Archives for category: New Orleans

Teacher and historian John Thompson writes here about the reflection that seems to be occurring among “reformers” as they realize that their test-and-punish reforms produce limited gains and limited outcomes. He wonders how different our federal and state policies would be had reformers strived to implement research-based reforms instead of ideas that had intuitive appeal.

He writes:

Something important is stirring in terms of education research. We’ve always gone through cycles, mostly notably in the aftermath of the Coleman Report, during debates over the so-called “culture of poverty,” and during the contemporary data-driven, market reform era, where scholars have had to think twice when analyzing where the evidence leads. This last month, however, a variety of social scientists have candidly expressed the facts that corporate reformers deride as an “excuse.”

Heather Hill’s review of the Coleman Report recalls the seminal study’s finding, “One implication stands out above all: That schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context.” Hill reviews the subsequent analyses of Coleman, and the findings of Tony Bryk and Stephen Raudenbush, who “show that differences among schools accounted for about one-fifth of the variability in student outcomes.” The bottom line, she reports is that “schools still pack a weaker punch than many imagine.”

Neither did the Chalkbeat editors pull any punches. Its subtitles clearly convey the message that has been condemned as heresy over the last two decades:

Meanwhile, evidence mounted for one central conclusion: schools matter – but not as much as people might think; and

The logical conclusion: You can’t fix schools without trying to fix broader social inequality, too.

Similarly, Stephen Dubner’s begins his recent Freakonomics Radio program with the words, “in our collective zeal to reform schools and close the achievement gap, we may have lost sight of where most learning really happens — at home.” Dubner concludes, “Most of us probably think too much about cognitive skills and not enough about non-cognitive. Most of us probably put way too much faith in the formal education system, when, in fact, the path to learning begins way before then, at home.” In between, we hear from economist John List, “Schools only have kids for a handful of hours per day, but who, really, will mold kids through their lives are the parents.” Also, early education expert Dana Suskind concludes, that we need preventive, not remediative programs. “About the only way” that we can “move the needle,” she says, is through science-based programs which begin the learning process at birth or before.

Even the most steadfast true believers in accountability-driven, competition-driven reform seem to finally be facing reality. The first words of a NBER paper by John List, Roland Fryer and Stephen Levitt are President Barack Obama’s 2009 statement that, “There is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent-teacher conferences … Responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home.”

And, even the TNTP seems to be questioning its blind faith that the answers for poverty can be found inside the four walls of the classroom. Its modest pilot project taught Ariela Rozman, Timothy Daly and David Keeling that, “We have a new appreciation for the annual catastrophe that is summer learning loss—and what a headache summer is for the families we work with in general. The out-of-school opportunity gap has received increased attention in recent years … because it is becoming clearer that it is a substantial driver of long term inequality.” After a year of working with real-life families in actual schools the TNTP acknowledges:

Some people argue the post-Katrina choice-based system has led to large, sustained improvements in performance and should become a model for the rest of the country. Others say it’s still largely a low performing system and the process of creating it profoundly disrupted its workforce and community.

That brings us to the research of Douglas Harris, the Tulane University Education Research Alliance, and their recent conference on early education in New Orleans. Harris has documented major post-Katrina gains in New Orleans test scores, while acknowledging that “critics are concerned that schools under reforms are too focused on test scores.” Moreover, he notes that “disadvantaged groups always see a smaller effect than the advantaged groups early in the reforms.” Especially before 2012 or so, there were “real horror stories about how special education students and others were suspended and expelled at high rates,” and “it remains unclear whether the problems are solved.” Harris sees “signs that high school dropouts are being under-reported,” and he says that NOLA’s decentralization can “negatively impact vulnerable groups.”

I sometimes question Harris’s confidence that oversight and accountability can mitigate such problems, but I trust his judgment in regard to the initial beliefs of NOLA reformers, “The original idea was that charters would create some degree of choice and competition, allow some schools more autonomy, facilitate innovation and diversify options. “Replacing” traditional public schools was almost never part of the conversation.” On the other hand, he doesn’t deny the current threat to traditional public schools, “Yet, this is exactly what is happening in New Orleans, Detroit, and some other cities (albeit to very different effect).”

