Archives for category: New Orleans

Atlanta is impressed by the elimination of public education in New Orleans. The school board is planning to become an all-charter district.


Apparently, no one told the school board that the Recovery School District in New Orleans is one of the lowest-rated districts in the state. As Mercedes Schneider recently showed, the ACT scores for the state of Louisiana had New Orleans ranked 66th of 70 districts in the state. Most of the charter schools are graded C, D or F by the state, which makes their students eligible for a voucher.



Mercedes Schneider has been trying to get Louisiana’s ACT scores, but the State Education Department would not release them. Mercedes would not be deterred, and she explains here how she finally got them. She always sssumed State Superintendent John White didn’t want the scores made public. Now she knows why.

“There is a reason Louisiana Superintendent John White has refused to release these scores to the public:

“The Class of 2014 ACT composite scores for RSD do nothing to support the now-ten-year-old sales pitch that The Reforms Are Working in New Orleans.

“The Class of 2013 ACT composite for RSD was 16.3.

“The Class of 2014 ACT composite for all RSD high schools was 15.6. For RSD-New Orleans high schools, it was 15.7.”

It turns out that the Néw Orleans-Recivery School District ranks 66 out of 70 districts in the state.

After a decade of “reform,” this is very sad.

Anya Kamenetz of NPR described a new study of choice in New Orleans that found that most parents picked schools based on proximity and extracurricular programs, not academics.


She wrote:


The charter school movement is built on the premise that increased competition among schools will sort the wheat from the chaff.


It seems self-evident that parents, empowered by choice, will vote with their feet for academically stronger schools. As the argument goes, the overall effect should be to improve equity as well: Lower-income parents won’t have to send their kids to an under-resourced and underperforming school just because it is the closest one to them geographically.


But an intriguing new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans suggests that parent choice doesn’t always work that way. Parents, especially low-income parents, actually show strong preferences for other qualities like location and extracurriculars — preferences that can outweigh academics.


Mercedes Schneider, who has written frequently about New Orleans, took issue with a different aspect of the study, its claim that low-income families had greater access to high-performing schools, and that higher-performing schools moved into low-income neighborhoods following Hurricane Katrina.


She says that what the study calls progress is probably examples of “gaming the system” and recalculating what produces a higher letter grade for a school (links are found in the original post):


First, in their comparison of school performance scores pre-Katrina to post-Katrina, Harris is aware that the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) even awards some schools points for students whose scores are not proficient on state tests.


Consider this statement from the Harris/Larsen OneApp analysis:


After Katrina, the lowest-income families had greater access to schools with high test scores. School bus transportation systems expanded, average test scores increased across the city, and schools with higher test scores were more likely to locate near lower-income neighborhoods. Pre-Katrina public schools zoned for the highest-income neighborhoods were 1.3 letter grades higher than schools zoned for low-income neighborhoods; the difference between the lowest- and highest-income neighborhoods dropped to just a half letter grade considering the nearest schools after Katrina.


It seems that Harris and Larsen are equating higher school performance scores with higher test scores. As noted above, the LDOE incorporation of “bonus points” for non-proficient students boosted school performance scores, and RSD benefited from this practice.


Also, not sure how useful the above pre- to post-Katrina school grade comparison is given that there is no anchor. That is, the “closing if the letter grade gap” could mean that the highest letter grades have fallen. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the highest remained stationary while the lowest rose. Also, the highest-to-lowest income ratios are not necessarily the same pre-Katrina versus post-Katrina.

The degree to which the letter grade “gap closure” is an artifact of the post-Katrina mixture of income levels brought about by open enrollment remains unclear.


Moreover, school letter grades and performance scores serve as a fine example of high-stakes numbers easily gamed. Whereas Harris and Larsen re-scaled performance scores to compare pre-Katrina with post-Katrina school scoring outcomes, since 2011-12, the public has only “seen” the letters A B C D F and not the alterations in scoring that make those letters not directly comparable from one year to the next. Therefore, in 2011-12, a school with a D could have had a C in 2012-13 simply due to changes in calculation. However, the public “sees” the grade as “improved.” A deception.


Additionally, Harris and Larsen comment that “very-low-income families also have greater access to schools with high average test scores.” However, even with inflated school performance scores, most RSD schools continue to be rated as C, D, or F, the definition of a “failing school” by the original Louisiana voucher standard. The schools that have consistently been “high average test score” schools are those that were not taken over by the state post-Katrina and continue to be with the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). General “access” to “higher average test score” schools might be “greater,” but it remains limited.


