The Charter School Takeover Cycle in Memphis Schools

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Rethinking Schools

The Charter School Takeover Cycle in Memphis Schools

The Gates business plan for Memphis schools requires public school closures and corporate charter start-ups to replace them. A dozen schools are on the hit list for the coming year, and the charter operators are lined up waiting for the buildings to become empty. Parents, however, are not nearly as uninformed as county officials who are doing the Gates dirty work believe. See video below:

So here is how the charter school takeover cycle works. First, we need public schools isolated by years of neglect, segregation, and poverty--schools that everyone outside the affected communities would rather forget about. Memphis has an ample supply of these schools in the poorest neighborhoods.

These neighborhood schools make easy targets for profiteers and ideologues convinced (or pretending to believe) that these public schools have not met accountability expectations over the decades because of lazy teachers, public bureaucracy, unconcerned parents, unions, or other reasons having nothing do with poverty, race, or a sordid history of inequality.

Since 2002,NCLB’s impossible demand for schools to reach 100 percent proficiency by 2014 brought the accountability issue to a crisis state, beginning with the poorest schools where students’ scores were the lowest.

Parents who could afford to, over the past decade, moved or sent their children to schools not in the dreaded “Needs Improvement” zones, thus leaving the poorest schools with smaller and academically weaker student populations and, thus, with even less capacity to make the yearly progress on test scores that was required by NCLB.

Further deprived, then, of resources both human and monetary, these schools are eventually labeled “underperforming” and “under-utilized,” thus clearing the way for school closure attempts. Standing in the way are parents, students, and teachers. It will take bodies to block this juggernaut.

Waiting in the wings are the corporate charter operators and management companies, ready to open total compliance corporate charter schools staffed with temporary missionaries from Teach for America, or one of the other organizations that emulate the TFA practice of placing white privileged young women with no experience or training in schools that need the most professional and mature teachers.

With empty buildings from the shuttered public schools sitting idle, the charter operators step up to claim them by offering a token payment to the County. (Note KIPP's early bargaining position int the video above.)

Because these corporate charters are schools of choice, students who are not performing as expected or who resist the penal model of schooling are expected to choose another school. Otherwise, they would bring down the charter test scores, thus tarnishing brands like KIPP.

These rejected or ejected students end up back in the remaining public schools in surrounding areas, which further concentrates the low test performers in the surviving schools.

Further weakening of the surviving schools comes from absorbing further austerity measures from the County to pay the $7,518 for every public school student lost to a charter school. If another 2,000 students are lost to new charters next year in Memphis, that amounts to $15,036,000 leaving the public schools and going to that amounts to corporate welfare charter schools getting fat on taxpayer dollars. Meanwhile, the County’s $24,000,000 schools deficit is used to justify more cuts and further weakening of the public school’s capacity to meet testing expectations.

(See this earlier post that provides links to the Report that predicted a $212 donut hole in Shelby County's school budget from charter expansion.)

With a State and federal continuing commitment to close the bottom five percent of tested schools each year, it is easy to see that there will be a continuing supply of bottom five percent-ers until all public schools labeled for corporate reform takeover have been “turned around.”

At that point, we may suspect that other money generating shortcomings will have been identified for those schools, so that the lucrative business of education reform can continue without pause in perpetuity, with the public stuck paying the bill for an unending string of corporate non-solutions to the problems that we refuse to acknowledge (poverty, segregation, corporate control of schools).

For those who want to believe that charter schools are providing a superior “product,” I invite you to look here at a post from June 2013 when the latest national charter school study was released.

Please see this post from 2011 to get an idea of how the charter investment groups in Tennessee are using Wall Street methods to put lipstick on their pig.

Jim Horn

Jim Horn is Professor of Educational Leadership at Cambridge College, Cambridge, MA. He is also an education blogger at Schools Matter @ the Chalkface and has published widely on issues related to education reform and social justice in education. With co-author, Denise Wilburn, his new book, The Mismeasure of Education, was published in July 2013.

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