Archives for category: New Orleans

Last week, Kevin Huffman and John Ayers resigned. Huffman was state commissioner of education in Tennessee, and he employed every possible strategy to make testing a centerpiece of education policy. Ayers was director of the Cowen Institute at Tulane University in New Orleans, which was greatly embarrassed when it released–and then rescinded–a “research” report claiming amazing gains in the charter schools of New Orleans. Both were big boosters of using student test scores to judge the quality and effectiveness of teachers, a methodology referred to as VAM, or value-added-modeling.

 

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, one of the nation’s expert researchers on teacher evaluation, looks at the two resignations as evidence that the VAM-mania is failing and claiming victims. There is as yet no evidence that VAM improves teaching,  improves student achievement, or correctly identifies the strengths and weaknesses of teachers. As its critics have said consistently, VAM results depend on many factors outside the control of the teacher and may vary for many different reasons. A teacher may get a high VAM rating one year, and a low VAM rating the next year. VAM ratings may change if a different test is used. Yet those who stubbornly believe that everything that matters can be measured with precision can’t let go of their data-driven mindset.

 

The lesson: proceed with caution with a methodology that has no record of success and that inevitably places far too much importance on standardized tests.

Jason France, the blogger known as Crazy Crawfish, calls attention to dangerous losses of data and computers when charter schools close. The Recovery School District, which oversees charters, relies on the charters to make sure that computers have been wiped clean of student data.

 

But when the charters close, they have no employees and no longer exist.

 

The risk, he says, is not only the release of student private data, but the state’s lists of people whose children qualify for free or reduced price lunch. A public school has people assigned to protect this data. When charters close, no one protects it.

 

He writes:

 

 

The RSD has been in existence since 2004. It has taken the state 10 years, and a concerned citizen, for the department to realize student data needs to be protected, and that charter schools that have been disbanded and have no employees are not the best custodians of data or the future of our children.

 

The former spokesman for Future Is Now, which was running John McDonogh, when it was shut down by the State, said it best and in a way so obvious it makes you wonder how RSD could not have foreseen problems with its approach. Namely, to expect charters that no longer have employees to follow protocol is ludicrous.

 

Former Future Is Now spokesman Gordon Wright said the organization had no response because it no longer exists.

 

Many charters, like Future is Now/John McDonogh, have been shut down for acting irresponsibly. This school is a saga all in and of itself, and was closed before its charter was officially up for review. How ridiculous and irresponsible is it to expect poorly run, or irresponsible organizations to follow proper protocol when they may not have money to pay salaries or any employees to follow said protocol and have not exhibited the best judgment when they were in operation?!?

 

Dozens of charters have closed down and changed hands, and even more RSD direct run schools have come and gone. By their own estimates, RSD has lost control of over 1600 items, including laptops. Those are the items they lost or miscoded in the last 4 years. They have lost so many items over the 10 years they have been in operation there is probably no way to account for them all.”

In Indianapolis, there will be a crucial school board election tomorrow. Money is coming into the district from corporate reformers who see a chance to turn Indianapolis into another all-charter district, like New Orleans. They apparently don’t realize that most of the charter schools in New Orleans have been rated D or F by the charter-friendly State Education Department. Or that of 68 school districts in Louisiana, the Recovery School District in New Orleans is ranked #65. This is no model for Indianapolis or any other city.

 

The Indianapolis Public School Board election is one of the most hotly contested races in Indiana. A great deal of money has been injected into this election by reformers who support the further expansion of charters and vouchers in IPS. I urge my Indianapolis friends to support the following 3 candidates, who are currently members of the IPS Board.
Annie Roof is the current IPS Board President. She is an IPS graduate, a parent, and an IPS advocate. She has initiated community engagement designed to reach more constituents. She has worked diligently to make sure there is a great school for every student. She was part of a national search team to bring new leadership to IPS in the hiring of Dr. Lewis Ferebee. She has championed competitive pay and benefits for IPS teachers. Annie has ushered in a new era of transparency about the IPS budget and agenda items. She has advocated for increased autonomy at the school level where parents and community members and principals work together.

