Archives for category: New Orleans

In this post, EduShyster interviews Andre Perry. In 2013, he became Founding Dean of Urban Education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Before that, he was a leader in the charter school movement in Néw Orleans. As I read this interview, I heard echoes of my own thinking from about a decade ago. I didn’t care who was sponsoring the schools so long as they were good schools. By 2009, I realized that it did matter, because many charters were skimming the best students and needed resources from the poorest districts, this left the public schools, which enroll most children, even worse off than they were before. We will see how Dr. Perry’s rethinking evolves.

Here are Jennifer Berkshire’s first questions:

“EduShyster: You were involved in the education reform experiment in New Orleans from its inception. But you’ve become increasingly critical of the direction reform has taken. Why?

“Andre Perry: The goal of education has to be build the capacity of local residents. It has to be—and I’m talking about from top to bottom. Our goal is not to improve a school in spite of the community. Our goal is to improve a community using schools. And it’s not just to give students the skills to get a job—that’s one small part. It’s to make sure they have sustainable communities to live in. You’re not going to fire your way to improving community. You have to do the hard work of building capacity and training people and becoming a member of the community. That’s how you do it. That wasn’t happening and it’s not happening. In addition, and this is where I am clearly biased, New Orleans is 60% Black. If we don’t have Black leaders in the mix, we’re just reinforcing a power structure that helped cause the situation we were in.

“EduShyster: Was there anything specific that caused you to start to question what was happening in New Orleans?

“Perry: I became very critical because I saw a script that folks had to follow. There was a clear bias against New Orleanians, some of which was predicated on race, some on folks’ affiliation with the prior system. But there was a clear bias. Around 2008 and 2009, I sat on some of the charter authorizing committees. I would see Black and local charter applications just passed on, and I would see white applications that had clearly been written by someone else, and yet the odds were stacked for their acceptance. I remember in the beginning, it was really about quality and making sure we found new voices. Then it became about *scaling up.* There was a big transition, and I said *whoa—that is not the move.* The goal is to bring in different voices and new, innovative perspectives. It’s not to give the same people more schools. I didn’t get into reform for that. I got in it to build the capacity of local residents.

“EduShyster: People should also know that you’re very critical of the critics of education reform in New Orleans. I’ve heard you use words like *crass,* *silly,* and *camp-ish* to describe some of the anti-reform arguments. And can we acknowledge that merely typing those words makes my fingers hurt?

“Perry: I’m very critical of the anti-reform narrative because it lacks any form of nuance. These labels—sometimes I don’t even want to say them out loud—and if I hear the word neo-liberal again… There are no complicated scenarios posed; it’s completely ideological. Let’s be real. We have to be very pragmatic about change. There’s no one way to bring about change. It typically comes from young people who aren’t wedded to any particular brand, and it will come from a commitment to making sure that the lives and outcomes of those communities are improved by any means. That’s what’s frustrating to me on the anti-reform side. Black people have never had the luxury to do things one way. We need good schools across the board—public, charter, private—and delivery systems that really speak to our existence. This idea that we can’t have multiple players in the same space is ridiculous. But when you’re in these settings where the rhetoric is so intense, you completely miss that there is good work happening in the charter space, or good *reformed* work happening in the traditional space. And what you also don’t see is how privilege and class are pervasive in all of these systems.”

I know I am missing something. Nuance is important but too much nuance, and you get rolled by those who know exactly what they want and go for it.

This column by Jack Hassard is referenced in the previous post by Edward Johnson of Atlanta.

 

I missed it when it first appeared. I am posting it now because it contains important advice, not only for Georgia, but for other states whose governors want to copy New Orleans and the Tennessee Achievement School District (which so far has not achieved its lofty goal of moving the lowest performing schools in the state to the top 25% of schools in the state). The model legislation comes right from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the rightwing organization that promotes privatization and deregulation for the benefit of corporations.

