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CHARTER SCHOOL DOWN (PART 1)! What happened at ReadNet Charter School? We’ll ask that basic question all week: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, APRIL 4, 2006

UGH: Ugh! We wasted a lot of time today doing a piece on a Washington Post headline. The headline appears atop the Post’s front page today—and it’s simply inaccurate:
POST HEADLINE: Nationals Lose Season Opener After Controversial Call, 3-2
In fact, the call in question isn’t “controversial” at all; both teams agree that the call was just wrong. But the Post headline writer couldn’t quite bring himself to say it. That headline writer himself blew a call—in a way which reminded us of a lot of political reporting over the past five or six years.

Yes, we brought this matter back to the way the Post has covered some of Bush’s misstatements. But in the end, we were sorry we’d spent all that time on this post, and we decided to dump it.

Special report—Charter school down!

PART 1—AS ALWAYS, A SIMPLY SOLUTION: Let’s start with a haughty editorial from Sunday’s New York Times. “There is something strange about criticizing schools for trying to teach children to read,” the Times judged. The editors were reacting to a new survey by the Center on Education Policy—a survey reported on the paper’s front page just one Sunday before (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/27/06). In that report, Sam Dillon had said that “[t]housands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind...by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.” Dillon described a Sacramento seventh-grader, Ruben Jiminez, who was taking three reading classes each day—and no social studies or science. The editors were now defending this practice—in part, by denying it exists:

NEW YORK T IMES EDITORIAL (4/2/06): There is something strange about criticizing schools for trying to teach children to read. A new annual survey on the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act has many educators fuming. In it, school districts acknowledge that the law has generated improvements, but they also assert that scary trends are afoot: a majority say that they have had to ''narrow'' the curriculum to focus on math and reading for children who needed to be brought up to speed.

How is that a bad thing? There is little evidence in the data, compiled by the Center on Education Policy in Washington, that schools are throwing out other crucial courses and chaining well-performing students to a narrow range of basic classes. Three-quarters of the districts say that the law has not caused them to cut back on art and music—which are typically the first to go—and a large majority assert that science instruction has remained intact.

There own paper had reported the practice. Now, the editors seemed to say that it wasn’t occurring—for “well-performing students.” But uh-oh! Dillon had specifically said that this practice was focused on low-achieving kids. (“The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.”) At any rate, having seemed to deny that the practice exists, the Times quickly shifted gears to defend it—and the eternal note of haughtiness was, once again, brought in:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (continuing directly): There is nothing sinister about, say, doubling up on literacy classes for children who have been allowed to reach middle school without the reading skills they need to absorb history and social studies. Nor is it wrong to borrow class time from other areas to invest in the all-important struggle to make sure that students can actually read. The real crime is that millions of them are still being passed along without mastering basic language skills.
The editors sounded a haughty note—a note we’ve recorded for the past forty years. To the editors, kids are somehow being “allowed” to reach middle school without reading skills. Indeed, these rises to the level of “real crime.” Our question: Have these editors ever set foot inside a low-income school? Most likely not (to judge from what would follow). But somehow, they have managed to master the standard scripts of upper-class condescension. “The real crime is that millions of [kids] are still being passed along without mastering basic language skills,” they complained—showing off their tired cant and their know-little approach to this subject.

For forty years, know-nothing editors have said and implied it; teachers are simply “allowing” their low-income students to fail. Indeed, these lower orders commit a “crime” in the way they enact their duties. Troubled observers like these eds rarely set foot inside low-income schools. But from their aeries, such song-birds sing the sins of the low class which runs them:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (continuing directly): No Child Left Behind will make an enormous difference if it forces schools to perform their fundamental missionteaching young children to read. But for that to happen, many districts will need to reverse the insidious practice of piling uncertified and poorly educated teachers into their high-needs schools. The study suggests that we are still a long way from that. In this school year only about a fifth of districts say they have intensified efforts to find expert teachers for high-needs schools and only about 5 percent are offering financial incentives to attract good teachers to those schools. That will need to change if children in poor neighborhoods are to be given the chance to succeed. [END OF EDITORIAL]
These editors have heard one thing about low-income schools; they’ve heard that many low-income schools are short on “expert teachers.” And so the Magical Thinking begins. The editor scold the nation’s school districts—and imply that the children will finally “be given the chance to succeed” if only this one magic step is taken. At long last, children may get “the chance to succeed” if schools are “forced to perform” this one duty.

But then, this type of Magical Thinking has driven elite thought about low-income schools for the past forty years. There’s always some magical explanation for the failure of low-income kids to succeed. And there’s always some easy solution—meaning that eds won’t have to spend any real time on this problem. At one time, we were told that the teachers were racists. Then, we were told that the teachers were lazy. Now, we’re told in this Times editorial that it’s really the school districts which have been slacking. But always, a simple solution is offered. And it’s never the editors who might be at fault for their lazy work down through the years..

But then, as we’ve shown you again and again, major papers rarely poke their noses inside low-income classrooms. They rarely get down in those little chairs to see what is actually happening; they rarely soil their dainty gloved hands by lingering long in such venues. Indeed, we thought we saw tendency again on Monday morning, when the Times ran a lengthy front-page report about a Bronx charter school which is closing. This 1800-word report, by Elissa Gootman, included a great deal of interesting material. But we also thought that a great deal was missing—that the most elementary questions once again went unasked.

Are children being “allowed” to fail inside the ReadNet Bronx Charter School? If not, what’s actually happening inside ReadNet’s classrooms? What kind of program has ReadNet been offering? Does ReadNet claim that its program is working? Once again, we saw the Times devote lots of space to a struggling low-income school—then walk away with the most basic questions unasked. Why in the world is this charter school down? We’ll examine that question all week.