Reader: today we pay a return visit a place that I like to call simply ‘Turnaround Town.’ Perhaps you know this city by its other name: Lawrence, Massachusetts. When we last dropped in, state officials had just conducted an exhaustive investigation, concluding that the problems of the city’s schools lay in its leaders: bad, worse, corrupt, in jail, even more corrupt, or just indifferent. Then tragedy struck: a software glitch at the state Department of Education caused the word “leader” to be auto corrected into “teacher,” and the official Lawrence Turnaround™ plan was born.
I will not bore you (or drive you deep into your wine boxes) with the details—but by all means, watch this informative short film about the details. To summarize, the Turnaround™ plan is based on a simple, irresistible premise: replace Lawrence’s old, LIFO lifer teachers with fresh, innovative, new teachers and watch the formerly failing schools transform themselves into a shiny portfolio of excellence. Whole divisions of Teach for America fellows have been parachuted into the city, while charter operators are now operating individual grades—aka niches of outstandingness—within the public schools.
Now this raises an obvious question: what if the remaining LIFO lifers of Lawrence (LLLs) contaminate their new charterized colleagues with low expectations? Reader, there is nothing to worry about. An LLL reader assures me that the charter teachers have been instructed to avoid any contact with the public school teachers with whom they now share space.
But enough with all of the petty complaints, gripes and grievances (send your petty complaints, grievances and gripes to firstname.lastname@example.org). You want to know, is it working? Is the Turnaround Plan™ succeeding in turning Lawrence and its schools around? Reader: there is good news. According to the Official Good News Media Plan sent to me by an EduShyster tipster, there is much good news to share, not to mention a plethora of media outlets through which to share the good news. In the coming months I have no doubt that we will be able to enjoy many good news stories about how the Turnaround Plan™ is working exactly as planned, and that the conduits of excellence, the Proven Providers™, are conduit-ing even more excellence than had been hoped.
Gentle reader: that scent wafting from beneath the good news flow chart is not the Spicket River but spin. To be fair, the state and district leaders of operation Lawrence Turnaround™ have their work cut out for them. Not only do the city and its schools face overwhelming challenges but the portfolio model that edu-leaders are pushing has failed to live up to the hype anywhere it has been tried. A recent study by the Annenberg Institute found that New York City’s 10-year-long experiment with a portfolio school district has done NOTHING to improve education outcomes for the poorest of the city’s children. Other studies show that the “niche effect” of charter schools, like those swiftly moving into Lawrence, actually deepen inequality. Yet “portfolio” remains the edu-flavor of the month, peddled from district to district by a small army of self-styled reformers.
EduShyster is rooting for Lawrence—for its students and their families, and for the city’s teachers. But in the immortal words of Chuck D, don’t believe the hype…
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