Archives for category: New Orleans

You may recall the iconic painting of little Ruby Bridges, a first-grader, who was the first African American student to enroll in a previously all-white segregated school in New Orleans. If you don’t, be sure to read this article, which tells what happened to the William Franz Public School.

Three scholars–Connie L. Schaffer, Martha Graham Viator, and Meg White–tell the story. The three are also the co-authors of a book titled: William Frantz Public School: A Story of Race, Resistance, Resilience, and Recovery in New Orleans, which I am reading now and expect to review.

They write:

If that building’s walls could talk, they certainly would tell the well-known story of its desegregation. But those same walls could tell another story, too. That story is about continued racism as well as efforts to dismantle and privatize public education in America over the past six decades.

When little Ruby Bridges enrolled in November 1960, she was escorted by four federal marshalls. Crowds of angry whites jeered day after day. Parents of the white children in the school withdrew their children and sent them mostly to private segregated schools.

Racism drove many white families from the neighborhoods near the school and other areas of New Orleans to abandon the city. White enrollment steadily declined throughout New Orleans’ public schools, dropping more than 50% between 1960 and 1980.

By 2005, only 3% of the students enrolled in the city’s public schools were white – far below average for midsize American cities.

Racially segregated, underfunded William Frantz Public School suffered through the imposition of standards and accountability in the 1990s, which did nothing to help the school, but did result in its being labeled a “failing” school. By 2005, the school board voted to close it.

In 2013, the school reopened as Akili Academy, a charter school directed by a private corporation. The authors wonder whether the public school system that Ruby Bridges dared to desegregate, overseen by an elected board, is “a relic of the past.”

Mercedes Schneider reviewed Douglas Harris’s book Charter City in Commonweal. As a teacher in Louisiana and a close observer of the politics of education, Schneider is well positioned to assess the claims on behalf of the all-charter NewOrleans district. Harris is a respected economist who heads the Education Research Alliance at TulaneUniversity, which received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study school choice.

Schneider writes about the determination of whites in Louisiana to block integration of the public schools after the Brown decision. When the courts struck down vouchers, “anti-Black sentiment never waned, and decades of white flight from New Orleans followed. Meanwhile, the state diligently set about eliminating economic advancement opportunities for the remaining Black population, limiting employment and housing options while cutting back drastically on education. Soon enough, the city was bereft of a Black middle class and the tax base needed to fund basic services, including public schools. And so, as one might logically expect, the public education situation in New Orleans became dire.“ She wondered whether Harris would acknowledge this history but he did not.

Harris, the director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans and a professor of economics at Tulane University, focuses instead on data—specifically, on test scores and graduation rates in the years prior to the devastating 2005 storm and in the years that followed, from 2006 to 2015. By his accounting, the numbers went up post-Katrina, which he credits to intervention by the state in the form of charter-school initiatives. Now, data can be compelling, and reformers will often point to metrics like improved test scores to make the case for charter schools. But when I look at the data Harris cites, I think of the audit that’s being conducted at the request of the New Orleans superintendent of schools because of missing test scores and irregularities in high-school transcripts and class credits. I think of the numerous lawsuits calling for the Louisiana Department of Education—which was then run by a champion of the charter reform efforts in New Orleans—to release suspect testing data for independent review. So I can’t say I have confidence in the integrity of the data that Harris has analyzed. 

But that is not my principal concern. What’s more troubling is the narrative Harris spins out about the state takeover itself. That effort was led by Leslie Jacobs, former state school-board member turned businesswoman, who with a handful of other affluent whites form the core of what Harris calls the “reform community.” It was Jacobs who instigated things by drafting legislation that classified most New Orleans schools as “failing.” From there, the reform community—working out of office space provided by Tulane University—moved to sideline the predominantly Black community of New Orleans in its planning. Even as the city’s economy was still reeling from Katrina, the group engineered the mass firing of Orleans Parish School Board teachers. Harris describes the firing as an unfortunate necessity in achieving “reform”—that is, replacing traditional board-led public schools with a portfolio of independently operated charters. But the decision was also motivated by the inconvenient fact that the teachers were unionized, and thus a potential force of resistance. 

She laments the fact that schools have been severed from their communities. Despite the celebration of “choice,” the one choice unavailable to parents is a neighborhood school. When local groups of Black parents have asked if they can apply for a charter, they find that they cannot. Community engagement is important, she says, but it is of no consequence in New Orleans.

Schneider says that the Black citizens of New Orleans have been disenfranchised for decades. The charter takeover of their city’s schools is yet another expression of disrespect for their communities.


Chris Barbic has returned to Tennessee to join its “charter school center.”