 

Samantha Adair White and Dr. Michale Brown are both incumbents and have both helped to bring the IPS Board and district a long way toward transparency and responsiveness to parents and community in the past 4 years (including the hiring of a new Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee). Without their election, Annie Roof’s voice for public education will be lost especially since their opponents have been endorsed and funded by Stand for the Children and the Chamber of Commerce. If their opponents are elected, corporate reform candidates will control the majority of the Board and further privatizations would proceed very rapidly after the election, and Indianapolis will become another New Orleans or Chicago or Philadelphia, all cities where public education is under threat by privatizers.

 

Vote for your public schools tomorrow.

My, how time flies. It seems like only yesterday—actually it was early 2013– that Oprah began filming “the dramatic transformation of John McDonough High School in New Orleans for a film called “Blackboard Wars.” The star of the show was charter entrepreneur Steve Barr, who had founded the Green Dot charter chain in Los Angeles to national acclaim, then moved on to found a new chain called “Future is Now.” FIN was going to work its miracle on John McDonogh and Oprah was going to be there to capture it on film.

This was printed in The Advocate in January 2013:

“NEW ORLEANS — The students of John McDonogh High School will be at the center of a documentary series scheduled to air in March on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

In a news release sent by the network on Saturday, “Blackboard Wars” is described as telling the story of “the dramatic transformation of New Orleans’ John McDonogh High School, where more than half of its students fail to graduate.”

The series was filmed over the fall at the school, which has a reputation of struggling academics and violence, particularly after the gaining national media attention when a student was fatally shot in the school’s crowded gymnasium in 2003.

Six hour-long episodes have been filmed thus far.

Last summer, Steve Barr, leader of the charter operator Future is Now, took over the school, which was still failing after six years of being run directly by the Recovery School District.

Barr is known for his aggressive takeovers of schools in Los Angeles and for working closely with teachers’ unions, an unusual approach for a charter operator.

With “unprecedented access,” the news release describes following the adult stars of the show, “education maverick Steve Barr and no-nonsense principal Dr. Marvin Thompson as they embark together on an unpredictable mission to reinvent and revive the struggling school.”

Thompson, who was hired by Barr as a co-principal, previously worked as the superintendent of schools in Roanoke, Va., and then as president of an education consulting company. Barr also traveled around the country to recruit talented teachers.

At a panel discussion held Saturday in California, Thompson, Barr and the show’s producer, Eddie Barbini, addressed questions about distrust from the community, privacy, the use of the word “war” in the title and their educational philosophies.

Asked if he felt the school’s outcome was successful, Barr described his first visit to the school last year, when it was set to close, according to a transcript of the panel discussion.

He said of 261 students enrolled, it was rare to see more than 60 in attendance on any given day.

Currently, he said the school has 409 students and an attendance rate of approximately 80 percent.

One audience member at the panel discussion asked Thompson how, as principal, he could change the attitudes of students who didn’t want to learn.

“It’s not failure or inability to learn,” Thompson said. “It’s the desire to learn and someone to push them. Most of us in this room had someone to push us. … These young people don’t have that. So we have to meet them at their most fundamental level, which is their most basic self-esteem need, which is love first.”

The miracle is already captured on film. The secret is out: No one was pushing those kids until FIN arrived.

Except the miracle didn’t happen.

In January, 2014, the news got out that McDonough was closing. Steve Barr said it was closing for renovations, and he didn’t want to disrupt “the culture.” Louisiana blogger Crazy Crawfish pointed out that enrollments were falling, test scores were abysmal, and costs were astronomical for the school. Some “culture.”

At a board meeting of the charter last spring, Steve Barr said there were too many high school seats in the Recovery School District, and McDonough was closing simply because of supply-and-demand.

