Archives for category: New Orleans

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


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.


The superintendent of the New Orleans’ all-charter school district recommended the closure of two charter schools that received a grade of F, but parents and students turned out at the Orleans Parish School Board meeting to demand that the board override his decision and keep their schools open.

Students, parents and leaders of two Orleans Parish charter schools turned out by the dozens on Thursday night to protest Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.’s decision to pull the school’s charters, prompting the president of the Orleans Parish School Board to say he’s considering a board vote on overriding the decision.

President John Brown said he was responding to the two schools’ request after Lewis confirmed his recommendation not to renew their charters because of failing grades.

The protests, which included emotional speeches by parents and students, and the response from Brown set up a potential clash between the superintendent of NOLA Public Schools, the new name of Orleans Parish’s all-charter school district, and the leader of the city’s school board…

If the board were to override Lewis’ decision not to renew the two charters, it would be the first time a board took that step since the city’s all-charter network of schools returned to local control.

More than 50 representatives from the schools showed up at Thursday’s board meeting to urge Lewis to reconsider. 

A ruling by five of the board’s seven members can overturn the superintendent’s decision.

In a private email to me, Lance Hill, an education activist in New Orleans, explained:

The subtext of this is that there a few charters that began early on that were controlled by black former OPSB teachers and administrators that were islands of local control (MLK in particular) in a white-dominated, outsider controlled charter system. These schools have struggled in part because they would not cherry-pick and force out  challenging students (Treme in particular) and have always been resented by the NSNO (New Schools for New Orleans) people.  They have also moved toward unionizing lately.  
But it is a good example of how some charters build their own constituencies, even if they are failing, because they are perceived as more locally and black controlled.  I imagine the school board will give them a pass just to avoid the conflict. 


Jan Resseger is one of the keenest analysts of the assault on public education today.

In this post, she reviews Andrea Gabor’s excellent article in Harper’s magazine about the privatized district of New Orleans.

She begins:

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in September of 2005, I was serving in the Justice & Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination, as the point person tracking and staffing work in UCC congregations to support justice in public education. My job was to help our churches support equal opportunity and access to quality education and to ensure that members of our congregations understood the importance of the First Amendment separation of church and state in public schools.

In the autumn and winter of 2005, our office worked with partners in New Orleans to advocate for policies that would protect New Orleans’ most vulnerable citizens during the hurricane recovery.  Early in the fall of 2005, it wasn’t apparent that the city’s public schools would be affected, but weeks later the state intervened to take over the majority of the schools under a Louisiana law that had been amended to permit the broad takeover. All of the school district’s teachers were put on disaster leave, and on March 24, 2006, all of the school district’s teachers were dismissed or forced to retire.

My job included writing a September, beginning-of-school resource for UCC congregations. Its purpose was to highlight primary challenges to justice in our nation’s public schools. To research the 2016-2017 Message on Public Education, I traveled for a week in July, 2006 to New Orleans to learn what was happening in the public schools of a devastated city. I talked with the Rev. Torin Sanders, a member of the Orleans Parish School Board, sidelined in the state takeover. I spoke for more than an hour with Brenda Mitchell, the president of the United Teachers of New Orleans, which had been rendered—by state fiat—incapable of protecting even long-serving, tenured teachers. I drove past the former Alcee Fortier High School—previously a public neighborhood high school with open admissions—now seized by the state and turned over to Tulane University to become the selective Lusher (charter) High School, which privileged admission for the children of the staff of Tulane and other universities. And I visited Benjamin Franklin High School, formerly a selective magnet high school, and now a selective charter high school.  While charter schools in the rest of the country were required to accept students through non-selective lotteries, in New Orleans, the emergency had created a rationale for exceptions that created a group of exclusive, selective charter schools.

What I learned during that week was that the majority of public schools in New Orleans—one of the poorest communities in the United States—had been deemed “failing” because of low test scores and that, due to that designation, the state and all sorts of players I did not understand were conducting a disruptive experiment with a new kind of school reform on a group of children whose lives had just been upended in every other possible way.  In October of 2006, Leigh Dingerson, for The Center for Community Change, published a profound resource exploring the same issues.  She called it Dismantling a Community. Later Kristen Buras published Pedagogy, Policy and the Privatized City and other research that helped explain, from the point of view of New Orleans’ teachers and students, what had happened.  But at that time none of us really had the language accurately to characterize what we had watched happening as public education was intentionally collapsed into some kind of experiment.