Barbic, you may recall, launched the much-lauded Achievement School District in Tennessee, drawing upon $100 million from the state’s $500 million Race to the Top grant. He promised to take over the state’s lowest performing schools, hand them over to charter operators, and propel them into the top 25% of schools in the state, in five years’ time.

After four years, he stepped down due to a heart attack. By the end of year five, none of the schools in the ASD had been vaulted into the top 25% of schools in the state. They all remained mired at the bottom of the state’s list of schools, as measured by test scores. Since Barbic’s departure, the leadership at ASD has changed hands a few times, but the evaluations have not improved. ASD was a flop.

However, the concept was adopted without waiting for results by a few other states, including North Carolina (one school was in its state-controlled version of ASD) and Nevada (no success). Georgia proposed to create a similar district, but it was turned down by voters.

State takeovers have typically failed. Michigan launched its “Education Achievement Authority” several years ago. It was a disaster, and it was closed down.

New Orleans is the original prototype, where all the district’s schools are now operated by charter managers. Despite lots of hype, it is hardly a model. The latest state scores for schools found that almost half the charters in NOLA were rated either D or F. Overall, the district’s test scores were below the state average. The highest performing schools are the most selective. NOLA is a low-performing district in one of the nation’s lowest performing states (on NAEP, the national testing program that compares states).

The Education Research Alliance of New Orleans just released a study of why some charter teachers in the nation’s only all-charter district want to join a union. Their reasons sound very much like the reasons that teachers in public schools want a union. No one told them that the Waltons, charter lobbyists, and other supporters of the charter movement don’t like unions. Immediately after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the teachers’ union was eliminated, and all the teachers were fired. Getting rid of the union and removing teacher voice was part of the plan.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA – The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans has released a study on teacher unions in charter schools in New Orleans and Detroit. Drawing on detailed interviews with 21 teachers, the report offers insight what motivates teachers in charter schools to form a union and what barriers may stand in their way.

This report gives readers the rare opportunity to hear teachers’ perspectives on the process of organizing in charter schools. All the teachers interviewed came from schools where there was an attempt, successful or unsuccessful, to form a union.

“Understanding the role of unions is particularly important now, when schools are both facing the COVID pandemic and in a time when there are calls to address racism in our institutions,” said Huriya Jabbar, lead author of the report. “Schools need to listen to teachers and develop a shared understanding about the best way forward in these difficult times. In some schools, unions play a big role in those conversations.”

Researchers Huriya Jabbar (University of Texas at Austin), Jesse Chanin (Tulane University), Jamie Haynes (University of Texas at Austin), and Sara Slaughter (Tulane University) uncovered the following insights about union organizing in charter schools:

The most common motivation for organizing was improving teacher retention and job security. Lack of pay transparency and equity (e.g. men and women being paid unequally), unsustainable workloads, teacher burnout, and arbitrary firings were also major underlying concerns.

Teachers also often brought up the desire to advocate for their students, hoping to ensure that school policies were culturally responsive and that vulnerable students were supported.

Teachers who were in favor of unionization efforts reported shock at the severity of school administrators’ responses. Many alleged that administrators fired teachers who attempted to unionize or accused them of destroying the school “family.”

High teacher turnover and fear of being fired were major challenges that stymied attempts at union organizing.
There were notable differences between Detroit, where many charters are for-profit, and New Orleans, where they are all non-profit. Detroit teachers saw low salary as a major issue and complained that they were lacking basic resources like textbooks. Teachers in New Orleans did not emphasize salary levels as a major issue but were concerned about pay transparency.

“As more charter schools open in the U.S., it is becoming increasingly important to understand the needs and motivations of teachers who choose to work in these schools,” said co-author Sara Slaughter, Associate Director at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.

Read the study here.

The National Education Policy Center released a report recently by Kristen Buras, one of my favorite scholar-writers. It focuses on dramatic racial disparities in New Orleans as the COVID-19 pandemic spread in the city. Her earlier book about the privatization of the public schools of New Orleans is powerful and, aside from my review, did not get the attention it deserved. It is titled Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.

NEPC announces the new report by Buras:

BOULDER, CO (July 28, 2020) – To inspire support for public health directives, many warn COVID-19 does not discriminate—everyone’s susceptible. The reality is more complicated. We are not “all in this together.” Racism ensures this, and New Orleans’ experience following Hurricane Katrina illustrates one way that racial inequities play out in times of crisis.

In a report released by the National Education Policy Center, “From Katrina To Covid-19: How Disaster, Federal Neglect, and the Market Compound Racial Inequities,” professor Kristen Buras of Georgia State University draws on history, storytelling, and political analysis to describe how the government neglect that disproportionately affected communities of color during Katrina is again evident during the COVID-19 crisis, with similar devastating results.

