CHARTER SCHOOL DOWN! Did ReadNet have an educational plan? Gootman never quite asks: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, APRIL 6, 2006
MCKINNEY, EVER HELPFUL: Unfortunately, Dana Milbank has it right in this mornings Post. What a disaster for the Dems! The party spends years chasing after DeLay. And when it finally gets Toms scalp, it ends up debating Cynthias hairdo! Will Representative McKinney get arrested? If so, it will be legitimate history—the first successful arrest by DC police in at least the past dozen years! But more seriously, this story has the potential to be Condit 2—an essentially trivial matter involving one member which helps define the Democrats down, in a perfectly pre-scripted way. Democrats cant keep their pants on! And: Democrats hate the police! (Obviously, Chandra Levys death wasnt trivial—but Condits role in the matter always was.)
Of course, McKinney has long been helpful—to the Republican Party. As you know, its Hard Pundit Law; DC elites never discuss bizarre events from Campaign 2000. But our favorite McKinney Moment came from that race, when she called Candidate Gore a racist just as he began to pull away in the polls in September 2000. In Milbanks column, Republican congressman David Dreier says the GOP should thank McKinney for her efforts this week. But then, they should have thanked her in 2000 too! For a concise review of the facts, heres the start of a follow-up AP report, written one month after the original incident. Helpfully, this follow-up report hit the wire on the day of Bush and Gores first debate:
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (10/3/00): To her friends, Cynthia McKinney is a refreshing new face in a sea of congressional clones.Classic McKinney! Of course, since discussions of Campaign 2000 are still embargoed, this absolute world-class dumb-ass event escapes mention even today.
No, this incident didnt get major play in the major mainstream media. (Though it was reported in the Post and the Times.) But it did provide fodder for conservative news orgs, and the AP dutifully filed full reports in September and then in October. And of course, the incident got wide play in Georgia, a state which is located right next to Florida. Did any Sunshine State voters stay away from Gore because of McKinneys helpful remarks? We have no way of knowing. But the state was rather narrowly decided, as readers may well recall.
For the record, we can provide one personal observation about this matter. As a college student, Gore had two black roommates—at the same time! And yes, these two gentlemen were frequently in his presence, a fact for which we can vouch. The troubling Tennessean was just 17 when this two-year period began. It ended when one of these roommates—showing wisdom beyond his years—abandoned those cold New England winters and transferred back to UCLA, right there in his golden home state. Needless to say, UCLA won the national title in each of the next six years.
HELPFUL TIPS ON LOSING ELECTIONS: How helpful were McKinneys remarks in 2000? Three examples:
First, heres how Paula Zahn opened her nightly program (then on Fox) on Friday, September 8:
ZAHN (9/8/00): Tonight, according to a Democratic member of Congress, Al Gore's, quote, Negro tolerance level has never been too high. We'll explain.Zahn explained during a fiery debate which consumed her programs entire first segment. (In best fair-and-balanced manner, one guest thought Gore did have a tolerance-level problem; one guest thought he didnt.) The following Monday, McKinneys Negro tolerance remark was quoted on The News with Brian Williams—sourced to U.S. News and World Report, where it was also being featured. But our favorite treatment came from Wes Pruden, in his editors column in the Washington Times. In the following passage, the clownish Pruden was happy to vouch for McKinneys dead-on filter. And omigod! He even stopped by The Fancy Hotel, and journeyed to foppish St. Albans:
PRUDEN (9/12/00): This was all very nice, but it did not address Rep. McKinney's assertion that Al has a "low Negro tolerance level." Miss McKinney has the fine-grain race filter that every Southerner, black and white, is born with, and if she senses that Al, who grew up tolerating room-service waiters at the Fairfax Hotel and was educated at St. Albans, where the water fountains dispense Perrier, has a low Negro tolerance level we have to assume that she knows what she's talking about. When she caved to the inevitable pressure and disavowed herself over the weekend, insisting that the remark she put on the Internet was not for public consumption and that her remark "does not represent my thinking—if her thinking doesn't represent her thinking it's not clear whose thinking it could represent—Al no doubt figures he has it both ways again.Pruden rushed to thank McKinney—just as Dreier says his party should do in todays Milbank piece.
Special report—Charter school down!
PART 3—WHAT, THEM WORRY: Yes, Elissa Gootman invites us to boo-hoo-hoo about the heartbreak of ReadNets closing. But she also gives interesting information about several aspects of ReadNets decline. The soon-to-be-shuttered New York charter school had trouble finding a building, she says—and it handled its money quite poorly (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/5/06). Thats all well-and-good—but something rather important is missing. At one point in her front-page Times report, Gootman offers this odd summation of what the ReadNet experience shows:
GOOTMAN (4/3/06): The brief life of the ReadNet school offers a stark lesson in the ways in which charter schools can go wrong—with initial troubles finding a building, continuing financial woes and difficulties attracting qualified staff. ReadNet has received close to $3 million in public financing.Why is that an odd summation? Because Gootman pays so little attention to the major way a charter school can go wrong. Yes, a charter can be in an ill-suited building, and a charter school can bungle its money. But uh-oh! Charter schools can also go wrong because they have lousy educational programs—because their founders dont have a clue about how to educate children. Youd think this would be the major way to evaluate the work of a school like ReadNet—but Gootman shows remarkably little interest in this most basic function. Surely, New York isnt licensing charter schools to find new ways to refurbish buildings; surely, New York is mainly looking for novel ways to help kids learn to read. And how has ReadNet performed on this front? Has ReadNet Bronx Charter gone wrong in this matter? Gootman gives us little idea. We get to hear, again and again, about the founders good intentions (see below). But did that founder have a good plan for teaching her students? Has that plan helped ReadNets children learn to read—helped its 79 kindergarten and first-grade kids, for example? Gootman rushes past these questions in a remarkably cavalier way. Were exposed to a lot of boo-hoo-hooing about the heartbreaks felt by ReadNets adults. But once again, we see little interest in the actual learning of all those ReadNet kids.
