Mike Deshotels is a retired educator in Louisiana, who blogs at “Louisiana Educator.” He wrote the following post about the now well-established all-charter district.

The state of Louisiana took over most public schools in New Orleans after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It turned them over to charter operators, who were expected to get better academic results than the underfunded public schools. The city’s experienced teachers, mostly African-American, like their students, were fired and replaced by inexperienced Teach for America recruits. Philanthropies and the federal government poured billions into the district to help privatization succeed.

Other states, impressed by the promises of privatization, pushed for more charter schools, and some for vouchers, like Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio. Michigan created the Education Achievement Authority (which failed), Tennessee created the Achievement School District, which boldly promised dramatic increases in test scores. It failed too. Still others, like Oklahoma, Nevada, and Texas, encouraged privatization and rapid expansion of charter schools.

Billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Charles Koch, Betsy DeVos, and the Waltons continue to fund the charter idea, as does the federal government, whose Charter Schools Program doles out $440 million annually to open or expand charter schools (many of which will fail or never open).

For the billionaires and the charter lobby, New Orleans was the shining star of the corporate reform movement, promising huge academic gains by firing teachers, closing public schools, and privatizing low-performing schools. New Orleans is the foundational myth of the charter movement.

Mike Deshotels shows here that the New Orleans “miracle” was and is a vast mirage. Fully a decade ago, in a dissent to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations that endorsed privatization of public schools, Linda Darling-Hammond wrote that “New Orleans remains the lowest-ranked district in the low-performing state of Louisiana.” Billions of dollars later, New Orleans continues to be the lowest performing school district in the lowest performing state.

Here is an excerpt from Mike Deshotels’ post:

This recently released report by the Louisiana Pelican Policy Institute, a business funded “good government” group has produced a dashboard that compares the most recent data on all public-school systems in Louisiana. It provides a way for us to compare expenditures and results in public schools. We can now get a good idea about whether the school reforms in New Orleans have lived up to their promises.

It is important to note that not all public schools in New Orleans at the time of takeover had been deemed to be failures. Even though the Orleans public school system, as a whole, fell into the bottom quartile of public school systems in the state based on academic achievement, there was a group of public schools in New Orleans that were performing well, even before 2006. Several highly selective schools had been producing high academic achievement and great college prep results. So approximately one-fourth of the Orleans schools were left intact because of acceptable results. Those schools, even though now converted into charters, continue to be selective in the students they serve and continue to produce exemplary results. But there is still a major problem with the state test scores of the other three-fourths – the reformed takeover schools.

The recent study shows that taken as a whole, the New Orleans all charter system is still ranking in the bottom quartile of all public-school systems in the state. This is in a state that performs near the bottom of all states on national testing and college preparedness. For example, the new dashboard reveals that for the four academic subjects of math, reading, science and social studies, only 18% of all New Orleans public school students are now rated proficient or better. (I averaged the results of the 4 academic subjects)

In the key subjects of math and reading, Orleans performs at the 24th percentile compared to all other state school systems. This is approximately the same as the Orleans school system performed before Katrina!

What about efficiency in the use of per pupil dollars? Has the new business-oriented model resulted in more efficient use of tax and grant dollars?

One thing that the all-charter system has been successful in doing is attracting a generous flow of charitable foundation money to these new experimental schools. A sizable portion of per pupil dollars in the reformed Orleans public system come from charitable and foundation grants. So the reformed all charter school system is certainly well funded.

The Pelican Policy Institute study has provided a rough measure of how the school money in Orleans is now allocated. Total per pupil funding of the New Orleans system now adds up to $24,434 per student. For Louisiana, this is lavish funding by any measure. The state average per pupil funding is now $11,755, less than half the per pupil amount for New Orleans. How do the New Orleans schools allocate their per pupil funding compared to all other public schools? According to the Pelican Policy dashboard, New Orleans now spends 23% of all its funding on administration and 36% on classroom instruction. (Salaries of the Charter managers are not published as far as I know) The state average for other systems in Louisiana is 8% for administration and 56% for the classrooms. (All non-charter public-school administrators and teacher salary schedules are public records)

Did the increased funding allow the reformed Orleans school system to hire a better quality of teachers? The state auditor recently found that more than half of the Orleans teachers are not certified as teachers. In addition, most of the teachers now employed in Orleans are Caucasian while 90% of the students are African American. This ignores studies that show that children learn better from real role models of their own ethnic type. So much for the new business approach.

Finally, on average, the other school systems in the state have 31% of students achieving proficiency in the 4 basic subjects tested. This compares to 18% achieving proficiency in the new reformed Orleans system.