“As John McDonogh High’s leaders begin the process of closing the New Orleans school, charter chief Steve Barr took the opportunity at a no-quorum board meeting Tuesday to give his explanation of what went wrong. He said the problem boiled down to supply and demand.

State Education Superintendent John White told him that New Orleans public high schools had 125 seats for every 100 students, Barr said. “It’s not management. It’s not we don’t know what we’re doing. You can’t run a high school with 300 kids.”

John McDonogh had 311 students as of Oct. 1, 2013, down from 389 the year before.

The state Recovery School District decided to close the historic New Orleans building for renovations, and Barr’s Future Is Now charter group will not be in charge when “John Mac” reopens. The school has posted dismal test scores in its first two years of a failed turnaround and was called “the most dangerous school in America” in an Oprah television network miniseries.

Tuesday was the charter board’s first meeting since the closure was announced. Two board members attended — John Hope and Charles Fenet — and no members of the public.”

So, no dramatic transformation, no turnaround. Steve Barr returned to California to become leader of the pro-charter Democrats for Education Reform.

Mercedes Schneider explains what happened next:

“McDonogh closed in June 2014. As a part of washing its hands of New Orleans, Barr’s ironically-named Future Is Now (FIN) left behind equipment that the Recovery School District (RSD) (another ironic name) is auctioning off in the aftermath of the FIN-RSD divorce.

“On October 11, 2014, RSD auctioned off laptops that still had student information on them, including student social security numbers.”

More broken promises. More charter churn. Will Oprah return to New Orleans to report on the failure of FIN? To write FINIS to FIN? Don’t count on it.

Mike Deshotels, veteran educator and blogger in Louisiana, reviews the accumulating evidence and concludes: the claims of success in the Recovery School District are a complete fraud.

Most recently, the charter cheerleaders at the Cowen Institute at Tulane University withdrew in its entirety a report making claims of vast academic improvement. Someone there had too much integrity to let the report remain out front, in public. It was not true.

Then, as Deshotels shows, students in the Recovery School District posted “dismal results” on the ACT, even though they boast of college prep as their goal. It. Is a goal they have not reached.

And there is more:

“The accurate comparison of RSD charters with other public schools in Louisiana showing that RSD charters consistently perform in the bottom third of all schools. So why has the Louisiana Recovery District been touted across the nation as the miracle model for school reform and for the turnaround of low performing schools? That has happened because supposedly prestigious groups like the Cowen Institute in the past had issued glowing reports of progress by the RSD using carefully selected data, much of which was bogus and covered up the truly poor performance of the RSD.

“The sad part of this education reform hoax, is that thousands of students and teachers have been harmed in the process. Dedicated teachers were unfairly fired; thousands of students have been pushed out into the streets while the new charter managers cooked the books, and the charter operators made off with huge profits from our tax dollars. This is what the Cowen Institute and charter advocacy groups like Educate Now have promoted to the public, our state legislature, and even to the “do gooder” national news shows like Morning Joe, where both conservative and liberal opinion makers touted the New Orleans RSD school “miracle”.

“So several other states have created their own Recovery Districts and Achievement Zones patterned after the New Orleans model, only to produce disastrous results, because they were fooled by the corporate reformers and privatizers of public education. Politicians in some states are including in their platforms privatization plans based on the New Orleans Recovery District model. Never before have I seen both a local and national news media more complicit in the proliferation of false propaganda that benefits con-artists like the privatizers and charter promoters portrayed in the RSD model. Yet the retractions of these bogus reports are rare and the hoax goes on.”

Don’t be fooled by the hoax and the lies. There is no New Orleans miracle. There is a district where public education was almost completely eliminated and replaced by privately managed charters; a district where the teachers’ union was ousted; a district where 7,500 teachers (3/4 of them African American and OF the community) were summarily and unjustly fired; and a district that continues to be low-performing, ranked 65th of the state’s 68 districts.

Eventually even the mainstream media will discover that they have been hoaxed by the reformers.

