Archives for category: New Orleans

By now, you may be feeling “reform fatigue” in relation to stories about Néw Orleans. But since the propagandists never sleep in their boasts about the glories of privatization, this is a story that remains important in our civic life.

Mercedes Schneider reviews a study of charter school performance on NAEP, conducted by Francesca Lopez and Amy Olsen of the University of Arizona.

Schneider writes:

“One of the primary problems with Louisiana’s state-run, all-charter Recovery School District (RSD) is that the same state that is in control of data (and the official word on its data) is also committed to representing its state-run district in the best light.

“For this reason, independent analysis of data on Louisiana’s schools is particularly valuable, especially when the researchers are able to procure data independently of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE)….

“In order to make clearer comparisons between traditional public school students and charter school students on the eight-grade 2011 NAEP, Lopez and Olson controlled for socioeconomic status, special education status, English language learner status, and ethnicity of students as well as the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the schools.

“Regarding 2011 NAEP eighth-grade math, the five states with the greatest discrepancies between charters and traditional schools (with the traditional schools outperforming the charters) were Massachusetts, DC (counted as a state in this study), Texas, Rhode Island, and– with the largest discrepancy by far– Louisiana.

“As for the 2011 NAEP eighth-grade reading, the five states with the greatest discrepancies between charters and traditional schools (with the traditional schools outperforming the charters) were Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, DC, and– once again with the largest discrepancy by far– Louisiana.

“On the 2011 NAEP in both math and reading, eighth-grade students in Louisiana’s traditional public schools outscored their charter-school counterparts by between two and three standard deviations.”

Schneider says the post-Katrina reforms was “too much ‘white’ done to the black community.”

“New Orleans charter success is white-privileged-blown smoke and state-controlled mirrors. However, a more realistic, sobering word is surfacing, and the frayed, marketing edges of all-charter, state-run RSD are getting increasingly more obvious to the American public despite the likes of John White and Campbell Brown.”

Andrea Gabor, the Michael R. Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College in New York City, has recently written about the disappointing results of the chartering and privatization of almost every school in New Orleans.

Jonathan Alter was unhappy with her article in the New York Times because he is a fervent believer in the privatization of public education by charters.

The irony, as Gabor notes, is that she and Jonathan were classmates at the Francis W. Parker School, a noted private progressive school in Chicago many years ago. The “no-excuses” charters that Alter so admires are nothing like the Francis W. Parker School.

If you have read Lawrence A. Cremin’s The Transformation of the School, a magisterial history of progressive education, you know that Francis Parker preceded John Dewey as the “father of progressive education.” Here is the thumbnail sketch of the man who started the progressive education movement: Francis Wayland Parker (October 9, 1837 – March 2, 1902) was a pioneer of the progressive school movement in the United States. He believed that education should include the complete development of an individual — mental, physical, and moral. John Dewey called him the “father of progressive education.” He worked to create curriculum that centered on the whole child and a strong language background. He was against standardization, isolated drill and rote learning. He helped to show that education was not just about cramming information into students’ minds, but about teaching students to think for themselves and become independent people. This is the spirit that infused the school where Andrea Gabor and Jonathan Alter were both educated.

But now Jonathan Alter is a rabid advocate of “no-excuses” charters that look nothing at all like the Francis W. Parker School. Also, Alter is a fierce opponent of teachers’ unions. Generally, progressives support unions, because they understand that unions build a middle class and enable working people and poor people to raise their standard of living. That is not Alter’s perspective. He seems to think that having union-free schools is a recipe for success, even though there is no evidence for his belief and much evidence to the contrary (think Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey, three unionized states that are the highest scoring states on NAEP).

In this post, Andrea Gabor gives some homework lessons to her former classmate.

Alter’s biggest mistake is that he fails to see public school systems as, well, systems. Even if he’s right that the “top quintile” of charter schools perform very well, that’s virtually meaningless from the perspective of creating a better system. There are good public schools as well as good charters, after all. A 20-percent success rate is meaningful only if you can show a path to scaling that success in a practical way.

The two questions we should be asking are: A) What is the best method by which to improve all schools? B) If, as in New Orleans, charter schools are used as Trojan horses for turning public schools into dumping grounds for the weakest students and, eventually, eliminating public schools altogether, what is the cost of doing so—to kids and to our society?

There is growing evidence that the market model of large-scale public-school replacement by charter schools—one based on a competitive race for limited philanthropic funding for whoever produces the highest test scores—is a zero-sum game that can only work by sidelining the most vulnerable kids.

Gabor goes, point by point, through the problematic nature of the New Orleans story.

I hope Jon Alter sits down with his former classmate and gives some more thought to his extreme views, which echo those of Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, ALEC, and the Koch brothers.

Destroying our nation’s public schools is not a liberal goal, or should not be.

Jonathan Alter is an insightful writer about politics but knows little about education. He doesn’t like public education. Unfortunately, he thinks he is an education expert. He had a starring role in “Waiting for ‘Superman,'” where he looked solemnly into the camera and said, “We know what works. Accountability works.” Right. Like No Child Left Behind was a huge success.

