Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A free choice for principals?

Under the proposed reorganization, the Department of Education is asking principals to choose a support organization – either an external Partnership Support Organization, (PSO), an internal DoE-led Learning Support Organization (LSO), or if their school becomes an empowerment school, they can draw on that network for support.

This initiative is being described as freeing up principals to choose the best services and deals possible from a range of possible sources – which of course, will have to be paid for out of their limited school budgets.

Here is an excerpt from a letter to principals by Joel Klein explaining the rationale:

As you know, an important priority of our Children First school reforms is making sure that all of our principals and school communities are held accountable for meeting rigorous goals for our students and are empowered to make the critical decisions about how best to succeed. You and your school community, not someone who works outside of your school, should determine what you need to be successful and you should have the resources and authority to make it happen. …. When you choose a School Support Organization, you and your school community have the chance to select the team that is best suited to help you, your staff, and your students succeed.

Not until mid-April are principals supposed to receive ”detailed information” about the services being offered by each organization, and in April and May, there are supposed to be a “series of citywide and borough forums to “meet representatives of the School Support Organizations, learn more about the packages of services each is offering, and make informed decisions.”

In the letter, Klein adds that is “too early for you to come to a conclusion about the most appropriate support organization for your school. The School Support Organizations are still in development and will be described to you in detail in the coming months. Any 'decision' to affiliate before these options are fully developed and made known to you would be premature and would very likely short-change your school and your students.”

In fact, the DOE has not yet officially chosen among the organizations that have applied to become PSOs, though New Visions confidently announces on its website that it will be one of them.

Yet in many cases, this choice appears to be more illusory than real.

A recent email from a top staffer at New Visions says they will delay giving out grants to the small schools with the Gates Foundation funds, until and unless these schools choose them as their PSO.

Here is an excerpt: “Remember, by signing this grant agreement you also agree to become a member of the New Visions Partner Support Organization. This is a clear stipulation for receiving funding support.

And, in case that wasn’t clear enough:. “Only after each of you signs on to our NV PSO will we be able to issue a grant implementation letter.

Is this an inventive kickback scheme on the part of New Visions, to ensure that funds keep flowing to their organization, in this case in the form of taxpayer dollars? Clearly this will restrict the ability of principals at the small schools to freely choose which PSO might be best for their needs, given the fact that they rely on Gates-funded grants to keep these schools going.

Comments anyone? Do you think the practice of forcing schools to choose New Visions as their Partnership support organization is unethical, illegal, or just business as usual, in the ruthless world that Tweed is intent on establishing in our public school system?


Anonymous said...

I'm still going through all of the funding streams, but if I'm thinking about this correctly, this greatly expands the roles and the organizational size (budget and staff) of not for profits like New Visions.

It also looks like a path for the private sector Wall street folks via not for profits into the budgets and management of public schools. If Edison schools inc. is an indicator of what the private sector is looking to do in public education, besides profit from taxpayer dollars, this is not a good thing and the potential for abuse and corruption seems huge.

Patrick Sullivan said...

I agree with Tom. It would appear these arrangements would allow the big money (in this case Gates, but later other corporations or foundations) to offer financial inducements to bring schools into the PSOs. The PSOs could potentially be fronts and enforcers for whatever agenda was backing them. Schools would have to turn down the money in order to preserve their independence. Who knows if it's legal or not. But following on Diane Ravitch's eariler history lesson, the abuses of Tammany were often called "honest graft" because the penal code wasn't violated.