 

Hassard writes:

 

The Opportunity School District, which was proposed by Governor Nathan Deal, is indeed an opportunity. But it is not in the best interests of students and their families in the communities identified as having “chronically failing schools.” The first detail to pull out of Senate Bill 133 is that this bill is nothing short of opening the flood gates for charter schools, which have been documented time and again as not nearly being as effective as “regular” public schools. These schools will replace public schools that have been red-flagged for three consecutive years. The main goal of school will be to get students to score higher on standardized tests. Success will hinge primarily on the test scores in mathematics and reading. Teaching to the test will be the main goal of schooling in the OSD.
In this Senate bill, paragraph after paragraph is devoted to describing how the state will set up a state-wide charter school district for “chronically failing schools.” But here is a real problem for Georgia legislators to consider. The evidence from the New Orleans Recovery School District is that for the most part, schools that were considered failing before they entered the confines of the RSD continued to earn failing grades, stars, or flags–pick your own symbol.

 

What Governor Deal does not confront is the connection between poverty and test scores. As Hassard shows in another post, 27% of the children in the state of Georgia live in poverty, and nearly 60% are eligible for free- or reduced-price school lunches.

 

Creating a special school district for the schools attended by children who live in poverty is a high priority for ALEC, but it does nothing to alleviate the lives of these children or to improve their schools. It amounts to kicking the can down the road. It will take a decade to recognize that this remedy didn’t remedy anything that matters. It just delayed the reckoning with the cause of low test scores: high poverty.

 

 

Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans in September 2005. That means we will see much celebrating or bemoaning the transformation of the New Orleans public schools. The sponsors of the district from a public school district to an all-charter district celebrate the amazing progress that followed the elimination of public schools and the teachers’ union.  Because so many hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to “prove” that privatization works, we will see many more such declarations of success.

 

On the other hand, critics say that none of the data is trustworthy. They say the state department of education and the Recovery School District (the all-charter district) manipulate statistics.

 

Mercedes Schneider, a Louisiana high school teacher with a doctorate in research methods and statistics, has been relentless in dissecting the narrative produced by apologists for the RSD. In her latest post, she looks at the tale of graduation rates.

 

She writes:

 

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) hides information and releases delayed or partial information in an effort to keep the public ill-informed regarding the state of education in Louisiana and especially as concerns the now-all-charter Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans, which White and other well-positioned, well-financed privatizing reform cronies actively endeavor to market as a national model.

 

What the RSD is best at, she says, is marketing and sales.

Adam Hubbard Johnson was trying to verify the claims of a miraculous transformation in Néw Orleans, and he went in search of the pre-Katrina data. Reformers said the graduation rate had grown from 54.4% before Katrina to 77% in 2012. That’s huge. But was it accurate?

He corresponded with a reporter. She used those numbers but didn’t know the source. He kept digging. Eventually he realized that the source was not city or state or federal data, but a charter advocacy group.

He writes:

“A thought experiment:

Imagine, for a moment, that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had said five years after 9/11:

“I think the best thing that happened to the defense system in New York and Washington was 9/11. That defense system was a disaster, and it took 9/11 to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better’.”

We would rightfully find this crude and opportunistic. But in 2010 when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said

“I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster, and it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that ‘we have to do better’.”

the media either shrugged it off or embraced its thesis. The political and moral rot of the New Orleans education system pre-Katrina wasn’t just taken for granted – our political classes saw it as so manifestly depraved and corrupt that it validated the deaths of 1,833 people. Such is the hysteria with which conventional wisdom cements itself.

Like a tale out of an Ayn Rand variation of Genesis, the story of Katrina wasn’t one of nature’s caprice or racism’s legacy, it was instead the fortunate and righteous correction of liberal excess. And though graduation rates are not the only point of comparison used to prop up this perception (I will explore others later), they are the most accessible and finite.”

Why the missing pre-Katrina grad rate?