I also sense that the participants in the ERA conference saw the multiple, often contradictory, outcomes of the radical NOLA reform, and that they are mostly preoccupied with addressing its remaining weaknesses. While they may or may not be fully aware of the national campaigns to impose their charter-driven system on cities across the nation, conference attendees mostly see the NOLA model as a “done deal” in their city. They are more concerned about the need to organize, fund, and implement early education programs than in other districts’ need to beat back corporate reforms.

I can appreciate those feelings, but I may have been alone in seeing one graphic as telling the most important story about New Orleans preschool, at least in terms of the lessons it holds for the rest of the country. Pre-kindergarten is only one part of the early education system that we need, but it is illustrative of the “opportunity costs” of the contemporary school reform movement. The percentage of NOLA’s students who attended pre-k dropped from 60% in 2007 to 40% in 2011. That’s a 33% drop at a time when the city’s schools were being funded at a level beyond the imaginations of most educators. Yes, the percentage of students who attend pre-k has increased since then, but in NOLA and across the U.S., we are now facing budget crises.

It’s bad enough that reformers let pre-school slide but, worse, the money for the gold-plated corporate reforms is gone. I doubt that anyone would claim that these reforms were cost effective, and now we have to tackle the complex early education challenge at a time when all of the participating education and social service providers face enormous budgetary constraints.

And that brings us back to the question of what would have happened if we had followed a science-based path to school improvement, as opposed to the test, sort, reward, and punish experiment, known as corporate reform. Granted, Katrina took New Orleans by surprise. It’s not like the city had the time and the inclination to study education research, debate policy options, and plan and implement the best possible reform policies. Not surprisingly, when offered a test-driven, competition-driven model, as well as enormous amounts of funding, they rushed the Billionaires Boys Club’s preferred approach into place.

On the other hand, if Katrina hadn’t hit during the accountability-driven, choice-driven craze, if edu-philanthropists had been assisting a science-based campaign to provide high-quality early education and to align and coordinate socioemotional supports, think of the great good that could have come from the rebuilding of New Orleans education and social service systems. In such a case, NOLA could have turned to state of the art, evidence-based solutions, not the endless edu-politics of destruction.

Yeah, in addition to the down sides of NOLA reforms, bubble-in scores are up. Those metrics probably reflect some meaningful learning, as well are the learning of the destructive habits that are nurtured by retrograde, teach-to-the-test instruction. Is there any doubt that students and families would have chosen humane, high-quality, aligned and coordinated early education programs over the competitive culture of today’s NOLA? And, had such a nurturing, science-based system been built in New Orleans, wouldn’t educators across the nation be welcoming – not shunning – help in replicating it?

Massachusetts is considering lifting the cap on charter schools. This move is being pressed by Republican Governor Charlie Baker and the usual gang of hedge fund managers, entrepreneurs, and free-market ideologues.

Public school parents are rightfully alarmed. Massachusetts is renowned for having the best schools in the nation. It is the birthplace of public education. This is where Horace Mann, as the state’s first Secretary of Education, persuaded his fellow citizens that the entire community would benefit by supporting the education of the young in common schools.

Now, almost 200 years later, a coterie of faux reformers want to destroy the great public school system that Horace Mann built and that millions of taxpayers have sustained. These so-called reformers believe that Horace Mann was wrong. They want taxpayers to fund privately managed schools, chain schools run by corporate entities.

Andrea Gabor, professor of business journalism at Baruch College of the City University of New York, writes here that Massachusetts should learn from the “calamity” caused by charter school expansion in Michigan.

She analyzes a study by David Arsen of Michigan State University that shows how the growth of charters affects the remaining public schools. (Jennifer Berkshire, who blogs as EduShyster, interviewed Arsen about his study, which is cited by Gabor.)

The charter landscape in Detroit is so bad it makes New Orleans, which has the largest concentration of charters in the country and, a decade after Hurricane Katrina, more than a few growing pains—see here and here and here and here look like a well oiled machine. While there is little transparency or regulation in either city, Detroit has so many charter authorizers that when a school’s charter is revoked for poor quality—as has often happened—they need only go shopping for a new authorizer; New Orleans, by contrast, has had only two main authorizers.

