Archives for category: New Orleans

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.”

Paul Thomas marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by looking at Charleston, South Carolina, a coastal city similar to New Orleans but without the devastating hurricane. Proponents of the “New Orleans Model” or the “New Orleans Miracle” imply that school choice is itself a solution to the problems of racism and poverty. School districts across the South are proposing ways to be like New Orleans, without a public school system or with full choice.

But Thomas shows that school choice is a diversion from the root causes of low academic performance.

A large body of research finds that:

Private, public, and charter schools have about the same range of measurable student outcomes, regardless of the school type and strongly correlated with the socioeconomic status of the child’s home. (See this discussion of “charterness.”)

Research on school choice has shown mixed results at best, but even when some choice has shown promise of, for example, raising test scores for black, brown, and poor students, those increased scores are linked to selectivity, attrition, and extended school days/years—none of which have anything to do with the consequences of choice and all of which expose those “gains” as false success.

School choice, notably charter schools, has been strongly linked with increasing racial and socioeconomic inequity: increased segregation, inequitable disciplinary policies and outcomes.

SC advocacy for charter schools as the newest school choice commitment fails to acknowledge that charter schools in the state are overwhelmingly about the same and often worse than comparable public schools (see analysis of 2011 and 2013 data here), and the South Carolina Public Charter School District is among the top four worst districts in the state for racially inequitable discipline with blacks constituting about 19% of the enrollment but over 50% of suspensions/expulsions.

The research on school choice does not support the claims made by SCPC [a free-market think tank], and the rhetoric is also deeply flawed.

School choice advocates often fall back on “poor children deserve the same choices that rich children enjoy.”

However, several problems exist within this seemingly logical assertion.

The greatest flaw is suggesting that affluent and mostly white affluent children are thriving because of choice is itself a lie, a mask for the reality that the key to their success is their wealth and privilege. Being born into a wealthy family trumps educational attainment, and white privilege trumps educational attainment by blacks (see here and here).

In its most disturbing form, then, school choice advocacy is a distraction from the consequences of racism and poverty, both of which are reflected in and perpetuated by the education system.

All the links are included in his article. Read it.

Andrea Gabor wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times questioning the “New Orleans Miracle,” and she was immediately pummeled and vilified by defenders of charters. She responded to the critics in a piece on this blog. She has now posted a longer response on her own blog, which appears here.

Be sure to read the long and moving statement by Howard Fuller, one of the most prominent African American voices in favor of corporate reforms (charters and vouchers). Here is part of it:

“I do believe things are better for a large number of kids than before Katrina. But I don’t want to be put in the position of saying: pre-Katrina was all bad, post-Katrina is all good. When we set it up that way, we’re negating anything that was positive before Katrina. What that tends to negate is the capacity of black people to do anything of excellence.

“The firing of those teachers is a wound that will never be closed, never be righted. I understand the issue of urgency. But a part of this quite frankly has to do with the fact that I do not believe that black people are respected. I don’t believe that our institutions are respected. And I don’t believe that our capacity to help our own people is respected…

“Its hard for me, because I do support the reforms and think there are some great things that have happened. I do have to ask the same question as Randi (Weingarten)—at what cost?

“Even if you talk to black people who drank the Kool-aide: The issue still is– this was done to us not with us. That feeling is deep. It can’t be ignored. It speaks to any type of long-term sustainability of what’s happening in New Orleans.

“When black people came out of slavery, we came out with a clear understanding of the connection between education and liberation. Two groups of white people descended upon us—the missionaries and the industrialists. They both had their view of what type of education we needed to make our new-born freedom realized. During this period there’s an analogy—I’ve said this to all my friends in Kipp And TFA. During this period two groups of white people descended on us the industrialists and the missionaries. And each one of them have their own view of what kind of education we need.

Andrea Gabor published an op-Ed article in the New York Times about “the myth” of the Néw Orleans reforms. Critics immediately attacked her research, her facts, her integrity. (See here and here.)

