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Julian Vasquez Heilig collected data on New Orleans and Louisiana and wondered what the hullaballoo was about. The state is one of the lowest-performing in the nation, by federal measures; and the charter schools have produced mediocre results.

Heilig’s policy brief was sponsored by the Network for Public Education. Since NPE supports public schools, it is hardly surprising that it looks with disfavor on a massive experiment in privatization. Every high-performing nation in the world has an equitable public school system. We should too.

The report examines NAEP scores, ACT scores, high school graduation rates, dropout rates, AP course taking rates, and other criteria.

A useful conclusion to a day of all-New Orleans, all-the-time.

You might want to refer to this policy brief when your legislator or Governor offers a proposal for an “achievement school district” or an “opportunity school district” modeled on New Orleans “Recovery School District.”

All day long, I have posted about the free-market reform of the schools in New Orleans. I have done so because the mainstream media has been touting the success of privatization for almost ten years. States and districts have declared their intention to copy the New Orleans model, believing it was a great success. I just heard a CNN news report stating that the elimination of public schools was controversial, but test scores are up, and the city is investing in its children’s futures. The same report said that 50% of black men are unemployed and 50% of black children live in poverty.

As this report from the National Education Policy Center shows, the test score gains have disproportionately benefited the most advantaged students.

The rhetoric of corporate reform is always about “saving poor black kids.” In New Orleans, they have not yet been saved.

This is a fascinating article about the New Orleans Recovery School District, that appeared in the International Business Times.

Which children were left behind? Who benefitted by the expansion of choice to cover the entire district? It describes the special education students who were pushed from school to school. The students who were suspended again and again for minor infractions. The high school graduation rate, still far behind the state rate.

Broader measures show a rejuvenated school system. ACT scores in the state-run district increased from 14.5 in 2007 to 16.4 in 2014, and far fewer students in the majority-black district attend schools deemed failing. The proportion of Orleans Parish high school graduates enrolling in college has grown more than 20 percent since 2004.[ed. note: a score of 16.4 is very low, too low for admission to four-year colleges.]

But parents of children like Jeremiah feel left out. Critics worry that many children, particularly those with behavioral needs, fell through the cracks. And newly available data from independent researchers, corroborated by former district employees, suggest that due to misreporting, official graduation rates may be overstated by several percentage points.

In relinquishing oversight to independent charter operators, former employees say, district authorities lost sight of at-risk students. Under stiff pressure to improve numbers or face closure, schools culled students and depressed dropout rates. And as families muddled through a complex and decentralized system, a sizable contingent of at-risk students may have left the system unrecorded.

“With an open system like that, it’s relatively easy to misreport information and fudge it,” says Clinton Baldwin, who coordinated the district’s student data from 2012 to 2014. “It was definitely something that was prevalent.”

Meanwhile, for the parents of the most difficult-to-teach students, the notion of school choice seemed to become a mirage.

“It’s not what you decide,” Osbey says. “It’s what they decide for you.”

The good news in the article is that the charter leaders are paying attention to the local critics and making changes.


The RSD, facing community pressure, has made substantial efforts to ensure students don’t get pushed out. A new enrollment system allows families to list their top eight picks. A lottery-like algorithm matches kids to schools so no one is excluded.

And a centralized expulsion system, designed in consultation with community groups, has curbed schools’ abilities to dump students for minor misbehavior, such as talking back to a teacher or violating dress codes. The state reports that expulsions dropped 39 percent last year.

“We listened to the community,” says Superintendent Dobard. “Parents have more opportunities now that the district is decentralized to make their voices and concerns heard.”

The efforts of people like Clinton Baldwin and Karran Harper Royal, the special education advocate, reflect a less-recognized current of reform that has characterized the post-Katrina recovery. Though outsiders largely defined the course of institutional reforms, native New Orleanians have made them more equitable.

“Many of the local critics of this system have led to dramatic changes,” says Stone, the head of the reform outfit New Schools for New Orleans.

That’s true in the charter community as well. “I’ve seen a big shift in the last five years,” says Gubitz, the principal at the K-8 Renew Cultural Arts Academy. “We are all listening more.”

Although there are powerful forces who want New Orleans to be a national model for urban districts–fire all the teachers, get rid of the unions, recruit Teach for America, replace public schools with privately managed charters–we should all look more deeply into the consequences of these changes in New Orleans before adopting it in other cities.

Writing in the progressive journal, “In These Times,” Colleen Kimmett reports the findings of a three-month investigation into the New Orleans school reforms. It is not pretty.

“Test scores, high or low, are only a piece of the story. In a three-month investigation, In These Times interviewed teachers, parents and students to find out how they feel about the charterization of public education in New Orleans.

