Sunday, April 24, 2011

The wages of inequality: crappy schools

Half the population of Rochester, N.Y., lives in poverty. It didn't used to be that way. Xerox and Kodak once provided tens of thousands of good middle-class jobs in Rochester. Now half of Xerox's workforce is overseas. Kodak employed 60,000 people in Rochester 30 years ago; today it employs about 9,000.

Rochester's schools are now terrible. Half the schools failed the academic standards set by the federal government. The city's latest school superintendent found a convenient scapegoat: the teachers' unions.

Balloon Juice offers these scathing comments from Rochester:
Last week, we lost the latest in a list of mediocre scam artist superintendents in our urban school district. This one’s name is Jean-Claude Brizard, who ditched his contract to go run Chicago’s schools. Chicago apparently wasn’t fazed about the Rochester teacher’s union 95% vote of no confidence. As the top-notch local reporter Rachel Barnhart documents, Brizard’s tenure was full of bureaucratic waste, bullshitting about graduation rates, and no real improvement in the school district’s status.
The previous full-time superintendent before Brizard, Clifford Janey, went on to become Michelle Rhee’s predecessor. Janey recently quit his $280K/year post in Newark, a job he got after being fired in DC. Janey’s tenure at Rochester was similar to his experience in DC and Newark: a lot of empty promises about change as graduation rates fell.
I can’t really blame these grifters for running their cons in Rochester, Chicago, Newark and DC, because those places were on a quest for Superintendent Chocolate Jesus. Instead of addressing or even acknowledging the underlying reasons for school failure (structural poverty, no job opportunities, crime, drugs, teen pregancy and neglectful parenting), they put all their hopes into an out-of-town savior who can dream up unrealistic programs with the help of overpaid consultants, giving them asinine names like “Great Expectations”.
Balloon Juice points us to Bill Cala, the former interim superintendent of Rochester City Schools. He gave a terrific speech last year that laid out the real problem facing the schools: inequality. Cala cited research that shows:
Unequal, wealthy countries experienced significantly higher levels of the following problems in their societies:
  • Level of trust
  • Mental Illness (Including drug and alcohol addiction)
  • Life expectancy and infant mortality
  • Obesity
  • Children's educational performance
  • Teenage births
  • Homicides
  • Imprisonment rates
  • Social mobility
Cala points out that the Rochester Metropolitan area is one of the most unequal in the country -- and America is the most unequal of all rich nations. Those statistics, he said,
...represent the significant and essential root causes of the failure of children to succeed in school.
So this begs the question:What on earth does school governance have to do with this social morass? How will a power grab and mythical cost savings through consolidation attack the sickness and devastation in our society fed by national corporate greed that is destroying our children, our families, and the middle class? 
There's a huge irony here, as we watch with horror as Governors Gone Wild attack teachers unions while promoting charter schools and vouchers -- all the while raising taxes on the poor and cutting them for millionaires.