Gabor is the Michael R. Bloomberg Professor of Business Jounalism at Baruch College in the City University of New York. She has written several books and many articles.

She responds to the critics here.

Andrea Gabor writes:

“Here is a preliminary response to some who have attacked the research behind my NYT OpEd. First a little background: I’ve spent months in New Orleans over the past several years researching New Orleans charter schools and published a lengthy piece in Newsweek in 2013. (I’m also working on a book.) However, much of the impetus for this piece came from what I heard and saw at a conference, The Urban Education Future?, held by the Educational Research Alliance at Tulane University this June.

First, the data that ERA just published, and that many education-reformers point to for their positive results, is based on numbers leading up to 2012, i.e. the period during which the worst excesses, including creaming, special-education abuses, high suspension and expulsion rates took place. More than one of the participants an ERA panel in June noted that it’s questionable whether the numbers would look as good as they do if it hadn’t been for those practices.

This was also the period before the Common Core, so the elementary and middle-school test results presented by ERA, as several experts at the conference noted, were based on Louisiana’s very low-level standards.

For years, the ed-reform establishment claimed there were no abuses—no creaming, no special-education abuses—in New Orleans. Now, they are saying: In 2012 we fixed all that, so it’s not fair to reference the problems. Except that we don’t yet have evidence of if/how the new safeguards are working.

What we do know is that there’s a major governance/oversight problem in New Orleans. In 2013, a report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found that the “LDOE no longer conducts on-site audits or reviews that help ensure the electronic data in its systems is accurate.” The audit also found significant discrepancies in the data on attendance, dropout-rates and graduation rates reported by the charters.$FILE/00032CA4.pdf

Also last spring, a Louisiana appeals court ruled that the State of Louisiana, which had given a trove of student data to CREDO, but withheld it from other researchers, had violated public-records laws. So much for transparency.

I had the opportunity to ask several experts at the ERA conference questions about governance/oversight problems in New Orleans and the kids who “slip between the cracks”. Among others, I asked these questions of Dana Peterson of the RSD as well as members of the panel on the “Role of Communities in Schools.” The exchanges were captured on the webcasts below.

To see the startling discussion about governance/oversight problems during the panel discussion of the “Role of Communities in Schools” go to the 1-hour-and-12-minute mark of the following webcast and listen for three or four minutes:

Some highlights:

Deirdre Burel, executive director of the Orleans of Public Education Network: “There’s common agreement, we know for a fact that kids have slipped through the cracks because of the closures.”

When an audience member asks: “The RSD doesn’t know who’s in the system?”

And again later: “Who’s responsible for the whole?”

Burel answers: “There is no whole. That’s a governance conversation. There is no single entity responsible for all children.”

I asked a similar question during a panel on “Test-Based Accountability Effects of School Closure” on school closings, their impacts on high school students, and received the response below from Dana Peterson of the RSD and Whitney Ruble, the ERA researcher who was presenting her findings on school closures. Two points of note: First, Ruble’s/ERA results on the effects of school closures said nothing about the impacts on high school kids who are most at risk of dropping out. You had to look and listen very carefully to realize that all the data was about elementary and middle-school effects. However, Ruble acknowledged that “A lot of students disappear from the data.”

This at about the 1-hour-two-minute mark of the following webcast:

Dana Peterson of the RSD, a few minutes later: “We’re more worried at the high school level than the elementary level. Its true some kids do leave and fall out of the system.” That’s why, he said, the RSD started hiring couselors specifically for high school kids two years ago to try to make sure they didn’t disappear from the system.

When I asked whether he knew how many kids fall between the cracks, Peterson acknowledged: “I don’t know the total number. I don’t.”

After the panel, I asked whether there was anyone at the RSD who could get me that data. He said there was and he promised to get me the information. He never responded to subsequent emails and phone calls.

