Archives for category: New Orleans

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.”

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. http://www.lla.state.la.us/PublicReports.nsf/0B6B9CAE61DC9C2786257B6C006DB81E/$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.
https://deutsch29.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/student_data_case_c_court_of_appeal_notice_judgment_and_disposition_2014.pdf

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: http://educationresearchalliancenola.org/sessions/2015/6/19/role-of-communities-in-schools

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:

http://educationresearchalliancenola.org/sessions/2015/6/20/test-based-accountabilty-effects-of-school-closuremost.

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: http://educationresearchalliancenola.org/files/publications/ERA-Policy-Brief-Changes-in-the-New-Orleans-Teacher-Workforce.pdf

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?

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