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“The Price Is Double” — Two Stories About School Reform & Money

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The New York Times has just published a story headlined “Inexperienced Companies Chase U.S. School Funds.”

Here’s how it begins:

With the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school turnaround experts as they compete for the money.

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 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 federal 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. “Many of these companies clearly just smell the money,” Mr. Jennings said.

That’s one story.

Most readers know that I spent nineteen years working as a community organizer prior to becoming a teacher. Most of that time was spent working with national organization that the late Saul Alinsky created.

Now here’s a story from a new biography of Alinsky that might speak to the issues raised in the Times article:

Hardscrabble though his youth had been, Alinsky managed to get into the University of Chicago, where his major was archaeology. When the Depression dried up money for digs, he wangled a fellowship to study criminology and began hanging out with gangsters as part of his study, including Al Capone’s “enforcer,” Frank Nitti.

Mr. von Hoffman tells us that one of Alinsky’s favorite stories involved a meeting between Nitti and Anton Cermak just after Cermak had been elected Chicago’s mayor in 1931. The meeting’s purpose was to negotiate the money that Capone would pay the city to keep its speakeasies stocked with beer and liquor: “As Saul told the story,” Mr. von Hoffman writes, “Cermak explained to Nitti, ‘You know I was elected as a reform candidate.’ To which Nitti replied, ‘What the hell does that mean, Tony?’ and waited for an answer. ‘It means,’ the mayor said after a suitable pause, ‘that the price is double.’ “

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

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