Archives for category: New Orleans

Jennifer Berkshire recently spend ten days in New Orleans, where she attended a research conference about the changes in the schools since Hurricane Katrina, and met with a number of local African-American activists who are disenchanted with the reforms.

These are her reflections, on the gains and losses.

She doesn’t get into the convoluted debate about whether test scores went up. She thinks the data wars are hard to decipher because people are using different standards and benchmarks. In any event, if the scores did go up, there are other issues that may be even more important than test scores.

The parents and advocates she interviewed were all former enthusiasts for the charter revolution.

Part of the “reform” was the wholesale firing of some 7,000 teachers, most of whom were black, who formed the backbone of the city’s middle class. That hurt.

One parent complained that the all-choice system actually disempowered parents. If she complained, she risked being asked to leave the charter school. The schools have more autonomy, but parents have less power.

Berkshire says the charter sector is now consolidating, with chains taking over most of the stand-alone charters, and with the successful charters defined as those that produce the highest scores. Innovation is hard to find. What is common practice is long days, tough discipline, testing, and “no excuses.” One parent lamented that the charter sector thinks that parents and children are problems, not patrons of the schools.

Ignored in the celebratory accounts, she says, is the large number of young people who are not in school and the persistence of poverty and youth violence:

The challenge for architects and advocates of the reform effort here is that, expanded even slightly beyond these narrow metrics, the case that life is improving for the children of New Orleans gets much harder to make. Child poverty stands at 39%, a figure that’s unchanged since Katrina, even though the city is now home to tens of thousands fewer children. Inequality is the second highest in the country, on par with Zambia. And violent crime remains a persistent plague here.

“The measure of the work has to be about how it changes the life outcomes of our children,” says OPEN’s Deirdre Johnson Burel. “If my baby isn’t alive, it doesn’t matter what he got on his ACT. If he’s been divorced from his reality and has no idea who he is, what does it mean that he’s on a college campus, lost and confused?”

Then there are the huge number of young people in New Orleans between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school or working. The recent Measure of America study, conducted by the Social Science Research Council, found that the greater New Orleans/Metarie region is home to more than 26,000 so-called “opportunity youth. The youngest would have been just six when the overhaul of the school system began.

But even this number fails to convey the sheer number of young people here who have left the city’s schools, and are in one of the fast-expanding alternative programs, or are in work-training programs to prepare them for jobs in the tourism and hospitality industry. Added together, the number of students who’ve dropped out of the New Orleans’ schools begins to creep up uncomfortably close to the 43,000 students who are still in them.

Berkshire’s account should be read alongside the inevitable stories about the “New Orleans’ Miracle.” The question is: a “miracle” for whom?

It has been almost ten years since Hurricane Katrina, and the hype is waxing large. Advocates for privatization and free-market reforms are celebrating the great gains, but skeptics are unconvinced. New Orleans as a model suggests turning all (or almost all) public schools into privately managed charters; firing all the teachers; and banishing the union. Arne Duncan once memorably said that Hurrucane Katrina was the best thing ever to happen to the schools of Néw Orleans: no more public schools! A strange comment from the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The National Education Policy Center recently issued a review of the evidence about Néw Orleans, prepared by Professor Huriya Jabbar and Mark Gooden at the University of Texas.

What they found was contested ground. Advocates claimed dramatic gains. Critics attributed any gains to the large decline in students after the hurricane and changes in the state’s grading standards, as well as a huge influx of federal and philanthropic funds to support the market system.

The authors write:

“Moreover, groups of students, parents, and community members remain skeptical of the reform movement and have raised concerns that the new school system remains inequitable. For example, students and parents have raised concerns with some charter schools that have been unresponsive to students and too harsh in their disciplinary policies. After years of complaints lodged by parents about the treatment of students with special needs in the charter system, including physical and emotional abuse and “counseling out,” the parties settled a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, acknowledging these grievances and requiring independent monitoring and auditing of charter schools’ special education services. According to news reports, the decentralized, fragmented school system in New Orleans has also been particularly unprepared to serve the growing percentages of English Language Learners in the city.

“Further, within the choice system family income exerts a strong influence. A recent study found that low-income families make schooling decisions differently than affluent families. Low-income families are much more constrained in their choices because of practical considerations such as after-school care and distance, and therefore measured academic outcomes play a smaller role their decisions.”

