The New York Times paints a desperate picture of our education system today, with New York City at the center of both controversies. First there's the matter of whether our students are really learning anything. Outlook: bleak. For the first time ever, New York City's Department of Education looked at how graduates from the city's 250 high schools are faring after they leave — and reporting back to the schools. High-school graduation rates have increased to 59 percent, up from 47 percent in 2005, but at a third of those 250 high schools, at least 70 percent of graduates who went to CUNY needed remedial help. “You’re always very excited with the kids who are crying on graduation day, assuming they are going on to bigger and better things,” said Josh Thomases, who is in charge of academic programs for the city’s DOE. “But heretofore that assumption has been largely untested.”
Meanwhile, the companies going after the $3.5 billion Obama has set aside for fixing failing schools need remedial help of their own, with inexperienced contractors portraying themselves as turnaround experts just to get a piece of the education pie. “This is like the aftermath of the Civil War, with all the carpetbaggers and charlatans,” said Rudy Crew, a former New York City schools chancellor, who formed his own consulting company after seeing how ill-prepared the contenders were.
A husband-and-wife team that has specialized in teaching communication skills but never led a single school overhaul is seeking contracts in Ohio and Virginia. A corporation that has run into trouble with parents or the authorities in several states in its charter school management business has now opened a school-turnaround subsidiary. Other companies seeking federal money include offshoots of textbook conglomerates and classroom technology vendors.
Many of the new companies seem unprepared for the challenge of making over a public school, yet neither the federal government nor many state governments are organized to offer effective oversight, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit group in Washington.
Just how poor is that oversight? John Q. Porter, a former schools superintendent in Oklahoma City, described a recent vendor fair. "It was like a cattle call. No, actually it was more like speed dating."