School Choice is Twenty-First Century Segregation

by Christopher Paslay

Charter schools do not serve the neediest children—they weed them out.

Generally speaking, there are two ways to deal with a public school that is struggling to succeed.  One—you could provide that school with the proper supports, such as doing building renovations and repairs, upgrading materials, and investing in technology.  You could revamp curriculum to make it more individualized and authentic, treat teachers with respect and trust in their expertise, and expand alternative schools and programs to remediate troubled youth.  In other words, you could invest in families and communities, and create a culture of learning available to all children within the bounds of a neighborhood.

Or two—you could deem the school a failure and turn your back on it.  Throw up your hands and say, “This school isn’t worth saving.”  You could do so by pinning all the complex challenges facing students in struggling neighborhoods solely on “lousy” teachers and “good-for-naught” principals, opting to take your resources elsewhere and start over by building a brand new school.  Yes, you could funnel tax dollars away from the school you deemed “failing” and build a charter.  You could hire new teachers (although many would come from the same pool of “lousy” teachers whose schools were shut down), you could set-up your admissions process so only students with educated parents could navigate the paperwork, and you could throw out those children who don’t follow your rules and send them back to the “failing” neighborhood school to rot with the rest of the children who couldn’t get into your charter.         

You could deal with a struggling school by doing one of those two things.  Fighting the good fight, or turning and running away.  The school choice folks, those obsessed with charters, like to run.  It’s easier that way.  Finding alternative ways to educate America’s bottom third is no easy task.  America’s bottom third is quite the pain in the butt, to put it bluntly.  They are the ones with the family issues, and the health issues, and the addition problems.  They’ve been exposed to domestic violence and often can’t manage their anger or peacefully solve problems.  And charters, which have limited space and stricter rules, keep these students out.            

KIPP charters (Knowledge Is Power Program) are a prime example.  Touted as working wonders for poor and minority children, KIPP schools are indeed achieving good results on standardized tests.  However, because KIPP schools have extended school days and hold classes on weekends, the student turnover rate is extremely high for Black males—over 40 percent dropout between grades 6 – 8.  In addition, KIPP is criticized for not serving more English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

The real kicker is that despite the added advantage of weeding out struggling students, as a whole, charters still aren’t performing any better than traditional public schools.  The CREDO study proves this reality point blank, as does the fact that in Philadelphia, only 54.7 percent of charters are making AYP under the No Child Left Behind guidelines.

This is most likely due to the fact that up to 60 percent of student achievement is based on nonschool factors.  Noted education historian Diane Ravitch wrote about this reality in a review of the film Waiting for Superman that she published in The New York Review of Books:  

“. . . teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income.”

So while the quality of a teacher and school are important, if the educational issues stemming from nonschool variables aren’t properly addressed—and most charters do not address them—academic progress and student achievement will be limited.               

Tragically, school choice isn’t doing much to improve achievement.  It is, however, giving parents a legal means of separating their children from the unwanted bottom third, and allowing school reformers and entrepreneurs to turn a profit at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised.

From Benito Mussolini to Michelle Rhee, Teachers Remain Obstacles for Collectivist School Reformers

by Rainiel Guzmán

Today’s school reformers are collectivists with a common enemy: Teachers and their unions.   

Fascists, communists, monarchists and technocrats have always followed collectivist models. Teachers, particularly public school teachers, have been targeted by all of the above as obstacles in their road to domination. Their disdain toward public school teachers and their efforts to eliminate teachers’ unions are a matter of public record. Why group these apparently ideological enemies into one cohort?  The answer should be equally apparent. Irrespective of their ideological rhetoric, all of these aberrations are forms of collectivism. Their ultimate goal is to gather all resources into one line of control and management. In order to obtain this goal they need individuals to conform to their collectivist plans. Conversely, a teacher is essentially an individual that strives to bring out the unique potential of his or her students. Here is where the battle line is drawn. Let’s revisit history to see the many commonalities that apparent ideological enemies share in regards to teachers and unions.

