Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why Charter Schools Resemble FEMA Trailers- How School Reform Promotes Gentrification by Dr Lori Martin


he greatest threats to these communities--many of which are majority minority--are gentrification and school choice.

Gentrification occurs in distressed communities, which receive an influx of investment from private and/or public sources, that often results in higher real estate costs, among other things, and leads to the racial, ethnic, and economic transformation of the area. As the saying goes, Build it and they will come. However, few people, particularly middle class families and working class families seeking to join their ranks, are willing to come to a neighborhood where most, if not all schools, are deemed “failing.” While more affluent families can opt-out of the public school system, middle and upper class families often times, cannot.

What we are seeing in many areas that are undergoing gentrification is a flood of charter schools, and other so-called school choice options. What is happening in many school districts throughout the country is akin to a mandatory evacuation of public schools. Fewer and fewer students are attending designated neighborhood schools. Students--a disproportionate among of which are students of color--are being displaced and relocated to other schools after their schools are forced to close, or stigmatized by the designation of a grade. The assignment of the letter grade is frequently arbitrary, and a poor reflection of how, what, and from whom, students are learning.

Many of these displaced students never return. Still other students are provided with what could be considered temporary placements within their neighborhoods. These schools, some of which are charter schools, are sometimes mistaken for community schools because of their geographical locations. Charter schools are anything but neighborhood-centered; rather, charter schools may best be understood as the FEMA trailers for the victims of the present educational reform storm and the “gold rush” on selected distressed communities.

Like FEMA trailers, which are meant to provide temporary housing to individuals impacted by such things, as natural disasters, charter schools----intentionally or unintentionally----often do more harm than good in the long run.

FEMA trailers provided a safe haven for thousands of people displaced by hurricanes, like Andrew, Rita, and Katrina, but the trailers also placed the health of the inhabitants at-risk. According to NBC News, a $42.6 million settlement was reached between the manufacturers of the trailers due to the dangerously high levels of formaldehyde gas--considered a cancer-causing substance by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Many of the inhabitants of the trailers--along with others displaced by the storms-- never returned. In the case of New Orleans, many of the impacted areas changed, or are in the process of changing from black to white, and from poor to more affluent. For example, some public housing units have been raised, resulting in an increase in the value of neighboring co-ops.

One is hard pressed to find a neighborhood school anywhere in the Crescent City and New Orleans is not alone. Charter schools--in an attempt to capitalize on the mistaken notion that the only way to “fix” public schools is with the adoption of a business model that treats children as prospective low-wage workers, views students as data points, prefers profit or pupils, and vilifies teachers----also provide an academic haven for some students and will likely do more harm than good. Individual students are harmed and so is the surrounding community, which once gentrification is in full swing, is virtually unrecognizable.

Anyone concerned about public education—and that should include everyone—should heed the warning the signs: the blowing winds of philanthrocapitalists, the downpours of hedge fund managers, ominous clouds of developers, and other outside interests. We must be prepared for a long fight. All students deserve an excellent education and we must work to make that their reality.

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