Arsen’s study, which looked at every school district in Michigan with at least 100 students and followed them for nearly two decades, found “that 80 percent of the explained variation in district fiscal stress is due to changes in districts’ state funding, to enrollment changes including those associated with school choice policies, and to the enrollment of high-cost, special education students.”

To put it simply, Arsen told Berkshire: We found that, overwhelmingly, the biggest financial impact on school districts was the result of declining enrollment and revenue loss, especially where school choice and charters are most prevalent.”

Arsen points out that Michigan has one of the most “highly centralized school finance systems” in the country. “[T]he state sets per pupil funding levels for each district, and most operating revenues follow students when they move among districts or charter schools. Districts have very limited authority to raise additional tax revenues for school operations from local sources.” Consequently, when enrollments decline, either because families move out of the district or put their children in charter schools, local authorities have little choice but to reduce spending.

Arsens study….shows that the impact of this funding formula hits the mostly African-American central cities the hardest, with a 46 percent drop in inflation-adjusted school funding revenue between 2002 and 2013.

Bottom line: as charters grow, they suck the resources and the life out of nearby public schools. They are like a parasite that kills its host unless it is contained or removed.

Danielle Dreilinger, a reporter in New Orleans, describes the mechanisms used by three high-performing charter schools in New Orleans to separate the wheat from the chaff and get the students they want.


These three charters have figured out how to remain high-performing.


For example,


Each deploys a unique set of requirements so complicated that parents have made spreadsheets to keep track of the steps, which, as per the schools’ websites and extensive conversations with staff, include some combination of:


Parent attendance at a meeting

A questionnaire filled out by the parent showing they understand the school’s curriculum

An application hand-delivered to the school during business hours

A portfolio of the student’s work

The child’s school attendance record

Scores from a single sitting of a standardized exam, with no retests allowed

Within these details are more details. Lusher applicants, for example, must submit a profile detailing the student’s experience and interests in the arts, even if the student is only 4 years old. The school office will not accept applications from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., lunchtime for prospective parents with day jobs.



For kindergarten applicants, Lake Forest requires a hand-drawn self-portrait, a second piece of artwork and a handwriting sample. The artwork may not be three-dimensional or include food items such as macaroni, and it can’t be a sheet from a coloring book. Lake Forest also specifies a pocketed folder of a particular color, which changes each year; for 2016, it was red.



All these activities earn points on a scorecard, called a “matrix” by staff. If children don’t meet a minimum total, they are declared ineligible. Despite the extra pieces and activities, test scores make up the largest share of the possible point total. Lusher posted its scoring matrix online this year; Lake Forest did not.



Audubon has the same kind of point system for third grade and up. Below third grade, there’s no exam or scorecard. Operations manager Alisa Dupre emphasized that the school is not academically selective in the early grades.



But families are disqualified if they do not attend a curriculum meeting, to which they may not arrive late. Signup for these meetings is online; according to the Eventbrite website, parents were required to show their drivers license, auto insurance and auto registration if they wanted to park at one meeting location.



Further, this year Audubon had a double process for preschool admission. Getting in early is a big deal because those children automatically advance to elementary, where they typically fill about 60 percent of the kindergarten seats, Dupre said.


“School choice” does not mean that parents get to choose. It means that schools choose their students. 

You may have read that Louisiana’s famous, controversial, ballyhooed Recovery School District has been dissolved. Eleven years after Hurricane Katrina, the district comprised of charter schools is being returned to the districts from which they were drawn. Most are in New Orleans and will be returned to the Orleans Parish School Board.


Can it be true? Are the charter champions really giving up their struggle? John White knows. He is the State Commissioner who regularly boasts about the miracle of the RSD. But he is not telling.


Michael Klonsky has his doubts. So does Karran Harper Royal.



Mercedes Schneider has written two versions.


Here is a brief overview.


Here is her close analysis of the law. 







There are three so-called achievement school districts in the nation that have some history. One in Tennessee, one in Michigan, one inNew Orleans. The three are so what different: New Orleans district is all-charter, all privatized. The other two were created by the legislature to gather the state’s lowest-scoring schools into a single district, then turn them over to charter operators.