Benito Mussolini, a fascist, was both a son of a public school teacher and a certified public school teacher himself. Yet he targeted teachers’ unions immediately upon gaining power. He regarded schools as property of the state and implemented a complete and sweeping reform of public education. Top on his reform agenda was the nullification of Italian teachers unions. Teachers in Il Duce’s Italy were relegated to comply and indoctrinate the youth as “the fascist of tomorrow” as indicated in scripted, retro-Roman inspired curricula known as Opera Nazionale Balilla.

Communists have also exercised extreme disdain toward teachers and unions. For example, Saloth Sar, better known by his nom de guerre Pol Pot, murdered countless educators in Cambodia. Pol Pot ruled Cambodia with bloody delusion that was brought to international censure in the 1984 film The Killing Fields. It is important to note that many of the murdered were students as well. Pol Pot’s interpretation of the utopian person was largely an uneducated proletariat farmer. Thus, the educated were to be mistrusted and physically eliminated. It is estimated that communists in Cambodia killed a fifth of their people, roughly two million souls, with a particular prejudice toward educated individuals. No need for a complete and sweeping reform of public education here.

Spain’s Generalísimo Francisco Franco is primarily labeled as a fascist. Yet Franco’s rhetoric always appealed to Spain’s monarchist supporters. Monarchists are willing to differ individual rights to crown rule. In this mindset dissent is collectively unwelcome.

After Franco’s successful insurrection against the republic, the monarchy was restored and the republican constitution of 1931 repealed. Once more a complete and sweeping reform of public education was implemented. An interesting note is that Franco was director of La Academia General Militar de Zaragoza, Spain’s equivalent to our West Point, when the republicanos ordered its closure. As a result teachers and unions were targeted with such violence that thousands of Spanish educators sought exile in Northern Europe, the Americas and Africa. The brain drain that ensued markedly debilitated Spain.

Presently, the technocrat embodies the latest form of collectivism. Webster’s Dictionary defines a technocrat as “a technical expert especially one exercising managerial authority.”  The missing caveat to this description is that when leading public policy they are always appointed, and hence non-elected members of governments. The logic behind their rise lies precisely in their apolitical nature; they are touted as technicians willing and able to make hard technical decisions free of political or “democratic” constraints. Their appointments display a disregard—if not a deep contempt for—democracy, much like fascists, communists, and monarchists. Technocrats are primarily private actors for hire who play increasingly significant public roles.

In large urban public school systems the emergence of an archetypical technocrat, known as a “chancellor,” has recently dominated public education policy.  Derived from the Latin cancellarius or “keeper of the barrier” they certainly have kept public opinion out of decisions concerning public education and indeed have served as a barrier between citizens and politicians. Likewise, chancellors view teachers as quasi enemies and label their unions as obstacles in the way of—you guessed it—complete and sweeping reform of public education. Chancellors are unelected persons who hold the premise that the public cannot be trusted with matters of public education. In their minds—they know what’s best for your child. These contradictions are so blatant and belligerent that their managerial authority has caused major “technical” problems to several mayors and their careers.

A case study example is Adrian Fenty, ex-mayor of the District of Columbia. In early 2010 his political star and reelection seemed to be guaranteed. His main opponent in the Democratic Party primary was Vincent Gray, a veteran city councilman. In regards to education policy, the two gentlemen barely differed on plans or expectations, except for one campaign promise professed by Gray: he repeatedly assured that if elected he would not retain then chancellor Michelle Rhee. Despite Fenty’s appeals as a D.C. native, ties to Howard University and multiple enumerations of educational gains during his tenure, he lost the Democratic primary to Gray. Many pundits were stunned. Yet, both teachers and parents had voiced repeated concerns regarding the Rhee’s tone and tactics. They felt voiceless. The nascent coalition that followed however proved otherwise. Fenty’s and Rhee’s debacle did not go unnoticed.

