Friday, June 27, 2014

Tell Governor McAuliffe: no OEI, no way, no how.

About two weeks ago, Virginians got this great news about the state's new anti-democratic education bureaucracy, the Opportunity Educational Institution:
A judge has ruled that the state's plan to take over failing schools violates the Virginia constitution. 
The idea had been to establish Opportunity Educational Institution to take control of six schools, including three in Norfolk, that were denied accreditation by the state Board of Education. Tuesday's ruling by Norfolk Circuit Court Judge Charles Poston strikes down the plan. 
The state can appeal.

In case you missed it, I wrote about my misgivings about the OEI in this post a little over a year ago:
According to this post, the OEI would take over schools that were denied accreditation, which is done in accordance with "federal accountability data," also known as standardized test scores. The Institution will be run by a board of gubernatorial appointees, which includes the executive director. There is no guarantee that the board would include any people who know anything about education. The board would contract with non-profits, corporations, or education organizations to operate the schools. Funding for the new bureaucracy would be provided by federal, state, and local taxpayers. The "failing" schools' local governing bodies would be represented on the board in some way, but they would lose decision-making power and would not be able to vote or, from what I can tell, have much meaningful input, besides providing the same share of local funding and being responsible for maintenance of the school building. As for staffing, current faculty at the schools being taken over could apply for a position as a new employee with the OEI or apply for a transfer.
First of all, the following Virginia education stakeholder organizations are all opposed to these measures: Virginia Association of Counties, Virginia Municipal League, Virginia School Boards Association, Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, Virginia Association of Elementary School Principals, Virginia PTA, Virginia First Cities, and Virginia Education Association. 
Second, although there are under ten schools currently slated to be part of the OEI, with the new more "rigorous" (read: more tricky) SOL tests, and no end in sight to unreasonable federal accountability mandates, many more schools, such as one in your community, could find themselves getting swallowed up by the OEI. 
Third, there's no evidence that state takeover of struggling schools and districts helps. In fact, the evidence is at bestmixed. The Governor and his policy allies are basing this approach on the system in New Orleans, which thus far has not proven successful. That Virginia would use as a model a city that hasn't had much educational success doesn't make sense. Michigan has also turned many public services over to the private sector, including the schools of Muskegon Heights. So far, that approach has been a disaster. 
Finally, eliminating democratic institution and processes in a democratic society is not a cure for dysfunction or low test scores. Certainly, mass failure on the SOL tests signals a problem, but before the state blames and disenfranchises school communities, it really needs to figure out what that problem is and then target its resources accordingly. While many majority poor schools do just fine on standardized tests, I think we all know that the schools with low standardized test scores are often majority poor. Last I checked, being poor isn't a reason to disenfranchise communities and hand their schools over to outsiders.

Now, the pro-OEI folks are urging the current Governor, McAuliffe to appeal this ruling:
Members of the Opportunity Educational Institution’s board voted Wednesday to recommend to McAuliffe that he appeal the Norfolk Circuit Court judge’s decision to the Virginia Supreme Court, a move also supported by former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who championed the OEI during his term.
I am urging you to contact Governor McAuliffe's administration (804-786-2211) to tell him to let the court's ruling stand. The OEI is bad for democracy, it's bad for local control, it's bad for public education, and it will add another layer of expensive and superfluous bureaucracy. If people want charter schools in their local communities, let them work that out among members of their local community, via a democratic process and under the umbrella of the local school division; charter schools and privatization should not be imposed from up high by the state.

Although it is likely that the OEI would takeover only schools with a majority of students from families struggling with poverty, which is grossly unjust all by itself, if any community's school happens to do poorly for a spell on our low-quality SOL tests, that school could be ripe for OEI takeover and that community ripe for disenfranchisement and loss of local control. In other words, it's a slippery slope. I appreciate that Virginia education decision makers want more "tools" to help struggling schools, but they need to find tools that don't disenfranchise local education stakeholders.

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