Mercedes Schneider reports here on the efforts of the Cowen Institute at Tulane University to burnish the national image of the New Orleans’ all-charter model.

 

As part of its history of the “New Orleans Miracle,” Cowen has documented the transformation of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.

 

However, truth intrudes. Schneider writes:

 

“The Cowen Institute at Tulane University has been promoting the New Orleans Charter Miracle since 2007. Cowen Institute has been trying since then to sell the “transformed” post-Katrina education system in New Orleans.

 

“The results are tepid. Still, Cowen tries to sell this New Orleans. Consider this excerpt from Cowen’s history:

 

[Following Hurricane Katrina] the majority of schools reopened as charter schools, which are publicly-funded and operated by nonprofit organizations or universities, giving New Orleans a greater percentage of students in charter schools than any other district in the United States. Education entrepreneurs and veteran educators from around the country flocked to the city to participate in the greatest public school renaissance in the country. …

“…the new model of delivering education to the city’s youth has begun to yield results. Parental involvement, teacher quality, and community engagement have all improved. Between the 2006-07 and the 2007-08 school years, student achievement rose for nearly every school in the city – and across all school types. Overall, the schools collectively saw a 15 percent increase in school performance scores from 2005-2008. Even so, New Orleans still ranks 65th out of 68 school districts in Louisiana, a state which has some of the lowest public school achievement levels in the country. While public schools in New Orleans are still performing at a level far below where they need to be, the improvements they have shown since Hurricane Katrina is very promising. New Orleans, once ranked as one of the worst school districts in the country, has the potential to develop a model for unprecedented innovation in public education. [Emphasis added.]”

 

Wow! New Orleans ranks  “65th out of 68 school districts.” That is hardly a “promising,” “innovative” “renaissance.” That’s failure. That’s no model for Georgia or Nashville or any other city or state unless they too want to join a “Race to the Bottom.”

 

Since it was not all that impressive to have a district ranked 65th out of 68 in a very low-performing state, Cowen then developed a “value-added” model to show how much the schools had improved. This report was widely heralded by champions of the New Orleans plan, but the VAM Model was so technically flawed that the Cowen Institute took it down. Disappeared. But Mercedes saved it and you can read it on her blog.

 

Mercedes then tried to understand the Cowen Institute’s VAM model for schools. And she discovered that it was not only flawed, it was a deeply incompetent effort to measure school growth. It did nothing of the kind. The flawed report, hastily withdrawn, was an example of dysfunctional research. She says it is easy to fool the public and reporters. Just put out a “report” with a fancy cover, say it came from “an institute,” and the reporters will repeat what the press release says. The public never knows that what they are reading about is just bad research, proving nothing.

 

 

Journey for Justice, led by Jitu Brown of Chicago, has filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, on behalf of children and parents in Newark, Chicago, and New Orleans, claiming that they are victims of discrimination.

 

Their children, parents say, are the victims of reformers. Maybe they mean well, but the results for the children have been disastrous.

 

Far from being “leaders of the civil rights issue of our time,” as the reformers assert, the reformers are violating the rights of black and brown children.

 

Jitu Brown, founder of the Journey for Justice, is a spokesperson for the angry parents of these cities. He says “reform” is actually “a hustle.”

 

