Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

May 23, 2016

Journal Sentinel Assesses State of OSPP

Filed under: MPS Governance Debate,MPS Takeover,Recovery District — millerlf @ 10:54 am

Taking over struggling schools easier said than done, experts say

Players in the debate over the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program in Milwaukee: Demond Means, commissioner (clockwise from upper left); County Executive Chris Abele; MPS superintendent Darienne Driver; and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga.

Players in the debate over the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program in Milwaukee: Demond Means, commissioner (clockwise from upper left); County Executive Chris Abele; MPS superintendent Darienne Driver; and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga. Credit: Journal Sentinel files

By Annysa Johnson of the Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Public Schools has until June 23 to respond to an invitation from County Executive Chris Abele and his Opportunity Schools commissioner, Demond Means, to partner with them in a plan to turn around some of Milwaukee’s poorest performing schools.

Means has told MPS that rejecting the deal could force him to bring in an outside operator to run the schools as dictated in state law. But school reform advocates and observers in Milwaukee and around the country say that would be tougher than it sounds, and may not yield the results the Legislature envisioned when it created Means’ post.

Charter school operators generally prefer to create schools from the ground up, rather than take over existing operations, they said. In addition, the lack of seed money, the lower per-pupil funding for charter schools, Milwaukee’s competitive school market and highly charged political environment could make it difficult to attract quality operators.

“It’s much easier to build a school from scratch than to go in and work with an existing one,” said Sean Roberts, executive director of Milwaukee Charter Advocates.

“It’s challenging to recruit quality providers in general because of the disparity in funding” between traditional public schools and public charters, he said.

“Most of the good operators in town have their hands full,” said Ricardo Diaz of the United Community Center, which operates the Bruce Guadalupe charter schools.

“And, of course, we haven’t seen a great deal of success from national operators,” he said.

Means, superintendent of the Mequon-Thiensville School District, was appointed by Abele under a new law drafted last year by suburban Republican lawmakers in an effort to force improvements in Milwaukee Public Schools.

The Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program, adopted as part of the 2015-’17 budget, requires Means to take control of one to five schools annually and turn those over to competing operators.

Instead, he and Abele have proposed what they see as a compromise that would be less disruptive to the district. Under their plan, Means would operate the schools as a consultant to MPS, bringing in a number of agencies and organizations to improve staff training and offer wraparound services to students.

Teachers would keep their jobs and remain MPS employees. MPS would retain its per-pupil funding, albeit less than it gets currently if the schools operate as charters. And the MPS board would lose governance authority over the schools. The schools would revert to MPS control after five years if they meet improvement goals.

MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver, who is in the midst of her own reform initiatives, said the district has been exchanging emails with Abele and Means to flesh out the details of the plan.

“It’s really around whether this is a value added for our children and families, and whether or not we have the appropriate infrastructure and resources to be able to implement this plan,” said Driver, who took issue with the characterization of the proposal as a “partnership.”

“We’re going through a number of elements, not just the plan, but the statute itself, making sure that we have all of those details ironed out,” Driver said. “The proposal has left the district with more questions than answers.”

Questions about plan

Among the questions that have circulated between the parties and within the broader education community:

■ What under the statute constitutes a “school” for purposes of a takeover? Does it give Means and Abele authority to take just the building? The furniture and resources inside?

■ Who will pay the start-up costs? MPS estimates it costs as much as $150,000 to launch a community school like the one envisioned by Abele and Means. The state law included no money for the turnaround district, and Abele has yet to attract outside funders, he said, because of the lack of certainty.

State aid to schools is paid quarterly beginning in October, so someone would have to front the enterprise. One likely candidate would be MPS, which would effectively be asked to do more with less, according to critics. MPS would be paid as much as $2,000 less per-student for the targeted schools, meaning it would need to tap funds meant for other schools to subsidize the turnaround schools over which it would have no control.

Abele said the wraparound services would be covered through federal reimbursements at no cost to MPS.

Some have speculated that Abele, a millionaire philanthropist, might tap his own coffers. He skirted the question Friday, saying “my intention is to continue to approach others.”

■ What happens if MPS says no? Means declined to speculate, saying he prefers to focus on hammering out a deal with MPS. But the law is clear: Abele and Means would need to attract another operator. Most independent charter schools in Milwaukee — Bruce Guadalupe and the Milwaukee College Preparatory schools, for example — are homegrown and run by people with deep ties in the community. But those often take years to plan and develop.

Few outside operators

Only four of the more than 20 independent charter schools are run by so-called charter-school operators. One of those, North Point Lighthouse, will close at the end of the school year. Only one of the four — Rocketship South Side Community Prep — has posted the type of academic results Means and Abele would likely tout.

Charter advocates say such operators have generally steered clear of Milwaukee for a host of reasons, including the disparity in per-pupil, and the stiff competition among providers in all three sectors — public, public charter and voucher schools.

State Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield), who co-authored the Opportunity Schools statute, said last week that he would encourage Abele and Means “to take a more aggressive approach” with MPS if it declines to take part. And he said he would continue to work to close the funding gap in an effort to better attract charter operators.

The Abele-Means plan has been derided as a takeover because it usurps the authority of the elected School Board. It’s viewed as an attack on the first black woman to lead the district, a Harvard-educated PhD who’s spent her career working in urban school districts.

Means feels heat

Much of the criticism has been directed at Means. Earlier this month, he was uninvited as commencement speaker by his alma mater, Milwaukee’s Riverside High School, after school staff objected.

And last week, a coalition of public school supporters delivered a letter to the Mequon-Thiensville School Board urging it to rein in its superintendent.

“What would you do if the superintendent of Mukwonago, Madison or some other place came here and said they were taking over Homestead High School and turning it over to a private operator?” Ingrid Walker Henry, co-chairman of Schools and Communities United, said, reading the letter aloud to the board.

“Dr. Means is participating in a coordinated attack on public education in Wisconsin and undermining our communities’ democratic rights,” she said.

Means apologized to his board because the protests had followed him to Mequon. And he objected to the assertion that he was out to undermine public education.

“I have spent my entire career advocating for public education,” he said in an email to the Journal Sentinel.

Some observers questioned whether either scenario — the MPS collaboration or bringing in outside providers — will yield the improvements the Legislature is hoping to see.

“They’ve picked up a rock that’s pretty heavy to lift,” said Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon), who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “If this were easy, it would already be done. Milwaukee wouldn’t have these low-performing schools if it were easy.”

May 10, 2016

New Orleans Recovery School District Change?

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 6:28 am

New Orleans Plan: Charter Schools, With a Return to Local Control

By KATE ZERNIKE MAY 9, 2016 NYTimes

NEW ORLEANS — Nothing has defined and even driven the fractious national debate over education quite like this city and the transformation of its school system in the decade since Hurricane Katrina.

Reformers say its successes as an almost all-charter, state-controlled district make it a model for other failing urban school systems. Charter school opponents and unions point to what has happened here as proof that the reformers’ goal is just to privatize education and strip families of their voice in local schools across the country.

Now comes another big moment in the New Orleans story: In the next few weeks, the governor is expected to sign legislation returning the city’s schools to the locally elected school board for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Strikingly, that return is being driven by someone squarely in the pro-charter camp, the state superintendent, John White. A veteran of touchstone organizations behind the efforts to remake public schools — Teach for America and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and its superintendent training program — as well as the hard-charging charter school efforts in New York City, Mr. White represents the wave of largely white, young idealists who rushed to this city post-Katrina to be part of the Big Thing in education.

To Mr. White, the move to local control is not the retreat it may seem. He argues that it will make New Orleans a new model, radically redefining the role of central school boards just as many urban school districts are shifting increasingly large portions of their students to independently run but publicly funded charter schools.

“The mission was to recover the schools, not to maintain a group of white bureaucrats not from New Orleans,” said Mr. White, 41, an alumnus of the elite St. Albans School in Washington and the University of Virginia. “The mission has to be completed, and you can’t call it completed when the central offices aren’t serving all the schools.”

 

John White, the Louisiana state superintendent, described the New Orleans school system when he arrived in 2011 as one of “autonomy, choice and chaos.” Credit Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

“At some point, you’re going to need to rely on the will of the people locally,” he added.

This new model essentially splits the difference: The schools will keep the flexibility and autonomy, particularly over hiring and teaching, that have made charters most unlike traditional public schools. But the board becomes manager and regulator, making sure schools abide by policies meant to ensure equity and provide broad services, like managing the cost of particularly expensive special education students, that individual schools might not have the capacity or desire to do.

Cities from Boston to Los Angeles are locked in fierce fights over charter schools, which critics say siphon off money and the most engaged families from local districts, creaming the best students and steering away the most challenging — not always with better results. Families in districts with majorities of poor black and Latino children are increasingly pushing back against educator recruitment groups like Teach for America, scorning their efforts as education tourism for privileged Ivy Leaguers.