Community members mourned the closures of public schools that had served as neighborhood hubs. Students at no-excuses charters described feeling like they were in prison, or bootcamp. Teachers felt demoralized, like they didn’t have a voice in the classroom. Parents complained about a lack of black teachers. In interview after interview, people said the same thing: The system doesn’t put children’s needs first.

As we know very well, the story of the New Orleans reforms is the central subject of data wars. Its advocates applaud it, without qualification, as a dramatic transformation of a low-performing district. Its critics punch holes in the data and say that there is more hype and spin than truth.

We may have to wait another ten years to get an unbiased account of what happened to the schools and the students.

Readers of this blog know that I am critical of the idea that schools will improve if you fire all the teachers and replace public schools with private management. This is a formula, in my view, not for education reform but for chaos and disruption, inflicted on schools by outsiders who have a plan and are certain that they know what’s best for other people’s children. When their plans don’t work, they never admit they made a mistake. That seems to be the mark of a reformer these days; never say “I was wrong.”

This brilliant article does not attempt to assess the success or failure of the Néw Orleans school reform. Instead, it reviews the steady drumbeat of media celebration of the disaster as a golden opportunity. Bottom line: Privatization is wonderful, a game-changer, a win-win.

“Torture the data enough, and the “New Orleans miracle” can be teased out if one wants it enough. Despite studies and reporting showing otherwise, for the sake of this piece it doesn’t actually matter if radical post-Katrina New Orleans school reform was a “success,” a failure or somewhere in between. What is important is that so many corporatists think this “miracle” was not just an incidental positive but was, all things considered, worth it. Worth the 1,800 people killed and the 100,000 African-Americans permanently ejected from the city.

“The most popular examination of this pathology is, of course, from Naomi Klein, who coined the idea of the ”shock doctrine” in her 2007 book of the same name. In it, she explores how Katrina and other manmade and non-manmade disasters are exploited to rush through a radical right wing corporate agenda.

“Those who find this a useful model are accused by critics like Malcolm Gladwell of “cynicism”; tragedies happen, they say, and we would be stupid not to exploit them. Here’s a list of those who championed this model, both immediately after the storm and since. One can decide for themselves if this ideology-mongering was exploitation or good-faith public servants simply responding to crisis.”

Then follows a litany of comments by champions of corporate takeover. It starts with David Brooks in the New York Times only days after the hurricane. His ideas were to displace the poor and make the city just right for gentrification.

A week later came a proposal for vouchers, offered by a group sponsored by the Koch brothers.

This is a most valuable collection of prescriptions for and celebrations of privatization.

Mercedes Schneider looks at ACT scores for the class of 2015 in the all-charter Recovery School District and tries to determine how many students disappeared or fell through the cracks.

Citing the work of Andrea Gabor, she quotes officials at the RSD who admit that no one knows how many students got lost. In a system that is proudly not a system, no one checks on the lost students.

“As Gabor notes, according to 2013 US Census Bureau data, New Orleans has approximately 26,000 youth ages 16 to 24 who are neither in school nor employed. These young people are referred to displaced youth, or, euphemistically, “opportunity youth”– though what is lost to them is exactly that: opportunity.”

There are 30,448 students in RSD charters.

“According to Williams’ search engine, 1065 Class of 2015 seniors took the ACT; 21.1 percent scored 20+, and 36.7 percent scored 18+.

“These are low percentages, but one might expect as much given that the RSD Class of 2015 ACT composite was 16.6.

“What is also noteworthy is the number of RSD seniors: 1065 for a district of 30,448 students.”

Schneider compares the rate of test-taking and the scores to other districts of similar size. The RSD scores are much lower.

The Orleans Parish School Board (the remnant of the old school system) has 13,173 students, yet the number of seniors who took the ACT was slightly larger that the much bigger RSD.

“So, when one reads that RSD has 30,448 students and only 1,065 make it to a senior year to constitute “all” senior ACT test takers, one should wonder how many students “fell through the cracks” in order to produce the amazing result ten years post-Katrina of 21.1 percent scoring an ACT composite of 20+ and 36.7 percent scoring an ACT composite of 18+.

“In addition, all too often, those wishing to fashion RSD success use OPSB to carry RSD. OPSB has a 2015 district ACT composite of 20.9. OPSB has 13,173 students; 1,111 Class of 2015 seniors took the ACT. (53.6 percent scored 20+; 71.7 percent scored 18+). Thus, the RSD-OPSB “combined” ACT composite of OPSB’s 20.9 with RSD’s 16.6 allows for a much better marketing composite of 18.8.

“However, one should wonder about the fact that RSD enrolls well over twice the number of students as does OPSB, yet OPSB had more Class of 2015 seniors taking the ACT.