Finally, some, including John White, have taken issue with my assertion that the mostly black teaching force was replaced by young idealistic (mostly white) educators. According to another ERA report, the number of black teachers in New Orleans dropped from 71 percent before the storm to 49 percent in 2013/2014. White teachers, by contrast, made up just a little over 20 percent of the teachers in NOLA before the storm and were close to 50 percent in 2013/14. See p. 3 of the following report:

I should note that I’ve visited over half-a-dozen charter schools in New Orleans. With two exceptions, I barely saw a single African-American face among any of the educators.

Andrea Gabor, experienced journalist and scholar, pulls apart the myth of the Néw Orleans “miracle.” What is remarkable is that her article appears in the New York Times, which has never investigated the exaggerated claims made by corporate reformers on behalf of eliminating public education.

The number of students in the schools of that city has dropped dramatically since Hurricane Katrina, making pre- and post- comparisons unreliable. Large numbers of students are not in school at all.

The “success” story is a myth but a very powerful one. Urban districts across the nation yearn to copy the New Orleans model: wipe out public schools; replace them with privately managed charters; fire all the teachers; hire inexperienced teachers and a few of the veterans; fund generously.

Gabor shows that other states and districts must inform themselves before proceeding.

This article is an outstanding and heart-breaking account of the harsh treatment meted out to the public school teachers of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It appears in Education Week.

About 7,000 veteran teachers were summarily fired. Most were African-American and most were women. They fought their firing in the courts because they did not receive due process, but a few months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal. Their legal battle was defeated, like them.

Many of their schools were physically destroyed. Most were turned into charter schools. Public schools that were once the heart of their communities, are gone. Now everything is choice, as though a goal of reform was to destabilize black communities.

Defenders of the wholesale privatization, like Leslie Hacobs, defend it on grounds that test scores are up. We all know that the data about this experiment are hotly contested. Since so many children never returned after the storm, it is hard to make fair comparisons.

Read this article and ask whether it was a good trade off: ruining the lives of thousands of dedicated teachers and uprooting historic communities as the price of a few more points on standardized tests?

This is a fascinating blog post. I urge you to read it. Milwaukee school board member Larry Miller went to New Orleans to learn more about the district that reformers applaud.

And he discovered this editorial in the New Orleans Tribune, which is the oldest African American newspaper in the city, dating back to the 19th century.

Here are some excerpts:

This thing appears to be a run-a-way train.

And we can’t stop it.

We have said all of this and more in the past several weeks and months. Yet, here we are again—devoting an entire issue to sharing the truth about the post-Katrina education reform that is hurting local students, marginalizing parents and disenfranchising voters and taxpayers and that will hurt us for generations to come.

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Surely, we could find other uses for our newsprint and ink.

Well, we do not ever want it to be said that The New Orleans Tribune sat in silence and said nothing while this travesty took place. That’s not what we do or who we are. You expect more from us. We demand more of ourselves. So we would find no joy in saying “we told you so.” We would rather say “so glad we stopped that from happening.” And we hope that every time we raise our voice, others will take heed and join us in a battle we know is righteous. As such, we will go on record now and every chance we get. We will call out the calamity for what it is. We cannot allow defeat to silence our voice. We will not concede—not with the future of our children at stake. The education of children, especially traditionally under-served African-American children, should be no one’s experiment—or meal ticket.

We’re doing it for the record. See, maybe in 20 years, one of the architects of this so-called reform will finally have a crisis of conscience and admit that they were wrong. Maybe it will be John White or Paul Pastorek. Maybe Leslie Jacobs will see the error of her ways. Maybe.

This is the devastating commentary:

The people, entities, organizations and institutions driving the education reform movement, especially here in New Orleans, don’t care whether our children receive a quality public education. Neither they nor their children attend or have attended public school in New Orleans. It is not about choice or change or charters. If it were really about choice for parents and children, why is a computer program matching students with schools? Sounds more like school chance and happenstance than school choice to us.