“The answer to this question illuminates, in a limited but potent way, what a corporate coup looks like up close. When education becomes charity rather than a right, an investment instrument rather than a civic good, the ability to distinguish between substance and marketing becomes by design, overwhelming. Like a refund department with a six hour wait time, the frustration in attempting to navigate this neoliberal maze of “private/public” responsibilities is precisely the point. Even the most basic of acts – hosting a website – turns out to be one of the primary reasons finding data is so difficult. The LDOE has had, inexplicably, five differnt primary domains in the past decade – from doe.louisiana.gov to doe.state.la.us to louisianaschools.net to louisianabelieves.net to its current, full-flown corporate iteration louisianabelieves.com”

He writes about the framing of the reform narrative:

“The story of Katrina and how it justified charter schools can best be summed up by Arthur Miller’s observation that “the structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.”

“So went the Katrina reform school narrative in all its moral clarity. Circa 2005 charter school leaders, largely funded by the Walton, Gates, Koch families and given cover by neoliberal corporatists whose primary purpose appeared to be the act of looking busy, sought a PR coup. Though they were making incremental headway, there was little urgency to their cause. Two weeks after Katrina however, while 96% of corpses still remained unidentified and the Superdome had been reduced to a “toxic biosphere”, the story of how the birds had come home to roost was too good to pass up. Koch-funded and proto-Tea Party outfit FreedomWorks was the first to float this narrative on September 15th, both in the pages of the National Review and on their website, in an op-ed by Chris Kinnan.

[Kinnan wrote:] “There is a second rescue urgently needed in the terrible aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and one that is long overdue: saving New Orleans school kids from their broken public-school system. The tragedy of the storm provides America with a golden opportunity”

This idea of a “golden opportunity” to perform a dramatic experiment in New Orleans became conventional wisdom.

Johnson writes:

“All of this is to say nothing of the core fallacy at the heart of the “choice movement”: the presumption of dichotomy. Schools going bad? Poverty’s not the problem, abject racism’s not at fault, underfunding is irrelevant (Louisiana spent $1,636 more in real dollars per pupil in 2012 than it did pre-Katrina). No, it has to be teachers’ unions and local school boards. Get rid of those and let slick PR firms, Ivy League idealists, and hedge fund real estate interest come in and do it right. A third option, or a fourth option or any cost-benefit was never discussed. Within 10 weeks of Katrina, while the state’s largely poor and African American diaspora were scattered throughout the Gulf states simply trying to stay alive – the Louisiana State Legislature called an emergency session, passing ACT 35 which, as even Tulane’s pro-school reform Cowen Institute acknowledged, radically changed the defintion of “failing school” from the flawed but objective criteria of having a state score of less than 60 to include any school that was below the state score median, which, at the time was 86.2. Put another way: the state assured itself that their own Recovery School Board would control, by definition, at least 50% of the state’s schools no matter what.

“Overnight, 102 of the 119 locally control New Orleans schools, all primarily poor, all primarily black, were put under the pro-charter, primarily white state control. Not because they were “failing” – a school cannot “fail” to meet retroactive standards – but rather because they were vulnerable. No study issued. No ballot measure campaigned for. No discussion had.

“The corporate forces were too overwhelming, the liberal class too monied and distracted. The official history of a broken school system that was simply washed to sea, too convenient. And the truth – like the shiny new charter school system that emerged at its expense – was simply torn down and built again from scratch.”

Mercedes Schneider wonders why Kira Orange-Jones was chosen by TIME as one of the nation’s most influential people. She is executive director of Teach for America in Louisiana.

She is also on the state board of education, where Schneider finds no evidence of her influence.

Schneider concludes that TIME wanted to salute both TFA (its former executive editor was president of the TFA board) and to bolster Néw Orleans’ inflated reputation as a successful experiment in reform by eliminating public education.

About 7,500 teachers who were subject to mass termination after Hurricane Katrina sued because of lack of due process but the Supreme Court rejected their appeal.

