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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Is Public Education Working? How Would We Know?

by Robert Freeman

Imagine you're five feet eight inches tall. When you change the unit of measurement to yards, you're 1.9 yards tall. Are you shorter because the number is smaller? No. Or go to centimeters. Now you're 173 centimeters tall. Does the larger number make you taller? Of course not. Yet this is the effect we experience trying to judge the quality of public education in the U.S. There are so many different standards, all competing for mindshare with the public, it's almost impossible to know what's right any more.

There are state standards. And in some states, such as California, there are multiple state standards. There are the new federal No Child Left Behind standards. There are the National Assessment of Educational Progress standards. The Scholastic Aptitude Tests. The frequently heralded International Math and Science Test standards. Advanced Placement exams for more advanced students. And so on.
Some of these standards, like those of the No Child Left Behind Act, are new. We don't really know yet whether they're actually telling us what they say they are. These things take years, maybe decades, to shake out. Some tests, such as the International Math and Science tests compare apples to oranges, testing small groups of elite students in other countries against the broad average of students in American public schools. Predictably, elites do better than averages. If you test athletes against the general public, guess who is more physically fit?
So what is a parent or a citizen to do? It is a ritual incantation of American civic discourse that public education is critical to the future of our country. How, then, can we be so confused? How can we know if public education is working or not?

Part of the problem is that over the last two decades an intense lobby has emerged that wants to turn public education over to private industry, make McStudents of the nation's youth. It has operated a not-so-stealth campaign to disparage public education and to try to convince Americans that it isn't working. This campaign has mounted a relentless, mantra-like vilification of public schools: schools are failing; teachers are lazy; education bureaucracies are unresponsive; students are being cheated; America is at risk. Sound familiar?

Some of this lobby's motivation is ideological: they dislike anything that smacks of government control, the more so if the service is effective, for such examples repudiate the theological superiority of all things private. Some of its motivation is directed toward right-wing social engineering: they want to control the curriculum that future generations of American students must absorb. And much of it is simply economic: these "prophets of profit" want to get their hands on the $500+ billion that is spent every year in the U.S. on public K-12 education.
This isn't, per se, bad. We do, after all, live in at least a quasi-capitalist society where the pursuit of profit isn't a social evil. But it's the bashers' hypocrisy that rankles. They don't declare any of these motives openly. Rather, they talk of such vaguely incongruous motives as "empowering minorities" and "streamlining" education. These, of course, are the same corporate zealots who brought the "magic of the market" to a formerly vibrant public health system. They are the pious do-gooders (remember Enron?) who bestowed energy privatization on California, the better to reap the "efficiencies" of competition. They are the same bleeding-heart altruists who profess wanting to "save" social security by turning it over to the tender mercies of the financial services industry.

So again, how would we know if public education is working or not? Probably the most reliable, broad-based, long-term tool for measuring the quality of public education is the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The SAT has five strengths that make it the most useful measure of American educational progress.

First, it has been in place for over four decades so it reveals trends that span multiple generations of students, teachers, and schools. Second, it is given to high school juniors and seniors so it reflects the cumulative success (or failure) of the entire K-12 educational system, not just performance in a single year. Third, the same SAT is administered across the entire country so it compensates for the variation in how different states test and account for educational progress. Fourth, the SAT cuts through the "grade inflation" that has become a standard fixture of all educational systems over recent decades. Finally, the SAT measures not just a single, narrow skill but a broad range of intellectual development, from cultural knowledge and logic, to specific academic content, computation, and communication.

Because of its long history, its nationwide reach, and its comprehensive nature, SAT results transcend the negative one-off anecdotes commonly bandied about to disparage public education. No other instrument even comes close to equaling these strengths as a singular measure of national educational progress.
So what do the SAT's tell us about the performance of public education in America?

