether the arts or academic learning, when it is not directed toward the experiences of common people it becomes elitist. This tendency produces arrogance, egotism, and self-centeredness all qualities of the killers from Columbine, tendencies that also help explain Steiner’s “Brutal Paradox”. This tendency is reflected in much of the American Experience, in terms of economics we expect tax cuts on the wealthy to trickle down to a once deserving poor. Today education is increasingly consumption based and rooted in meritocratic achievement. Increasingly personal gains in wealth and power become the aims of education in spite of the democratic and collective potentials Dewey and Whitman envisioned and pine for (Karier, 1990). Our foreign policy also reflects this tendency as we see our president mourn the loss of children in Chicago on one hand while demanding that ISIS be eradicated without acknowledging the lives of children and women who will be destroyed alongside these perpetrators of “terrorism”.

These paradoxes serve to indoctrinate a significant portion of the population into oversimplified binaries, while critical reflection serves to turn many young people against the structures inherited from their elders. The counter culture movements of the 60’s, periodic emergence of populism and popular education, current backlash against education “reform,” and support for non-establishment candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are evidence that cracks and ruptures are beginning to be made visible. The nonduality of phenomena means these breaches are also the sutures where a new humanism can be articulated.

Karier’s most poignant argument, “it was not the masses that led Germany into that darkness, but rather the privileged few who had the benefit of high culture” is an example of the dangers of a humanism devoid of compassion, just as the Columbine killers demonstrated and as evidenced by repeated acts of violent terrorism (1990 p 61). The threshold of the 21st century is open and this search for a new humanism will not come from above but it will occur through leadership much like the example Frank DeAngelis provides.

1. Be Visible (be out among the people from within not without)
2. Be Honest (allow the ego, our frozen hearts to be broken and thawed through admitting past and therefore ameliorating future mistakes instead of denying they ever happened)
3. Be Empathetic (recognize the interconnectedness of the planet we share knowing one person’s happiness cannot be built on another’s unhappiness no matter how they are characterized)
4. Be Flexible (growth requires discomfort and fluidity and where the only constant we experience is change flexibility allows us to bend and sway through the process rather than display rigid resistance that ultimately ends in something snapping, which is even more painful)
5. Be a Good Listener (dialogical rather than didactic conversations where both parties true sentiments are heard and respected)
6. Be Generous Assigning Credit (we have belly buttons as constant reminders of how we are all dependents, nothing of import is ever achieved in a vacuum or alone)
7. Be Careful Making Generalizations (language is a human trait that should be used in pursuit of being known to others without purporting to know, experience is always situated and individualized depending on where you are standing)
8. Be a Heart Led Leader (The heart is most important)
9. Be Inclusive (diversity benefits ecosystems, monocultures are easily destroyed by outside influences)
10. Love, Love, Love (Compassion, Compassion, Compassion: it’s the only human trait big enough to fulfill our own egotistical yearnings in a way that creates value for all without justifying hate)