Mayors in similar receiverships of their public school systems have learned from this lesson. For example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City did not wait for elections to remove a chancellor whose tone and tactics insulted both parents and teachers. Michael Bloomberg appointed Cathie Black as chancellor in January 2011. She was given a waiver to assume the chancellorship due to her complete inexperience with pedagogy and education administration. Ironically, a career as a media executive did not prevent her from uttering incredible comments. Her comments revealed to a certain degree her thoughts about students, parents, teachers and public education. During a visit to PS 234 in Manhattan to discuss primarily with parents, the overcrowding of their elementary school, Ms. Black asked in jest “could we just have some birth control for a while?”  The parents were stunned. When pressed again to address her plan to ease overcrowding, she espoused a sickening moral association, characterizing numerous neighborhood concerns to “making many Sophie’s Choices.” The reference to the Auschwitz concentration camp novel in which a mother is made to choose which of her two children will live left all in attendance shocked and angry. In April 2011, after only three months on the job, Ms. Black was asked to resign by Mayor Bloomberg. She did.

Collectivists and other assorted control freaks will always view with contempt the figure of the teacher. Perhaps it is due to their deep pathological need to control everything and everyone. Perhaps it is due to their fear that individuals might exercise their God given right to think for themselves. Yet, I am convinced that the main reason why they bash and denigrate teachers is because we are still regarded by many as figures of authority. The thought of shared authority must keep these troubled souls from sound sleep. Yes, teachers are authority figures. However, unlike these control freaks, we must not abuse our authority to belittle nor repress others. To the contrary, we should aid our students in meeting their potential. We must aid them along their chosen path toward personal independence. Potentiality and independence are anathema for those who garner limitation and dependence. All collectivist regimes have been enormous tragic failures. Teachers need to continue on their chosen path in the company of their students in spite of obstacles.

Rainiel Guzman is a 2011 Lindback Distinguished Teacher Award winner.  He is an adjunct professor at Eastern University, and teaches art at Swenson Arts and Technology High School in Northeast Philadelphia.

Only 54.7 Percent of Philadelphia Charter Schools Are Making AYP

by Christopher Paslay

Last year’s PSSA results prove what multiple studies have already shown: Charter schools perform no better on PSSA exams than traditional public schools. 

According to data on the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s website, only 40 out of 73 charter schools in Philadelphia (54.7%) are making Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind law.  They breakdown as follows:     

 (40) Making AYP

Made AYP for two consecutive years: 2010 & 2011


 (6) Making Progress

Made AYP for one year: 2011

ARCH AND DESIGN (in Corrective Action II); HARDY WILLIAMS (in Corrective Action I); MARIANA BRACETTI ACAD (in Corrective Action II); PEOPLE FOR PEOPLE (in School Improvement I); PHILADELPHIA ACAD (in Corrective Action II); WEST PHILA ACHIEVEMENT (in School Improvement II)

 (15) Warning

Did not make AYP in 2011


 (5) School Improvement I

Did not make AYP for two consecutive years


 (1) School Improvement II

Did not make AYP for three consecutive years


 (1) Corrective Action I

Did not make AYP for four consecutive years


(5) Corrective Action II

Did not make AYP for at least five consecutive years

COMM ACAD OF PHILA (5th year in Corrective Action II); HOPE CS (5th year in Corrective Action II); UNIVERSAL DAROFF (2nd year in Corrective Action II); WAKISHA (3rd year in Corrective Action II); WALTER PALMER LDRSHP LEARNING PRTNRS (4th year in Corrective Action II)

Click here to see the data on the PA Dept. of Ed’s website.

Bills Gates ‘Compact’ Comes with Strings Attached; SRC Ponders Trading ‘Seats’ for Money

by Lisa Haver

To secure a Bill Gates Foundation grant, the SRC would have to agree to overhaul 25 percent of District schools by 2017 and continue privatizing education.       