People here say the national debate does not fit some of the nuances of the divide in New Orleans. For one thing, the local board itself runs its own share of charter schools. But what has resonated broadly here is the sense that changes to the schools were done to the city’s residents, not with them.

This is a place where “Where did you go to school?” refers to high school, so the move to erase neighborhood schools and replace them with charters after Katrina angered powerful alumni groups. About 7,500 teachers were fired — most of them black — damaging the city’s black middle class, economically and politically.

“This wasn’t just a loss of control over education, this was loss on a massive scale,” said Erika McConduit-Diggs, the president of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans. “This very much feels like ‘finally.’ It will take things like this to heal those wounds.”

But the healing is far from complete.

Nearly every school building in New Orleans has been rebuilt or refurbished, and students have made impressive academic gains. Yet they were starting from the bottom; New Orleans was the second-worst school district in the nation’s second lowest-ranked state. The schools have a long way to go before anyone considers them good, or even good enough.

Some worry that with return to local control, and without the state’s prodding, the schools will lose momentum and urgency. They hear “return” and recall a school board that was notoriously corrupt and dysfunctional before the storm, its televised meetings were bring-your-popcorn events. “Like watching Jerry Springer,” said Joey LaRoche, the principal of the KIPP charter high school here, who graduated from the city’s schools before Katrina.

“If this is not done well, we will go backwards as a city,” said Leslie Jacobs, a local insurance executive and philanthropist who led the creation of the state district that took over the schools as a member of the state board of education. “We cannot go backwards,” she said.

On the other side, the legislation has done nothing to placate those who associate state control with charter schools — and want the charters gone as well.

Don’t Be Fooled by a Trojan Horse,” The New Orleans Tribune, a black newsmagazine, editorialized, calling the legislation passed by the Louisiana House on Thursday “just a ploy to maintain the status quo.”

“It is written to serve the needs and desires of the charter school movement and the predators and profiteers that have unapologetically gained from this experiment,” The Tribune said, “not the people, parents, students, voters and taxpayers of school systems that have been decimated by a so-called reform movement that has done far more harm than good.”

Mr. White acknowledges that the bill will largely preserve the status quo.

In detailed language, it forbids the local board to interfere with charter schools’ autonomy on decisions like whom to hire, what to teach, how to spend their money and how long to make the school day. Pre-Katrina, those decisions rested, as they do in most school districts, with the elected board, which hires the superintendents who hire the principals.

Louisiana created the state-run Recovery School District to take over failing schools shortly before Katrina. But only after the catastrophic levee breaches — which made schools unusable even if most students had not fled the city — did it move to take over most of the schools.

By the time Mr. White arrived, in 2011, half the city’s public school students were in charter schools. It was a system, as he describes it now, of “autonomy, choice and chaos.”

Schools had different enrollment procedures and policies on expulsion. The parish school board itself was running about a dozen charter schools, along with a half dozen traditional schools, mostly the schools that had been higher performing before the storm. Those schools served lower rates of poor and special education students, leading to complaints from state-run schools that the parish schools were pushing out students who were harder to educate.

Mr. White turned more schools over to charter school operators. And now 93 percent of the city’s 48,000 public school students are in charter schools, the highest percentage in the country.

But he also moved to establish the unified enrollment system across all schools, local or state run, and a central expulsion procedure, so that schools would have to follow the same rules on the students they took and those they let go.

 

 

Children lined up to leave the gymnasium last week at the Andrew Wilson K-8 Charter School in New Orleans. Nearly every school building in New Orleans has been rebuilt or refurbished, and students have made impressive academic gains. Credit Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times

Another new policy required all schools to provide transportation, so that they could not weed out poorer students by making it impossible for those without cars to attend. The city’s charter school boards mobilized politically to force the parish school board to agree to a citywide system of funding so that all schools receive and spend the same amount of money for various categories of students, like English learners and special education students.

With these changes, a return to local control seemed possible. “We’re talking to each other, which we didn’t do before,” said Alexina Medley, the principal at Warren Easton, an Orleans parish charter high school. “We’re one city, we should be one school system.”

With the 10th anniversary of the hurricane last fall, the missionary zeal of young reformers coming to the city has waned, and philanthropies have some “reform fatigue,” said Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise, a New Orleans native who is the executive director of the KIPP New Orleans Schools, one of the biggest charter school operators in the city.

“The decade mark was crystallizing,” Ms. Kalifey-Aluise said. “It was like, ‘Yikes, this wave is coming to an end.’” The election of a Democratic governor with strong teachers’ union support last year raised the pressure for return. “We thought, let’s get on top of this and make it work the way we want,” she said.

It is hard to understate the presence of the state in the city’s schools. As Mr. White scooted out of his state-owned Prius to return a football that had been tossed from a schoolyard last week, an elementary school student recognized him, seizing the chance to suggest that dictionaries be allowed during state tests. (“I think I did O.K.,” the student said.)

Doubters worry that the timeline is too fast to create the same kind of robust power in the central office, where staff has been depleted since Katrina. School board elections are this fall, and the legislation calls for schools to be returned within two years.

An even bigger question is whether the elected board will have the nerve to close failing schools and resist the city’s tradition of crony politics and malfeasance.

Even those who have in the past resisted a return to local control say they now believe the changes here cannot be sustained without greater involvement from people who actually live here.

“It would be a shame,” said Ben Kleban, the founder of New Orleans College Prep, a charter network, “if our message to the rest of the country was that the only way to reform a school system is to seize control from local people.”

 

December 2, 2015

NY Times: The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 9:19 pm

News Orleans is now a caste system of schools. The data is often manipulated. The Cowen and Credo studies, giving high marks to the reforms,  have shown to be flawed.

By ANDREA GABORAUG. 22, 2015 NY Times

WAS Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” as Education Secretary Arne Duncan once said? Nearly 10 years after the disaster, this has become a dominant narrative among a number of school reformers and education scholars.

Before the storm, the New Orleans public school system had suffered from white flight, neglect, mismanagement and corruption, which left the schools in a state of disrepair. The hurricane almost literally wiped out the schools: Only 16 of 128 buildings were relatively unscathed. As of 2013 the student population was still under 45,000, compared with 65,000 students before the storm. Following the storm, some 7,500 unionized teachers and other school employees were put on unpaid leave, and eventually dismissed.

Two years before the storm, the State of Louisiana had set up a so-called Recovery School District to take over individual failing schools. After Katrina, the district eventually took over about 60 local schools; about 20 well-performing schools remained in the Orleans Parish School Board, creating, in essence, a two-tier system. Nearly all the schools in both parts of the system have since been converted to charters.

Last year, 63 percent of children in local elementary and middle schools were proficient on state tests, up from 37 percent in 2005. New research by Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance shows that the gains were largely because of the charter-school reforms, according to Douglas N. Harris, the alliance’s director. Graduation and college entry rates also increased over pre-Katrina levels.

But the New Orleans miracle is not all it seems. Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation. The new research also says little about high school performance. And the average composite ACT score for the Recovery School District was just 16.4 in 2014, well below the minimum score required for admission to a four-year public university in Louisiana.

There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data.

“We don’t want to replicate a lot of the things that took place to get here,” said Andre Perry, who was one of the few black charter-school leaders in the city. “There were some pretty nefarious things done in the pursuit of academic gain,” Mr. Perry acknowledged, including “suspensions, pushouts, skimming, counseling out, and not handling special needs kids well.”

At a time when states and municipalities nationwide are looking to New Orleans, the first virtually all-charter urban district, as a model, it is more important than ever to accurately assess the results, the costs and the continuing challenges.

New Orleans has been trying to make the system more fair. It replaced its confusing and decentralized school application process with one in which most schools accept a single application. In response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of special education students, the courts recently tightened oversight of charter schools.

But stark problems remain. A recent report by the Education Research Alliance confirmed that principals engage in widespread “creaming” — selecting, or counseling out, students based on their expected performance on standardized tests. In a forthcoming study, the alliance expects to show that lowest-scoring students are less likely to move to higher-performing schools.

The rhetoric of reform often fails to match the reality. For example, Paul G. Vallas, the superintendent of the Recovery School District from 2007 to 2011, boasted recently that only 7 percent of the city’s students attend failing schools today, down from 62 percent before Katrina, a feat accomplished “with no displacement of children.” This was simply false.

Consider Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, one of the city’s last traditional public schools to be “taken over.” Most of its 366 students declined to re-enroll when it reopened under new management in the fall of 2011. During its first year under FirstLine, a charter management organization, Clark had only 117 “persisters,” or returning students, according to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, known as Credo. FirstLine could not account for where the students went after they left Clark. However, Jay Altman, its chief executive, told me in an email that before FirstLine took over, a similarly low proportion of students, about 35 percent, were returning. (The school district did not respond to my queries about Clark.)

One problem is that in the decentralized charter system, no agency is responsible for keeping track of all kids. Two years ago the Recovery School District, acknowledging that it was “worried” about high school attrition, began assigning counselors to help relocate students from schools it was closing. Louisiana’s official dropout rates are unreliable, but a new report by Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, using Census Bureau survey data from 2013, found that over 26,000 people in the metropolitan area between the ages of 16 and 24 are counted as “disconnected,” because they are neither working nor in school.