Opinions differ about New Orleans, but no one claims that it has closed achievement gaps or left no child behind. It is not a miracle district. Some critics have called it the lowest performing district in one of the lowest performing states.


Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority has no defenders. It is a disaster.


The Tennessee Achievement District was studied by Vanderbilt researchers, who reported there was no statistically significant improvement in test scores. Gary Rubinstein looked at state data and concluded that there was virtually no improvement: the lowest performing schools are still very low performing schools.


Yet Georgia and North Carolina both plan to create achievement school districts, and now Nevada wants one too. Why? It must be ALEC model legislation.


Angie Sullivan wrote this about Nevada, where she teaches:


“This was the scary announcement yesterday in Nevada Education:


“Board of Examiners meeting Tuesday, Canavero announced the appointment of Jana Wilcox-Lavin as the superintendent-in-residence of a new Achievement School District.


“Based on similar models in Louisiana and Tennessee, the state-run district will hand over control of persistently failing schools to charter management organizations.”

“Can someone explain to me why Nevada would want to create an Achievement School District – just as other states are closing their failing achievement school districts?


“Does anyone in the Department of Education or on the Nevada State School Board have google? I strongly suggest everyone google: achievement school districts Tennessee or Lousiana.


“Does anyone do research before they make these expensive decisions?


“It is obvious that the real plan is to privatize and destroy public schools like Tennesse and Louisiana. The data is in and students did not do better after expensive achievement school districts were created there. Extreme and documented failure.


“We are hiring someone from those failures to create a Nevada failure?


“Why are we doing this?


Tennessee: Legislators Propose Closing “Achievement School District”


Gary Rubinstein Reviews the Failure of the Tennessee Achievement School District


Tennessee: Memphis School Board Calls for Moratorium for Achievement School District


Tennessee: “Achievement School District” In Search of High-Performing Students


Tennessee Dad: It’s Time to Dump the “Achievement School District”


Andy Spears: Is Tennessee Sick of the (Low) Achievement School District?


North Carolina Parents: We Don’t Want an “Achievement School District”
“Bottom line: Business does not do better at running schools. Business type reforms are not changing schools for the better.


“The same data system that kills public schools -shows that privatization and business ran schools fail too – usually worse and more expensive.


“Somehow we are supposed to only use data to kill public schools but then ignore data that suggests expensive reforms are failures?


“Doesn’t Nevada already have enough failing segregated disenfranchising charters? Why don’t we clean up the charter messes we already made -rather than import a mess maker from another state to make another mess. Why are we renewing failing charters?


“We better start thinking about kids Nevada – rather than about making some business people very rich at the expense of our kids.


“We do not need to be scammed like Lousiana and Tennessee.





Paul Thomas of Furman University in South Carolina knows that elected officials are intrigued with the idea of “turnaround districts,” although they know surprisingly little about the research or experience associated with such districts. The idea is simple: if a school has low test scores for x number of years in a row, or if it ranks in the bottom x% of all schools in the state, fire the principal and the teachers and give the community’s public school to a private charter operator. Kind of like declaring bankruptcy, but forgetting that a school is not a business like a chain store.


Thomas points out that there are good reasons to be wary of turnaround districts. He cites research about what has happened to them.


First, advocacy for takeovers is mostly political cheerleading, and second, a growing body of research has revealed that takeovers have not achieved what advocates claim and often have replicated or even increased the exact problems they were designed to solve, such as race and class segregation and inequitable educational opportunities.


New Orleans is a low-performing district that has become even more segregated and stratified than it was before the takeover.


He writes:


Takeovers in several states—similar to embracing charter schools and Teach For America—have simply shuffled funding, wasted time, and failed to address the root causes of struggling schools: concentrated poverty and social inequity.


Yes, SC must reform our public schools, and we should shift gears to address our vulnerable populations of students first. But charter takeover approaches are yet more political faddism that our state and children cannot afford.


Continuing to double-down on accountability based on standards and high-stakes testing as well as rushing to join the political reform-of-the-moment with clever names is inexcusable since we have decades of evidence about what works, and what hasn’t.