Brown, a lifelong Chicago resident who has been working with inner-city schools and neighborhood organizations since 1991, says that school choice has really just been an excuse for politicians to sack neighborhood schools and funnel government money to charter operators, which operate schools that on average take just 64 percent of the money that their district counterparts take.
Brown points to a number of examples in which, he says, Chicago Public Schools intentionally sabotaged successful schools in an effort to prop up charters, using tactics like offering laptops and iPads to lure high-performing students out of traditional public schools and into charters.
“These people are almost like drug dealers and the children are the narcotics, and they flip ’em until they’re able to finally make enough profit,” he says. “That’s how drug dealers work. It’s no different. It’s really no different.”
A report from the Chicago Teachers Union (pdf) released last year detailed how Simon Guggenheim Elementary School in West Englewood was set up for failure, while Jacob Beidler Elementary School, in East Garfield Park, was set up for success. The two schools have similar percentages of low-income students, and both are in communities facing high rates of violence, but Guggenheim, the report says, was denied resources in order to destabilize the environment.
Brown alleges that Chicago Public Schools has done this on several other occasions, citing examples like Beethoven Elementary on the city’s South Side. Once a high-performing school in a poor community, it was inundated over a number of years with students from closed schools in different neighborhoods around the city that ultimately dragged the school’s test scores down to a level where it is now failing.
“[The school district has] been closing schools in this neighborhood since 1998 as they’ve been trying to gentrify the area,” he says. “Those closings accelerated around 2004. We realized that it wasn’t really about school improvement; it was about freeing up that public area for the incoming gentry….”

 

“In Newark, students and their parents in the city’s South Ward boycotted the first day of school to protest One Newark, the school-choice enrollment plan that moved some children far from their neighborhood schools. Weeks later, hundreds of high school students walked out of class in protest.
“More than a month after school started, some parents say that hundreds of children still have not been assigned a school, and frustrations over transportation issues, uncertainty about where to send their children and dissatisfaction over closed neighborhood schools have led to many more not showing up for class.
“For me, as a parent, I know that my children deserve better,” says Sharon Smith, a mother with three children in Newark schools. “And not because they’re just mine, but because every child deserves the best opportunity that they can receive with education. But that’s not happening here. The parents here are stuck with whatever decision the district makes.”
Smith and other critics have chided One Newark on behalf of families without cars, who, she says, sometimes have to put children on two buses to get them to school. The plan doesn’t provide wholesale transportation, and many charter schools don’t offer it.
Zuckerberg’s $100 million matched donation has vanished, mostly into pockets of contractors and consultants and given to teachers unions as back pay. As Vivian Cox Fraser, president of the Urban League of Essex County, famously remarked in a New Yorker story about the debacle, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.”

 

 

Kristen Buras, a professor at Georgia State University who recently published a book about “education reform” in New Orleans, here warns the people of Nashville not to copy the New Orleans model.

 

This is what happened in New Orleans, according to Buras:

 

 

The attempt to turn around neighborhood schools by closing them and opening charters caused greater harm than Hurricane Katrina. I fear the same destructive “reforms” will strike Nashville.

In 2005, Louisiana’s state-run Recovery School District (RSD) assumed control of most public schools in New Orleans and handed them over for private management and profit making by “nonprofit” charter school operators.

Experienced veteran teachers in New Orleans were unlawfully fired and replaced by transient, inexperienced recruits from beyond the city, with most departing after two years. Teach For America stood ready to supply new teachers. Most of all, it stood to profit.

Neighborhood schools were closed without genuine community input. Meanwhile, charter school operators have paid themselves six-figure salaries, used public money without transparency and appointed unelected boards to govern the schools.

Community members have filed civil rights lawsuits, including one by Southern Poverty Law Center alleging thousands of disabled children were denied access to schools and federally mandated services in violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Moreover, there are charter schools in New Orleans with out-of-school suspension rates approximating 70 percent.

Charter school operators in New Orleans do not care about children — they care about making money. They do not want to serve children who are “expensive” or may compromise the business venture.

 

It is the same story in city after city that takes New Orleans as its model.

 

Good news about Buras’ book: Originally published in hardcover for $125, it is now available in softcover for $43. It is a must-read to learn about what happened in New Orleans from the perspective of families and students, not entrepreneurs and politicians.

 

 

 

 

Jim Arnold, former superintendent of Pelham City public schools in Georgia, has a message for Governor Nathan Deal, who is running for re-election. Governor Deal thinks Georgia needs a “recovery school district,” like the one in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Jim Arnold says Governor Deal is wrong.

Arnold writes that Louisiana is a low-performing state and Néw Orleans is a low-performing district.