Some locals complain that the reform leaders are mostly white and that the black community has no role in decisionmaking. In addition, the test score gains have been made mostly by white students.

The authors conclude:

“Ten years after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent reforms, there remain more questions than answers. Even if the reforms implemented under such a hyper-politicized arrangement show some clear gains in student achievement, as seems to be the case, it is important to attend to the serious equity concerns that remain in the system, and to examine other outcomes, beyond test scores. The preliminary evidence, from a combination of news reports and research studies, suggests that the New Orleans reforms disproportionately benefit more advantaged students, relative to the most at-risk and under-served students. In light of these concerns, there is a need for more research that systematically examines whether the reforms have truly altered the structure of opportunities for students who are low-income, of color, English Language Learners, or have disabilities. Given the additional resources and the unique New Orleans experience, there are also questions about how sustainable and replicable the New Orleans model is, even though many cities are adopting similar reforms.

“It is also important to ask how much local, democratic oversight the public is willing, or should be willing, to trade for somewhat higher test scores. In New Orleans, as well as in many other cities and states seeking to adopt a “recovery” or “portfolio” model, policymakers should ensure that the temporary turnaround measures do not permanently disenfranchise local actors.”

Mitchell Robinson, Associate Professor of Music Education at Michigan State University, has compiled a handy guide to the bold idea of “achievement school districts.”

 

There is the Recovery School District in New Orleans; the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan; the Achievement School District in Tennessee; and more on the way in other states.

 

The main thing you need to know about these experimental districts is that they promise rapid improvement in the state’s lowest performing schools, and all of them have failed.

 

Here are the key traits of Achievement School Districts:

 

School Funding

 

Individual ASD schools are often required to pay a “kickback” or “tax” to the state ASD authority for the “privilege” of being identified as a “low performing school”. In Nevada, “ASD schools receive the same state and local per-pupil resources that they would have received as part of their original home district. This includes local, state, and federal funding. As with other charter school sponsors, the ASD will receive a small administrative fee from each school it authorizes.” (bold added)
In other words, in spite of the probability that an ASD school has been chronically underfunded for years, perhaps decades, the state will now take its own cut from whatever local, state and federal funding the school may be receiving for administrative overhead, further decreasing the actual number of dollars that are going to classrooms, teachers and children.
Local Control

 

Local control, long recognized as a hallmark of public education, is a dinosaur in ASDs. In Detroit, the locally-elected school board still meets, but has essentially been stripped of all power and authority. The members of the elected school board refer to themselves as being “exiled,” and the newly elected state superintendent of schools has called on the governor and state legislators to return control of the Detroit Public Schools to the local school board, saying, “I believe we ought to have a Detroit school district for the Detroit community.” Instead, Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed a radical plan to split the city’s schools into two districts: one to educate children, and the other devoted to addressing the district’s debt problem.

 
Transparency

Even though it is often trumpeted as an integral aspect of effective school governance, very few ASDs follow their own propaganda when it comes to transparency in reporting. Detroit’s EAA is an especially notorious offender in this respect, making claims that do not stand even the faintest amounts of scrutiny. According to Wayne State professor of education Thomas Pedroni, the EAA’s “internal data directly contradicts their MEAP data. Even Scantron, the maker of the internal assessment, would not stand behind the EAA’s growth claims. And Veronica Conforme, the current EAA Chancellor, removed all the dishonest growth claims from their advertising and their website, and told me personally she doesn’t give them credence for the purpose the EAA used them for.” For more from Dr. Pedroni on the EAA’s specious relationship with transparency, see this, and this.

 
Punitive vs. Educative Methods

Many ASD charters include language regarding the possible consequences if schools do not meet “adequate yearly progress” goals, such as: “Operators of ASD schools that do not demonstrate meaningful improvement will be held accountable pursuant to policies set by the ASD.” Indeed, school closings have become a prominent tool in the school reform playbook:
Washington, D.C. closed 23 buildings in 2008. Officials are currently considering another 15 closures.
New York City closed more than 140 schools since 2002; leaders recently announced plans to shutter 17 more, beginning in 2013-14.
Chicago closed 40-plus buildings in the early 2000s. The district recently released a list of 129 schools to be considered for closure.
This approach follows guidelines first established in the No Child Left Behind legislation, which stipulate draconian changes for any school that fails to meet yearly progress within five years….