On August 29, 2005, Katrina struck New Orleans with disastrous effects. Yet while Katrina is regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, Buras argues that government neglect and market-driven public policy generated the worst effects, especially for communities of color. Despite forecasts that Katrina could kill tens of thousands, federal, state, and local governments did little to protect those in geographically vulnerable neighborhoods or evacuate those without cars. In New Orleans, African Americans were left to drown in floodwaters and dehydrate on rooftops, disproportionately suffering an array of harms.

But the harms did not end there. As floodwaters receded, policies aimed at privatizing assets in African American neighborhoods, including public schools, were enacted, compounding racial inequities wrought by a history of white supremacy.

Almost 15 years later, on January 20, 2020, the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was detected. Despite warnings that a pandemic could wreak physical and economic havoc, the federal government failed to take preventative action.

As a result, communities of color are again suffering disproportionately, with African Americans and other racially marginalized groups overrepresented among those who have died from the virus. Yet states have been slow to produce racially disaggregated data or provide racially targeted healthcare and other support. Instead of coordinating a federal response to the crisis and corresponding disparities, policymakers have advocated free market solutions, leaving states to compete for lifesaving medical supplies. The CARES Act, ostensibly passed to assist vulnerable communities, has been used to consolidate the wealth of corporate elites.

Katrina and COVID-19 have been framed as “natural” disasters—one ecological and the other biological—but Buras contends that government inaction and racism have been most responsible for the disproportionate harms experienced by communities of color. With COVID-19, African Americans and other marginalized communities risk infection as low-paid workers, struggle to access food and healthcare, worry about rent and eviction, confront a digital divide amid shuttered schools, and die at higher rates.

The experience of Katrina, then, has policy implications for the current moment, including concerns over profiteering and who will have a voice in rebuilding communities disproportionately affected by economic shutdowns and school closures.
Professor Buras ends her report with race-conscious, equity-focused policy recommendations spanning health, education, housing, labor, and democratic governance. These are necessary, she concludes, to realize an equitable future and hold accountable those whose negligence has inflicted and compounded harm for communities facing the crisis of not only COVID-19, but racism.
In sum, Professor Buras’ report critically analyzes the following:

*Reliving Katrina
*The Effects of Disaster Are Not Natural: Federal Neglect Kills—And Kills Unequally
*Crisis Reveals Preexisting Inequities and Exposes Tolerance for Racism
*Profiteering and Privatization Dispossess Communities of Color
*The Question of Who Has a Voice in Rebuilding the Economy Is Critical
*Negligence Is Racist and Criminal
*Toward an Equitable Policy Future

Find From Katrina To Covid-19: How Disaster, Federal Neglect, and the Market Compound Racial Inequities, by Kristen L. Buras, at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/katrina-covid

On July 8, you are invited to join a ZOOM discussion with me and Andre Perry.

Andre Perry has written a new book KNOW YOUR PRICE: VALUING BLACK LIVES AND PROPERTY IN AMERICA’S BLACK CITIES.

He was the leader in the New Orleans charter sector, then became disillusioned and left.

I am fascinated with people who have the courage to change.

Listen in to this conversation. We will talk for an hour, then invite your questions for half an hour.

July 8 at 7:30 pm.

The National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH), formerly known as the Education Research Alliance, released its first report after having been funded by Betsy DeVos with $10 million to study the effects of choice in schools. REACH used value-added methodology (judging teachers by the test score gains of their students to determine that those who got the highest VAM scores were likeliest to stay. It is safe to assume that these teachers were in the highest-scoring charter schools. On the other hand, the teachers with the lowest scores (no doubt, in the lowest-performing schools) were turning over at a high rate. The study’s conclusion is that (some) charters are keeping their best teachers (those with the highest VAM ratings) but (some) charters are not, which since they don’t get high VAM scores, is not a big deal.

We are excited to announce the release of the first study from the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH). Naturally, the subject of this study is one that’s considered the most important factor in school success: teachers.

New Orleans is the first all-charter school district in the country. This makes the city the first where schools are held strictly accountable for performance, where many employers in close proximity compete for teachers, and where schools have the ability to respond to these pressures with almost complete autonomy over school personnel. If school reform advocates are right, we would expect these policy changes to produce major change in the teacher labor market. Did this happen?