Alter adores charters. Recently he wrote an article for the Daily Beast about why liberals should love charters. He doesn’t like me because I don’t love charters. A few years ago, he got very angry at me when I wrote about schools–both charter and public–that claimed to have produced miraculous score increases. Alter and I debated on David Sirota’s radio show in Denver, and Alter made clear that he believes any claim that a charter school made about test scores and graduation rates, no matter how outlandish. I guess I should thank Alter for giving me some good laughs, like the time he compared me to Whittaker Chambers, the ex-Communist who turned against Alger Hiss (Chambers had moved from left to right, while I had moved, in Alter’s words, from right to left, which he thought was a very bad thing for me to do) or the time he interviewed Bill Gates and called me Gates’ “chief adversary.” That still makes me laugh. I loved that and wrote a reply to Gates’ questions in the Alter interview.

Mercedes Schneider responded to Alter and walked him through the facts about charters, and their lack of accountability and oversight. She schools him about the New Orleans “miracle.” She calls her post “Why Liberals Should Think Twice About ‘Learning to Love Charters.'” Alter, she notes, is oblivious to charter mismanagement and scandals, apparently never having heard of them. He knows nothing of the politicians and entrepreneurs who open charters to make a fast buck.

She writes:

In his piece, Alter repeats the misleading statement “charters are public schools.” However, charter schools take public money without being held accountable to the public for that money. That contributes to the charter school scandal and turnover, which Alter refuses to address, instead insisting that the fact that traditional public schools in general outperform charter schools “is not especially relevant” because those “underperforming charters” run by “inexperienced groups” just need closing.

Keep the charter churn going. Never mind how it affects children and communities.

Never mind that 80 percent of charter schools can’t cut it. Alter chooses to pick his own cherries once again and focus on “the top quintile” of charter schools that tend to be charter chains. Since according to Alter this top 20 percent of charters beats traditional public schools (even though such is really “irrelevant”), it justifies the whole under-regulated, scandal-ridden charter venture.

One of her best lines (classic-Mercedes):

Alter thinks it is better for the wealthy to make it possible for the inept to fund their own schools than to buy yachts.

If the Waltons wanted to truly improve public education, they would invest in yachts.

Peter Greene says that he might be convinced to love charters, but they would have to make some very important changes.

He writes:

I’m not categorically opposed to them on principle. My aunt ran a “free school” in Connecticut decades ago, and it was pretty cool. I have a friend whose son has been seriously assisted by cyber school, and I know a few other similar stories. I think it’s possible that charter schools could be an okay thing. But the charter systems we have now in this country are so very, very terrible I can’t even like them a little, let alone love them.

So when will I love charter schools?

I will love them when they’re fully accountable.

Public schools have to account for every dollar spent, every student who falls under their jurisdiction. Charter schools are only “public” when it’s time to be paid. The rest of the time they are non-transparent and non-accountable. We have charter scandals over and over and over and over again in which somebody just makes off with a pile of money, or isn’t really providing services they claim to be, or doesn’t really have a plan in place. This is bananas!

We’re learning that in the New Orleans Wide World O’Charters, nobody is accountable for the students. A school can purge a child from its records by essentially saying, “Yeah, she went somewhere” without even having to confirm what happened to the student. In New Orleans, there are thousands of students missing– school authorities literally do not know where those children are.

Charter schools will be accountable when they are just as transparent and just as accountable as public schools. Financial records completely open to the public. All meetings of governing bodies completely open to the public. And run by people who must answer to the public and whose first responsibility is not to the nominal owners of the school, but to the actual owners of the school– the people who pay the bills and fund the charter– the taxpayers.

I will love them when education is their primary mission

Private industry is plagued with a disease in this country, a disease that has convinced business leaders that the purpose of their widget company is not to make widgets, but to make good ROI for investors. This has led to all manner of stupid, destructive behavior, as well as a glut of really lousy widgets.

Modern charters all too often export that bad business attitude over to the world of education, with everyone from hedge fundies to pop stars getting into charter schools because someone told them it’s a great investment. If financial returns are located anywhere in your success metric for your charter school, just get the hell out. Because all that can mean is that you will view every student and staff member as a drain that is taking money away from you. You’ll want to select students based primarily on how they can help you achieve your financial goals (by looking good on paper and not costing much). I can’t think of a much worse attitude to bring into a school.

Julian Vasquez Heilig is a national treasure. He is a well-educated researcher. He has a conscience and a heart. And with all that, he has courage and humor.

I love reading his blog, Cloaking Inequity. Not only his analyses sharp, but he usually has clever graphics.

This is latest post. He responds to critics of his policy brief on Néw Orleans, and he glories in some unexpected recognition.

Julian is a professor at California State University at Sacramento. If your community is planning a public forum, invite him to speak. You will learn and enjoy.

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.”


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