Lets review the history here. The ReadNet school was started in 2001 by Robin Hubbard, described by Gootman as an Upper East Side architect known for her charm, enthusiasm and prominent friends like Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat, and Kenneth T. Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City. Hubbard had lots of prominent friends—but did she have an educational plan? Did she have a clue about teaching? Midway through her 1800-word article, Gootman finally offers a brief review of the educational ideas behind the project. As we say, the review is brief—and its extremely vague:
GOOTMAN: Ms. Hubbard teamed up with Stephen R. Greenwald, the president of Audrey Cohen College, a small college mostly for working adults, to establish what they hoped would be a ''paragon of quality education'' in Mott Haven, a gritty neighborhood with some of the city's worst schools.Earlier, Gootman wrote that ReadNet was supposed to be a small charter school with a focus on reading and computers. But since every elementary school will presumably have a focus on reading, that description told us very little—and no, we dont get much more here. According to Gootman, the school planned to use a curriculum developed by the ReadNet Foundation—a curriculum she makes no attempt to describe. Beyond that, were told there would be computers in every class and an array of arts and dance programs—and a partnership with the Columbia history department, a puzzling notion for a school which would apparently focus on children in the earliest grades. (Numbers which Gootman sprinkles throughout suggest that more than half of ReadNets children are in kindergarten or the first grade.) No, it isnt clear how Hubbard planned to use Columbia professors to teach her first-graders—and Gootman never tries to explain it. And uh-oh! As it turns out (though Gootman writes imprecisely), the folks in Columbias history department seem only dimly aware of this plan:
GOOTMAN (continuing directly): But a spokesman for the university said recently that it had no record of any official commitment to the school. In a telephone interview, Dr. Jackson said he did not recall serving as a trustee and had never visited the school, although he praised Ms. Hubbard and called her a friend.Ugh. According to Gootman, a Hubbard spokesman maintained that Dr. Jackson was on the school board from June 2001 until December 2003, although he was not an active board member. As Gootman continues, she quotes this spokesman: ''There was a strong hope to have a connection with Columbia and it became clear after '04 that it wasn't going to work. Again, one comment: Ugh.
Did Hubbard ever have a viable plan for the education of ReadNets students? And oh yeah—is such a plan in effect today? Gootman shows little sign of trying to figure that out, although the indications are dreary (more tomorrow). She invests her time on weepy stories about the heartbreaks of a charter schools closing. But confronted with the obvious indications that Hubbard was (at best) a total incompetent, she just keeps saying how sincere Hubbard was—and she makes no effort to figure out it she ever had an educational plan that should have allowed ReadNets existence.
So lets see. Hubbard began by enrolling kids before she had a building. To this day, she cant explain where her money went. ($3 million came from the public.) And though she told the state of New York in 2001 that Columbia would be involved in her program, we now learn, through Gootmans intriguing but vague reporting, that Columbia may not have known much about this. Sifting through this, youd think a reporter might start to get the smell of educational fraud. But Gootman takes a different approach. Repetitively, she praises Hubbard for her good intentions— for her charm, enthusiasm and prominent friends. And she closes with a state official boo-hooing about Hubbards passion—about how much Hubbard cared:
GOOTMAN: Shelia Evans-Tranumn, the associate state education commissioner, praised Ms. Hubbard's passion, saying that Ms. Hubbard cared so much about ReadNet's children that some conversations ended with both women in tears.Hubbard had the best intentions, were endlessly told. But Gootmans report seems to make one thing clear—in matters of such great importance, good intentions arent nearly enough. Our question: Did Robin Hubbard care so much about ReadNet's children that she actually pruduced a real plan for their futures? The indications suggest she did not—but Gootman agrees not to notice.
''I have this incredible spirit of hope, but it's not always the most cautious way to be,'' Hubbard says at one point in this report. But guess what? A founders incredible spirit of hope doesnt justify starting a school. But so what? Gootman shows almost no interest in figuring out whether ReadNet ever head an educational plan—nor does she seem to have made any effort to see what is happening in its classrooms today. Instead, she invites us to weep and boo-hoo-hoo about the heartbreak of poor Robin Hubbard. Sorry. As we watch Hubbard weep, we ask ourselves an obvious question: Should the Readnet Bronx Charter School have gotten that charter? And oh yes: Does the mayor plan to run his future charters in this irresponsible way?
TOMORROW—PART 4: Is this how the mayor plans to run future charters? And will the Times keep reporting the issue in this lazy way?
SHE REALLY CARED: Was there ever an educational plan for this school? Well wonder about that a bit more tomorrow. Meanwhile, heres what happened when ReadNet finally opened—one year late, youll recall:
GOOTMAN: The school had to cast about for space, and ended up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to lease and refurbish a building. Children who had signed up to attend ReadNet in September 2002 were told that it would not open until the following school year.Even though it opened its doors a year late, the school still lacked its famous computers! But Gootman, despite reporting this chaos, builds her report around Hubbards good intentions. Sardonically, well suggest you recall one fact—Hubbard has prominent friends.