To answer this question, researchers Nathan Barrett, Deven Carlson, Douglas N. Harris, and Jane Arnold Lincove compared New Orleans to similar neighboring districts from 2010 to 2015, using student test score growth to measure teacher performance. They drew the following conclusions:

Teacher retention is more closely related to teacher performance in New Orleans than in traditional public school districts. Lower performing teachers in New Orleans are 2.5 times more likely to leave their school than high-performing teachers, compared with only 1.9 times in similar neighboring districts.
The stronger link between retention and performance might imply that teacher quality would improve faster in New Orleans than in similar districts. However, this is not the case. The difference in average teacher performance between New Orleans and comparison districts remained essentially unchanged between 2010 and 2015. This is apparently because of the larger share of new teachers in New Orleans, whose lower quality roughly offsets the city’s advantages in retaining higher performing teachers.
The stronger retention-performance link in New Orleans is somewhat related to financial rewards, though not in a way that is likely to increase the overall quality of teaching. We find that higher performing teachers only receive pay increases when they switch schools, which may increase teacher turnover. High-performing teachers do not receive raises for performance when they stay in the same school.
These findings highlight the complexities of policies intended to increase the quality of teaching. Future studies will build on this work by examining how performance-based school closures affect the teacher labor market.

Read the policy brief here or the full technical report here.

A relatively new corporate reform group—the City Fund—acts as a pass-through for billionaires Reed Hastings (Netflix) and John Arnold (ex-Enron). The staff consists of six or seven (or more) veterans of the privatization movement. It opened its operations with $200 million in pledges from its billionaire funders. It has staff but no members. Its mission is to push the “portfolio district” (i.e., more charter schools) in designated cities. In short, the City Fund was designed to advance the goals of its billionaire funders, who have no relationship to the cities whose schools they want to disrupt. Grassroots groups in every city and state can only dream about what they could do if they had even $1 million in the bank.

One of the staff, Chris Barbic, started a charter chain in Houston (YES Prep), then became leader of the disastrous Achievement School District in Tennessee; he promised to lift the state’s lowest performing schools into the ranks of its highest performing in only five years by handing them over to charter operators. The ASD burned through $100 million in Race to the Top and failed to turn any of its takeover schools into a high-performing school. If anything, it proved that turning low-performing schools over to charter operators doesn’t produce change.

Another staffer, Neerav Kingsland, is a law school graduate and a Broadie who was CEO of New Schools for New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans eliminated the teachers’ union and eventually eliminated every public school. The 2019 state report card rated 49% of the schools as D or F schools. The students in the lowest performing schools are almost all black. Hardly a success story.

Matt Barnum writes in Chalkbeat that the City Fund has dispensed over $100 million to help achieve its funders’ goal of detaching schools from elected school boards.

The newest major player in school reform has already issued more than $110 million in grants to support the growth of charter and charter-like schools across the U.S.

The City Fund’s spending, detailed on a new website, means the organization has quickly become one of the country’s largest K-12 education grantmakers. The money has gone to organizations in more than a dozen cities, including Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Memphis, and Oakland.

The spending is evidence that The City Fund’s brand of school reform continues to attract major financial support — and may foretell more battles over education politics in those cities…

The City Fund’s strategy is to grow the number of schools, including charters, run by nonprofits rather than traditional school boards. Advocates say that shift will help low-income students of color, pointing to academic improvements in virtually all-charter New Orleans as one example. Critics argue that strategy undermines teachers unions, democratically elected school boards, and existing public schools.

Overall, The City Fund says it has raised $225 million, largely from Netflix founder Reed Hastings and Texas philanthropist John Arnold. (Chalkbeat is funded by Arnold Ventures.) The organization has also created a political arm, Public School Allies, which has raised $15 million from Hastings and Arnold to support officials vying for state and local office.

The funders of the City Fund think that democratically elected school boards are the biggest obstacle to school reform. They like charter schools and stake takeovers. The fact that they have zero evidence that their strategies improve education doesn’t stop them, as long as the money keeps flowing. Unless you are impressed by a district, New Orleans, where half the schools are rated D or F.

Roger Léon, superintendent of Newark schools, wants to close four charter schools and ban most new ones. 

Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat reports:

The head of the Newark school system is calling for the closure of four local charter schools and a ban on most new charter schools, a clear signal that the district hopes to rein in the city’s fast-growing charter sector.

The schools — M.E.T.S., People’s Prep, Roseville Community, and University Heights — are up for renewal, meaning they must apply for state approval to continue operating after this academic year. In a series of letters this month, Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León asked the state to reject their applications, arguing that the publicly funded, privately managed charter schools sap funding from traditional public schools and are failing to serve their fair share of students with special needs.

The state education commissioner is expected to make a decision by Feb. 1.