Their lawyer says he is not giving up.

“Despite Monday’s ruling, the plaintiffs aren’t giving up. Willie Zanders, their attorney, said he will turn to the executive branch and Congress to investigate the possible misuse of $500 million in post-Katrina grants to the schools. At the time, Louisiana Education Superintendent Cecil Picard based his request on the need to pay school staff, Zanders said. But trial Judge Ethel Simms Julien of Orleans Parish Civil District Court said in her decision that the state “diverted these funds to the RSD.”

In the best-case scenario, Zanders said, Congress would require Louisiana to repay the money to the federal government then pass legislation directing the money to the laid-off school employees.

“You don’t quit after 10 years. If you believe in something, you fight. Justice has no time deadline — or we’d still be in slavery,” Zanders said.”

If you live in or near Milwaukee, try to meet and hear these veterans of the Great Néw Orleans Con Job:

On March 26th and 27th you will have a chance to interact with three activist immersed in the fight for public education in New Orleans.

On Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 4:30 p.m. at Milwaukee High School of the Arts (2300 W. Highland Ave.) they will conduct workshops. All are invited.

Friday, March 27, 2015 • 6:00 p.m. at Parklawn Assembly of God (3725 N. Sherman Blvd.) they will participate in a community meeting and panel.

Karran Harper Royal is a New Orleans
public school parent who
cares about real education
reform. She is an advocate
for disabled and challenged
children and an educational
policy consultant.

Dr. Raynard Sanders
has more than 30 years of
experience in teaching,
educational administration,
and economic/community
development. He is a former
New Orleans high school principal.

Dr. Kristen Buras is an
associate professor in
Educational Policy Studies
at Georgia State University
in Atlanta. Buras has spent
the past decade researching
school reform in New Orleans.

See below for leaflets for both events:

Education Conversation 2015

Expert Panel Flyer 2015

The resisters in New Orleans have created a five-minute video about what they call the “corporate takeover of public education in New Orleans.”

 

This is an instance of what Naomi Klein describes as an application of the Shock Doctrine, or “disaster capitalism.”

 

When the New Orleans school system was battered by Hurricane Katrina, that was an opportune moment for politicians at the state and federal levels to take control of the district, eliminate most public schools, fire all the teachers, eliminate the union, and install charter schools and Teach for America.

 

This video is the beginning of a series created by residents who want a democratically controlled school system rather than a free market in education.

Mercedes Schneider, Louisiana high school teacher with a Ph.D. in research methods and statistics, has a dogged dedication to setting the record straight. She knows that New Orleans is not a miracle district. She has pointed this out time after time, yet the media continue to spout the same claims from the advocates of privatization: wipe out public education, fire all the teachers, welcome privately managed charters, staff the schools with Teach for America, and–Voila!–everyone succeeds, no child left behind, an excellent education for all children! The actions are true: the public schools were closed, the teachers were fired, the charters sprouted in every part of New Orleans. But the results didn’t happen. New Orleans is today one of the lowest performing districts in the state. We leave it to students of mass psychology and the media to explain why the national media falls for the narrative repeatedly. Maybe because it is a good story, even if it is not true. Maybe they want to believe in miracles.

 

When Mercedes Schneider read that Nathan Deal, the Governor of Georgia, was coming to New Orleans to see the miracle with his own eyes, she wrote this post. Very likely, he and his delegation will be taken to the schools with selective admissions. They are the Potemkin villages of New Orleans. It is always best to verify before you trust (Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify”). In this post, Schneider shows that most of the graduates of the New Orleans’ Recovery School District have scores so low on the ACT that they are ineligible to receive state scholarships for two-year community colleges. This is sad. The suppression of the facts is also sad. Spreading a failed model is sadder still. The most successful nations in the world have strong public school systems, not vouchers or charters.

