Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Reconstitution - "improving" low performing schools by replacing ("vacating") all of the adults in the building was described as the "My Lai approach to school reform - you destroy the village in order to save it."
Reconstitution in San Francisco began with a 1978 lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) charging that the city's schools were segregated and unequal. A 1982 federal court judgement ruled in their favour and called for school restructuring.
The plans drawn up by the San Francisco Unified School District included the phrase, "If indivduals do not learn, then those assigned to be their teachers will accept responsibility for this failure and will take appropriate action to ensure success."
The primary focus of reconstitution was an impoversished area known as Bayview Hunter's Point. Six schools were chosen to be developed as 'magnets' to attract parents and children, two schools were new and four existing ones were selected for 'reconstitution'. This meant, "Removing faculty and staff [including cooks, teaching assistants and cleaners] and hiring new faculty and staff committed to the consent decree vision, philosophy tenents and program."
To help implement reforms the six Bayview Hunter's Point schools received a massive infusion of state funds and extensive technical assistance.
In 1987 two more schools in San Francisco, John Muir Elementary School and James Lick Middle School were chosen for 'reconstitution', staff were removed at both schools but this time no additional resources were provided.
However, by 1989 it was clear that achievement levels in the district were still uneven, the court appointed a panel of experts led by Harvard professor Gary Orfield to review progress.
In 1993 a further nine schools were declared 'reconstitution eligible' and given one year to improve. As a results three schools were selected during 1994-5 and five more the following year. Once again teachers were singled out for blame and long-standing, experienced teachers were advised that 'just good enough' was 'not good enough'.
Reconstitution made it difficult for schools to attract qualified and experienced teachers, in one school 24% were unlicenced and in another 70% were long-term supply teachers. The reconstituted schools still failed to show any signs of measurable improvement.
A new attempt at reconstitution has been so-called 'Dream Schools' (make the packing colourful even if there is dross inside it). A federal court ruling in December 2006 described reconstitution as, "an 800 lb guerilla to keep the union at bay" and that there was, "no reason to have reconstitution".
However, this local victory for the union may only be temporary, under Bush's 'No Child Left Behind Act', if children consistently underperform in high stakes national tests, schools may be closed, re-opened as charter schools or reconstituted.