What Do School Reform Technocrats and Failed Urban Renewal Schemes Have in Common?

Many school reform technocrats seem to echo the call of urban renewal advocates who years ago searched for easy answers by "wiping the slate clean" and "starting over."

You might remember Education Secretary Duncan's comment last year that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans." His comment elicited quite a bit of reaction.

Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post, for example, wrote:

"By the time we find ourselves praising a natural catastrophe for education reform, we are in big trouble. Such talk is the last refuge of someone bereft of new policy ideas."

NBC's Education Nation program conveyed that same message recently by publicizing a workshop titled "Does Education Need A Katrina?"

When Mayor Bloomberg was closing "failed" schools in New York City last year. Diane Ravitch wrote:

It is odd that school leaders feel triumphant when they close schools, as though they were not responsible for them. They enjoy the role of executioner, shirking any responsibility for the schools in their care. Every time a school is closed, those at the top should hang their heads in shame for their inability or refusal to offer timely assistance. Instead they exult in the failure of schools that are entrusted to their stewardship.

And, last but not least, billionaire Eli Broad, the funder of many of the kinds of "reforms" desired by Secretary Duncan and Mayor Bloomberg, was described this way in a Wall Street Journal interview:

"...he is enthusiastic about all the change that is possible when urban school districts go bankrupt -- as Oakland, Calif., did a few years ago -- "or what happened in New Orleans, which is the equivalent of bankruptcy."

Though I'm no expert in urban planning, from what I have learned, these perspectives sound eerily similar to the countless failed "urban renewal" projects done in cities over the past 60 years -- technocrats wanting to demolish what exists and instill their unproven vision of what is best instead of engaging with the people who are already there. And then, those local people get pushed-out.

In fact, there have already been numerous examples of charter schools that have taken over "failed" ones and then proclaimed as huge successes -- even though their student attrition rate is astronomically height.

Check-out this 1955 video advocating for urban renewal in Pittsburgh. Anything sound familiar?