For a decade now, we have been told again and again by the national media that New Orleans is a “miracle” district. City after city, state after state, wants to be like New Orleans. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder created the Educational Achievement Authority, which has been plagued with mismanagement and has shown no progress for the students in Detroit. Governor Snyder appointed an emergency manager for financially strapped, low-performing Muskegon Heights, and the emergency manager turned the students and schools over to a for-profit charter chain; after two years, the chain decamped when it was clear there would be no profit. Tennessee created the Achievement School District, where the state’s low-performing public schools were gathered, turned over to charter operators, and are supposed to be in the state’s top 20% by performance within five years; the clock is ticking, and there is no reason to believe that the five-year deadline will be met. The public schools of York City, Pennsylvania, have been promised to a for-profit charter chain.

 

And now Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal has an idea. He wants Georgia to have a Recovery School District, just like New Orleans. Here is the formula: wipe out public education and replace it with privately managed charters; eliminate any teachers’ unions; fire veteran teachers and replace them with Teach for America. What could go wrong? Note in the linked article that the enrollment in New Orleans public schools fell from 65,000 before Hurricane Katrina to 25,000 or so today. This makes comparisons pre- and post- tricky to say the least.

 

No matter. The boosters are still claiming dramatic success.

 

But along comes Mercedes Schneider, who managed to get the full set of ACT scores for the state of Louisiana. For some reason, the State Department of Education was not eager to release those scores. You will see why.

 

Mercedes wrote more than one post. They are collected here. The details are in the individual posts.

 

She begins the second post like this:

 

 

It is February, and at my high school, that means scheduling students for the next school year. During two of my classes today, our counselors were in my room explaining to students the Louisiana Board of Regents minimum requirements for first-time college freshmen who wish to attend a four-year college or university in Louisiana. These requirement are the result of legislation passed in 2010 and phased in over four years, the Grad Act.

 

One requirement is a minimum score of 18 on the ACT in English and a minimum score of 19 on the ACT in math.

 

Even though Regents also has an ACT composite requirement, one can readily substitute a high GPA in place of a lacking composite.

 

However, that 18 in English and 19 in math is virtually non-negotiable. An institution might be able to conditionally admit some students in the name of “research”; however, there is not too much of this allowed, for Regents states that the two ACT subscores are the most widely acceptable, readily available evidence that a student would not require remedial college coursework in English or math– a rule effective for all Louisiana four-year institutions of higher education effective Fall 2014.

 

Thus, the first graduating class affected by this Regents rule is the high school graduating class of 2014.

 

Remember those numbers: 18 in English and 19 in math.

 

Schneider continues:

 

Some highlights from this data:

 

Of the 16 active New Orleans RSD high schools, five graduated not one student meeting the Regents 18-English-19-math ACT requirement. That’s no qualifying students out of 215 test takers.

 

Another six RSD high schools each graduated less than one percent meeting the requirement, or 16 students out of 274 (5.8 percent).

 

Out of a total of 1151 RSD New Orleans class of 2014 ACT test takers, only 141 students (12.3 percent) met the Regents requirement. Eighty-nine of these 141 attended a single high school (OP Walker, ACT site code 192113).

 

By far, OP Walker had the highest number of Regents 18-English-19-math-ACT-subscore-qualifying class of 2014 test takers (89 out of 311, or 28.6 percent).

 

If the OP Walker were removed from RSD-NO, then RSD-NO would be left with 52 qualifying students out of 840, or 6.2 percent.

 

Sobering.

 

Notice also that the average ACT composite scores of those meeting the Regents 18-19 requirement (column G) are all above the 18 that LDOE focuses on as a minimum mark of success.

 

Clearly the theory of “raise the bar and achievement will rise” is not playing out in the New Orleans RSD when it comes to meeting the Regents minimum requirement of an 18 in English and 19 in math on the ACT.

 

No miracle here. Only more data that Louisiana Superintendent John White wishes he could hide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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