Ironically, schools like Clark actually feed the New Orleans success narrative because when bad schools are taken over their “F” grades automatically convert to a “T” — for a turnaround. Thus, in the 2013-14 school year, the four schools with “T” grades wouldn’t be counted as “failing” schools, nor would the 16 schools that received a “D” grade. About 40 percent of Recovery School District schools were graded “D,” “T” or “F” that year.

Adding to the difficulty of assessing the New Orleans experiment is the fact that Louisiana education data has been doled out selectively, mostly to pro-charter researchers, and much of the research has been flawed. Last fall, the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives was forced to retract a study that concluded that most New Orleans schools were posting higher-than-expected graduation rates and test scores.

Last spring, Credo produced a study of 41 urban charter districts, including New Orleans, that purported to show that charters outperformed urban public schools on standardized test scores; but this study was also highly flawed. The methodology was based on comparing each charter student to a virtual “twin,” a composite of as many as seven public-school kids who attend “feeder” schools and who match the charter students on demographics and test scores. The problem in New Orleans was that there are virtually no local feeders left from which to draw comparisons.

Andrew E. Maul, an assistant professor of research methodology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, found that Credo’s report “cannot be regarded as compelling evidence of the greater effectiveness of charter schools compared with traditional public schools.”

Meanwhile, black charter advocates charge that the local charter “club” leaves little room for African-American leadership. Howard L. Fuller, a former Milwaukee superintendent, said the charter movement won’t have “any type of long-term sustainability” without meaningful participation from the black community.

A few school leaders agree that the model needs major change. For example, a new open-enrollment charter school, Morris Jeff, is working to integrate both the student body and its teaching force, and even backed a unionization effort — one of the city’s first since the hurricane.

A key part of the New Orleans narrative is that firing the unionized, mostly black teachers after Katrina cleared the way for young, idealistic (mostly white) educators who are willing to work 12- to 14-hour days. Patricia Perkins, Morris Jeff’s principal, says the schools need the “wisdom” of veteran black educators.

Morris Jeff is benefiting from one of the most important post-Katrina reforms: a big increase in both government and philanthropic funding. It recently moved into a new bright, air-conditioned building.

For outsiders, the biggest lesson of New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than to start from scratch. Privatization may improve outcomes for some students, but it has hurt the most disadvantaged pupils.

Andrea Gabor is a professor of business journalism at Baruch College, the City University of New York.

August 26, 2015

Data Comparison: New Orleans Recovery School District and Traditional Schools

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 1:03 pm

New Orleans RSD Compared to Traditional Schools
Thursday, May 21, 2015 by Mike Deshotels (Mike is a retired chemistry and physics teacher and writes a bi-weekly blog for The Louisiana Educator.)

The national news media has been reporting for several years now that the “portfolio” of charter schools created to run the state takeover schools in New Orleans have produced an amazing turnaround of those schools in the ten years since hurricane Katrina demolished the public schools in New Orleans. We see claims that most of the takeover schools are no longer failing and that the graduation rate has improved dramatically, and that the improved performance of the RSD students has greatly exceeded that of more traditional schools across Louisiana and across the nation. The charter school proponents believe, or would have us believe, that the New Orleans RSD has found the secret to closing the achievement gap between impoverished, at-risk minority students and more advantaged middle class students.

This report is an attempt to simply examine the relevant data that can be used to measure academic success of the New Orleans Recovery District. It will attempt to measure how the RSD compares to traditional public schools. What does the data tell us? Is it Reform Success or Reform Hype?

Is the Comparison Really Complicated?
Some education researchers on this topic have agonized over the fact that the Louisiana school rating system has changed so much in recent years that it is difficult to compare apples to apples. Also, the RSD has closed and renamed so many schools in New Orleans that it is almost impossible to trace the progress of any particular school. The test scores of RSD students on the Louisiana LEAP and iLEAP tests seem to have significantly improved, but so have the scores for the students in traditional schools throughout Louisiana. So, is there a still a method that will really compare the RSD schools to the traditional schools in Louisiana and possibly to other schools across the nation?

Unfortunately for comparison of student performance, the state test results in Louisiana have been manipulated so that they no longer measure the same level of proficiency as they did ten years ago. There appears to have been significant grade inflation of test results over the past ten years that have nothing to do with improvement in student achievement. Some of the grade inflation has come from familiarity of educators and students with the state test, so that students can score higher without significantly improving their math and reading skills. The rest of the grade inflation comes from a general lowering of the raw cut scores documented in this blog for the rating of “Basic” which in Louisiana is considered to be grade level performance. Not only have the state test results been manipulated by lowering many of the raw cut scores, the ratio of difficult to easy questions on the test can be changed from year to year also changing apparent performance.

So how much inflation has occurred in the state testing? The testing inflation can be estimated by comparing the average test results of Louisiana students as measured by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) with the results of the state designed LEAP and iLEAP tests. In the last ten years, analysis shows that according to state tests, approximately 11 percent more students statewide were deemed to be on grade level (scored basic or above) than ten years ago. But at the same time, the NAEP test shows that only 3 percent more students advanced to basic. That difference and the simultaneous softening in the Louisiana formula for assigning grades to schools (bonus points for subgroups) have resulted in more and more schools appearing to have made dramatic progress in the last ten years. That dramatic “faux progress” includes the New Orleans RSD charter schools.

Graduation rates have improved statewide, and ACT scores are up slightly across the state. So how can we use these statistics to compare the RSD to the rest of the state and to schools nationwide?

There are three simple criteria that may be used to compare student performance between the RSD, state traditional schools, and schools in other states.
The answer to comparison of student performance in Louisiana is really quite simple and does not require complex calculations. First a little history:

The narrative by the charter school proponents is that prior to Hurricane Katrina, the school system in New Orleans was failing miserably. There was graft and corruption by school managers, and most students were getting such a substandard education that the schools deserved to be taken over and drastically overhauled. Some of that narrative is correct, but in the few years leading up to Katrina, the school system in New Orleans, just like all other systems in the state, was in the process of improving its student test scores. Even so, the destruction of Katrina was used as an opportunity for the State to take over schools and put them under new management. Independent charter management organizations were invited to come in and set up new schools chartered by the RSD and operated independently of the Orleans Parish School Board.

As some schools were taken over and some were closed, it became more difficult to trace the progress of individual schools. There is however, one very important statistic on student performance that we will use as a basis for our most critical comparison: Just prior to 2005, there was a special law (Act 35) passed by the Louisiana Legislature that allowed all public schools in New Orleans that had received a state calculated school performance score below the state average to be taken over by the state. This means that every school in Orleans rated below the 50th percentile in the ranking of schools across the state was taken over. So that’s the starting point for our comparison with student performance today.

It would require complex formulas and analysis to trace and compare individual school performance scores of the schools in New Orleans with the rest of the state because the formula for rating schools has changed and the tests and the grading system have changed. Also, the Orleans Parish school board has retained the management of a significant number of schools, which are operated as a separate school system from the RSD. But there is one simple statistic that can compare the takeover schools to the original schools that were taken over in 2005. That is the percentile ranking of the composite RSD student performance on the state tests compared to all the other students in the state. With the reopening of schools in New Orleans following Katrina, the special law applying only to New Orleans required that all schools ranked below the 50th percentile in New Orleans compared to all schools in the state, would be taken over by the RSD. Therefore it can be roughly concluded that the new district started with school performance on average ranking near the 25th percentile. Since school performance scores are based primarily on student test performance, the schools taken over and managed by the New Orleans Recovery District were producing student-testing results in the bottom quartile of all school systems in Louisiana at the time of takeover.

The Latest Academic Ranking Based on State Testing Places the New Orleans RSD at the 17th percentile

The fairest and most accurate academic comparison of the New Orleans Recovery District with all other districts in the state is the percentile ranking of student performance. The Louisiana Department of Education calculated this ranking at the end of the 2013-14 school year and listed all school system rankings in a table on the LDOE website. The latest calculated percentile ranking of the New Orleans RSD district is at the 17th percentile (see item #3 under State + District reports) compared to all other districts in the state based upon the percentage of students in the district achieving the rating of “Basic” on state testing. This means that at the present time, 83 percent of the school districts in the state outperform the New Orleans RSD in educating students to the level of “Basic”.

Therefore if schools in the RSD are compared using student test performance, there is no indication of improvement compared to all the public schools in the state. The ranking of takeover schools started in the bottom quartile compared to all schools in the state, and remains in the bottom quartile.

So if at the time of takeover, the New Orleans RSD ranked near the 25th percentile in student performance, then the present ranking of 17th percentile shows no improvement in relation to other school systems.

