Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Home Rule"? Dallas Doesn't Need It...

This clip features progressive media master Bill Moyers interview education reform guru (author of 'Left Behind, 'The Schools We Deserve', and most recently, 'Reign of Error') Diane Ravitch. The subject has to do with the question whether public schools in the nation are 'for sale'. It has to do with the issue of public vs. charter schools. They are big business in the country. BIG business. According to Ravitch, $500,000,000 worth of big business. But that's why I'm posting the video. I'm posting this because less than 7 minutes into the interview Moyers brings up Dallas' controversially proposed Home Rule debate. 

The discussion on Home Rule is brought to us by 'Save Our Public Schools' is backed financially by John Arnold, a Dallas ISD graduate, former Enron investor and all around wealthy guy and Mike Morath, DISD trustee. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is also behind the effort as is a board of businessmen, educators, and reform activist who have seen the direction the school is going and do not like it.

I have talked with the Mayor about it. I've met with Mike Morath. In fact, those meetings constituted about three meetings in one week about Home Rule. And yes, while I actually did sign the petition and actually 'liked' the Save Our Public Schools Facebook page, I've reached the conclusion that a Home School district is not necessary in Dallas.

We have heard all of 'benefits' of Home Rule: the flexibility it will bring with regard to curriculum; the prospect of a year round schedule; even a new school board make-up. But with the exception of the school board piece, there appears to be nothing that can be done in Home Rule district that can't be done under the current arrangement. Schools in Texas can already go year round. Flexibility in curriculum is already possible. The fact is, as Bill Moyers says in the interview, this is nothing less than 'the charterization' of public schools. And frankly, I'm not a fan of charter schools.

What convinced me that charter district is unnecessary? It's not the rest of the opponents. In fact, I think the hysteria of teachers unions, some trustees and candidates are way too involved in fear mongering. I understand that, Dallas voters, particularly in the southern part of the city vote so poorly in school board elections unless you scare them they won't turn out.

But the facts are, this is not a power grab by the Mayor. I wonder has anyone ever thought that the Rawlings' position as mayor of Dallas gives him a vested interest in the direction of the education system in Dallas. When businesses don't come to Dallas or don't invest in south Dallas that doesn't just give our city a black eye, it is lost revenue for the tax base. Despite the cries from many a school board trustee, the business of education is the mayor's business. I think I know the Mayor well enough to doubt sincerely that he's interested in running the school district. But I do believe he will step in with counsel if necessary. But its ridiculous to suggest that because Mike Rawlings was elected to run the city that gives him no say in what happens in the district. Interestingly enough, former Mayor Tom Leppert and former DISD Superintendent met regularly when they were in office and I don't remember anyone criticizing them for it.

The fact is what's wrong with public education is the lack of public engagement by all stakeholders. Diane Ravitch has it right, what's wrong with public education is the 25 percent of children growing up in poverty. And frankly anyone suggesting otherwise is simply wearing blinders. Teachers are simply not prepared to teach an army of hungry children coming to school every day. This is not to mention the myriad of other pathologies which make up a life of poverty. And these are problems that transcend whether or not poor kids can be trained to take tests. This is about children being emotionally, physically and, yes, even psychologically prepared to be educated.

Addressing poverty means addressing the environment surrounding the school. Here's where the Mayor can be helpful: draw a ten block circle around every school, particularly in south Dallas and determine that there will be no crime, no drugs sold, no prostitution, no illegal gun sales, no car thefts in that area. Make certain that the only businesses that are within eyesight of a school are businesses that lift personality, support education and give children a hunger and thirst for knowledge.

Finally, we need people with money who believe in public education to invest in education, not hijack the system. If Ravitch and Moyers are right, it is a sad commentary that now wealthy businessmen and women look at our children and see dollar signs. Not dollars that can be made as children grow up with great character, a strong work ethic and prepared to make a contribution to our country as well as business, but who look at our children  - my grandchildren, your children and grandchildren - and ask, 'How can I make money off of them?' Everything from testing to text books is primarily a dollar in some adult's pocket. That's not bad - until it becomes all that adults are concerned with.

So in short: I'm against 'Home Rule' because it is not an answer for what ails public education. In one of those meetings I attended, I heard one of SOPS tell how he and his neighbors had changed education in his neighborhood. If that is the case, then why can't we do that for most, if not all of our other schools? What we need is simple, a society that wants to do right by its children. That's really 'home rule'!

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