Still, they are happy to use that “choice” mantra so long as it means billions of dollars will continue to flow through their non-profit organizations and their new-fangled foundations. They will continue to use that mantra so long as it means contracts for consulting or school construction or Common Core-aligned text books and testing services for their big corporate buddies. They will continue to use that mantra so long as they can hand out cushy jobs to cronies and allies. And the cronies and allies are happy to go along as long as they are taken care of.
For the record, we are not against change or charters. We do not oppose education reform. There are successful models where traditional public schools co-exist with charters to offer students and their parents quality educational opportunities. In fact, the so-called reformers are right. Katrina was the biggest opportunity. It wiped the slate clean. It offered us the rare chance to get it right. We could have built first-rate facilities in neighborhoods across this city. We could have staffed them with top-notch education administrators, veteran teachers and new ones, too, trained and prepared to contribute to the field. We could have had real change. It’s just that what has happened in New Orleans in the 10 years since Katrina has not been about any of those things.

Instead, education reform, pseudo school choice, and the proliferation of charter schools have merely been one of the vehicles co-opted to perform an entirely different agenda—gain control of an entire city and every system that operates within its jurisdiction. Those who fled New Orleans decades ago on the heels of integration want the neighborhoods back. So they tore down public housing. They want seats of political power back; and they are gaining. The schools—or rather control of schools—are a major piece of that puzzle. This so-called reform is a spoke in a wheel that has been turning now for decades. Katrina was the catalyst that allowed these social engineers and profiteers to hasten their plans. If they have to pretend like they care about where our children learn to gain access to and control of money, land, facilities and dominance, it is a small price to pay. If their gain is on the backs of students, parents and taxpayers, so be it. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that there is money—big money—tied up in this reform movement. And if they can control that as well, all the better. Some of the biggest players in this game are about as concerned about the education of poor Black children in New Orleans as they are about a swarming fly.
Come on, let’s get real. The hypocrisy of it all is actually unsettling. One of the biggest national players in this reform folly is the Walton Foundation. The Walton Foundation has funneled nearly $180 million in grant money in three years (2011, 2012, and 2013) to national and local organizations in the name of education reform. In 2014, alone, the Walton Foundation directed more than $2.6 million to local groups, such as New Schools for New Orleans, the Louisiana affiliate of Stand for Children, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, Orleans Public Education Network, 4.0 Schools and the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

Now, it’s the Walton family’s money; and they are free to donate it as they please. But just for a second let’s consider that research clearly shows a correlation between family income and a child’s academic achievement and that the widening achievement gap is in great measure associated the widening wealth gap. Given those points, one would think that if the Waltons were so concerned with transforming educational outcomes for America’s children they would not have to be shamed into giving their own low-wage earning employees a pay raise. The wages earned by many Wal-Mart employees are so low that their workers often rely on food stamps, Section 8 housing assistance, and state-funded healthcare programs.

Truth is that we would be okay with it all—with the foundations for education for this . . . and the new schools for that . . . if public education in New Orleans was actually improving.

But for the record: The myth that this new system of education is more accountable and successful than before is just that—a MYTH. Better still, it is a pack of lies. Don’t be fooled when the reform advocates tout the successes of schools like Lusher and Ben Franklin. First of all, these are not RSD campuses. They were not taken over by the state. These schools, though they have now been chartered, are OPSB schools. More importantly, they were the crown jewels, the top performers in local public education long before the storm. There was no transformation at these campuses. They have been the consistent successes. They were the schools parents and education advocates pointed to years ago and asked “hey, wait…why can’t you make all of our schools like them.”

So now that we have that straight, here’s the reality of the mythical miracle. Fifty-seven (57) RSD-New Orleans schools have school performance scores and letter grades for the 2013-2014 school year. And they don’t look so miraculous. There are six (6) Ts or schools in transition, meaning they have been assumed by a new charter operator and are being given a grace period before their academic performance is measured. We have written before about this perpetual state of transition that can exist as the RSD decides to kick out one charter operator for another over and again.