Also based on the NAEP tests, the Louisiana ranking compared to the 50 states and the District of Columbia stands at approximately 48th. That’s approximately the same ranking Louisiana had right before Katrina. So the New Orleans RSD ranks near the bottom of a state that still ranks near the bottom nationwide in student performance. Since schools in Louisiana today are rated primarily on their student performance on state tests, the RSD is far from achieving parity with the more traditionally operated school systems. The new all charter school system is unique both in its structure and also in its extremely low performance.

What About the Graduation Rate?
Another way to measure school success is the use the high school graduation rate. The latest official graduation rate for the New Orleans RSD now stands at 61.1%, which is dead last compared to all other Louisiana school districts. In addition, enrollment figures indicate that there are a huge number of students in the RSD that drop out before they ever get to high school. Students who drop out before they reach 9th grade are never figured into the graduation rate. There is a huge difference in 6th grade student enrollment (2495) compared to 9th grade (1685) in the New Orleans RSD. If we were to calculate the RSD graduation rate starting with 7th grade, it would be significantly less than 50%. That’s an awful lot of students walking the streets in New Orleans without a diploma. This early loss of students does not exist in two other school systems (St Bernard and Plaquemines) that were also similarly affected by hurricane Katrina.

What About Preparing Students for College?
Most of the schools in the New Orleans RSD are designed and advertised as college prep schools. There is a major emphasis on preparing and motivating students to enroll in four-year universities. Again there is one simple extremely relevant statistic that can be used to measure potential success in this area. All students in Louisiana are now required by the state to take the ACT test. The average ACT scores for RSD New Orleans students is now at 16.6 which is at the 6th percentile ranking in comparison to all other school districts in the state. Most graduates from the RSD score too low on the ACT to be accepted to most state colleges without remediation. The average ACT score would be even lower if all students in the RSD were taking the ACT as is mandated by the State Department of education. The enrollment of students in the 12th grade for the RSD in the 2013-2014 school year was 1380, according to the February student count. But the number of students with an ACT score for that year was only 1178. That’s only 85% of the 12th grade students enrolled. The two other school systems closest to the New Orleans RSD are the Orleans Parish School Board and the Jefferson Parish systems. They had a testing rate of 98% and 99% respectively. Removing 15% of the seniors from the testing can significantly raise the average score. But even with that advantage, the RSD still scores near the bottom compared to all other public school systems.

Expansion of the RSD System
Since the formation of the New Orleans RSD, there has been an attempt to extend the takeover concept to low performing schools in other parts of the state also using the charter “portfolio” method. There is now an RSD Baton Rouge and an RSD Louisiana. These schools have been in operation for 8 years. Using the same method of ranking based on percentage of students achieving “Basic” on state tests, these districts are now at the 2nd and 0 percentiles respectively. That is third to last and dead last. The graduation rates and the ACT scores for these takeover schools are also at the bottom of the state rankings. These simple statistics demonstrate that there has been absolutely no progress in Louisiana in improving student performance by taking over and converting schools to charters.

As several other independent investigators (Mercedes Schneider and Research on Reforms) have demonstrated, the so-called New Orleans Miracle is simply a hoax perpetrated upon a gullible and trusting public and news media by the charter promoters. Just like the rainmakers and con men of long ago, charter promoters have preyed upon a new group of willing rubes.

And now unfortunately, the false propaganda of the faux success of the Louisiana Recovery District is being used to justify the creation of similar takeover districts in many other states. All the data available so far for those new recovery districts shows a similarly disastrous result.
Posted by Michael Deshotels

August 24, 2015

African American teachers in New Orleans demand a Congressional Hearing

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 3:37 pm

What is the true story behind the mass firing of 7500 state-certified and tenured public school employees following Katrina? Those fired were overwhelmingly African American. This was a strategic and intentional blow to the Black middle class of New Orleans.

Following is a letter requesting a Congressional hearing on this issue:

New Orleans Public School Employees Will Request a Congressional Hearing on the $750
Million Federal Fund to Restart Schools after Hurricane Katrina

We suggest that an oversight or investigative Congressional hearing is warranted to review the use of $750 million in federal funds to “Restart School Operations” after Hurricane Katrina. Obtaining information from witnesses will be beneficial to various Congressional committees regarding the intended and actual use of federal funds after a natural disaster.

We propose that the initial review focus on the State of Louisiana, which was awarded $445.6 million in Restart funds, and the State of Mississippi, which was awarded $222.5 million. In New Orleans, Louisiana (only) 7500 state-certified public school employees were terminated based on a claim of “no jobs and no money.” However, “the Bay St. Louis-Waveland school district in southwest Mississippi, some of the $13 million it has received in restart money [paid] for the salaries of school psychologists, behavior specialists, and social workers to counsel staff members and students” here.

The fair and equal opportunity for citizens to receive authorized federal assistance after a natural disaster is clearly a non-partisan objective.

The following preliminary information is offered in support of a formal request for a Congressional Hearing to be made on the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Louisiana’s urgent request for federal funds
The damaged school systems not only have damaged physical property, but loss of students, staff, local revenue and basic state aid. The damaged districts are very concerned, not only with securing educational services for the students while the districts are closed, but in providing some type of compensation for their staffs during the period the districts are closed, but in providing some type of compensation for their staffs during the period the districts are closed. In talking with Florida Department of Education about last year’s hurricane issues, we learned that they continued to pay their staffs and requested that the staff either help rebuild the schools, work in a shelter or perform other community work, or deal with their emergency family situations while their home schools were closed. This was done for several reasons, but mainly to assist in retaining staff for when the schools reopened. Of course, they still lost a large percentage of staff members who found other jobs and/or moved away.

In Louisiana, our situation is much more drastic. Several school systems are only able to make one more payroll. After that, their employees will be on unemployment or will need to find other work. These employees are very concerned with their livelihood, health insurance coverage, and just being able to cover basic needs. The districts are very concerned not only for their employees, but with other fiscal obligations that may force the districts into financial default, which they will not be able to overcome for many, many years.

On December 30, 2005, U.S, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings informed Louisiana and other states affected by Hurricane Katrina that Congress had appropriated $650 million for Displaced Students and $750 million for “Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations. See the letter here.

Millions spent on out-of-state consultants
However, Members of Congress should know that Louisiana did not use the emergency federal funds to help “employees who were concerned about their livelihood.” In April 2006 a financial consulting firm from New York was given a 3-year $29.1 million contract to “…develop and implement a comprehensive and coordinated disaster recovery plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (See page 20 of Board Minutes here). A Texas company was paid $20 million for “school security” (see the news story here). Louisiana’s State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a “Recruitment Incentive Package” for out-of-state teacher and other personnel “moving to New Orleans to work at any school in the Recovery School District” using federal “Restart” money as follows: $2500 relocation allowance, $400/month housing allowance (one year only), $5,000/year signing bonus (for two years). Total Package-$17,300. Seethe Official Board Minutes—April 19, 2007 (See page 11 of the Board Minutes here).

A Trial Court noted the intended use of the federal funds:
Notwithstanding the State Defendants’ representation to the U.S. Department of Education that it needed over “$700 million to pay salaries and benefits of out-of-work school employees, and the State Defendants’ receipt of over $500 million dollars in post-Katrina federal “Restart Funds” based upon this representation, the State Defendants did not ensure that any of this money was used to pay the salaries or benefits of the Plaintiff Class. Rather, the State Defendants diverted these funds to the RSD [Recovery School District—emphasis added].

Politics and the firing of’7500 school employees
What is the true story behind the mass firing of 7500 state-certified and tenured public school employees—including thousands of tenured and non-tenured, union and non-union employees?
At the end of the 2004-2005 school year, eighty-eight (88) of the more than 120 public schools in Orleans Parish had met or exceeded the state’s requirement for adequate yearly progress. These schools were not failing. Ninety-three (93) of the schools showed academic growth. The Orleans Parish School Board was making documented progress in raising failing school scores in accordance with the federal No Child Left Behind legislation prior to Hurricane Katrina. Thus, as of the 2005-06 school year, the OPSB was working towards meeting the State’s growth target.

Prayers and politics were at the top of the agenda for the first Orleans Parish School Board meeting held September 15, 2005 at the State Department of Education in Baton Rouge. Members prayed for those who suffered loss of life and property. However, immediately after the public comment period, Louisiana’s Superintendent of Education tried unsuccessfully to have a New York financial

Even after the meeting was over, Mr. Picard persisted with the issue telling me yesterday that he
has already spoken with the Governor about an Executive Order, presumably to initiate a takeover of
the schools should we not agree to giving Mr. Roberti the position of Superintendent.”

It must also be noted that public schools in St. Tammany Parish, which borders New Orleans, also
sustained substantial damage, but state education officials were “very supportive” in reopening
schools there—working with FEMA to obtain trailers and some schools operated out of portable
classrooms” In stark contrast, the state controlled financial consultants from New York ignored a
similar plan suggested by the New Orleans Superintendent of Schools (he wanted to replace).