Last Wednesday, Philadelphia became the 10th major city to be courted by Bill Gates when his “District-Charter Collaboration Compact,” an initiative to help ease resistance to building new charters, was presented for consideration to the School Reform Commission.  Gates has taken on a reputation as a school reformer and philanthropist, donating money to struggling school districts in big cities, including Baltimore, Denver, Los Angeles, and New York.  But the money he offers isn’t free; it comes with strings attached.   

To be eligible to receive a grant from Gates, schools districts must agree to his vision of school reform and pledge cooperation by signing a “compact”.  This compact includes, among other things, promoting the expansion of charters and agreeing to shut down schools that are deemed failing.  The compact being reviewed by the SRC in Philadelphia calls for an overhaul of the poorest performing quartile in the system (approximately 50,000 seats) with “high quality alternatives” by 2016-17. 

The problem with Gates and his education grants is that he doesn’t just sign the check and let the city decide what’s best for its students.  In order for districts to qualify for money, they must agree to his agenda.  Just as Grover Norquist, who is accountable to no one, has tied the hands of the Super Committee with his no new taxes pledge, Gates undermines the authority of local school boards with his pro-charter, pro-privatization “compact”.  Bill Gates has joined the ranks of school “reformers” such as Michelle Rhee who, despite having no degree in education and virtually no experience teaching, have appointed themselves experts in the field. 

Diane Ravitch, in her recent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System:  How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, describes some of the destruction the Gates Foundation has wrought.  Manuel High, one of Denver’s oldest and most prestigious schools, was forced to divide itself into three separate schools because of the “small school” agenda Gates was pushing at the time; his ensuing disruption caused the school board to close it temporarily. Mountlake Terrace High, just outside Seattle, suffered the loss of many teachers and administrators in 2004 after being forced to split into five separate schools in order to receive the Gates funding. 

The Philadelphia School District, which is still recovering from a $630 million budget deficit, is in no position to refuse Gates’ offer.  How can the SRC say no to free money when the district is so deep in the hole?

The reality, of course, is that the money is not free.  The price is the autonomy of the SRC.  The price is the democratic procedure in the city and the state under which the community and its elected leaders make informed decisions about its schools; what the city and District believes is best for its children will become secondary to the dictates of the “compact”. 

Ravitch writes: “The foundations demand that public schools and teachers be held accountable for performance, but they themselves are accountable to no one.  If their plans fail, no sanctions are levied against them.  They are bastions of unaccountable power.”

This “compact” demanded by Gates, which is now under review by the SRC, demands that each and every school in the bottom 25 percent of the District (approximately 50,000 seats) be overhauled or turned into a charter by 2017.     

What’s most concerning is that charters, as a whole, perform no better than traditional neighborhood schools.  Of the 73 Philadelphia charters that took the PSSA in 2011, only 60 percent, (44 schools), made AYP; these schools are a far cry from what Gates bills as “high performing”.  Worse still are the conclusions drawn by Stanford University’s CREDO study, the most comprehensive report on Pennsylvania charter schools performed to date.  CREDO stated:

This report covers academic achievement growth at charter schools in Pennsylvania over a four-year period [2007-2010]. Overall, charter school performance in Pennsylvania lagged in growth compared to traditional public schools. Looking at the distribution of school performance, 60% of the charter schools performed with similar or better success than the traditional public schools in reading and 53% of charter schools performed with similar or better success in math compared to traditional public schools. Performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick and mortar charters with 100% of cyber charters performing significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts in both reading and math.       

Charter performance aside, where is the commitment to improving all public schools?  Instead of a helping hand, there is only a raised yardstick.  The Gates compact lays out the future of our schools in no uncertain terms:  “Failure to significantly improve would bring meaningful consequences, including closure.”

The members and policies of the new SRC has given many Philadelphians hope.  There is an honest commitment to transparency and community involvement.  For the first time ever, during Wednesday’s meeting, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. But how much power does this body truly have when its policies can be dictated by billionaires with deep pockets and rigid contracts?

