Kevin Carey in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Kevin Carey is the policy director for Education Sector, an independent think tank in Washington.
May 8 - Doug McGray has written a terrific piece in this week’s New Yorker [ The Instigator By Douglas McGray, New America Foundation | The New Yorker | May 10, 2009] about Steve Barr and Green Dot Public Schools’ insurgent campaign to reform public education in Los Angeles — and now beyond. As with most good narrative articles, it’s not readily summarizable (and the endlessly quotable Barr makes it a lively read in any case, e.g. “I don’t want to blow up L.A.U.S.D.‘s ass, but what will it take….”
●●smf 2¢: More from the endlessly quotable Mr. Barr, secondhand, from the New Yorker piece: “He even put a school-board member on his payroll -- ‘a mole,’ Barr said -- to report back on closed meetings.”
The above has the whiff of official misconduct and/or malfeasance to it …and perhaps a confession of conspiracy.
The New Yorker article attempts feebly to backtrack on one of Barr’s more unquotable quotes in an interview re: UTLA president AJ Duffy performing unnatural acts with pigs (neither Barr’s nor TNY’s actual words, 4LAKids needs to get past the LAUSD email censors!). What Barr really did say - a sorry piece of obscenity masquerading as wit - is here, at the bottom of pp.1. This is not a quote out of context …there is no context for an educator to say such a thing.
Urban education reform fights are often explicitly cast in labor vs. anti-labor terms. And there’s often truth in that. But Barr complicates this way of thinking. He’s a Democrat and an organizer. His schools are unionized. When he needed the signature of unionized teachers to take over Locke High School, he went and got them. He’s sincerely trying to partner with national unions like the AFT to expand his movement beyond L.A. There are bona fide anti-labor types within the public school choice movement, but Steve Barr isn’t one of them.
Instead, what McGray very clearly describes is a fight against a school district that was willing to let a massively dysfunctional high school sit and fester for years on end. A district that stood side-by-side with the city teachers union in fighting to retain the right to continue that neglect. The article doesn’t paint Barr as a miracle worker, or Green Dot as a source of fantastic new pedagogy and world-beating teaching. Rather, they’ve taken a building that wasn’t actually functioning as a school in any true meaning of the word, and installed what all schools need: discipline, expectations that students will work, teachers who believe they can succeed. Charter schools were originally sold as a source of innovation. But as it turns out, many of the most successful charters have been a source of something even more important: competence.
Now U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is talking to Barr about expanding the Green Dot approach nationally, to target the bottom 1 percent of schools, the Locke’s of America, schools where failure is least ambiguous and ongoing neglect hardest to justify. Barr wants to work with AFT President Randi Weingarten to get this done. It’ll be fascinating to see if Barr’s initial skirmishes in L.A. grow into something more. Alexander Russo adds more at the Huffington Post here.