Alternative Schools aren't much of an alternative, and even less of a school

I have lived in Atlanta for 20 years. I worked as a mental health professional for Fulton County for 8 of those years and that put me in frequent and in-depth contact with the "school system" here.

There are 2 main school systems: Fulton County School and Atlanta Public Schools, or APS. Fulton County covers a large area and the schools range in quality. Atlanta schools, those run by the the city, are almost uniformly abysmal.

Below is an excerpt of a recent report about a particular private school agency that has come in to provide "alternative school" for the city.

And it stinks.

Forrest Hill Academy: The children left behind

When school opened in August, Patti Welch and her son got their first look at Forrest Hill.

Welch went through a 90-minute orientation, where the rules of the school were laid out. Patrick wasn't to bring anything onto campus that was considered contraband. The list included watches, jewelry, purses, combs, brushes, keys and money in excess of $5. Paper and pens weren't allowed either; the school would provide everything that was needed, even tampons for female students.

Patrick would go through a metal detector each morning and be patted down by a security guard to ensure he didn't have weapons or drugs. Backpacks weren't allowed, and books couldn't be taken home. In fact, there was no homework for Forrest Hill students.

To make a long story short the school system is required by law to provide special education to students who meet the criteria.

Here in Atlanta, and I assume in most other major cities, there are a lot of kids who have behavior troubles stemming from one thing or another. In my years of work with "troubled kids" the basic inability to read is the central feature I look for when one is referred to me.

By 3rd grade, almost all of the work is couched in reading. Even math, which the kids I have worked with can do without problem, becomes the infamous "story problem". Kids who cannot read begin to act up at this point for, again, a variety of reasons. I think a lot of it starts with the child being aware they cannot read and knowing that others will make fun of them and call them "stupid". After all they would do the same thing to others if they could only read.

So becoming a nuisance, the class clown (I now use the term "Pain in the Class"), the bully, whatever, becomes better than being called stupid by your peers. That's grossly oversimplified but more or less the essence of the dynamic.

Usually, the child never learns to read and the problems are compounded by just being moved on. I have seen so many 9th grade boys who cannot read a can of beans but the school has them placed in Algebra 1 and French. (!)

Instead of expending the resources necessary to address the problems, the school makes a case that the child is anti-social which is a big loophole in the Federal Law. If the child is "found" to be anti-social, the school can just wash their hands of them and legally expel them. I have witnessed this used on an industrial scale here in Atlanta.

More from the article:

CEP claimed it had found the key to educating a student population that was thought to be beyond help. The schools used a computer-based education program called PLATO that CEP said enables students to quickly catch up to their age level in reading and math skills.


It's unclear exactly how CEP came to acquire a $6.9 million contract to open an alternative school in Atlanta. Richardson says the school system contacted the company in 2001. Citing the pending ACLU lawsuit, Atlanta school officials won't even talk about CEP.

The CEP company is founded out of and upon Republican party ties and was even cheered on by George W. Bush.

It built its business on lies and false claims and has become a lightening rod for criticism, including an active ACLU lawsuit.

Two years ago, a special education lawyer in Atlanta called the ACLU and suggested they investigate the CEP school in Atlanta. "As soon as we began to scratch the surface, we were so outraged by what we found," says the ACLU's Chiang. "The standardized test scores are really shocking. No one was passing."

There are also "allegations" of physical confrontations between CEP staff and the students. The company, OF COURSE denies them and plays them down, but I am here to tell you, it's endemic.

The Alternative School, with a few semi-decent exceptions here in Atlanta, are simply alternative versions of the bootcamp mentality as well as direct manifestations of racism: the vast majority of students thrown into these school, including 99% of the people I have worked with, are b...b..b..b..black.

The racism inherent in the Atlanta school system is breathtaking and rather easy to demonstrate, and just as easy for  compromised professionals (those earning a living with CEP, for example) to explain away.

I used to work with a black male psychiatrist. He had spent 25 years in the Navy, ran mental health centers in Hawai'i. Alaska and China. He knew his shit. He railed on about the school's inherent bias against healthy black males and how the "no tolerance" of fighting is just a mechanism to emasculate males in general.

Fighting is a special problem, at least here. Kids are mean and so  many from the poverty-stricked areas and housing projects seem to have fighting as their main hobby. Tbhey fight day and night. I often think of them having a Day Planner with fights booked into the next summer.

I have worked with child after child who was clearly being attacked and fought back to defend themselves only to be kicked out of school for fighting. Grades and academic standing be damned. Sharp students can get out of Alternative School pretty quickly but - lo and behold - one gets no academic credits while in Alternative school, so they are STILL further behind than before they went there.

The rest of the students who "end up there" are year's behind academically and are now in a place where they will get the LEAST of what they really need along with what's already known to not work: harsh treatment and endless browbeating by older people with an axe to grind about today's "youth".

I worked with a situation once, recently, where a teenage girl appeared flippant to a teacher and the teacher had 2 security guards grab her and take her down on the floor. Her brother saw this and jumped in. Both were arrested, handcuffed and thrown in a police car and sent to jail.

The court took the teacher's side in this and forcefully referred them to the private mental health center where I was working. I interviewed the family and could find nothing where they met the very stringent Medicaid criteria for the program the Judge wanted them to be in. So I dismissed them and thought nothing more about it. To try and make them fit would be fraud.

The probation officer follwed up and went ballistic and DEMANDED they be re-assessed. I was told to do this and I did. I spent 4 hours with them, twice as much as necessary, only to not find anything to defend their involvement in the porogram. I think my supervisor went behind my back and changed what I worte because soon after I saw them they were admitted into the treatment. Staff came to me and asked why I did that and I explained I didn't.

So I quit. And I recently learned they lost their ability to provide some of those services.

The point is that the "system" is very keen on flushing young black men out of the schools and into the courts and penal system.

Programs like CEP merely acclimate the youth to a life of detention, crime, and prison. See this for more about that.

These dynamics benefit the GOP as budget monies flow to companies that support them and that play into racist desires to weed out black men and ruin their lives.

This doesn't have to be so.

The motto of APS, ironically, is

If it's good for the children, then make it so

But they ain't makin' it so.

Update [2008-5-8 12:59:23 by xxdr zombiexx]: Some folks mention that the title was too blunt and not fair for the alternative schools that are doing a good job, so I have added a ? to the the title to make it more of a provocative question.

I do know some Alternative Schools do a reasonably good job with the resources available and that actually belongs under the more general discussion of why schools are scratching for pennies while prsions and the military get the money.

Originally posted to Toking Points Memo on Thu May 08, 2008 at 08:01 AM PDT.

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