Lisa Haver is an education activist and retired teacher.

As Pennsylvania Schools Scrambled for Cash, Tom Corbett Gave Jerry Sandusky’s Foundation $3 Million










by Christopher Paslay

Last July, as PA’s education budget was getting slashed by over $1 billion, Tom Corbett personally approved a $3 million state grant to Jerry Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation.

When you hear the names Tom and Jerry, most people think of a cartoon cat and mouse—not a gray-haired Republican governor who cut education spending in Pennsylvania by over $1 billion, and a retired football coach who is charged with 40 criminal counts of child sex abuse. 

According to Brad Bumsted’s story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Gov. Tom Corbett on Wednesday defended personally approving a $3 million state grant to The Second Mile Foundation, which prosecutors contend provided sexual assault victims for its founder, former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.”

“The Second Mile had good purposes,” Corbett said. “I’d like to see it go forward. I don’t know whether it will be able to continue to go forward, and I hope there is a successor to the organization.”

Corbett has since given directions to pull back the $3 million grant. 

The Second Mile may have had good purposes, but Corbett’s timing is suspect.  He approved the $3 million state grant in July, despite the fact that at the time, Sandusky, the founder of Second Mile, was being investigated for child sex crimes. 

Corbett insists otherwise.  According to the article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Corbett said that denying the grant would have posed the potential to ‘compromise the investigation.’”  But Corbett’s explanation for approving the grant still doesn’t pass the smell test, considering the fact that he was the one who began the investigation as attorney general before becoming governor, and should have blocked the Second Mile grant long before July. 

State Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Penn Hills) said that Corbett’s explanation “doesn’t make sense to me,” because of the fact that Corbett had known about the investigation for so long.

Corbett’s approval of the Second Mile grant is indeed debatable.  Not just because he was putting money into a foundation started by a possible pedophile, but because he was cutting funding to hundreds of needy public school districts across the state while doing so.

Porn Star Sasha Grey Reads to Elementary School Children

by Christopher Paslay

Sasha Grey, ‘retired’ porn star, reads to first and third grade students in Compton, California, as part of Read Across America program. 

For the record, I’m not a porn star.  I’ve never taken-off my clothes in front of video cameras and had sex with one or more partners in multiple positions for money.  I’m a married man and care for my wife deeply.  I’m also a coach and dedicated schoolteacher who wants to set a good example for his athletes and students.  If these two reasons aren’t good enough, there is the matter of performance: I get stage fright.

Sasha Grey, on the other hand, is a porn star.  She’s done all kinds of kinky stuff on camera for money (she won a Best Oral Sex award for her role in “Throat: A Cautionary Tale” and was a winner of the 2010 AVN award for best anal sex scene) but this hasn’t stopped her from reading to first and third graders in Emerson Elementary School in Compton, California, as part of Read Across America, an event sponsored by the National Education Association (click here to see the pictures). 

Needless to say, there was some serious backlash when word broke of Grey’s appearance in the elementary school.  After parents formally complained to the principal for letting the porn actress near their children, Grey released a formal statement about her commitment to the Read Across America program:

“I am proud to have participated in the ‘Read Across America’ program at Emerson Elementary School in Compton, CA. I read ‘Dog Breath’ by Dav Pilkey to the sweetest 1st and 3rd grade children.

‘Read Across America’ is a program that was designed to promote literacy and instill a lifelong love of reading in elementary school students. Promoting education is an effort that is close to my heart. Illiteracy contributes to poverty; encouraging children to pick up a book is fundamental.

I believe education is a universal right. I committed to this program with the understanding that people would have their own opinions about what I have done, who I am and what I represent.

I am an actor. I am an artist. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a partner. I have a past that some people may not agree with, but it does not define who I am.

I will not live in fear of it. To challenge non-profit education programs is an exercise in futility, counter-productive and anti-educational.