SC must embrace a new way—one committed to social policies addressing food security for the poor, stable work throughout the state, and healthcare for all, and then a new vision for education reform built on equity.


All SC students deserve experienced and certified teachers, access to challenging courses, low class sizes, fully funded schools, safe school buildings and cultures, and equitable disciplinary policies and practices. These are reforms that must be guarantees for every public school student regardless of zip code, and they need not be part of complex but cleverly named programs.


You will want to read the post in full to gain access to its many excellent links to news and research.


Those who continue to advocate for already failed fixes are stalling, delaying the day that we must address the root causes of educational failure. They should be held accountable for their neglect of the real needs of children, families, and communities. And some day, they will.


PublicSchoolsFirst in North Carolina–a parent-led organization– has produced a short video urging the public and the legislature to reject an “achievement school district” modeled on the ones in New Orleans, Tennessee, and Michigan. The video accurately says that none of these models has succeeded. New Orleans is controversial; the one in Tennessee has produced negligible or no gains in test scores; the one in Michigan was an abject failure.


The legislature is considering a bill that would select the lowest performing schools in the state and put them into a non-contiguous district, where they would then be turned over to charter operators, some of them for-profit charter chains from out of state. This model has no record of success. The goal of this model, which is promoted by ALEC, is to privatize public schools and eliminate local control.


The video recommends that North Carolina continue to implement its home-grown turnaround model, which has shown promising results, protects local schools, and keeps out for-profit charter operators.



Here is a switch: Parents at a charter high school in New Orleans suspected massive cheating and hired a law firm to conduct an investigation. They were right. There was massive cheating.



Landry-Walker High School’s 2013-14 test results were so amazing that some New Orleans education insiders doubted they were valid. More students at Landry-Walker than at Lusher Charter, a selective-admissions school, aced geometry. In biology, the school was fourth-best in the city.


Skeptical of the numbers, the school’s parent organization, the Algiers Charter School Association, launched a 16-month investigation — without telling Landry-Walker’s principal — into what some feared could be widespread, teacher-enabled cheating. The association undertook a detailed analysis of student performance, hired outside lawyers and, for the spring 2015 round of testing, placed independent monitors in every single examination room at its flagship school, according to internal documents.


When the 2014-15 test results came back, Landry-Walker’s scores fell off a cliff. The percentage of students getting top marks in geometry fell by 51 points.

This post, which appears on Julian Vasquez Heilig’s blog, gives an inside view of a New Orleans charter. It was written two years ago by Ramon Griffin,, the former dean of a New Orleans’ “no excuses” charter.



Griffin titled it: “Colonizing the Black Natives.”



He writes:



“Are some charters’ practices new forms of colonial hegemony? When examining current discipline policies and aligned behavioral norms within charter school spaces, postcolonial theory is useful because of the striking similarities between problematic socialization practices and the educational regimes of the uncivilized masses in colonized nations. A number of postcolonial theorists focus on multiple ways that oppressors dominate their subjects and maintain power over them. For example, while working as the Dean of Students for a charter school in New Orleans, it took me some time to realize that I had been enforcing rules and policies that stymied creativity, culture and student voice. Though some of my main duties involved ensuring the safety and security of all students and adults at the school, investigating student behavioral incidents and establishing a calm and positive school culture, I felt as if I was doing the opposite.



“My daily routine consisted of running around chasing young Black ladies to see if their nails were polished, or if they added a different color streak to their hair, or following young men to make sure that their hair wasn’t styled naturally as students were not able to wear their hair in uncombed afro styles. None of which had anything to do with teaching and learning, but administration was keen on making sure that before Black students entered the classroom that they looked “appropriate” for learning. As if students whose hair was natural or those whose parents could not afford a uniform tie could not achieve like others who possessed these items.



“Most times, teachers and administrators scolded Black students for their appearance before they even spoke in morning. If a student did not have the right shoes, they would be placed in a holding area until their parent could be reached. Sometimes, if their parent could not be reached, those students remained in that area the entire day and given detention. I have absolutely no problem with enforcing school rules or policies, but when schools penalize and prevent Black students from learning and engaging in the classroom because their parents do not have the resources or simply cannot afford the uniforms, I take issue with that and I voiced my displeasure many times….