Next, Harris and Larsen note that “practical considerations” prevent parents from choosing higher-test-score schools. Indeed, it could be that so few A and B schools are available for parents to “choose,” especially given that many of these are selective-admissions schools, that the limited choice of a C school over a D school does not entice parents to choose to a greater degree based on academics.



Douglas Harris is an economist at Tulane University who was recently appointed to lead the Education Research Alliance in New Orleans. Harris has written extensively about value-added measurement (VAM). Mercedes Schneider is a high school teacher in Louisiana with a Ph.D. in research methods and statistics; she is also an outspoken critic of privatization and corporate style reform of the kind that has eliminated public education in New Orleans.


Mercedes recently attended a meeting convened by Professor Harris to discuss the choice program in New Orleans. Afterwards she talked to parents who participated on a panel, and she talked to Doug Harris, who made a point of meeting Mercedes. She had written some strong blogs (cited in her post) wondering whether a research organization like Harris’s could be neutral. In her conversation with Harris, she was blunt, as you would expect. Face-to-face contact is always useful when people disagree. Mercedes had a chance to size up Harris, and Harris now knows Mercedes. We hope that both of them benefit by the introduction.


Mercedes followed up that post with another one expressing her disappointment that the 3-day conference on the New Orleans reforms is heavily weighted towards advocates of privatization and has little representation of those affected by the reforms or local researchers. She says there is “too much Tulane” and not enough local community to judge the reforms.

Kristen Buras recently published a book about the dissolution of public education in Néw Orleans and its replacement by privately managed charter schools, staffed largely by inexperienced Teach for America recruits after the abrupt dismissal of 7,500 veteran teachers. Her book is titled “Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.”

In the current issue of “The Progressive,” Buras explains what happened in Néw Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The story is different from what the major media say. It is important because so many public officials and civic leaders want to turn struggling districts into another Néw Orleans. Beware.

It begins like this:

“Within days of Hurricane Katrina, the conservative Heritage Foundation advocated the creation of a “Gulf Opportunity Zone,” including federal funds for charter schools and entrepreneurs. Slowly but surely, the narrative of disaster turned to one of opportunity, even triumph. We were told that families abandoned in the storm were finding new hope in transformation of the city’s public schools by charter school operators.

“Report after report praised New Orleans as a model for urban school districts across the nation. Charter school operators, most of them white, declared “school choice” to be the new civil rights movement.

“Now, almost a decade later, New Orleans is the nation’s first all-charter school district. Charter advocates describe the district’s achievements as nothing short of a miracle.

“The truth is quite different: Flooding New Orleans with charter schools has been disastrous.”

– See more at:

Larry Miller, an elected member of the Milwaukee school board and a member of the editorial board of Rethinking Schools, has written an excellent review and summary of Kristen Buras’ book–Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space— about the privatization of public education in New Orleans. New Orleans has gotten an undeserved national reputation as “the answer” to struggling school districts. The establishment in many other urban districts are looking at New Orleans as a model, but it is a model of what NOT to do. As Buras tells it, the reforms in New Orleans dispossessed the black citizens of New Orleans and created great possibilities for white entrepreneurs. A teaching force that was 75% black was dismissed and replaced largely by white Teach for America recruits.


Milwaukee is one of the urban districts where the civic and business leadership is looking longingly at New Orleans. Perhaps Larry Miller can share Buras’ book with them.


Miller writes: “A major theme to her research is that the New Orleans RSD is a Southern strategy to use market-based reforms to give control of public schools, attended by Black children in Black communities and often taught by Black teachers, over to well funded white entrepreneurs.”

2015 marks the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of Néw Orleans and destroyed many public schools. This was the event that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan memorably called “the best thing” that ever happened to the schools of Néw Orleans.

So now it is time for a research conference about 10 years of education “reform” in Néw Orleans, which will be hosted by a new research group, funded by the pro-charter Arnold Foundation.

Mercedes Schneider, researcher and teacher in Louisiana, describes the conference here, as well as the origins of the all-charter Recovery School District. The media like to portray the Nola reforms as a great success. Schneider says the claims of a “miracle district” are false. Thus, one would expect the conference to feature strong voices on both sides of the issue, to debate the evidence.

Unfortunately, the best-informed local critics were not invited to speak. The strongest academic critic of the reform narrative—Kristen Buras–was not invited to speak. Buras published a scholarly study of the reforms earlier this year. She wrote it from the perspective of the “grassroots,” the students, communities, teachers, and local traditions. She started her in-depth analysis of the reforms in 2005. She was invited to sit in the audience.