Naomi Klein helped with the definition in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, in which she described the sudden takeover of the public schools in New Orleans as the defining metaphor for neoliberal economic reform: “In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision. Within nineteen months, with most of the city’s poor residents still in exile, New Orleans’ public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.  Before Hurricane Katrina, the school board had run 123 public schools; now it ran just 4… New Orleans teachers used to be represented by a strong union; now the union’s contract had been shredded, and its forty-seven hundred members had all been fired… New Orleans was now, according to the New York Times, ‘the nation’s preeminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools’…. I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, ‘disaster capitalism.’” (The Shock Doctrine, pp. 5-6)

From this perspective, she reviews Gabor’s recent article.

Andrea Gabor is a professional journalist who has the skill to tell the story that readers of this blog know very well and bring it to a larger audience. The public needs to understand the squalid theft of our public goods that is being carried out in broad daylight by so-called philanthropists.

This article by Gabor was published by Harper’s, where it will reach a large public audience that does not read this blog.

Gabor begins:

Last May, the families of students at Cypress Academy, an independent charter school in New Orleans, received an email announcing that the school would close when classes ended the following week and that all its students would be transferred to another nearby charter for the upcoming year. Parents would have the option of entering their children in the city’s charter-enrollment lottery, but the lottery’s first round had already taken place, and the most desirable spots for the fall were filled.

Founded in 2015, a decade after New Orleans became the nation’s first city to begin replacing all its public schools with charters, Cypress was something of a rarity. Like about nine in ten of the city’s charter schools, it filled spaces by lottery rather than by selective admission. But while most of the nonselective schools in New Orleans had majority populations of low-income African-American students, Cypress mirrored the city’s demographics, drawing the children of professionals—African-American and white alike—as well as poorer students. Cypress reserved 20 percent of its seats for children with reading difficulties, and it offered a progressive education model, including “learning by doing,” rather than the strict conduct codes that dominated the city’s nonselective schools. In just three years, the school had outperformed many established charters—a particular feat given that one in four Cypress students had a disability, double the New Orleans average. Families flocked to Cypress, especially ones with children who had disabilities.

Faced with a sizable deficit, Cypress had to cut costs. The district did not offer help. Although it was academically successful, Cypress closed.

Big Philanthropy first embraced school privatization in the mid-Eighties, when Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation underwrote John Chubb and Terry Moe’s Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which became the bible of the privatization movement. Founded in 1942 by brothers in factory automation, the Bradley Foundation had long supported right-wing causes, including dismantling unions, and its wide-ranging support of market-based education reform went hand in hand with this goal. Among other efforts, the foundation helped to finance Milwaukee’s 1990 school voucher law, the nation’s first—and to defend it against legal challenges. As far back as the 1950s, the University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman had advocated for a system of government-funded school vouchers that would allow parents to use tax dollars to pay for private schools; however, vouchers had an ignominious history in the South, where they were used as a way to circumvent court-ordered desegregation.

When vouchers made no headway, the education privatizers took up charter schools as the best way  to eliminate public schools and bust the teachers’ unions. The charter cause was led by the Walton Family Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

In the past, big foundations funded the ideas presented to them by grantees. In the new era of philanthrocapitalism, the big foundations gave money to grantees who agreed to carry out their plans.

New Orleans gave the philanthrocapitalists a virtually clean slate on which to play with their ideas.

Gabor writes:

The system operated on a bottom-line approach known as the portfolio model, which seeks to manage schools like stocks in a Wall Street portfolio; the model rewards high performers (as measured primarily by test scores) with further investment and punishes poor performers by cutting off funding or by shuttering them. The promise of this model was that idealistic technocrats would run schools like businesses, emphasizing competition, financial incentives, and accountability. Freed from bureaucracy and union rules, schools would blossom and adapt to meet the needs of children. Families could vote with their feet; if they didn’t like a school, they could choose another anywhere in the city. Schools that did not meet the grade would be closed, but new and better schools would open in their places. To realize these benefits, the New Orleans reformers stripped the locally elected school board of much of its authority and ceded control to nonelected charter-management organizations and non-profit groups. For the next decade, democratic oversight of the vast majority of New Orleans schools effectively ceased to exist. Instead, education policy was largely dictated by the charter establishment and a handful of its wealthy donors.

Gabor goes on to describe how the chartering process was “designed to deny input by community groups.” National corporate charter chains were encouraged to open new charters.

Gabor details how philanthropists are invading district after district, pouring millions into front groups intended to usurp democratic control and replace it with corporate control.

This is the future imagined by major philanthropists. One in which public schools have been replaced by corporate chains, where unions have been abolished, where the voice of the community is minimized or ignored.

This article in The Nation by Casey Parks tells the story of Sci Academy in New Orleans and the lessons it learned over time about making bold promises.

The school pledged that all its students would go to college and encouraged them to apply to four-year colleges that were outside their comfort zone (not close by and predominantly white).

In 2012, almost all of its graduates were accepted to colleges. By 2019, only 18% had graduated from college.

Parks describes what happened to some of Sci’s top students.

Only months after starting college, some students dropped out.

Most couldn’t point to just one reason for their decision. Some missed their families or needed to find jobs to pay for gaps remaining after their scholarships. Students who enrolled in a North Louisiana university found that the food was too bland. No other place in America is like New Orleans—not even North Louisiana—and it hurt too much to lose the city again after they’d been displaced by the hurricane. Others grew unfocused after they left Sci’s scaffolds.

Some earned their first Fs, and the failures depressed them. Eddie Barnes had been one of Sci’s most celebrated students. He finished with the fifth-highest GPA and won nearly every social accolade the school gave out. He went to Middlebury College, a selective school in Vermont, where only 4 percent of students are black.

His Russian intro class was tougher than advanced Spanish had been at Sci, and he couldn’t always bring himself to trudge through the snow to his 8 am psychology class. But he spoke up in his romantic literature course, and he helped other students with their African American religious history papers. Still, none of that mattered after his grades came back lower than he’d expected. By his second semester, he was on academic probation. He dropped out during his sophomore year.

Sci Academy tried to help students as they struggled. Its founder, Ben Marcovitz, realized that he needed a more diverse staff to connect with students. He also realized that some of his students were not equipped to succeed in the nation’s most competitive colleges. He even realized that college was not the right destination for everyone, and that some would find fulfilling careers and vocations without a bachelor’s degree.

Only six of Sci’s first graduates finished college within six years, the federal standard for on-time graduation. Three others earned degrees this year. Though eight, including Pierre, are still working toward a degree, 32 of the 49 who enrolled in college have dropped out.

Collegiate Academies is the only charter network in New Orleans that has publicly shared its college persistence results. Most of the city’s charter high schools don’t track the number of alumni who go on to earn bachelor’s degrees, and KIPP New Orleans, the one network that does, declined to share its data. KIPP’s first graduating class from New Orleans has been in college for only five years, shy of the federal cutoff for on-time graduation. But researchers at the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, a Tulane-based organization that studies post-Katrina education reforms, found last year that the new high schools have increased college graduation rates by 3 to 5 percentage points since Hurricane Katrina. None have come close to achieving the college for all they once promised…Over time, Marcovitz has hired a more diverse teaching corps. That first year, only one of seven teachers identified as a person of color. Today, more than half of the 140 teachers who work at his schools do.

This is not a story about charter failure, but a story about lessons learned.




New Orleans is supposed to be the lodestar of the Corporate Reform Movement (or as I call it, the Disruption Movement), but the experiment in privatization is a costly failure, as Tom Ultican demonstrates in this post.

The old, underfunded school system was corrupt and inefficient. The new one is expensive, inefficient, and ethically corrupt because of its incessant boasting about what are actually very poor results.

Comparisons between the old and new “systems” are dubious at best because Hurricane Katrina dramatically reduced the enrollment from 62,000 to 48,000. As Bruce Baker pointed out in reviewing a recent puff study, concentrated poverty was significantly reduced by the exodus of some of the city’s poorest residents, who resettled elsewhere.

Ultican cites Andrea Gabor’s studies of the New Orleans schools to show that the lingering heritage of segregation and disenfranchisement has been preserved in the new all-charter system. The schools that enroll the most white students have selective admissions and high test scores. The majority of schools are highly segregated and have very low test scores.

Be sure to open this link and scroll down to “Individual School Performance,” where you will see that the majority of charter schools in BOLA perform well below the state average.

Do not look to New Orleans for lessons about school reform. But do admire it as a shining example of propaganda and spin paid for by Bill Gates and other billionaires who don’t like public education, democracy, or local school boards.