After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform by Andrea Gabor

4. No Lone Stars: How Trust and Collaboration in One Texas School District Have Created Lasting Reform

  • Here the focus is on the Leander school district in central Texas. As in the first two chapters, we find a district that uses the management style of Deming that promotes continuous learning and grassroots reform. Collaboration and communication are keys as diverse options are sought. Test scores are not tied to teacher evaluation, and while data is used, it doesn’t replace professional judgment.
  • Like schools in New York and Massachusetts, Leander had to fight again the state’s efforts to create a negative atmosphere of competition with its focus on standardized testing featuring drill and kill test prep. Students are seen as customers who should receive relentless focus. They applied for a waiver to create their own teacher evaluation system that featured portfolios and goals set yearly and defended by each teacher. This avoided the fear associated with using test scores are part of the evaluation system.
  • They took on attendance by charging parents with educational neglect if they didn’t get their kids to school. This resulted in high test scores and a 98% four-year graduation rate. They had a cooperative school board. In addition to letting teachers lead reforms they even made it possible for the students themselves to take on bullying. Again the people closest to the problem are the best ones to solve it.

5. The Hurricane and the Charters: New Schools Unearth Old Ways in New Orleans

  • Here we have the story of how the largely dysfunctional school system in New Orleans was mostly replaced by a group of national charter school chains as the result of the 2005 Katrina hurricane. The charters featured a menu of test-prep and strict-discipline and a union-busting effort that resulted in most of the teachers being fired. The charters were run by wealthy out-of-town organizations and benefactors. They also brought in mostly white out-of-town teachers like those associated with Teach for America.
  • The charters were known for skimming the top students, excessive suspensions, and little in the way of service for students with disabilities and English language learners. There was a focus on sending poor kids to college rather than preparing them for the job market. They were run by mostly whites who were operating in a city that was still impacted by the legacy of the Jim Crow South. Corruption was common and funding historically low. While this charter experiment is often touted as a success, there is ample evidence here to suggest that the opposite is the case. As was the case in New York and Massachusetts, a few schools run by local groups did buck the trend.
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