This is Schneider at her best, drawing links among the players and assessing the overall significance of the event.

In a historic first, the Dr. King charter school in the New Orleans Recovery School District asked to return to the Orleans Parish Board.

“Friends of King Schools made history Tuesday by becoming the first Recovery School District charter school board to seek to return a campus to the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board.

“The charter school board opted to leave a system built on choice, the all-charter RSD, by exercising its right to choose its authorizer. The vote to return Dr. King Charter School to the School Board was unanimous, said Orleans Parish School Board member Ira Thomas, who was in attendance. Thomas represents the district that includes King.

“The transfer must still be approved by the state school board and parish school board.”

Larry Miller is a member of the Milwaukee school district. Milwaukee has been a district subjected to the reform nostrums of choice for the past 25 years. It has a large charter sector and a large voucher sector. The shrinking public schools have a much larger proportion of students with disabilities than the other two sectors, which don’t want them. Despite the skimming practices of the two privatized sectors, neither the charter or voucher sectors outperform the public schools. Choice has not lifted all boats; in fact, it has shown no results other than to shrink the public schools. The city’s “independent” evaluator says that the voucher schools have a higher graduation rate, but that higher rate is accompanied by a 44% attrition rate.


Now the business community and other “reformers” in Milwaukee decided that having lots of charters and voucher schools is not enough. They want the whole district to be converted to a New Orleans-style charter district. Apparently no one told them that the majority of charter schools in the Recovery School District in New Orleans are rated D or F by the charter-friendly state. Or that the New Orleans district is ranked 65th out of 68 districts in the state in academic performance.


Milwaukee school board member Larry Miller here briefly reviews the nation’s four “recovery-style school districts”: the one in New Orleans, the Achievement School District in Tennessee, the Education Achievement Authority in Michigan, and the Opportunity Educational Institution in Virginia. The bottom line: parents lose representation and voice; staff are fired; academic achievement is stagnant.

After Hurricane Katrina, 7,500 public school teachers and other staff were fired by the new Recovery School District. Three-quarters of them were African American. Eventually almost every public school was converted to a privately managed charter, many staffed by Teach for America corps members.

The fired teachers sued for back pay. The Louisiana Supreme Court rejected their appeal, in a 5-2 split decision.

In October, the Supreme Court had overturned decisions favorable to the teachers in lower courts. The teachers said were dismissed en masse, without evaluation or due process.

At that time, the case was described in these terms:

“The case had ramifications beyond the public purse, and beyond the emotional and financial hit experienced by the employees, whose termination letters were in some cases delivered to houses that had been washed away in the storm. It became a symbol for people who felt disenfranchised when the state, saying the Orleans Parish School Board had failed its children, took over four fifths of the city’s public schools in the fall of 2005. Many teachers objected that they were all painted with the same brush as incompetent. And analysts such as former Loyola University professor Andre Perry said the layoffs knee-capped the city’s African American middle class.”

The earlier article explained the Supreme Court’s reasoning:

“That was not why the state Supreme Court dismissed the case, however. The majority invoked the principle of res judicata, which holds that a case cannot be argued if it covers the same people and arguments as a previous case.

“Indeed, most of the individual plaintiffs were members of the United Teachers of New Orleans. That labor union in 2007 settled several similar lawsuits against the School Board for $7 million, about $1,000 per union member. The Supreme Court decided those settlements sufficiently addressed the plaintiffs and questions in the current case.

“But the majority also accepted the defendants’ arguments across the line. Even if the case had not been dismissed, “neither the OPSB nor the State defendants violated plaintiffs’ due process rights,” Justice Jeffrey Victory wrote.

“The 4th Circuit Court of Appeal had found that the School Board should have created a recall list and systematically used it to hire back employees. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, while deciding that an employee hotline set up after the storm did not constitute an official recall list, determined that “imperfect” post-Katrina responses were good enough to satisfy the state Constitution given the circumstances.

“Furthermore, the fact that almost all the jobs disappeared permanently made a difference, Victory wrote: “The Teacher Tenure Laws did not envision, nor provide for, the circumstance where a massive hurricane wipes out an entire school district, resulting in the elimination of the vast majority of teaching positions in that district. It would defy logic to find the OPSB liable for a due process violation where jobs were simply not available.”

“Nor would the state have been liable for not systematically hiring the Orleans Parish employees, Victory wrote, because the Legislature gave the Recovery School District the auth0rity to hire whomever it wanted.”


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