Last year's SAT scores were the highest in 30 years. English scores were the highest in 28 years. Math scores were the highest in 36 years. The scores were at record levels for all ethic groups: whites; Asian-Americans; African-Americans; Native Americans; and Latinos. And they were achieved by the broadest test-taking pool in testing history. Forty-eight per cent of the nation's 2.9 million high school seniors took the test--a record. Thirty-six percent of the test takers were minorities, another record.

Thirty years ago, only the most elite 15 percent of students took the test. And remember, elites usually test better than averages. So the fact that scores have gone up while the test-taking pool has gotten both larger and more diverse may be the most powerful performance indicator of all. These scores are a huge victory for those who have believed in and fought so hard for public education.

Even more impressive, public schools have accomplished these new highs while confronting some of the greatest obstacles they have ever faced. Consider just a few of these almost Herculean challenges:
Most mothers left home in the past 30 years to join the workforce. No more Mrs. Cleaver at the door with warm cookies, milk, and help with the homework when Beaver comes home.

Over the past decade, American schools have absorbed the largest wave of immigrants in history. Most of these immigrants spoke no English when they came to this country. Many had little if any comparable educational preparation in the countries they left
Schools have been saddled with vastly expanded responsibilities in recent years, much of it wholly unrelated to general academic performance. This includes broadened mandates for everything from sex and drug education to increased demands for help with learning and physical disabilities.

As a nation, we have almost completely surrendered students' socialization to television. By the time they are 18 years old, children have watched 450,000 commercials! Meanwhile they spend only 9 percent of their time in the classroom.

Millions of the best teachers have left teaching for other fields. This is especially true with women who used to have few career options (nursing, teaching, etc.) but who can now go into law, medicine, engineering, business, etc. Despite all of these challenges, and throughout one of the most vitriolic, unremitting campaigns of character assassination in American history, public education has delivered the highest performing group of graduates in over a generation.

Against this record, those who would "privatize" public education have virtually nothing to show for their decades of hucksterish claims. In trial after trial, experiments with educational vouchers (the most popular form of school privatization) have proven a bust. Voucher programs in Milwaukee, New York, Washington D.C., and in Dayton and Cleveland, Ohio have shown no long-term gains in student achievement. And this, despite in some cases skimming the cream off the top of local student populations-recruiting only the best students while keeping problem or special-needs children out.

For example, the longest-running evaluation of a publicly funded voucher program ever conducted, by Indiana University of the Cleveland, Ohio program, found that "student academic achievement presents no clear or consistent pattern that can be attributed to program participation." In other words, the results are no different than those for public schools. This is especially surprising because the program participants were more white, more wealthy, and more stable than students in the local population. If privatized education can't make it with this kind of free pass, it's not going to make it.

Besides educational failure, the economic failure of the privatization model is reflected in the dismal fate of the country's largest company providing such services. Edison Public Schools lost over $350 million dollars trying to perfect the McStudent formula. Yet, after repeatedly failing to deliver on its promises and continually losing contracts, it was finally forced to be de-listed by NASDAQ. It has converted itself back to a private company and no longer publishes its financial information.

Nor do "charter schools" fare any better than voucher schools. Charter schools are self-governing public schools frequently run by private corporations. They were conceived as a way to "liberate" public schools from conventional constraints in hiring, curriculum, and administration. But in August, after the most extensive examination in the history of the country, the Department of Education published data showing charter school students lag public schools students in almost every category of performance. In math, fourth graders were a full half year behind public school students.

Given this record, it comes as no surprise that voucher and charter advocates have started changing their story. No longer do they claim superior results (not that they ever actually delivered them). Instead, they begrudgingly claim that improved public school performance is due to the threat of competition from privatization. This, of course, is conveniently unprovable but sounds a lot like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise. Meanwhile, support for public funding of private schooling has plummeted. In the past year, the number of Americans favoring such programs dropped from 46 percent to 38 percent according to a recent Gallup Organization poll. Why the change of attitude?

It seems the prospect of millions of American families turning their children over to someone whose main motive is to make a profit off of them has lost its appeal. Or perhaps they saw what privatization did for energy costs in California or to the healthcare system nationwide and don't want to take a similar chance on their most precious assets. Whatever the reason, the once bright luster of privatizing the nation's schools is fading. Not that the hucksters will give up. There is too much at stake in their ideological, social engineering, and economic agendas. But neither should they be given a free pass any more to disparage public education the way that they have.
To be sure, public education still faces tough challenges. Schools remain underfunded. Teacher pay continues to fall behind that of other professions. American spending on education as a percent of GDP lags that of many third world countries. Inner-city schools still score lower than schools in more affluent suburbs. And the Orwellian-named No Child Left Behind Act is a thinly disguised formula to make schools fail artificial and unattainable standards-the more readily to justify their privatization.

But the question of whether public schools can deliver should no longer be open for debate. The only question is whether we have the courage to now properly fund public education so that it can take our children and our society to even higher levels of achievement. I believe we can because I know that we must. Public education is not only the most important democratizing institution in America today. It is the foundation of our economic future as well. It never really went away. But still, it's good to have it back.

Robert Freeman writes about economics, history and education. His email address is robertfreeman10@yahoo.com.

"How to Get There from Here"

A Teach-In on Designing a Strategic Plan


You have a great and worthy goal - better health care, reparations, world peace, affordable housing, DC statehood, etc., - but how you get there from here is not clear! Want to learn or increase your knowledge of strategic planning and how to win some smaller victories along the way?

Please join instructor Nadine Bloch, long-time organizer and activist, at our next teach-in. Everyone is encouraged to attend.

633 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW,
Washington, DC
(across from the Navy Memorial (green/yellow subway); 70, P6, 54 30 bus lines).
WHY: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail!"

Refreshments will be served at 6:30 pm.
Workshop is free, however, a small donation will be accepted.

Anise JenkinsStand Up for Democracy in DC Coalition
202-232-2500 ext 2

The New Breast Cancer Stamp

Have you seen the new Breast cancer stamp? It's gorgeous! All right EVERYONE, let's do this! We need you who are great at forwarding information to your e-mail network. It will be wonderful if 2005 is the year a cure for breast cancer is found! The notion that we could raise $35 million just by buying a book of stamps is powerful! As you may be aware, the US Posta l Service recently released its new"Fund the Cure" stamp to help fund breast cancer research.

The stamp was designed by Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland. It is important that we take a stand against this that devastates many of our mothers, sisters, and friends. Instead of the routine 37 cents for a stamp, this one costs 40 cents. The additional 3 cents goes to breast cancer research. A "normal" book costs $7.40. This one is only $8.00.

If all stamps are sold, it will raise an additional $35,000,000 for this vital research. Just as important as the money, is our support. What a statement it will make if the stamp outsells the lottery this week. What a statement it will make that we care. You can help by doing two things: 1. Go out and purchase these stamps. 2. E-mail your friends to do the same. We all know [too many] women and their families whose lives are turned upside-down by cancer. It takes so little to do so much in this drive. I think we can all afford the additional 60 cents the new book costs. Please help & pass this on. If you want to see a picture of the stamp, send an email request to lizday_1951@yahoo.com.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Apartheid School Facilities in DC

DC's Disgusting Double Standards
By Elizabeth Davis, DCPS teacher and member of the DCPS Full Funding Coalition

As a veteran DCPS teacher who has taught in seven of the one hundred and fifty plus DC public schools, I was shocked and awed by the Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation’s decision not to move the School Modernization Act forward this week.

Of the seven schools to which I’ve been assigned over the course of thirty years, six of them are in Ward 7 and 8 and all seven of them would be on the city's ‘Condemned: Do Not AdmitHumans’ list if they were residential properties. Six of the seven schools are over sixty-fiveyears old and severely in need of renovation. Their infrastructures are so old that they are incapable of supporting internet access, and in many cases, the limited technology already purchased by the schools.

I have become so frustrated with the school slogans that I put up on my classroom walls that proclaim “Children First” and “Their Future is Now”, only to invite them into classrooms, restrooms, hallways and cafeterias that resemble condemned storage warehouses.I’ve been waiting for more than thirty years to teach in a school facility that has airconditioning when it’s 98 degrees outside or heat when it’s 38 degrees in the winter months.

I’ve longed to be able to leave my classroom in the evening without having to cover books, computers or student work stations with plastic to catch the falling plaster or water from leaking roofs; to sit in a cafeteria without being surrounded by 55 gallon garbage cans placed strategically around the tables to catch the water from gaping holes in the ceilings. I’ve waited for this dream to come to fruition for myself and my students for more than thirty years in school buildings that are fifty and sixty-five years old.

John Philip Sousa, the middle school to which I am currently assigned, is one of the five subjects of Brown v. Board. It was built during the ‘separate but equal’ era. The hundreds of students attending Sousa today are poor and black. They would not have been able to attend Sousa when it was a new, state-of-the-art facility. Unfortunately, given the inadequate funding offered by the city to fix schools and the rate of gentrification in DC, this history may repeat itself. The dwindling funds which the Mayor and the Council has proposed over the years to modernize these schools would require me and my students to wait for another fifty-five years to experience a safe, healthy, clean, modern learning environment. We had high hopes that the Education Committee would move the proposed Modernization Bill forward and finally provide the funds needed to modernize DC public schools during our life time. We had hoped that the Committee members would somehow muster the political will to give DC children public school facilities of which we could all be proud.

Whenever I attend DCPS Board meetings or Council meetings, I marvel at the state-of-the-art facilities housing the meetings and the offices of the elected officials. On the rare occasions when some of my students are able to accompany me, I always observe their reactions upon entering the Wilson Building or the DCPS headquarters. While their eyes and mouths are saying ‘wow’, their hearts are asking ‘why?’ Why is my school crumbling around my head while the Mayor, the Council and the school Board are meeting in comfortable, cushioned, air-conditioned or warm, Board rooms; making decisions about the substandard conditions under which I’m forced to learn?

Why the double standard?”After the Education Committee’s decision, I find myself asking the same questions. What Council members would be willing to send their own children to these schools? What fiscally responsible elected official would not want the same standards that they have for their own work environments for children's learning environments? Where is the political will to protect the children of DC? When will elected officials follow through with the bogus campaign promises made to their constituents about public education? Why are DC's elected officials so willing to put a baseball stadium, a spy museum and hotels above the needs of public education in the District? Where is the community outrage?

The DCPS has proclaimed that our 'children are first' and 'their future is now'but, now that I think about it, the city has never proclaimed such. When Jonathan Kozol wrote about apartheid schooling in the United States, I’m sure that he included the public schools of the District of Columbia, because they have surely become the shame of the nation’s Capitol.

What can DCPS teachers, students, parents and public school advocates do to encourage the city to fix our crumbling schools?

Ø Demand that the Council's Committee on Education provide the funds needed for modernizations at every school.

Ø Attend the next City Council Education Committee's hearing on this on this legislation to express the impact of crumbling school facilities on quality teaching and learning.

Ø Let the Council know that public education supporters care about the condition of our school facilities.

Go to the www.FixOurschools website to send a message to DC Councilmembers about the School Modernization Bill.

Don’t tolerate the city giving $600 million to build a baseball stadium or a hotel conference center and peanuts to fix our crumbling schools. Your presence is needed!
Elizabeth Davis, Concerned DCPS Teacher

The Status of Teacher Pay Raises

Budget May Exclude Teacher Raises, Unions Fear
by V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer

Several District officials and school activists say they fear the D.C. school system is about to embark on another chaotic budget season by putting together a spending plan without having reached contract agreements with its employee unions.

Superintendent Clifford B. Janey, who will submit a budget for fiscal year 2006 to the school board next month, is still negotiating three-year labor agreements with the unions representing teachers, principals, bus drivers and teacher's aides. The unions' last contracts with the school system expired in September 2004.
School officials last week declined to say whether any money for employee pay raises would be included in Janey's budget proposal, explaining that they could not comment on any matters related to ongoing collective bargaining. But in the past, they have avoided budgeting for raises during contract talks, saying that doing so would reduce their leverage in the negotiations.

Education advocates say they are worried that the scenario of the last two budget cycles is about to be repeated. In each of those instances, the superintendent and school board did not budget the full cost of employee raises and the mayor and D.C. Council -- to prevent the withholding of the raises or other drastic cuts -- agreed to a last-minute bailout of the school system.

"You can't just sit on the whole thing and hope in the end that the unions will cave or the mayor will come up with more money," said Mary Levy, who is director of the Public Education Reform Project for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and has studied the school system's financial structure.Levy said school leaders should either complete labor negotiations before the start of the budget process, so they would know exactly how much money to budget for raises, or factor collective bargaining agreements into the school funding formula."This is a fixable problem," she said.

Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), who chairs the council's education committee, said there would be "strong resistance" among her colleagues to provide emergency funding again. "The school system should negotiate a contract it can afford, not go out of its budget," she added.

Patterson and others also said the school system is violating a law passed by the council in 2002 that requires agencies to complete collective bargaining with public employee unions before submitting a budget.
She said many city government agencies are in compliance with the law, reaching agreements with unions before the budget season and, in some cases, even before the old labor pact has expired. But she said the school system has regularly broken the law, which is not enforced.

"The school system never got itself into the same cycle" as city government, Patterson said. "They didn't have strong people in labor relations."Rudolph F. Pierce, a lawyer who is acting as the school system's chief negotiator, declined comment on Patterson's allegation that the law is being violated. Pierce did say that tight resources are a factor in the slow pace of negotiations with the various employee unions.Janey "wants to have good relations with the members of the bargaining units," Pierce said. "The difficulty is in giving employees what they want and doing it within the constraints of the budget."

School board member Tommy Wells (District 3) said he thinks Janey is committed to ensuring that employees are paid fairly, adding that the superintendent spent months working to fix payroll problems that were preventing hundreds of teachers from receiving back pay. Still, he said, "this is very serious and we've got to have negotiated contracts for our employees." Teachers and other workers, he said, need to be "energized" to support the changes in curriculum, textbooks and academic standards that Janey is implementing. "Dr. Janey has to identify where the funding is coming from or whether something is going to be cut."

In 2004, before Janey took office, the school board said it could not afford a 9 percent raise in the last year of the teachers' union's three-year contract. Some teachers threatened to walk off their jobs, and the council eventually approved $14 million to fund the raise.

In the spring, Janey said the system would be forced to lay off hundreds of teachers if it added money to the budget to pay for the step increases for teachers called for in the previous agreement. In May, the council allocated an extra $19.8 million.This year's contract talks have dragged on for several months, and representatives from the two largest employee groups, the teachers and bus drivers, said they are disappointed by the lack of progress.

On Nov. 16, the school board rejected a new contract from the union representing 1,400 bus drivers and attendants for special education students. Board members said the contract was improper because it was not negotiated by Janey, as their policy requires, but by David Gilmore, who was authorized by a federal judge to run the special education transportation program as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by parents.Gilmore said he took control of the negotiations because school officials were "offering a zero-based salary and no performance raise." He said he will ask the judge to force the school board to approve the contract.

George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, which represents about 4,500 teachers, said contract talks with the school system, which began in February, have been stalled since June. "We presented a compensation package in June and we're still waiting for a response to that or a counter offer," Parker said."I don't think teachers are in the mood to hear that money is not available," Parker added. "The city has a surplus, and teachers are working very hard."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Charter Schools: When Zero Tolerance Makes Zero Sense

"Tough-as-Nails"-Hero-Charter School Principal-of-the-Day
The Oakland (CA) Tribune:

OAKLAND — If you mess up at the American Indian Public Charter school in Oakland's Laurel district, everybody will know.One boy learned that lesson the hard way last week, when school Director Ben Chavis brought him in front of the entire school and called him a thief.Chavis told a few hundred students in grades 6 through 9 that the boystole a radio and some money.

Embarrassment, Chavis says, is a good form of discipline."He loves his hair," Chavis told the school. "I'm gonna shave it alloff. He'll be bald tomorrow."The next day, Chavis said he made good on his threat to cut the boy'shair — with permission from the boy's father.

For more on this cozy little place and the mystique of the iron-balls principal slapping African-American boys around and getting cheeredfor it, see the San Francisco Schools blog:http://tinyurl.com/85cby And for another Oakland charter item, also on the blog:http://tinyurl.com/as77h


The Council Committee on Government Operations is holding a hearing on the disposition of publicly-owned properties December 19th.


PLEASE CALL and EMAIL members of the Committee on Government Operations and tell them;

(such as recreation, senior centers, affordable housing....)
The Committee Members Are:
Carol Schwartz – 724-8105Phil Mendelson – 724-8064Jim Graham – 724-8181Adrian Fenty – 724-8052Vincent Orange (cmte chair) – 724-8028*also call Linda Cropp (council chair) – 724-8032
schwartzc@dccouncil.us, pmendelson@dccouncil.us, jgraham@dccouncil.us, afenty@dccouncil.us, vorange@dccouncil.us, lcropp@dccouncil.us
QUESTIONS? Call Empower DC – 202-234-9119Let them know what response you get!Parisa B. NorouziCo-Director/OrganizerDistrict of Columbia Grassroots Empowerment Project(Empower DC)1419 V St, NWWashington, DC 20009(202) 234-9119

Empty Schools Reflect Slow Pace of New Orleans Recovery

Empty Schools Reflect Slow Pace of New Orleans Recovery
By Manuel Roig-Franzia, The Washington Post

Christina Simmons, all smiles and flashing smart eyes, is a rare spark. It isn't because of her 3.8 grade-point average and high test scores, though those certainly set her apart in one of the country's worst-performing public school districts. And it isn't because she actually likes going to class.Christina, 15, is a rarity because she is here at all, waiting and waiting for someone to teach her. Two and a half months after Hurricane Katrina, while the recovery effort lurches along, no public schools are open and nearly an entire generation of New Orleans public school students -- students who populated the renowned, high-stepping marching bands that wow crowds during Carnival season -- has vanished.

Administrators, like frustrated detectives, are struggling to find them.Now, they're paying for public service ads in far-flung cities, and papering evacuee centers with fliers. A school system that served 55,000 students before Katrina's assault on this city has registered only 4,400 for the oft-delayed reopening, now scheduled for Dec. 14, of five schools in the little-damaged Algiers neighborhood. Classes are planned for eight days before breaking for the holidays. The rest of the students are out there somewhere, their returns uncertain at best, unlikely at worst.''
The seeds are dispersed in the wind," said school nurse Caroline Thibodaux, now unemployed.

The schools may be the best barometer of the health of New Orleans' recovery, and the prognosis is not good. Although some private and parochial schools have reopened, the locked doors at the city's 117 public schools -- schools that were overwhelmingly attended by black students and overwhelmingly poor -- stand as testimony to the economic and racial divide of a recovery effort sliding into its toughest hours, the daunting challenge of coaxing tens of thousands of residents back to a city that cannot house or educate them.

The 40 or so administrators, the few public school employees who are still on the payroll after a systemwide furlough, are now crowded into kid-size computer desks at an elementary school. Messages -- from the sad, the frustrated, and the confused -- blink onto their screens. The mother of an honors student enrolled in another school district says: ''Her teacher has stated to the class that if he has to take in another Katrina student he is going to scream."Certainly, the tens of thousands of parents and students who haven't surfaced can be excused. Only the most persistent -- only the Christina Simmonses -- are here.

Between 30 and 40 percent of New Orleans schools -- many of them crumbling, sadly beautiful art deco hulks even before the storm -- will probably have to be bulldozed, said Sajan George, a managing director of the private firm hired by the state to oversee the school system's finances this spring.The school system probably will have more than $1 billion in insurance claims, he said.

The school system is in such disarray that to assess damage, workers have had to break into some schools, smashing windows or drilling through doors, because no one with keys can be found. And, in the end, many of the schools will cease to exist because they will be closed for years for repairs.Enrollment figures are low citywide, in dry neighborhoods and wet ones, but are worst in the most damaged parts of town.

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company --

Katrina's Lesson

"The following editorial raises many critical questions around the future of traditional public schools in the wake of both Katrina and the Bush administration. It also raises some issues which are directly related to the fight in D.C. to win full funding for traditional public schools and to provide the children of poor and working class families with the quality education they deserve." -Roger Newell, Teamsters' Strategic Campaigns & DCPS Full Funding Coalition

By The Editors of Rethinking Schools<www.Rethinkingschools.org

In early September, Hurricane Katrina's 140-mile-per-hour winds swept through New Orleans and exposed this nation's underbelly of racial and economic inequality.

As the whole world watched, the waters surged and the levees were breached, leaving a broiling mass of human suffering in the hurricane's wake. And although Katrina's damage was overwhelming, much of the devastation in the Gulf came from a slower, more preventable surge of racism and poverty.

A vast number of Katrina's casualties were poor and black people. As evacuation was left to the free market, those without cars and money were stranded as the floodwaters rose. The disaster laid bare the effects of Bush's brand of capitalism, which features the privatization of public services. The neglect of the levees, the profiteering of commercial interests, and the destruction of wetlands all helped turn natural disaster into horror.

New Orleans was the shining example of just what the free market could do. Despite a thriving tourist trade, the city's poverty rate is double the national average, hovering at nearly 30 percent. This means that about 130,000 of its 445,000 residents are poor. The poverty rate for children is significantly higher at 40 to 50 percent. Although firm numbers are difficult to pin down, it is estimated that between 66 and 84 percent of the poor are African American.

Even though the spotlight has been on New Orleans, that city is just a microcosm of what is happening everywhere in the United States. As Nicholas D. Kristof pointed out in his New York Times column, "The Larger Shame Behind New Orleans," the Census Bureau recently reported that the number of people living in poverty in the United States increased by 1.1 million people from 2003 to 2004. We've experienced a 17 percent increase in the number of poor people in the last five years, the fact that the federal government regularly underestimates the number of poor notwithstanding.

For the first time since 1958, the U.S. infant mortality rate has increased, and almost a third of the children in the United States did not have health insurance at some point during the last year.

The neglect of the levees, the wetlands, and ultimately of New Orleans' residents, is an inevitable by-product of the tax-cutting, infrastructure-starving, war-waging policies that have eroded government capacity and the public sector for several decades. It also represents a foreshadowing of other environmental and social disasters that may await us in an overdeveloped and under-planned economic system.

Katrina's Children

New Orleans' schools were also caught up in a flood of racism, poverty, and neglect long before Katrina arrived. There are 60,000 children in New Orleans public schools, and 96 percent of them are African American. Last year, about 10,000 of those children were suspended at one point or another, and almost 1,000 of them were expelled. Half of the high school students in New Orleans don't graduate.

The district had to borrow money last year to pay the salaries of its teachers. Today, New Orleans' schools are closed indefinitely and, according to Reuters, 7,000 city teachers and other staff "will not get paid for periods after Hurricane Katrina because there is almost no money left in the city's strapped school system."

Hyper-segregation, such as that found in New Orleans, means poor children of color receive unequal and inadequate educations. In his new book, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America [See excerpt], Jonathan Kozol reminds us that our schools are still rife with extreme racial segregation. Children in highly segregated urban schools have worse facilities, lower paid and less-trained teachers and staff, access to fewer classroom and school resources, and are regularly subjected to scripted, dumbed-down curricula. New Orleans is no exception.

Now, according to current estimates, nearly 400,000 students who have been displaced from schools in Louisiana and Mississippi are expected to enroll in schools around the country. According to the Department of Education, at least 28 states and Washington, D.C., are receiving Katrina's victims. This massive influx of new students into schools, many of which are already struggling under No Child Left Behind mandates, further stretches the meager resources for public education. And at least two of these states, Texas and Utah, propose teaching some of the displaced Gulf Coast school children in shelters rather than in their own public schools.
Consistent with the continual budget cuts, privatization, and overall shrinking of public services, Bush recently announced the allocation of $488 million to help families displaced by Katrina place their children in private schools-specifically those families whose children were already in private schools before Katrina hit. This smells like a back-door approach to get public funding for private schools and would essentially create the first national school voucher plan.

The public sector, which is supposed to serve all people, especially the poor, has been under attack by Bush and his supporters. It is the height of cynicism to turn the failed government response to Katrina, which demonstrated the need to improve and expand the public sector's capacity to deal with such disasters, into a reason to undermine the public sector-in this case public schools. Why not put that money into the already financially strapped public schools that serve evacuee children?

The federal government's inability to address poverty in a meaningful way, coupled with its drive to privatize and shrink social services, implies dire consequences for education in this country. As Jean Anyon points out in her book Radical Possibilities [See review, page 54], federal policies around issues such as livable wages, affordable housing, health care, and transportation, play key roles in the educational achievement of children in public schools. The formula is simple: Children with shelter, enough food to eat, health care, and parents who are not forced to work two poverty-wage jobs just to make ends meet, generally do better in school.

There is no silver lining to a disaster like Katrina, but where there is resistance there is hope. In a widely circulated statement, the organization Community Labor United issued a warning: "The people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the night, scattering across this country to become homeless in countless other cities while federal relief funds are funneled into rebuilding casinos, hotels, chemical plants. We will not stand idly by while this disaster is used as an opportunity to replace our homes with newly built mansions and condos in a gentrified New Orleans." This coalition of progressive New Orleans-area organizations is demanding popular oversight of the rebuilding process and that resources be distributed equitably. [Visit the Quality Education is a Civil Right website, www.qecr.org, to donate to the People's Hurricane Fund.]

This kind of democratic response is inspiring. We need a similar challenge to apartheid schooling-and all our country's apartheids: in jobs, health care, housing, and transportation. We need to shore up support for an infrastructure that suffered long before Katrina blew in. As the residents of the Gulf work to rebuild their lives and homes, the need for a strong public sector has become greater than ever-so that this horrific spectacle is never repeated.
Fall 2005

"We the People" Trolley Tours for DCPS 8th Graders

We the People Trolley Tours for DCPS 8th Graders

A consortium of educators from several of the DC historicalsite --- the National Park Service Memorials & Monuments, the White HouseHistorical Association, the Capitol Historical Society, the Supreme Courtand the National Archives, have written a grant to provide a free tourexperience for 8th graders in DC schools with the goal of teaching about andbringing alive the United States Constitution. The tour is free! Itincludes door-to-door transportation, lunch at the Longworth House Office Building restaurant and free teacher materials.
They have been funded for a pilot study and are currently seeking teacherswho would like to have their classes participate. For a description of the tour, please contact Dee Hoffman at the Children's Conciergeat 301-309-6601.orSandra Dee HoffmanChildren's Concierge, LLC877-888-5462301-309-6601