Archives for category: New Orleans

The resisters in New Orleans have created a five-minute video about what they call the “corporate takeover of public education in New Orleans.”


This is an instance of what Naomi Klein describes as an application of the Shock Doctrine, or “disaster capitalism.”


When the New Orleans school system was battered by Hurricane Katrina, that was an opportune moment for politicians at the state and federal levels to take control of the district, eliminate most public schools, fire all the teachers, eliminate the union, and install charter schools and Teach for America.


This video is the beginning of a series created by residents who want a democratically controlled school system rather than a free market in education.

Mercedes Schneider, Louisiana high school teacher with a Ph.D. in research methods and statistics, has a dogged dedication to setting the record straight. She knows that New Orleans is not a miracle district. She has pointed this out time after time, yet the media continue to spout the same claims from the advocates of privatization: wipe out public education, fire all the teachers, welcome privately managed charters, staff the schools with Teach for America, and–Voila!–everyone succeeds, no child left behind, an excellent education for all children! The actions are true: the public schools were closed, the teachers were fired, the charters sprouted in every part of New Orleans. But the results didn’t happen. New Orleans is today one of the lowest performing districts in the state. We leave it to students of mass psychology and the media to explain why the national media falls for the narrative repeatedly. Maybe because it is a good story, even if it is not true. Maybe they want to believe in miracles.


When Mercedes Schneider read that Nathan Deal, the Governor of Georgia, was coming to New Orleans to see the miracle with his own eyes, she wrote this post. Very likely, he and his delegation will be taken to the schools with selective admissions. They are the Potemkin villages of New Orleans. It is always best to verify before you trust (Ronald Reagan said, “Trust but verify”). In this post, Schneider shows that most of the graduates of the New Orleans’ Recovery School District have scores so low on the ACT that they are ineligible to receive state scholarships for two-year community colleges. This is sad. The suppression of the facts is also sad. Spreading a failed model is sadder still. The most successful nations in the world have strong public school systems, not vouchers or charters.

For a decade now, we have been told again and again by the national media that New Orleans is a “miracle” district. City after city, state after state, wants to be like New Orleans. In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder created the Educational Achievement Authority, which has been plagued with mismanagement and has shown no progress for the students in Detroit. Governor Snyder appointed an emergency manager for financially strapped, low-performing Muskegon Heights, and the emergency manager turned the students and schools over to a for-profit charter chain; after two years, the chain decamped when it was clear there would be no profit. Tennessee created the Achievement School District, where the state’s low-performing public schools were gathered, turned over to charter operators, and are supposed to be in the state’s top 20% by performance within five years; the clock is ticking, and there is no reason to believe that the five-year deadline will be met. The public schools of York City, Pennsylvania, have been promised to a for-profit charter chain.


And now Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal has an idea. He wants Georgia to have a Recovery School District, just like New Orleans. Here is the formula: wipe out public education and replace it with privately managed charters; eliminate any teachers’ unions; fire veteran teachers and replace them with Teach for America. What could go wrong? Note in the linked article that the enrollment in New Orleans public schools fell from 65,000 before Hurricane Katrina to 25,000 or so today. This makes comparisons pre- and post- tricky to say the least.


No matter. The boosters are still claiming dramatic success.


But along comes Mercedes Schneider, who managed to get the full set of ACT scores for the state of Louisiana. For some reason, the State Department of Education was not eager to release those scores. You will see why.


Mercedes wrote more than one post. They are collected here. The details are in the individual posts.


She begins the second post like this:



It is February, and at my high school, that means scheduling students for the next school year. During two of my classes today, our counselors were in my room explaining to students the Louisiana Board of Regents minimum requirements for first-time college freshmen who wish to attend a four-year college or university in Louisiana. These requirement are the result of legislation passed in 2010 and phased in over four years, the Grad Act.


One requirement is a minimum score of 18 on the ACT in English and a minimum score of 19 on the ACT in math.


Even though Regents also has an ACT composite requirement, one can readily substitute a high GPA in place of a lacking composite.


However, that 18 in English and 19 in math is virtually non-negotiable. An institution might be able to conditionally admit some students in the name of “research”; however, there is not too much of this allowed, for Regents states that the two ACT subscores are the most widely acceptable, readily available evidence that a student would not require remedial college coursework in English or math– a rule effective for all Louisiana four-year institutions of higher education effective Fall 2014.


Thus, the first graduating class affected by this Regents rule is the high school graduating class of 2014.


Remember those numbers: 18 in English and 19 in math.


Schneider continues:


Some highlights from this data:


Of the 16 active New Orleans RSD high schools, five graduated not one student meeting the Regents 18-English-19-math ACT requirement. That’s no qualifying students out of 215 test takers.


Another six RSD high schools each graduated less than one percent meeting the requirement, or 16 students out of 274 (5.8 percent).


Out of a total of 1151 RSD New Orleans class of 2014 ACT test takers, only 141 students (12.3 percent) met the Regents requirement. Eighty-nine of these 141 attended a single high school (OP Walker, ACT site code 192113).


By far, OP Walker had the highest number of Regents 18-English-19-math-ACT-subscore-qualifying class of 2014 test takers (89 out of 311, or 28.6 percent).


If the OP Walker were removed from RSD-NO, then RSD-NO would be left with 52 qualifying students out of 840, or 6.2 percent.




Notice also that the average ACT composite scores of those meeting the Regents 18-19 requirement (column G) are all above the 18 that LDOE focuses on as a minimum mark of success.


Clearly the theory of “raise the bar and achievement will rise” is not playing out in the New Orleans RSD when it comes to meeting the Regents minimum requirement of an 18 in English and 19 in math on the ACT.


No miracle here. Only more data that Louisiana Superintendent John White wishes he could hide.







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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 154,225 other followers