Education

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: http://preps.blog.statesman.com/2015/06/11/prepped-and-ready-reviewing-the-2014-15-school-year/

 

 

 

 

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Education

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).

History:

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 http://projects.statesman.com/documents/?doc=1499065-austin-restricted-draft-final

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Education

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.

 

 

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Education

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-1-blog-series
Figure 2 depicts these expenditures in terms of per pupil expenses.

figure-2-blog-series

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)

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