“One should think of those RSD high school students in particular falling through those displaced, “opportunity” cracks.”

Paul Thomas marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by looking at Charleston, South Carolina, a coastal city similar to New Orleans but without the devastating hurricane. Proponents of the “New Orleans Model” or the “New Orleans Miracle” imply that school choice is itself a solution to the problems of racism and poverty. School districts across the South are proposing ways to be like New Orleans, without a public school system or with full choice.

But Thomas shows that school choice is a diversion from the root causes of low academic performance.

A large body of research finds that:

Private, public, and charter schools have about the same range of measurable student outcomes, regardless of the school type and strongly correlated with the socioeconomic status of the child’s home. (See this discussion of “charterness.”)

Research on school choice has shown mixed results at best, but even when some choice has shown promise of, for example, raising test scores for black, brown, and poor students, those increased scores are linked to selectivity, attrition, and extended school days/years—none of which have anything to do with the consequences of choice and all of which expose those “gains” as false success.

School choice, notably charter schools, has been strongly linked with increasing racial and socioeconomic inequity: increased segregation, inequitable disciplinary policies and outcomes.

SC advocacy for charter schools as the newest school choice commitment fails to acknowledge that charter schools in the state are overwhelmingly about the same and often worse than comparable public schools (see analysis of 2011 and 2013 data here), and the South Carolina Public Charter School District is among the top four worst districts in the state for racially inequitable discipline with blacks constituting about 19% of the enrollment but over 50% of suspensions/expulsions.

The research on school choice does not support the claims made by SCPC [a free-market think tank], and the rhetoric is also deeply flawed.

School choice advocates often fall back on “poor children deserve the same choices that rich children enjoy.”

However, several problems exist within this seemingly logical assertion.

The greatest flaw is suggesting that affluent and mostly white affluent children are thriving because of choice is itself a lie, a mask for the reality that the key to their success is their wealth and privilege. Being born into a wealthy family trumps educational attainment, and white privilege trumps educational attainment by blacks (see here and here).

In its most disturbing form, then, school choice advocacy is a distraction from the consequences of racism and poverty, both of which are reflected in and perpetuated by the education system.

All the links are included in his article. Read it.

Mike Klonsky writes in his blog that Mayor Emanuel showed his hand: he will give nothing to the Dyett hunger Strikers. Klonsky says the mayor plans to sell Dyett to real estate developers, for gentrification and profit.

“Like his predecessor Daley, Rahm would sell of every foot of this city’s public space that wasn’t nailed down, if he could. And maybe he can. The erosion of public space and public decision-making has been a hallmark of the regime’s strategy of gentrifying and whitenizing the city. It’s New Orleans without the flood. A quarter-million African-American citizens have left Chicago in the past decades.

“Now it appears that the board’s RFP for a new school at Dyett was a ruse. After 11 days of surviving on liquids and with several of the hunger strikers needing medical treatment (see the warning from local health professionals) , they’ve been told by Board Pres. Frank Clark (former ComEd C.E.O), that the game is up. Rahm, Claypool, Johnson and their gaggle of always-compliant board members, are dumping the new-school proposals from all three groups, the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett (Global Leadership and Green Technology), Little Black Pearl’s contract school, and a late one solicited by the board from former Dyett Principal Charles Campbell.”

Klonsky predicts the mayor will act swiftly now that the hunger strike is getting national media attention.

Troy LaRaviere is the outspoken principal of Blaine Elementary School. He has spoken out repeatedly and publicly against Mayor Emanuel’s policies. He wrote an article showing that Chicago public schools outperform its charter schools. He chastised the Illinois State Board of Education for neglecting the children of Chicago. He encouraged the children in his school to opt out of the state tests. He supported Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in his challenge to Rahm Emanuel.

Then last week, he spoke on a panel at the Chicago Civic Club, and he lambasted the status quo and the Mayor’s policies.

That did it! The Chicago school board passed a “warning resolution,” which may be a prelude to firing him.

Still defiant, LaRaviere wrote on his website:

“That resolution had absolutely no effect on me curtailing my desire to articulate and help the city of Chicago understand how backwards and corrupt this system is,” he said. “If anything, it intensified that desire.”

With a few people like Troy in every city, we could send the privatizers back to their country clubs, shamed by the righteous wrath of the brave and the bold.

The state of Connecticut finally released the results of the Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment.

As expected, most students in Connecticut “failed.”

As I previously explained, the developers of the tests chose a passing mark that was designed to fail most students.

On the federal NAEP, Connecticut is one of the highest scoring states in the nation. Its failure rates were not as bad as in other states. But even so, a majority of students in every grade did not reach “proficient.”

Failure by design.

Time for parents in Connecticut to opt out in 2016.

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