Feds demand Nebraska repay $22 million for botched child welfare reform; Maryland misspent $28M
of ObamaCare grants; and Baltimore set to repay $4 million in misspent homeless funds. In a
December 23, 2014 announcement about the Eastern District of Pennsylvania collecting $2.3 billion
in civil and criminal actions in FY 2014, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger stated, “Our nation’s
taxpayers deserve our most aggressive efforts to recover their hard-earned tax dollars that have
been misappropriated.”

The tenth anniversary of Katrina would be an ideal time for Members of Congress to reassure American citizens, especially New Orleans public school employees, that the misspending taxpayers’ hard-earned tax dollars will not be tolerated. These employees were the intended beneficiaries of federal “restart” funds and legislation can ensure that they become beneficiaries of misspent funds repaid by the state of Louisiana. After a 10-year fight for due process and property rights, we continue this struggle because justice has no deadline.

Willie M. Zanders, Jr.
Lead counsel

From New Orleans: Washing Machine-Style Education Reform

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 2:51 pm

From New Orleans: Washing Machine-Style Education Reform
Ashana Bigard The Progressive August

As a New Orleans parent and an active member of my community, I think of myself as an expert on the experiment in education reform that tranformed my city into the nation’s first all-charter school district. So when I attended a recent community-centered conference on “The New Orleans Model of Urban School Reform: A Guide or a Warning for Cities Across the Nation?” I wasn’t sure there’d be much for me to learn.

In fact, given the focus on academic urban education research, I feared the event would speak only to people who have Ph.D.s or are working on getting one, neither of which describes me.

But the research on what has happened to New Orleans over the last ten years shocked me. The story of what happened here is important not just to those of us who live here, but to people who live in any of the cities where New Orleans-style education reform is headed next, possibly including yours.

Parent activist Anthony Parker described what he called “washing machine” approach to education reform: “Wash, rinse, repeat. Wash, rinse, repeat.” He was talking about what happens to children. Children wait at bus stops as early as 4:30 in the morning and don’t get home until 7:30 or 8:00 at night. Then it’s time to do homework, go to sleep, get back up and repeat the cycle all over again. Children are badly sleep deprived. Despite the long school days, children often get no time for social development because of the strict and rigorous atmosphere of the charter schools here. Nor are they learning from a curriculum that feels relevant, respectful, and accessible to a child of color growing up in this community. This is a painful and unnecessary waste of most of these children’s time.

Parker, whose grandparents taught in the New Orleans Public Schools for a combined sixty years, described how hard it was to explain to his son why he can’t attend their neighborhood school after his charter school was closed. For Parker’s own son, who is just seven years old, “washing machine” reform means he’ll be attending his fourth school this fall. “Wash, rinse, repeat.”

The lives of adults have been disrupted, too. Charmaine Neville talked about her relationship to the schools in the New Orleans neighborhood of Bywater. Before the storm, she was deeply involved in schools across the city, volunteering, tutoring, and giving lessons of all kinds. She described her heartbreak when she tried to help children with special needs who attend the school across the street from her house. Administrators at the charter school asked her what she wanted. “To help with my children,” Neville answered. She was told that her help wasn’t needed.

The word trauma was invoked by many speakers. Children are particularly vulnerable, and in New Orleans, children who were already traumatized by high levels of poverty and violence experienced one of the worst traumas in the nation’s history. The response was to re-traumatize them by creating instability—the very opposite of what the children needed. Our children were in desperate need of counselors, social workers and therapists. Instead, they got the National Guard functioning as private security. Parent advocate and poet Nikkisha Napoleon describes what happened in the wake of Katrina as educational and economic “terrorism.” She says that when she uses this term, people tell her she’s being too harsh. If you agree with her critics, I encourage you to look up the definition of terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims.

Parent advocate Cristi Fajardo talked about a different kind of trauma. Many of the city’s charter schools pat children down at the start of the day. Fajardo explained that for children who’ve been traumatized by unwanted touch, these pat downs—and the requirement by charter school operators that children begin each day shaking the hands of adults—can be re-traumatizing. Children who refuse risk suspension or expulsion. Charter operators in this new New Orleans district don’t take children’s trauma into consideration when making rules.

Fajardo and Napoleon spoke as part of a panel on “Parental Choice and the Struggle of Navigating Education Markets.” Their nuanced stories of the parents and students they advocate for in the city’s new school system were more powerful than any of the official PR you’ve heard.

I wish every education reformer could have attended the session, “Does the New Orleans Recovery School District Measure Up? Making Sense of the Data on Charter School Performance.” Data experts Jason France, Mike Deshotels, Barbara Ferguson, and Howard Nelson used a super-sized PowerPoint presentation. The data was fascinating, horrifying, and clarifying all at the same time. In case you were wondering about the answer to the question posed by the session, it is a big fat no. As the presenters explained, if the Recovery School District was held to the same standard that allowed for the takeover of the schools after the storm, the RSD would only be allowed to keep four schools. Four.
So next time you read about the stunning success of New Orleans-style education reform, keep that number in mind. And try to talk to someone who is living through the experiment. I bet you’ll learn a lot.

Ashana Bigard is a parent advocate in New Orleans.
– See more at: http://www.publicschoolshakedown.org/news/2015/08/188260/new-orleans-washing-machine-style-education-reform#sthash.Kr6zsBBh.dpuf

August 23, 2015

New York Times Op-Ed Once Again Exposes New Orleans “Recovery School District”

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 11:06 am

The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover

By ANDREA GABORAUG. 22, 2015 NYTimes Op-Ed

WAS Hurricane Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans,” as Education Secretary Arne Duncan once said? Nearly 10 years after the disaster, this has become a dominant narrative among a number of school reformers and education scholars.

Before the storm, the New Orleans public school system had suffered from white flight, neglect, mismanagement and corruption, which left the schools in a state of disrepair. The hurricane almost literally wiped out the schools: Only 16 of 128 buildings were relatively unscathed. As of 2013 the student population was still under 45,000, compared with 65,000 students before the storm. Following the storm, some 7,500 unionized teachers and other school employees were put on unpaid leave, and eventually dismissed.

Two years before the storm, the State of Louisiana had set up a so-called Recovery School District to take over individual failing schools. After Katrina, the district eventually took over about 60 local schools; about 20 well-performing schools remained in the Orleans Parish School Board, creating, in essence, a two-tier system. Nearly all the schools in both parts of the system have since been converted to charters.

Last year, 63 percent of children in local elementary and middle schools were proficient on state tests, up from 37 percent in 2005. New research by Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance shows that the gains were largely because of the charter-school reforms, according to Douglas N. Harris, the alliance’s director. Graduation and college entry rates also increased over pre-Katrina levels.

But the New Orleans miracle is not all it seems. Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation. The new research also says little about high school performance. And the average composite ACT score for the Recovery School District was just 16.4 in 2014, well below the minimum score required for admission to a four-year public university in Louisiana.

There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data.
“We don’t want to replicate a lot of the things that took place to get here,” said Andre Perry, who was one of the few black charter-school leaders in the city. “There were some pretty nefarious things done in the pursuit of academic gain,” Mr. Perry acknowledged, including “suspensions, pushouts, skimming, counseling out, and not handling special needs kids well.”

At a time when states and municipalities nationwide are looking to New Orleans, the first virtually all-charter urban district, as a model, it is more important than ever to accurately assess the results, the costs and the continuing challenges.

New Orleans has been trying to make the system more fair. It replaced its confusing and decentralized school application process with one in which most schools accept a single application. In response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of special education students, the courts recently tightened oversight of charter schools.

But stark problems remain. A recent report by the Education Research Alliance confirmed that principals engage in widespread “creaming” — selecting, or counseling out, students based on their expected performance on standardized tests. In a forthcoming study, the alliance expects to show that lowest-scoring students are less likely to move to higher-performing schools.

The rhetoric of reform often fails to match the reality. For example, Paul G. Vallas, the superintendent of the Recovery School District from 2007 to 2011, boasted recently that only 7 percent of the city’s students attend failing schools today, down from 62 percent before Katrina, a feat accomplished “with no displacement of children.” This was simply false.

Consider Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, one of the city’s last traditional public schools to be “taken over.” Most of its 366 students declined to re-enroll when it reopened under new management in the fall of 2011. During its first year under FirstLine, a charter management organization, Clark had only 117 “persisters,” or returning students, according to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, known as Credo. FirstLine could not account for where the students went after they left Clark. However, Jay Altman, its chief executive, told me in an email that before FirstLine took over, a similarly low proportion of students, about 35 percent, were returning. (The school district did not respond to my queries about Clark.)

One problem is that in the decentralized charter system, no agency is responsible for keeping track of all kids. Two years ago the Recovery School District, acknowledging that it was “worried” about high school attrition, began assigning counselors to help relocate students from schools it was closing. Louisiana’s official dropout rates are unreliable, but a new report by Measure of America, a project of the Social Science Research Council, using Census Bureau survey data from 2013, found that over 26,000 people in the metropolitan area between the ages of 16 and 24 are counted as “disconnected,” because they are neither working nor in school.