I cannot thank my fans and ‘Read Across America’ enough for supporting my decision. Your support and kind words continue to inspire me. I believe in the future of our children, and I will remain an active supporter and participant in education-focused initiatives.”

Should Sasha Grey, who’s been officially “retired” from making adult films for two years now, be permitted to read to elementary school students?  

Take the poll below:

Michelle Rhee ‘Information Rally’ at Kimmel Center a Success; Event Covered by Daily News

by Christopher Paslay

We came, we saw, we . . . gave the public some supplementary information about Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of D.C. schools whose draconian style of management got her canned and subsequently set her on her new career path—making buku bucks as a lecturer and speaker (sources say Rhee gets $50,000 a pop), all in the name of putting “students first.” 

On Monday night, 11/7, from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm outside the Kimmel Center, a small crew of public schoolteachers and librarians (Lisa Haver, Cecelia Dougherty, Debbie Grill, and Barbara Dowdall) and myself gave out informational flyers about Rhee’s corporate ties, cheating scandal, questionable research, and all-round disrespect for teachers and traditional neighborhood schools to approximately 500 people, many of whom were sympathetic to our cause and quite open-minded.    

Morgan Zalot, a writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, covered the story (click here to read).  

Below is a video of our rally.  Thanks to all those involved.

Michelle Rhee to Speak at Kimmel Center Monday Night; Rally Planned to Inform Public about Her Dishonest Campaign

by Christopher Paslay

Join Monday night’s Michelle Rhee “information rally” outside Kimmel Center on November 7th from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm.   

On Monday, November 7th at 8:00 pm, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee will be speaking at the Kimmel Center as part of Widener University’s 2011-2012 Philadelphia Speakers Series.  Although Rhee is billed as a visionary school reformer with a mantra of “putting students first,” Towson University Assistant Professor Shaun Johnson estimated that Rhee’s speaking fees for the last 10 months alone will earn her “between $1 M and $2 M, depending on whether she charged the full $50,000 per event specified in her contract, or the mere $35,000 she charged Kent State.”

Rhee is also knee-deep in politics and her “Students First” organization, which is trying to raise $1 billion to dismantle organized labor, is backed by corporate heads, including Rupert Murdoch, hedge fund manager Julian Robertson and the Fisher Family, as well as the Koch Brothers.    

Here are five things Rhee won’t be talking about on Monday night:

1. Rhee put “students first” and charged Kent State University a $35,000 speaking fee to talk to an audience of about 600 people.  She also required first-class airfare, a VIP hotel suite, a town car and personal driver.        

2.  Rhee, unable to control her students during her first year as an elementary schoolteacher in Baltimore, taped her students’ mouths shut with masking tape on the way to the lunchroom.  A year later, she grossly exaggerated her students’ gains on standardized tests.

3. When Rhee was chancellor of D.C. schools and improved test scores were tarnished by a cheating scandal, Rhee failed to answer questions from the media or explain the testing aberrations and high rate of erasures.

4.  Rhee lacks expertise in the field of education.  “Rhee’s ideas about how to fix the ailing school system were largely misinformed,” D.C. native and schoolteacher Rachel Levy wrote in a blog published in the Washington Post, “and it’s no wonder: She knew little about instruction, curriculum, management, fiscal matters, and community relations.” 

5.  In 2010, D.C. incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty lost the Democratic primary election.  Political experts interpreted this as a referendum on Rhee’s unpopular and misguided reign as school’s chief.

Monday night’s “information rally” from 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm outside the Kimmel Center will set the record straight, however.

Support hardworking students and dedicated teachers and help inform the public about the real Michelle Rhee.  For more information, email

Experienced teachers are not the problem

Michelle Rhee, the former Washington public schools chief whose draconian management style got her forced out, recently paid a visit to Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia. Her main order of business was to push her school reform agenda, including a direct assault on Pennsylvania’s “last in, first out,” or LIFO, rule for teacher layoffs. . . .

This is an excerpt from my commentary in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “Experienced teachers are not the problem.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay