Archives for category: New Orleans

Paul Tractenberg, a distinguished law professor at Rutgers University, challenges the idea that all-charter districts based on the New Orleans model are a magic bullet for Newark, Camden, and other low-performing districts in New Jersey. He notes that for the past four years, we have been bombarded with propaganda films like “Waiting for Superman” and “Won’t Back Down,” intended to convince us of the superiority of privatized charter schools over traditional public schools.

But, Tractenberg notes, the evidence is missing. Contrary to media hype, the Recovery School District in New Orleans is one of the lowest-performing districts in the state. No miracle there.

He asks questions that the propagandists for an all-charter district can’t answer:

“Do we really believe that the education of our most vulnerable students will be enhanced by constant churning of their schools and teachers? Do we really believe that we will improve education by replacing experienced and credentialed teachers with bright young college graduates — B.A. generalists as we used to call them in the early days of the Peace Corps — who are trained for six weeks before they are placed in the nation’s most difficult classrooms for their two-year commitments? Do we really believe that, despite growing evidence to the contrary, charter schools will begin to fully serve the needs of special education and LEP students? Do we really believe that balkanizing our already undersized New Jersey school districts to the charter-school level, where each charter school is technically an independent school district, will satisfy our state constitutional mandate of an “efficient system of free public schools”?

I have just finished reading Kristen Buras’ book about New Orleans. I will review it soon on the blog. It is the counter narrative to the reformer boosterism about New Orleans, “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space.” It tells the story of the past decade from the perspective of black students, parents, teachers, and communities. It is a story of dispossession, of white supremacy, of community destruction. The publisher put a crazy price on the book, but I hear there will soon be a reasonably priced softcover. Buras shows that the destruction of public education in New Orleans is no model for other cities.

Paul Thomas writes here about NPR’s whitewash of disaster capitalism in New Orleans. Without reference to the extensive debunking of “the New Orleans miracle” by Mercedes Schneider, Research on Reforms (Dr. Barbara Ferguson and CharlesHatfield), and others, NPR recycles the glories of closing public schools, opening privately managed charters, eliminating the union, firing thousands of veteran teachers (in this case, the core of the city’s black middle class), and replacing them with inexperienced Teach for America recruits, most of whom would leave after two or three years.

Here is the trick by which radio and TV shows give the illusion of balance: first, they give the narrative, then they invite two or three people to make a critical comment. What they are selling is the narrative. The critics are easily brushed aside. At times like this, I remember that NPR gets funding from both Gates and the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which is devoted to privatizing public schools.

Thomas calls out NPR for playing this trick:

“Framed as “remarkable changes,” erasing public schools and firing all public school faculty (a significant percentage of the black middle class in New Orleans) are whitewashed beneath a masking narrative embracing all things market forces as essentially good, even though the actions taken against pubic schools and teachers in the name of the mostly minority and disproportionately impoverished families and children of New Orleans have not accomplished what advocates claim.

“In the NPR piece, “no teaching experience” is passed over as if this couldn’t possibly be a problem; however, when public schools were dismantled and all the faculty fired, the second disaster swept over New Orleans in the form of “no excuses” charter schools (KIPP and their cousins) and a swarm of Teach For America recruits who were not native to New Orleans and have lived lives mostly unlike the children they teach.

“As well, that black and poor children are “part of an experiment” remains unexamined in this piece. Instead, the entire New Orleans experiment is called “kind of a miracle.”

“At 5 minutes in, NPR allows a critic to call claims of success “overblown,” and then 7 minutes in, one disgruntled parent announces that charter advocates “won’t be able to fool me this time.” But overall, this NPR whitewashing of the New Orleans education reform experiment fails as most education journalism does—absent as it is any real critical questions, absent as it is any effort to honor the weight of evidence in the pursuit of “balance.”

“I find here the exact same pattern I confronted in my criticism of the NPR “grit” piece. While the 8-plus minutes do technically include “both sides,” the less credible position (pro- charter, pro-market forces) is clearly given the greater weight while the stronger position is posed as mere “criticism.”

“Education reform in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina is a model of disaster capitalism and an ugly lesson in how we should not reform public education.”

As it happens, I am in the midst of reading a new book, Kristen Buras’ “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space,” that lays waste to every part of the alleged New Orleans’ “miracle.” It is a gripping study. By the time Buras is done, the reformers are stripped bare in the public square as yet another wave of white supremacists, in this case arrived in New Orleans to turn black children into a profitable “product.” I wonder if NPR will interview Buras?

Daniele Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune reports that charter schools in Néw Orleans are ill-prepared by large numbers of new students from Central America, and the students and their families are confused by the city’s choice system.

One school saw its Spanish-speaking enrollment jump from 10 to 53 in one year, 20% of its students. “That’s a gargantuan challenge for a small school that six weeks ago didn’t have instruction materials in Spanish or a full-time English as a Second Language teacher.”

“Immigrant students are also arriving in a system under fire. VAYLA last year filed a federal civil rights complaint describing deep gaps in schools’ abilities to serve Spanish-speaking families. In one school, a 5-year-old said she had to translate for her parents at report card meetings because there was no staff member to do so, the complaint said.”

The problems are exacerbated by the city’s Balkanized school “system.” Nearby parishes with central offices and zoned schools are handling the problems of new immigrants with better planning and coordination of services for the students.

Since most of the schools in Néw Orleans are independent charters, no one has an accurate count on the number of new students from Central America.

“The rapid rise of students needing help learning English this is fall means they are spreading to many more schools, observers said. Lacking official numbers from the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune contacted officials representing more than 60 of the city’s 83 schools to inquire about their enrollment.”

“Part of the reason why some schools are particularly saddled by a large number of new English-learner students, while others get a few, is the New Orleans enrollment system. The “school choice” process is complex and challenging even for families that speak English and have months to decide. Recently-arrived immigrants had neither.”

As late enrollees, the students had to go wherever seats were available. Assignments “were made regardless of whether the schools had teachers and resources available to handle ESL students.”

The downside of NOLA’s almost-all-charter system is that there is no central office to plan or coordinate the response to changing conditions. Every charter is on its own, and every student is also.

Peter Greene has often heard reformers say that children’s destiny should not be defined by their zip code. He read an article by one of the bigwigs in the New Orleans experiment, who argued against neighborhood schools and in favor of the greatest possible choice so that children’s schooling would not be tied to their zip code.

Greene responds that neighborhood schools build community cohesion.

Greene proposes an alternative to breaking up neighborhood schools:

“We’ve tried many solutions to the problems of schools that are underfunded and lack resources. We move the students around. We close the schools and re-open different ones (often outside that same neighborhood). Does it not make sense to move resources? We keep trying to fix things so that the poor students aren’t all in the poor schools– would it not more completely solve the problem to commit to insuring that there are no poor schools?

“Doesn’t that make sense? If the neighborhood school is not poor– if it has a well-maintained physical plant, great resources, a full range of programs, and well-trained teachers (not some faux teachjers who spent five weeks at summer camp)– does that not solve the problem while allowing the students to enjoy the benefits of a more cohesive community?

“Community and neighborhood schools have the power to be engines for stability and growth in their zip code. Instead of declaring that we must help students escape the schools in certain zip codes, why not fix the schools in that zip code so that nobody needs to escape them?”

Blogger Crazy Crawfish (aka Jason France) writes that the Recovery School District is a failure. Residents of New Orleans were promised that the RSD would improve schools and return them to their home parishes. It has not returned a single school. Why weren’t the reformers honest at the outset, he wonders? Why didn’t they say that their goal was to privatize the district, get rid of the union and experienced teachers, and turn every school into a charter?

He writes:

“If your state is considering something like the RSD, tell them no. You tell them it was a complete failure in Louisiana and RSD got out of the business of being RSD in New Orleans. At least make them admit their real goal is to close all public schools and open them as charter schools. Make them tell you what their real plan is, but don’t let them tell you that the RSD plan is a template for anything but failure. If I had to give RSD a letter grade, like the state gives all schools and districts in the state, I would give them an F. But I can’t. They are so bad, they don’t even exist. The RSD was a lie and charter schools were the switch. And just like the result of most bait and switch tactics, charter schools are more expensive, they aren’t what we needed or signed up for and probably won’t last very long before we need to replace them with something else even more expensive – but the salesmen are pretty happy.”

The mainstream media love to point to New Orleans as the national exemplar of the new brand of “reform”: replace public schools with privately-managed charter schools and get rid of the teachers’ union. Success! Many cities, especially those with high concentrations of poor African-American majorities, such as Detroit, Newark, and Philadelphia, seek to copy the New Orleans model.

What really happened in New Orleans?

Here is an excellent account in the Jacobin magazine by Beth Sondel and Joseph L. Boselovic.

This is the framework for the article:

“The state of education in New Orleans is often presented as a sort of grand bargain: on the one hand, the neoliberal transformation has been undemocratic and has marginalized community members, parents, and educational professionals; on the other hand, advocates of reform are quick to cite higher test and state school performance scores as evidence that the reforms have been successful. While the former is true, the claim that there has been substantial improvement in the educational experiences of young people is unfounded.

“In such a market-based system, students’ assessment data are used to compare charter providers, recruit families, maintain charter contracts, and reward teachers. The willingness of reform advocates to hold up test scores as the key indicator of success places enormous pressure on schools and teachers to produce quantifiable results. When the focus is on increasing assessment data, what happens to the democratic purposes of schooling?

“If we are willing to accept that the purpose of schooling goes beyond raising test scores, and is in fact tied to preparing citizens to engage in and deepen our democracy, then we need to look more closely at how power has been distributed in school governance across New Orleans and the ways in which this distribution shapes the experiences of students.

“We must ask if we are raising test scores at the expense of raising citizens.”

J. Celeste Lay, a professor of political science at Tulane University, reviewed the results of the Recovery School District—which replaced all public schools with privately-managed charter schools—and concluded that the story of “the Néw Orleans miracle” is a Big Lie.

She writes:

“The Louisiana Department of Education’s recent release of the results of the LEAP and iLEAP testing is incontrovertible evidence that the “grand experiment” of the charter system in New Orleans has failed. The New Orleans Recovery School District comes in at the 17th percentile in the state in its percentage of students at the basic level and above. The RSD has no A-rated schools and few B schools. By the state’s post-Katrina definition of a failing school, nine years into the experiment, nearly all of the schools in the RSD are “failing.” Communities around the state that are grappling with their own public education challenges should look at New Orleans’ charter schools experience with skepticism.”

Read her description of how the choice system sorts students.

And she adds:

“It doesn’t matter that with all this choice, most kids in New Orleans have no greater educational opportunities than before. The focus on choice as opposed to results also obscures the fact that certain groups have profited substantially in the post-Katrina system.”

Here is the latest from New Orleans, as locals try to tell “the other side of the story” from what you see in the national media. Dr. Raynard Sanders is an educator who is affiliated with Research on Reforms. Phoebe Ferguson is a co-founder of the Plessy & Ferguson Foundation for Education, Preservation, and Outreach.

“Dear Friends and Colleagues,

“For the past two years Phoebe Ferguson and I have been working on a documentary that tells the “real’ story about the education reforms forcefully implemented in New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina. The upcoming documentary will be a response to the well financed narrative that reformers$ have been cheerleading across the country for more than nine years claiming unprecedented academic gains in the historically failing schools New Orleans.

“With that we collaborated with The New Orleans Education Equity Roundtable and the Schott Foundation to produce a series of videos that focus on the major components of the corporate reforms in New Orleans.

“Today we are releasing our first video publicly, below is a URL that directs you to the video for viewing:

Here is the URL for the video: bit.ly/nolastrm

“As friends and colleagues I am asking you kindly share this video throughout your network, for those of you’ll who that have web sites and blogs I am asking you to post it on your site.

“We will be forwarding to you the upcoming videos in this series as they are completed…….. THANKS

Raynard Sanders, Ed.D.”

Civil rights activists lodged a federal complaint about abuses of the rights of African-American children in the Recovery School District. State Commissioner of Education John White referred to their complaint as a “farce” and a “joke.”

 

The complaint, written by Karran Harper Royal of the Coalition for Community Schools and Frank Buckley of Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community Changes, said the state’s policy of closing and chartering conventional schools is racially discriminatory. It said the decisions put black children disproportionately in low-performing schools, while the higher-scoring schools have admission policies designed to favor white children. Similar complaints were filed the same day against Newark, N.J., and Chicago schools.

 

The state Recovery School District took over about 80 percent of New Orleans’ public schools after Hurricane Katrina. After a last wave of closures, it is now an all-charter system. The complaint asks the government to freeze charter renewals and sought to stop the final closures, of Benjamin Banneker, A.P. Tureaud, George Washington Carver, Walter L. Cohen and Sarah T. Reed.

 

Royal and Buckley called for White’s resignation:

 

 

June 4, 2014

 

John White
State Superintendent of Education Louisiana Department of Education 1201 North Third Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

 

Dear Superintendent White:

 

On May 15, the Times-Picayune reported that you referred to a civil rights complaint filed by New Orleans community groups as a “joke” and “political farce.” As Superintendent, you should take seriously and investigate any charge of discrimination that harms students of color in Louisiana. Your comments are reprehensible and prove you are not fit to be Louisiana State Superintendent of Education. Therefore, we demand your immediate resignation.

 

The discriminatory effects of school closures that students of color and their families experience in New Orleans are no laughing matter. We find no humor in our school communities being dissolved, no amusement in being forced to send our children to charter schools that are unaccountable to our families, and no comedy in schoolchildren waiting outside before sunrise for school buses to take them across the city because we have no neighborhood schools left. It is with utmost seriousness that we have called for a civil rights investigation of the harmful school closure policies that have shuffled countless black and brown children from failing schools to other failing or near-failing schools, year after year.

 

Under your department, the Recovery School District has suffered the following harms:

  •  More than 30 traditional public schools have closed in the last several years.
  •  Last week, the district’s five remaining public schools closed, making it the nation’s first all-charter school district.
  •  Of the students impacted by this latest round of school closures, approximately 1,000 are black. Only five are white.
  •  Many students, mostly children of color, have experienced multiple school closures.
  •  The majority of Recovery School District schools are ranked “C,” “D,” or “F.”

    Communities of color are forced to bear the burdens of these damaging policies, with no neighborhood schools in New Orleans that serve majority black neighborhoods. When schools close, students lose crucial community relationships, have their educations painfully interrupted

and are often pushed into failing or near-failing schools. As a result of selective admissions practices, these black and brown students are often not admitted to “A” and “B” schools. African-American students are over 80 percent of the student population in New Orleans, but only around 30 to 47 percent of the population at most of the high-performing schools.

 

Closing schools often forces students to travel further for their education. In February, a six-year- old boy was killed crossing the street early one morning to catch the school bus. In 2010, a female student was raped as she walked home from school. Many students in New Orleans East have to catch the bus as early as 5:30am to travel to their schools.

 

The New Orleans community has been very vocal about these harms. Last year, a mother filed a civil rights complaint documenting them. Your department did not investigate her claims. Despite repeated protests and complaints about school closures and pro-charter policies, you have dismissed these concerns – and along with it the lived experiences of countless families. That you would now refer to this current civil rights complaint as “a joke” further shows your disregard for the discrimination experienced by students of color and their parents. We have had enough of your misguided, paternalistic policies and request your immediate resignation.

 

Your real allegiance is to the pro-charter, pro-privatization agenda. It has become clear that you will lie, bribe, and turn a blind eye to discrimination to benefit this agenda. In 2011, you told the parents and students of John McDonogh Sr. High School that they would have to convert from a direct-run school to a charter school in order to receive $35 million in much-needed renovations. After they agreed, you failed to provide these funds.

 

The May 13th civil rights complaint was filed by New Orleans community members – people who have advocated for students for decades – in collaboration with Journey for Justice, an alliance of grassroots organizations advocating for neighborhood public schools across the country. New Orleans partners include Coalition for Community Schools (CCS) and Conscious Concerned Citizens Controlling Community Changes (C-6). To mischaracterize the complaint as being “dominated” by teachers unions, as you did according to media reports, is not only incorrect but another example of your dismissal of the voices of communities and families.

 

Your irresponsible comments make you unsuitable to be State Superintendent of Education. There is no place in the education of children for individuals like you, Mr. White. We respectfully request your immediate resignation and a moratorium on school closures.

 

Sincerely,

 

Frank J. Buckley, C-6 Karran Harper Royal, CCS

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CC: Anurima Bhargava Chief

Educational Opportunities Section
U. S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division 601 D Street NW, Suite 4300
Washington, DC 20004

Catherine Lhamon
Assistant Secretary
Office for Civil Rights
U. S. Department of Education 400 Maryland Avenue SW Washington, DC 20202

Charles Roemer
President
Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education 1201 North Third Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70802

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Many charters in Néw Orleans tape a line in their hallways and insist that students must walk on the correct side of the line.

Reporter Danielle Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune writes here about this controversial policy and includes a video created by the charters to explain the value of this practice.

“Critics say it prepares students for prison, not college. A civil rights complaint filed this spring accuses Collegiate of imposing unnecessarily harsh penalties for stepping outside the lines — even, in one case, when a student’s disability made walking difficult.”

Defenders of the policy say it saves time and teaches automatic obedience to small rules, which later translates into unquestioning obedience to rules and authority, preparing students to succeed in life.

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