In 2010, an anti-public education documentary made its debut. Waiting for Superman features Geoffrey Canada, a controversial education “reformer” who promotes anti-union sentiment and charter schools as a solution to the struggles that face our public education system. The documentary largely appeals to the heart, as it uses weak data and a faulty premise. For this reason, another documentary made its debut in 2011. The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman features the New York City teachers and counters the position taken in Waiting for Superman. With this documentary shedding light on the true nature of charter schools and faux reformers like Geoffrey Canada, I would hope this matter is settled, at least for those of us who rely on real data and results to drive decisions.
Why then is the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) listed as both a sponsor and partner of an upcoming event featuring the “legendary” Geoffrey Canada? Geoffrey Canada is the creator of the Harlem Children’s Zone. The two Charter Schools included in this zone are called “Promise Academy I” and “Promise Academy II.” Students win a spot in the schools based on a lottery. Canada believes that money is the answer for these children. The Harlem Children’s Zone invests $16,000 per student per year for expenses in the classroom, and thousands more per student for expenses outside the classroom. These expenses include student incentives, such as a trip to Disney World or the Galapagos Islands.
The Harlem Children’s Zone has an operating budget of $84 million, two-thirds of which comes from private donations from businesses such as Goldman Sachs. Two billionaires are counted among the members of the board. This gives the group easier access to funding. In 2009, the Children’s Zone had assets that equaled almost $200 million dollars.
If money, invested business people, and Charters are the answer, then many wonder why Canada’s plans have not proven to be successful. In 2004, the Children’s Zone dismissed their first class, because their performance wasn’t high enough to guarantee the results of the proposed high school. In spite of class sizes of less than 15, an extended school day, and an 11 month year, all students are not making substantial gains. In 2010, only 15% of the Children’s Zone 7th grade students passed their English test. In true Charter fashion, this resulted in the firing of teachers without delving too far into the true causes of the inadequate results.
What Canada has shown is that even with a budget that exceeds other schools, his Charters still struggle with the same issues. Is this what we want for the future of Madison schools? The upcoming event is cause for alarm.
Even the ticket packages hint at Canada’s idea that schools are to be run like businesses and by businesses. With a $1,000 package called the “Graduate Degree,” there is less than subtle message that money is what leads to an education. If you can’t afford the Graduate degree, $500 can buy you a College Degree package. Both packages offer some extra time with Geoffrey Canada and John Legend and proceeds go toward current Urban League of Greater Madison Programs. After all, just because Canada has not been successful in New York, does not mean that the doors are closed to him here in Madison.
Listed among the forum’s sponsors and partners are MMSD, United Way, CUNA Mutual Foundation, Target Corporation, and Planning for Greatness. Recent emails by the orgnizers state that “sponsorship packages are still available” and tote this forum as a way for businesses to be a part of the Urban League’s initiative to close the achievement gap.
What exactly sponsors are investing in remains to be seen. The promotion of charters? The downfall of public education? The ability to fire and hire teachers based on whims and standardized test results? The act of investing millions in unproven, philanthropic methods?
Rather than supporting and partnering with people like Canada, who make their name known by attacking public education, MMSD should be looking for real solutions for our students. These initiatives would include all students, not just those who win a lottery, are void of special education needs, or can “pad” our standardized testing numbers. Charters are not the answer; that is the only thing that our district can learn from Geoffrey Canada.
Keep Public Education Public! Write the MMSD School Board and ask them to withdraw their sponsorship and partnership with this event: firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact the United Way and ask them to withdraw their partnership with this event: email@example.com
Update 11/29: A spokesperson from MMSD now reports that the school district was mistakenly listed as a sponsor for the fundraiser. He stated that MMSD will be removed from the list of sponsors in the program for the Canada/Legend event.