Ironically, schools like Clark actually feed the New Orleans success narrative because when bad schools are taken over their “F” grades automatically convert to a “T” — for a turnaround. Thus, in the 2013-14 school year, the four schools with “T” grades wouldn’t be counted as “failing” schools, nor would the 16 schools that received a “D” grade. About 40 percent of Recovery School District schools were graded “D,” “T” or “F” that year.

Adding to the difficulty of assessing the New Orleans experiment is the fact that Louisiana education data has been doled out selectively, mostly to pro-charter researchers, and much of the research has been flawed. Last fall, the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives was forced to retract a study that concluded that most New Orleans schools were posting higher-than-expected graduation rates and test scores.

Last spring, Credo produced a study of 41 urban charter districts, including New Orleans, that purported to show that charters outperformed urban public schools on standardized test scores; but this study was also highly flawed. The methodology was based on comparing each charter student to a virtual “twin,” a composite of as many as seven public-school kids who attend “feeder” schools and who match the charter students on demographics and test scores. The problem in New Orleans was that there are virtually no local feeders left from which to draw comparisons.

Andrew E. Maul, an assistant professor of research methodology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, found that Credo’s report “cannot be regarded as compelling evidence of the greater effectiveness of charter schools compared with traditional public schools.”

Meanwhile, black charter advocates charge that the local charter “club” leaves little room for African-American leadership. Howard L. Fuller, a former Milwaukee superintendent, said the charter movement won’t have “any type of long-term sustainability” without meaningful participation from the black community.

A few school leaders agree that the model needs major change. For example, a new open-enrollment charter school, Morris Jeff, is working to integrate both the student body and its teaching force, and even backed a unionization effort — one of the city’s first since the hurricane.

A key part of the New Orleans narrative is that firing the unionized, mostly black teachers after Katrina cleared the way for young, idealistic (mostly white) educators who are willing to work 12- to 14-hour days. Patricia Perkins, Morris Jeff’s principal, says the schools need the “wisdom” of veteran black educators.

Morris Jeff is benefiting from one of the most important post-Katrina reforms: a big increase in both government and philanthropic funding. It recently moved into a new bright, air-conditioned building.

For outsiders, the biggest lesson of New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than to start from scratch. Privatization may improve outcomes for some students, but it has hurt the most disadvantaged pupils.

Andrea Gabor is a professor of business journalism at Baruch College, the City University of New York.

August 9, 2015

New Orleans Recovery District Called a Dismal Failure by the City’s Leading African American Newspaper

Filed under: New Orleans,Recovery District — millerlf @ 8:44 pm

On August 4th and 5th I attended an education conference in the great city of New Orleans, titled the New Orleans Education Conference. In contrast to the June conference, sponsored by Tulane University, it presented the truth about the New Orleans recovery school district. The amount of information, both from presented data and through parent and academic narratives, was overwhelming.

To start one should go to the website of The New Orleans Tribune, the uncompromising Black newspaper, published in New Orleans. Dr. Louis Charles Roundanez, founded The New Orleans Tribune, circa 1864. The modern Tribune is part of a publishing legacy that began 148 years ago, when Roudanez published the first Black daily newspaper in the United States. Then, as now, The Tribune was dedicated to social justice and civil rights for all Louisiana citizens. Volume 31, Number 5, is dedicated to the recovery school district and presents a major summary of 10 years of “Myth and Lies of The New Orleans Transformation.” (Go to: http://tinyurl.com/pvtgrop)

Following is their May/June editorial from that issue along with the Louisiana report card letter grades for the New Orleans schools:
THE NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL ON THE RECOVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT AFTER 10 YEARS
“FOR THE RECORD: YOU AIN’T DONE A THING | A TRIBUNE EDITORIAL”

It’s been a tough several months on the local public education front: Let’s count the ways:
First, Act 543, which captures local sales and property tax dollars for the use of the Recovery School District and charter school boards that do not answer to the voters and tax payers of New Orleans, passed easily late last year with the help of our local elected officials and leaders.

Then, advocates, community members, alumni and friends of John McDonogh High School were dealt a death blow when the historic school site was recently given to Bricolage Academy, a charter school that has close ties with a number of the key players and organizations in the reform movement and that has received significant financial backing from the Walton Foundation and New Schools for New Orleans.

With our offices across the street from John McDonogh, we have watched in disgust as workers have been sent in recent weeks to clean and clear the school. We assume that it is in preparation of Bricolage’s eventual move to the facility. Perhaps they will get that $35 million renovation John White promised John McDonogh students and staff more than four years ago when he announced that the only way their school could get renovated was if they were taken over by a charter and then reneged on the promise

Next, state Rep. Joe Bouie’s HB 166, which would have returned improved schools to local elected governance (consistent with the intent of the original law) failed 31-60.

If that were not enough, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of wrongfully fired Orleans Parish public school employees, including more than 7,000 mostly Black, veteran teachers who were the backbone of the city’s middle class.

FOR THE RECORD
We could go on with the list of setbacks as it relates to the farce that is being tossed around as education reform. It seems the more we and others aligned against this fake reform—people like veteran educators Raynard Sanders and Lee Barrios, parent advocate Karran Harper Royal, community advocates Brenda Square and teacher and coach Frank Buckley, researchers Barbara Ferguson and Charles Hatfield, education bloggers Mercedes Schneider and Diane Ravitch, and organizations like Justice and Beyond—fight, the more the ground so-called reformers gain.

The truth is, we’ve been feeling like conceding lately.
Why do we persist?
How’s it going to help?
What’s going to change?
This thing appears to be a run-a-way train.
And we can’t stop it.
We have said all of this and more in the past several weeks and months. Yet, here we are again—devoting an entire issue to sharing the truth about the post-Katrina education reform that is hurting local students, marginalizing parents and disenfranchising voters and taxpayers and that will hurt us for generations to come.

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Surely, we could find other uses for our newsprint and ink.

Well, we do not ever want it to be said that The New Orleans Tribune sat in silence and said nothing while this travesty took place. That’s not what we do or who we are. You expect more from us. We demand more of ourselves. So we would find no joy in saying “we told you so.” We would rather say “so glad we stopped that from happening.” And we hope that every time we raise our voice, others will take heed and join us in a battle we know is righteous. As such, we will go on record now and every chance we get. We will call out the calamity for what it is. We cannot allow defeat to silence our voice. We will not concede—not with the future of our children at stake. The education of children, especially traditionally under-served African-American children, should be no one’s experiment—or meal ticket.

We’re doing it for the record. See, maybe in 20 years, one of the architects of this so-called reform will finally have a crisis of conscience and admit that they were wrong. Maybe it will be John White or Paul Pastorek. Maybe Leslie Jacobs will see the error of her ways. Maybe.

It would be a move reminiscent of President Bill Clinton’s recent acknowledgment of the fact that it was his criminal justice policies that caused and contributed to the mass incarceration problem. Maybe, just maybe in 20 years, President Obama and his education chief Arne Duncan will apologize and admit that the policies they set in motion were deleterious, that the Race to the Top was nothing more than running in place or worse—running backwards
But as it was with Clinton’s mea culpa, even if President Obama and Secretary Duncan apologized in two decades, it would be 20 years too late.

FOR THE RECORD: ISN’T’ IT IRONIC
On the same day that scores of local residents boarded a pair of buses headed to Baton Rouge to support HB 166 as it was taken up by the state House of Representatives, the American Federation for Children was in town for a two-day policy conference. They were here, touting the success of charter schools, talking up the need for reform in education and talking about the parents and children—especially urban parents and children (code for Black, brown and poor) who benefit the most from all of this so-called progress.

We couldn’t help but notice the irony of it all.
We looked at the faces of the people at the AFC summit there to glean talking points to shape and share the education reform narrative in ways that could change policy and minds; and we noted the lack of brown and Black folk. It was striking. Of course, there were a handful, just a handful and likely hand-picked.
So where were all those urban parents and children who benefit so greatly from all of the choice and success that charter schools offer? The AFC has a policy summit in New Orleans—the home of the nation’s only all-charter school district; and not one local parent was in the room when a panel about “transforming” New Orleans was being held. We are told that some had actually been turned away.

We had just left a bunch of urban, Black folk concerned about public education in New Orleans. Of course this group had not been invited to the AFC conference. They were boarding buses at Christian Unity Baptist Church to go to Baton Rouge to support HB 166, the bill authored by state Rep. Joe Bouie.

FOR THE RECORD: ABOUT HB 166
HB 166 would have done one thing and one thing only—return successful schools (their buildings and fiscal resources) from the Recovery School District to local, elected governance. To be sure, not one of those schools would have had to convert from a charter to a direct-run school had Rep. Bouie’s bill passed. The only thing that would have changed was that instead of being under the umbrella of the Recovery School District, schools no longer deemed “failing” would return to the Orleans Parish School Board. That’s it.

As such, the disheartening failure of the state House to pass HB 166, to us, proves yet again that the so-called reform that has taken place here has had little to do with improving academic performance or increasing choice and academic opportunity for the children and families that need it most. Instead, it has everything to do with money and power. And HB 166, simply put, threatened to diminish the control of the power brokers and education reform architects.

For the record, the organizations and individuals that so arrogantly seized our schools and empowered themselves to drive the education “reform” agenda do not take us by surprise. We expect as much from Leslie Jacobs and Sarah Usdin, from Paul Pastorek and John White. However, we have been astonished and saddened to watch as institutions and individuals trusted by our community are all too happy to sign on to this sham. They have done so for their own reasons we suppose. Some of them are our friends, and we know they are smart enough to know what’s really taking place. We can agree to disagree; still, we wonder about their motivations. Don’t they know they are just pawns in a game? Don’t they know the reformers have a play book and it tells them to turn to “trusted community organizations” so that they can “play a critical role in effective community engagement.”

Take a look in a mirror, friends, and ask yourself if you are the “trusted community organization” picked by the reformers to carry the Kool-Aid to your community.

If some schools have recovered, then why keep them under the control of the Recovery School District? There is not a single charter school operating in New Orleans that could not operate under the elected Orleans Parish School Board, which currently oversees 12 charters and six direct-run schools. In fact, why is the RSD still in New Orleans?
Well, we have answered that very question more times than we can count, right here on the pages of this publication. We’ve grown tired. We are aggravated. Actually, these days we are downright incensed. But we will answer once again.

FOR THE RECORD: THEY DON’T REALLY CARE ABOUT US
The people, entities, organizations and institutions driving the education reform movement, especially here in New Orleans, don’t care whether our children receive a quality public education. Neither they nor their children attend or have attended public school in New Orleans. It is not about choice or change or charters. If it were really about choice for parents and children, why is a computer program matching students with schools? Sounds more like school chance and happenstance than school choice to us.

Still, they are happy to use that “choice” mantra so long as it means billions of dollars will continue to flow through their non-profit organizations and their new-fangled foundations. They will continue to use that mantra so long as it means contracts for consulting or school construction or Common Core-aligned text books and testing services for their big corporate buddies. They will continue to use that mantra so long as they can hand out cushy jobs to cronies and allies. And the cronies and allies are happy to go along as long as they are taken care of.
For the record, we are not against change or charters. We do not oppose education reform. There are successful models where traditional public schools co-exist with charters to offer students and their parents quality educational opportunities. In fact, the so-called reformers are right. Katrina was the biggest opportunity. It wiped the slate clean. It offered us the rare chance to get it right. We could have built first-rate facilities in neighborhoods across this city. We could have staffed them with top-notch education administrators, veteran teachers and new ones, too, trained and prepared to contribute to the field. We could have had real change. It’s just that what has happened in New Orleans in the 10 years since Katrina has not been about any of those things.

Instead, education reform, pseudo school choice, and the proliferation of charter schools have merely been one of the vehicles co-opted to perform an entirely different agenda—gain control of an entire city and every system that operates within its jurisdiction. Those who fled New Orleans decades ago on the heels of integration want the neighborhoods back. So they tore down public housing. They want seats of political power back; and they are gaining. The schools—or rather control of schools—are a major piece of that puzzle. This so-called reform is a spoke in a wheel that has been turning now for decades. Katrina was the catalyst that allowed these social engineers and profiteers to hasten their plans. If they have to pretend like they care about where our children learn to gain access to and control of money, land, facilities and dominance, it is a small price to pay. If their gain is on the backs of students, parents and taxpayers, so be it. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that there is money—big money—tied up in this reform movement. And if they can control that as well, all the better. Some of the biggest players in this game are about as concerned about the education of poor Black children in New Orleans as they are about a swarming fly.
Come on, let’s get real. The hypocrisy of it all is actually unsettling. One of the biggest national players in this reform folly is the Walton Foundation. The Walton Foundation has funneled nearly $180 million in grant money in three years (2011, 2012, and 2013) to national and local organizations in the name of education reform. In 2014, alone, the Walton Foundation directed more than $2.6 million to local groups, such as New Schools for New Orleans, the Louisiana affiliate of Stand for Children, the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, Orleans Public Education Network, 4.0 Schools and the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

Now, it’s the Walton family’s money; and they are free to donate it as they please. But just for a second let’s consider that research clearly shows a correlation between family income and a child’s academic achievement and that the widening achievement gap is in great measure associated the widening wealth gap. Given those points, one would think that if the Waltons were so concerned with transforming educational outcomes for America’s children they would not have to be shamed into giving their own low-wage earning employees a pay raise. The wages earned by many Wal-Mart employees are so low that their workers often rely on food stamps, Section 8 housing assistance, and state-funded healthcare programs.

FOR THE RECORD: MYTHS AND LIES OF THE TRANSFORMATION
Truth is that we would be okay with it all—with the foundations for education for this . . . and the new schools for that . . . if public education in New Orleans was actually improving.

But for the record: The myth that this new system of education is more accountable and successful than before is just that—a MYTH. Better still, it is a pack of lies. Don’t be fooled when the reform advocates tout the successes of schools like Lusher and Ben Franklin. First of all, these are not RSD campuses. They were not taken over by the state. These schools, though they have now been chartered, are OPSB schools. More importantly, they were the crown jewels, the top performers in local public education long before the storm. There was no transformation at these campuses. They have been the consistent successes. They were the schools parents and education advocates pointed to years ago and asked “hey, wait…why can’t you make all of our schools like them.”

So now that we have that straight, here’s the reality of the mythical miracle. Fifty-seven (57) RSD-New Orleans schools have school performance scores and letter grades for the 2013-2014 school year. And they don’t look so miraculous. There are six (6) Ts or schools in transition, meaning they have been assumed by a new charter operator and are being given a grace period before their academic performance is measured. We have written before about this perpetual state of transition that can exist as the RSD decides to kick out one charter operator for another over and again.

There are 20 Cs. The last time we checked Cs were nothing to write home about. They indicate a performance level that is acceptable—not exceptional. They represent mediocrity, which is one reason it is mind-boggling that as we understand it FirstLine Schools is in line to get more get more campuses, despite the poor showing of the schools already under its control (four Cs and one F).

There are combined 24 Ds and Fs. In other words 24 schools are academically inadequate. Twenty-four schools are failing to meet the state’s minimum academic standard.

Yes, there are a few Bs—seven (7) to be exact. Meanwhile, not a single charter school in the RSD-New Orleans has earned an A. And with the state’s fluctuating definition of a “failing” school, even a few of the Bs are suspect.
Recall that in 2005, the state legislator raised the minimum SPS score to 87.4 in order to takeover local schools. The minimum SPS has since been lowered to accommodate the reform’s failure. But based on the same standard used to take over more than 100 schools in New Orleans nearly 10 years ago, three (3) of the schools with B letter grades would actually be considered failing. Just so we are clear and for the record, three (3) RSD schools that have earned Bs in the current performance rankings would have been taken over by the state for those same SPS score 10 years ago.

If this reform was really about hope for our children, there would be no more RSD-New Orleans. Truth is the real miracle is that anyone is actually able to follow all of the shenanigans that have taken place in the name of education reform—raise the SPS score minimum; lower the SPS score minimum; plan to return improved schools to the local education agency after five years; don’t automatically return improved schools; give appointed charter boards the final say so on whether they return to elected control; charter every school under your jurisdiction; and if one or two schools ever decide to return, enforce the rules you have neglected for 10 years, yank their charter and shut them down.

More than 54 percent of the charter schools under RSD control are either failing or in transition. Another 35 percent are mediocre. If they were measured by the same standards used to take over the schools in Orleans Parish in 2005, the RSD would be forced to relinquish all but four campuses under its control. Again, just to be clear and for the record: if the RSD were judged by the same standards used to take control of schools in New Orleans 10 years ago, the RSD would be left with only four schools.

The fact that it actually continues to grow its power and control is what is miraculous.

Ah, but that is reform. What a joke.
Of course, it isn’t. Those SPS scores aren’t the digits that matter, though. No, no—they are not the numbers that the reformers care about. Here are the numbers that get them going 17.2 as in the more than $17.2 million the Reily Foundation gave to the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation between 2010-2012. And while 53 is definitely a failing number in the state’s accountability system, it certainly is a passing score if we are talking about the nearly $53 million the Walton Foundation gave to the Charter School Growth Fund, Inc.

But let’s say we ignore the billions of dollars that have flooded this city in the name of education reform to be controlled by the hands of a few self-appointed elite and just focused on the mishandling and downright misuse of some of those funds.

According to media reports, the RSD has not been able to account for millions in state property. Charter school employees have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars, which has been easy enough given the lack of oversight of these charter operators by the RSD and the state department of education. Of course, the RSD doesn’t want to oversee the charters. In fact, they refuse to be overseen themselves; and because of RSD officials’ refusal to cooperate with the New Orleans inspector general, that office walked away from its contract to oversee school construction. Despite the $35 million earmarked for John McDonogh High School’s renovation, the school was never renovated even after it was forced to take on a charter operation in order to get the rebuilding dollars as promised by then-RSD Supt. John White.