There are 20 Cs. The last time we checked Cs were nothing to write home about. They indicate a performance level that is acceptable—not exceptional. They represent mediocrity, which is one reason it is mind-boggling that as we understand it FirstLine Schools is in line to get more get more campuses, despite the poor showing of the schools already under its control (four Cs and one F).

There are combined 24 Ds and Fs. In other words 24 schools are academically inadequate. Twenty-four schools are failing to meet the state’s minimum academic standard.

Yes, there are a few Bs—seven (7) to be exact. Meanwhile, not a single charter school in the RSD-New Orleans has earned an A. And with the state’s fluctuating definition of a “failing” school, even a few of the Bs are suspect.
Recall that in 2005, the state legislator raised the minimum SPS score to 87.4 in order to takeover local schools. The minimum SPS has since been lowered to accommodate the reform’s failure. But based on the same standard used to take over more than 100 schools in New Orleans nearly 10 years ago, three (3) of the schools with B letter grades would actually be considered failing. Just so we are clear and for the record, three (3) RSD schools that have earned Bs in the current performance rankings would have been taken over by the state for those same SPS score 10 years ago.

Add this doleful thought:

More than 54 percent of the charter schools under RSD control are either failing or in transition. Another 35 percent are mediocre. If they were measured by the same standards used to take over the schools in Orleans Parish in 2005, the RSD would be forced to relinquish all but four campuses under its control. Again, just to be clear and for the record: if the RSD were judged by the same standards used to take control of schools in New Orleans 10 years ago, the RSD would be left with only four schools.

The fact that it actually continues to grow its power and control is what is miraculous.

Ah, but that is reform. What a joke…..This reform ain’t done a thing. And yes, that is for the record.

You will hear very different conclusions from those who are on the gravy train, getting some slice of the millions poured into New Orleans to create the miracle of privatization. They say what they are paid to say.

The New Orleans Tribune is not on the payroll.

Mike Klonsky reports that Kristin McQueary of the Chicago Tribune wishes that something like Hurricane Katrina would hit Chicago and wash away the school system and large parts of the city. That way, the city could start from scratch. Call it Katrina-envy.

He writes:

The Tribune is on a roll. Weeks after calling for a Mussolini-type dictator to run the school system, editorial board member McQueary now prays for a Katrina-like disaster, suggesting a catastrophe of that magnitude could change Chicago for the better without borrowing money or raising her taxes.
I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops. That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.
Yes, I know McQueary is making a stab at metaphor (or is she?) and probably doesn’t really want water damage in her condo. But her disgusting worse-the-better message of New Orleans envy, without a thought for the thousands of people, mostly African-American families,who died or were driven out of the city when the levees broke, comes through loud and clear.

For sure, Mike is reminded of Duncan’s observation that Katrina was the best thing ever to happen to New Orleans schools (if you don’t think about the people who died.)

Another writer, Adolph Reed, wrote about McQueary’s absurd column here.

Reed writes:

The greatest irony of her original stupid article and the backtracking unpology is that she can’t recognize that it’s precisely the sort of arrangements she enthusiastically touts as the utopian possibilities opened by the horrors of Katrina that created that disaster in the first place. She’s right; it was man-made, but, if she were a little less smugly shallow and ideological, she might have asked how it was man-made. It was the product of decades of the sorts of policies, pursued at every level from Orleans Parish to the White House and by corporate Democrats as well as Republicans, she rhapsodizes about—privatization, retrenchment, corporate welfare paid for by cutting vital public services and pasting the moves over with fairy tales about “efficiency” and “lean management” and “doing more with less” and hoping to avoid the day of reckoning.

So, I’ll give this much to McQueary; she’s right that Katrina has a lesson for us. It’s a lesson about what happens when you follow the sorts of destructive approaches to public policy that McQueary shills for.


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