“Louisiana, where Advanced Placement exam results for 2013 are ahead of only Mississippi, is known more for LSU football and Duck Dynasty than public education…..

“The vast majority of charters in Louisiana, except for those with a selective admission process, are rated D or F by their own state. The New Orleans Recovery School District that Nathan Deal suggested we emulate was rated as one of the lowest performing districts in the state.
This plan was part of the “bait and switch” campaign in Louisiana to increase the number of charter schools in that state after Hurricane Katrina. Their method was simple: if evidence for the success of charters is required, simply lower test scores, apply charters wherever possible then raise the scores back through whatever test manipulation is needed to “prove” the case.

“The RSD efforts in Louisiana are a miserable failure by any measure. In spite of the promise to return schools to the public after the initial takeover in 2006, not one school in the RSD has been returned to local control after 8 years.

“The governor’s suggestion of studying the implementation of such a model in Georgia speaks more to his lack of a coherent educational policy than to his ideas for educational progress.”

Arnold has some ideas for improving public education in Georgia:

He writes:

“Believe in and support teachers:

1. Poverty is the cause of achievement gaps and the number one obstacle to educational success. Stop the culture of blaming teachers for poverty.

Teachers don’t cause poverty any more than law enforcement causes crime or doctors create disease.

2. Invest in teachers: Restore professional development funds. Professional development should be experienced teachers working with less experienced teachers. Pay great teachers to share their knowledge and ideas in ways that allow them to stay in the classroom. One great teacher working with 3 or 4 others is a powerful tool. Large groups of teachers listening to one “expert” in an auditorium is not.

3. Pay great teachers more to work in high poverty schools: Working in these schools is difficult. Make it worth the effort for teachers that want to increase their salaries and stay in the classroom. Want to attract great teachers to high poverty areas? Pay them to travel and teach there. Want to identify high poverty schools? Simply look at standardized test scores. They don’t tell you anything about teaching and learning but do serve wonderfully to point out the zip code effect of the level of poverty in a given area.

4. Eliminate standardized testing for other than diagnostic purposes: The money saved would be more beneficial invested in teaching and learning than in the autopsy reports generated at the insistence of accountabullies in the name of accountabalism. Allow teachers the opportunity to teach without having to teach to the test.

5. Don’t believe in magic bullets: The answer is not in canned programs guaranteed to produce higher test scores. The answer is in the power of great teachers. Invest in people and not in programs. Success through standardization is a myth. Every student needs and deserves individualized learning at all levels. Educational achievement, like excellence, cannot be legislated.
Technology is a tool for teachers and not an answer unto itself: For every child that learns through technology alone there are more that fail miserably without the intervention and guidance of a teacher. Lower class sizes, eliminate furlough days and give teachers the time and tools to teach.

6. Help prevent legislative meddling in teaching and learning: Unfunded mandates and legislative attempts at applying statewide solutions to local educational issues have done more to hurt public education than to help. Standardization is not a solution unless your goal is to help Bill Gates sell a lot of technology. Georgia teachers can also find a better way than age level to determine educational placement. Children learn at different rates and in different ways. If a child cannot jump a bar 4 feet high, raising the bar to 6 feet does not encourage continued learning and effort. Expecting every child to achieve at the same rate at the same level ignores fundamental differences in human development…sort of like Arnie’s plan to test special education students out of special education through higher expectations.
Top down implementation does not work in education any more than it does in government: Issuing a decree that all children will succeed does not automatically mean that all children will succeed.”

Yesterday I reviewed Kristen Buras’ new book–the other side of the story–about Néw Orleans. I complained that the hardcover was priced at $125. Apparently the publisher got the message. The softcover was supposed to be out in 2015, but publication has been advanced. It will be available in a few weeks for $40, maybe less.

The book is called “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.

Several cities–including York City, Pa.–want to copy the Néw Orleans model. Parents! Read Buras’ book before it is too late and your public schools have been destroyed, privatized, and monetized.

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