 

This thinking represents a sea change in terms of strategy with respect to schooling and education policy. Never in our nation’s history have we taken a punitive approach rather than an educative approach when schools or children have struggled with demonstrating expected levels of progress.

Gary Rubinstein watched a panel discussion on the reform movement’s three allegedly successful turnaround districts. He reports on the discussion here. The discussion was sponsored by the Fordham Institute, which is in the forefront of the privatization movement. This is an impressive debunking of “reformer” boasts. It is especially important because so many in the media take those false claims at face value, and several states say they intend to copy one of these failed models.

 

Rubinstein points out that none of these highly touted examples of “reform” success are successful. New Orleans is a swamp of conflicting data, but the bottom line is that it continues to be one of the lowest performing districts in one of the lowest performing states in the nation. The Tennessee “Achievement School District” is based on a bold and wholly unrealistic pledge by Chris Barbic that he could take the lowest performing schools in the state and lift them into the state’s highest 25% in only five years. That has not happened, and it may never happen. The third speaker is from Michigan’s woeful Education Achievement Authority, which has produced numerous scandals but not much academic progress for the students.

 

Rubinstein uses his keen mathematical intelligence to dissect each of the reformers’ claims. In the case of the Achievement School District, he points to the slippery use of data (a common trait among all the “reform” projects):

 

In a very revealing moment, Barbic explains that he’s the one who came up with the bottom 5% to top 25% in five years. He could have just said bottom 5% to bottom 10% and he wouldn’t be taking such heat now, but having such an ambitious goal had a positive side effect since “It created a momentum and an urgency that we needed to create to get this off the ground” and allowed them to recruit ‘partners’ and leaders and teachers. In other words, it was a lie, but it was a worthwhile one since it tricked people into giving us their money.

 

Barbic makes some bizarre claims about the success so far of the ASD like that the bottom 5% ‘priority schools’ are growing ‘four times faster than the rest of the state.’ To put this in context, the rest of the state of Tennessee has had flat math scores and declining reading scores. So if the state went up, on average, of .25%, then ‘four times’ that is just 1%.

 

Rubinstein notes:

 

Watching these three turnaround gurus quote misleading statistics, give vague abstract answers, and really offer nothing in terms of concrete ideas from what they’ve learned in trying (unsuccessfully) to turnaround their respective districts, made me think that rather than call these ASDs, it would be more accurate to call them BSDs.

 

 

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for Detroit, here come the stars of the corporate reform movement with advice to do more of what Detroit has been doing without success.

 

More than half the students are in charter schools, but Detroit doesn’t have enough, it seems. The lowest-performing schools were dumped into the woebegone “Education Achievement Authority,” under an emergency manager with dictatorial powers, but that didn’t go anywhere.

 

If Detroit can’t get its school problems solved, it won’t be for lack of quality advice from national education experts.

 

As city and state leaders seek to figure out how best to salvage Detroit Public Schools and improve performance across a complex network of school choices, top school reformers from around the country want a piece of the action, too.

 

Last week, Michael Petrilli, CEO of the D.C.-based Fordham Institute, and Eric Chan, a partner at the Charter School Growth Fund, were a few of the latest to drop in on Detroit. Excellent Schools Detroit, which is helping lead the conversation locally about improving all city schools, invited them to town to discuss how best to create the right environment for quality charter school growth.

 

The more insights, the merrier. Other cities have undergone major school turnarounds, and there are consistent guidelines for success. When asked what Detroit needs to do to start showing results for kids, Petrilli and Chan echoed similar ideas.

 

“Deal with low-performing schools, and encourage high-performers,” says Petrilli, whose organization works to raise the quality of U.S. schools. “There are concrete things we can do.”

 

The examples of success offered by Petrilli and Chan: New Orleans, the District of Columbia, and Memphis. Privatization is the answer. Neither Petrilli nor Chan has an idea about how to improve public education. Just privatize it. Get rid of it. Bring in high-quality “seats.”

 

Readers of this blog have read again and again that most charter schools in New Orleans are rated D or F schools by the state of Louisiana; D.C. continues to be one of the lowest performing districts in the nation, as judged by the NAEP; and Memphis is home to the all-charter Achievement School District, whose founder Chris Barbic promised would produce a dramatic turnaround in only five years. That turnaround has not happened. Not in  New Orleans, D.C., or Memphis.

 

Surely there must be better examples of success for corporate reform. Or are there?

 

 

 

 

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.

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