For sure, this transformation of New Orleans is about success and gain—just not for our students. RSD schools and this reform are failing us.

This reform ain’t done a thing. And yes, that is for the record.

June 28, 2015

National Charter School Conference: “It looked like every other conference. Fall in line, Black people. We know what’s good for you.”

Filed under: Charter Schools,New Orleans,Privatization,Recovery District — millerlf @ 10:00 am


National Charter School Hoopla In New Orleans

Ashana Bigard The Progressive July 2015

Editor’s Note: The National Charter Schools Conference took place this summer at the New Orleans convention center, on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was, in the infamous words of Education Secretary Arne Duncan “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans” because it forced the community to take steps to improve its low-performing public schools. The mass firing of New Orleans teachers, the dismantling of a city’s public school system and the destruction of local control, has been touted as a model for the nation. The Progressive has reported extensively on the questionable results of the New Orleans charter school experiment. Ashana Bigard, a New Orleanian, advocate, and mother of three, attended the national conference and filed the following report.

I attended the National Charter Schools Conference from June 21 to June 24 in New Orleans.

On Sunday, June 21, as I was checking in, I asked about free spaces for the parents in the community who have children in charter schools. To my surprise and dismay there was no slot open.

The conference kicked off with a Mardi Gras style parade. It was a celebration of charter schools and their success in New Orleans, which is a national model for innovation in education—or so they say.

On Monday, I attended a presentation where Paul Pastorek, the ex-superintendent of Louisiana schools, said that charter schools have “improved the quality of life for the New Orleans community.”

The average reader might say, “What is the problem with that statement?” All over the country people think that New Orleans is a model for public education, that we have done it right. We’re respectable! Successful! Disciplined! Obedient! Ready to go to college! Or work in Walmart, or be a best model prisoner! To be all you can be in today’s Army! That’s us!

We’re a growth district. A lot of our schools have a 100 percent graduation rate. We also happen to have 14,000 youth between the ages of 16 and 24, who are not in school or working. They are the lost youth. No, excuse me, I meant to say “opportunity youth.” Somebody clearly has the opportunity to make some money off them.

John White, Louisiana state superintendent of education, said that the state has 26,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or working. More than half of them just happen to reside in our “successful” New Orleans all-charter school district. These are not children in alternative schools. These are the invisible kids. They are the kids who, despite all the wonderful educational choices we supposedly have, don’t fit in anywhere.

I want people to understand how big New Orleans is. You have to drive an hour and a half in any given direction to get out of the city.

In 2007, there were 32,149 children enrolled in Orleans parish. The children charter operators at the conference called “opportunity youth,” who experienced the transition to our all-charter district, were between the ages of 8 and 16 at the time.

By 2011 there was 42,657 children enrolled in Orleans parish. Even with that larger number, one-fourth of the children fall through the cracks of our reformed system.

I don’t know about the average person, but I wouldn’t use an investor who told me that they would lose a quarter of my money. There is a big difference between a dollar and seventy-five cents, we can all agree. It feels very peculiar to call that success. But I’m getting off topic, let’s get back to our wonderful conference.

The audience at the charter school conference was very diverse. The panels, however . . .

I went to a panel called “How can we ensure schools build and maintain model diversity?” Four white men explained the network of charter schools they run, and how diverse they are. One panelist said that most of the schools in the network have a fifty-fifty ratio of white children to minority children. “We want to build schools that we would want to send our own children to,” he declared.

He sounded proud. But I wondered, if the panelists at this conference would only send their own children to a small subset of the schools in their network, what are they saying about the rest of the schools?

John White explained that this year, there is “a push to serve all children.”

Why did it take ten years to start a push to serve all children? That is another question we should be asking in our shiny new school reform system.

The conference in many ways reflected the school district in New Orleans. Many people from New Orleans came as attendees, but very few of them were leading the conference. The leaders and presenters were mainly white men.

In my humble opinion, if a city is 68 percent African American, the leadership of the city’s school district should mirror the city’s demographics.

Imagine a conference on LGBTQ issues where the majority of panelists were straight. Or a conference on women’s issues led by men. We know that the majority of public school children in our city are African American. How did so many people from outside our city and from a different background become experts on our experience and how to educate us?

I’m going to start pushing back.

I’m not saying that we can’t have any white teachers or administrators; I’m not saying that we don’t have white children and families in our public schools, because we do. I’m just saying that there is a stark difference in the demographics when you look at leadership, decision makers, consultants, and stakeholders. And when I say stakeholders, I mean the children and the people from the communities who are in our schools every day.

There was good information, and misleading information, and just downright wrong information being distributed at the national charter school conference.

When I arrived I was hopeful and maybe a little naïve. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that having a national charter school conference in New Orleans might change the way we look at our schools.

When we talk about charter schools for people who have not experienced them the way New Orleans did, you think of innovation, creative ways of teaching and learning. Let me be very clear: that is not happening in the majority of New Orleans charter schools. But just for a minute, I allowed myself to imagine a conference where sessions were interactive and fun. Where people got to engage, not just be lectured to.

I allowed myself to imagine that charter school leaders in my community would go to these innovative and engaging sessions—on different learning styles, early childhood brain development, culturally relevant pedagogy, social development fundamentals, learning through play, restorative justice, conflict resolution, nutrition for brain development, how to help cope with trauma through the arts, music, and drama, managing schools that are “zero-tolerance” when it comes to systemic oppression, how to recognize stereotypes and biases within yourself. I imagined attending these sessions with black people, Native American people, women, and youth, and that the sessions would be lead by these types of people.

Instead, it looked like every other conference. Fall in line, black people. We know what’s good for you.

All of the interesting debate and discussions took place outside the regular sessions.

At the end of the conference, African American charter school advocate Dr. Deborah McGriff spoke, as she was being inducted into the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ Hall of Fame. Here is what she said: “Things happening to us, not with us, for us, not by us, must end!”
– See more at: http://www.progressive.org/news/2015/06/188196/national-charter-school-hoopla-new-orleans#sthash.89Gd4Nz8.dpuf

May 19, 2015

UpFront: MPS superintendent says charter option for struggling schools would be ‘devastating’ for district

Filed under: Darling,Recovery District — millerlf @ 3:19 pm
UpFront: MPS superintendent says charter option for struggling schools would be ‘devastating’ for district
5/18/2015 WisPolitics.com

Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent Darienne Driver said a proposal to pull the worst schools from the district and put them into a charter program would be devastating.

She told “UpFront with Mike Gousha” the district wouldn’t be able to survive the loss of revenue from schools, which would be given to a “turnaround” or “recovery” district.

The superintendent said current MPS initiatives have shown early signs of success, and if they are allowed to pan out, they will change the performance in the classrooms.

“We’re already seeing early signs of growth in reading and math,” Driver said on the show, which is produced in conjunction with WisPolitics.com.

Driver said that she has talked with both Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, the two lawmakers spearheading the plan, and they are open to feedback.

“Both of them are very concerned about the educational system in Milwaukee,” Driver said. “They are open to feedback, suggestions and any insights that we have around this plan, but they, like many other members of this community, want to see change.”

She said that the state needs to realize high rates in poverty and crime are large factors in poor academic performance. She said that both public and private schools are struggling, and this proposal won’t fix issues in the classroom.

“I think that having choice schools becoming the method of choice, when they’re performing lower than MPS is currently, is a mistake,” Driver said.

She also said that the plan, which would allow the county executive to appoint a public school commissioner, doesn’t address finances or infrastructure, but instead simply the governance of running the Milwaukee Public School system.

“The idea of one person, the county executive, appointing another person, the commissioner, without any other types of details around how it would be funded, is very flawed,” Driver said.

Also appearing on the show, new Chief Justice Pat Roggensack said the idea that the state Supreme Court is in turmoil “doesn’t represent the facts of what is going on.”

Roggensack said that looking back, the approach conservative justices took of voting for a new chief justice via email was their only option. She said it would not have been practical to have a meeting on the change with Shirley Abrahamson suing to prevent implementation of the amendment changing how the chief justice is picked until after her term expires in 2019.

“You really can’t have a meeting of seven people to decide how you’re going to implement a new chief justice when one of the seven is suing you all,” Roggensack said.

The new chief justice insisted that the moment the Government Accountability Board certified the referendum results, Abrahamson no longer had her seat constitutionally, and the court was obligated to follow what the constitution now says.

She said that once issues among the members of the Supreme Court are resolved, she plans to involve all members “in a way they’ve never had the opportunity to participate before.”

She said that she also wants to get out more information on the good work the court is doing, and that the recent “bumps in the road” have been overshadowing their successes.

“We do a lot of wonderful things, and so what I want to do is to get out so that the public knows what we’re doing,” she said.

See more from the show:
http://www.wisn.com/politics/upfront

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