“Most Black students with or exhibiting disabilities were pegged as outliers at the beginning of each school year; they were unfairly targeted by some teachers who had deficit attitudes sometimes before even meeting the students. Many times, these students were placed on a “special plan” where their parents had to pick them up early and work would be sent home with them to make it seem like they were learning something. However, the work was never turned in or even requested from teachers. If they were not sent home early, they were given detention. If their behavior was perceived as disruptive in detention, they were given some form of suspension. 98% of the students were Black, but if you happened to be a male and exhibited some form of disability, chances are that you were treated harsher, suspended numerous times and spent several hours a day outside of the learning environment. Many were even sent home for the year after taking the LEAP (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program) standardized tests and treated like throwaways.



“When we tried to implement response to intervention (RTI) with students who either possessed or exhibited disabilities, they were immediately moved from tier 1 to tier 3 and some were subsequently placed in special education even though this did not fit the needs of the student. The idea to segregate certain students considered (outliers) was due to administrative convenience and because most teachers perceived them as being unruly, troubled or just plain too academically deficient to be in class with the other students. This allowed teachers to not be held accountable for teaching all kids and prevented Black students from receiving valuable instruction time.



“Lastly, everything at the school was done in a militaristic/prison fashion. Students had to walk in lines everywhere they went, including to class and the cafeteria. The behavioral norms and expectations called for all students to stand in unison with their hands to their sides, facing forward, silent until given further instruction. The seemingly tightly coupled structure proved to be inefficient as students and teachers constantly bucked the system in search of breathing room. The systems and procedures seemingly did not care about the Black children and families they served. They were suffocating and meant to socialize students to think and act a certain way. In the beginning, we were teaching “structure,” but it evolved to resemble post-colonialism. Vasquez Heilig, Khalifa, and Tillman (2013) stated that “education was and still is used as a hegemonic form to monitor, sanction, and control civilized people.” Thus, postcolonial theory (Fanon, 1952, 1961; Memmi, 1965; Said, 1978) offers a critical framework through which urban educational policies and practices can be understood and critiqued (DeLeon, 2012; Shahjahan, 2011). They continue their analysis by stating that “at base, post-colonial theorists interrogate the relationship between the legitimized, conquering power and the vanquished subaltern, and ask questions about who defines subjectivities, such as knowledge, resistance, space, voice, or even thought.” Fanon (1961 ) argued, “Colonialism wants everything to come from it.” Essentially, colonizers delegitimize the knowledge, experience, and cultures of the colonized, and establish policy and practice that will always confirm the colonial status quo. In other words, it is important to note that postcolonial studies, though often thought of as relegated to a particular period, are actually also a reference to thoughts, practices, policies, and laws that impact marginalized Black bodies enrolled in charters during the current educational policy era.”



Vasquez Heilig, J., Khalifa, M., & Tillman, L. (2013). Why have NCLB and high-stakes reforms failed?: Reframing the discourse with a post-colonial lens. In K. Lomotey and R. Milner (Eds.), Handbook of Urban Education. New York: Routledge. (See the post: A Quandary for School Leaders: Equity, High-stakes Testing and Accountability)


Eli Broad has recruited Paul Pastorek, former state superintendent in Louisiana, to lead his effort to privatize the schools of 50% of the children now in public schools in Los Angeles.

Pastorek oversaw the elimination of public education in Néw Orleans. He was also a member of Jeb Bush’s far-right “Chiefs for Change,” a group dedicated to high-stakes testing and privatization.

In his new post, he will press for the elimination of many public schools.

“Few issues have roiled the LA Unified community more than the foundation’s plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district. An early report by the foundation said the goal is to serve as many as half the students in the district in 230 newly-created charter schools within the next eight years, an effort that would cost nearly half a billion dollars.

“It’s also a plan that district officials have said would eviscerate public education as it is now delivered by LA Unified. The LA teachers union, UTLA, has also attacked the plan as part of the Broads’ latest effort to “privatize” public education at the cost of union teaching jobs.”


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