León also urged the state to deny “any and all” applications for new charter schools or the renewal of existing charter schools unless they serve “a specific educational need.” While other local officials have sought to halt the expansion of Newark’s charter sector, whose student population quadrupled over the past decade, León is taking a more extreme position by demanding that existing charter schools be phased out.

“The writing is on the wall for corporate charter schools,” said Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon, an outspoken critic of charter schools, which tend to be non-unionized. “The days of unchecked charter school applications are over.”

Poor Mark Zuckerberg! He dropped $100 million into Newark to make it the “New Orleans of the North.”

Now that 49% of New Orleans’ charters are rated D or F by the state, why would anyone follow that model.

Superintendent Léon has made clear that he’s not taking that route.

Andre Perry led a charter chain in New Orleans. He became disillusioned. As a black scholar, he questions the Walton-funded effort to portray black support for charters as monolithic, which it is not. 

Perry wrote in response to the controversy that occurred when pro-charter demonstrators disrupted a speech by Elizabeth Warren in Atlanta. He is aware of the white Republican money behind the demand for more charters.

He wrote:

Warren needs to learn from black voices — but the charter school movement is not ours to defend.

Organizations such as the charter school advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools have orchestrated statewide campaigns using dark money to influence state ballots to increase the number of charter schools, hiding who’s actually behind the movement. The Associated Press reported in December 2018 that an advocacy group that received $1.5 million from the Walton Family Foundation, one of the biggest funders of education reform, paid for 150, mostly black parents from Memphis to travel to Cincinnati two years prior to protest at a meeting of the NAACP. The parents sought to lobby against an NAACP proposal — which the organization passed despite the protests — to call for a moratorium on charter schools. They denied that the Walton Family Foundation asked them to carry out the protest.

This political season, black people cannot afford to be human shields for white leaders who don’t have the legitimacy to enter black communities on their own.

Perry notes that most Democratic candidates, notably Sanders and Warren, have abandoned charters.

He writes:

This reversal of position by Democrats is a sign that members of the party are listening to black communities….

Over the course of more than two decades, charter school expansion resulted in a significant loss in black-held jobs and a reduction in black political power in several black-majority cities. Black teachers were fired en masse in New Orleans, Washington D.C., and Newark, N.J., decimating the black middle class there.

Hundreds of millions of dollars directed towards electing pro-charter candidates ultimately empowered Republicans in many states. The pro-charter group Students First realized that its funding of Republican candidates had backfired. The association of the charter cause with the Republic party lead to the defeat of pro-charter proposals. Democratic voters showed they will not support movements that bolster the Republican Party — the same party that refuses to check Trump’s blatant racism. Democrats who support the idea of charter schools should make it clear to Republicansthat they will not tolerate a charter system that offers improved academic performance for some black students only by harming the communities in which those students live.

However, Democrat reformers developed a bad habit of accepting this Faustian bargain, and staying silent in red states on issues like jail expansion, cuts to higher education and attacks on organized labor because dissent ran the risk of slowing the proliferation of charters. Yes, black families want and need choice, but the current charter school movement is too tightly braided with Republican causes; a defense of one is a defense of the other.

To embrace charter schools in 2020 is to embrace Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump and other Republicans who stand to gain more politically from charter support than black communities have gained in jobs and educational benefits. Black kids lose when Democratic educational reformers act like Republicans.

Perry quotes the EdNext poll, noting that the publication is “pro-reform.” It is more accurate to acknowledge that EdNext (on whose board I once served) is a very conservative, pro-charter, pro-voucher publication funded by rightwing foundations. Frankly, polls about charters are worthless because most people admit when asked that they aren’t sure what a “charter school” is. If they don’t know what a charter school is, how can their view—positive or negative—signify anything?

Perry is right to point out that the Dark Money behind charters has a different agenda than most black parents. The Waltons and DeVos and their allies in ALEC want to bust teachers’ unions and privatize public schools. Perry is right to peer behind the curtain and see whose interest is served by the well-funded attacks on public schools.

He writes:

The funders of charter schools continuously put black parents and teachers in the position of fighting against their own interests. White-led philanthropy and education groups will eventually abandon public policy experiments when it is no longer popular, politically expedient or, in some cases, lucrative. For-profit charters are in education ostensibly for the money.

Some black charter leaders feel they must defend the schools because black children attend them. But we don’t need to fall into that trap. We can defend black children and workers without defending charter schools. Black people need systemic change. We can’t allow the cry for charters to drown out the demands for school financing reform, better work conditions, higher teacher pay, universal pre-K, free college, teachers’ training and recruitment programs, stronger labor protections and workforce housing initiatives.