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New Orleans’ Recovery School District: The Lie Unveiled

March 5, 2013

Yesterday, I was watching a video clip of the 2011 Aspen Institute debate between Wendy Kopp and Diane Ravitch.  In a final effort to defend corporate reform, Kopp tells the audience, “I encourage everyone to see for yourself, study for yourself… New Orleans….”

I intend to take Kopp up on her offer in this post.

I have written this piece with a particular audience in mind: Those in other states who are considering following what they think is “model reform” in New Orleans.  They have heard the hype and are seriously considering investing in a lie.  In this post, I will show the reality that is the so-called “New Orleans Miracle.”  It is no miracle at all.  It is only a “sleight of media.” An illusion. A farce.

The New Orleans Miracle is sand in the mouths of those who would drink from its mirage. Never forget it.

Nevertheless, it has become extremely popular reformerspeak to talk about the “success” of New Orleans education. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is using supposed New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD-NO) success as a platform for his obvious 2016 bid for president. While in Virginia this month, however, Jindal was confronted with the truth. Yet in true reformer fashion, Jindal brushes the truth to the side:

Jindal said 77 percent of students in New Orleans were attending failing schools before Katrina. That’s been reduced to 29 percent, he said.

However, New Orleans schools run by the Recovery School District still have a D grade on average while those outside of New Orleans received an F in the latest round of grades released in October.

We’re not where we want to be but have made great progress in seven years,” Jindal said.  [Emphasis added.]

Of course, Louisiana Superintendent John White must also promote the lie that is Recovery School District success.  In this Louisiana Public Broadcasting clip, John White refers to the RSD as “those extraordinary successes.”

The ploy of blatantly ignoring the truth and drilling a lie until the public believes it is not new to corporate reform.  It’s just that reformers do it so well and are so faithful to the tactic.

They will find this post unpalatable.

I have been doing a lot of research, examination and confrontation regarding the “model” reforms in Louisiana over the past several months.  My goal here is to synthesize what I have learned in order to provide solid proof of the corruption and fraud behind the “RSD success” myth.

I would like to begin with the year 2003.

RSD Beginnings and the “Gift” of Hurricane Katrina

In 2003, the Louisiana legislature created the Recovery School District under then-Governor Kathleen Blanco. With this May 2003 law, schools that did not meet “minimum academic standards” were to be taken over by the state.  The first school to have such a fate was Pierre Capdau School (New Orleans) in 2004.

More to come about Pierre Capdau School.

Two other events of note happened in 2003.  First, the Broad Foundation published this “Leadership Manifesto”” whereby corporate reformer Eli Broad and others declared that noneducator leadership “talent” should be brought into the public school arena, and that this “talent” should have “sweeping authority over the personnel and operations of the school.” (The Manifesto was already a chapter in a book published in 1999, Better Teachers, Better Schools, and was now being promoted as a corporate reform idea ready for implementation.)

(In the previous year, Broad established his Superintendents Academy, a nonaccredited, secretive place where ambitious ladder-climbers outside of education might enter the profession and be placed into key administrative roles with virtually unchecked authority to create havoc change.)

The third item in 2003 worthy of note was that a young Bobby Jindal had accepted at least $70,000 from ALEC corporations in his first bid for governor. He lost.

Then came Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina was a gift to corporate reform. Officially striking on August 29, 2005, Katrina destroyed not only New Orleans, but much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Seven years later, it still affects me to write about it.

In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education and blatant reformer Arne Duncan insensitively referred to Hurricane Katrina as “the best thing to happen to the education system of New Orleans.”

From the perspective of Bobby Jindal and the corporate reformers, Duncan was right. As it turns out, many Louisianans were disillusioned with Democratic Governor Blanco’s response to the incredible crisis presented by Katrina. I remember hearing friends lament that “Jindal would have handled this better.” So, when Jindal ran for governor a second time in 2007, it was clear he had won before the final vote had been counted.

In his 2007 campaign, the reformer rhetoric was beginning to show (merit pay; “improve education options”), but not completely, as Jindal also openly advocated “competitively compensating teachers” aside from merit pay and “attracting and retaining qualified educators.”

But back to Katrina.

In November 2005, the Louisiana legislature passed Act 35, which transferred some 100 plus “low performing” schools over to RSD.  The concentration of these schools was in New Orleans.  When Orleans Parish Schools personnel returned following Katrina, they were shocked to discover the almost complete takeover of their school system.  In short, they were no longer employed according to Orleans Parish Schools. A district judge later ruled in favor of wrongful termination of Orleans Parish teachers represented in a class-action suit in November 2012.

The Louisiana legislature enabled corporate reform to sweep in (hence a new meaning to “sweeping reforms”) while a community, indeed a state and even a region, were still shaken from utter devastation.  Arne Duncan celebrated.  And ALEC waited.  Jindal was coming.

When I was searching for a teaching position upon my return to New Orleans from Indiana in 2007, I noticed on the internet this new district in New Orleans named Recovery School District.  They were accepting applications for numerous positions, from administration to support personnel.  I applied for both administrative and teaching positions.  I received no offers to interview.  I did not know then what I know now:  My resume had no hint of corporate reform, and corporate reformers were those being sought to fill RSD positions.

RSD had assumed most of what was once Orleans Parish Schools (OPS); yes, OPS did still exist, but it was only a fraction of what it once was.  As for RSD, it rapidly became the reformer ideal of abounding charters; RSD was also hailed by reformers as “an epic experiment in education reform.” In September 2010, then-State Superintendent Paul Pastorek and then-RSD Superintendent Paul Vallas (currently facing possible ouster in Bridgeport, CT) declared RSD a “success,” though they presented no concrete evidence to support their assertion, as noted here:

In 2003, the Louisiana Legislature created the Recovery School District (RSD) to rehabilitate failed schools. While not always the most popular mechanism, it has become clear across the state and country that in order to ensure every child has the chance to attend a great school, political leaders must identify persistently low-performing schools, remove them temporarily from local control, and implement proven reform practices and turnaround strategies that yield dramatic results in the school. [Emphasis added.]

Before the institution of letter grades in 2011 (another ALEC creation, featured in their 2010 Education task Force mailouts), a star rating system was used to rate schools. In order to achieve “three stars,” a school needed a score of 100 points. The average score for RSD schools was 60.9 points. Ignoring this evidence, Pastorek and Vallas simply declared victory.

Remember, that is what reformers do:  Ignore the evidence and declare victory.

The Advent of John White, and Bobby Jindal’s Second Term

In 2010, Jindal was nearing the end of his first term as governor, and he was keeping rhetoric toned down regarding his plans to follow the ALEC playbook and usher in “sweeping educational reforms” should he be reelected in 2011.  Jindal did begin campaigning early, in March 2011, following a seven-point drop in the polls. Jindal was perceived as a governor who rode in on opportunity (disfavor with democratic leadership during Katrina) then offered no “follow-through”:

[After Jindal's 2007 election,] disillusionment settled in quick. His “blue ribbon” ethics reform was marred by ineffective enforcement and his interest in state policy rode constantly in the backseat behind his national political ambitions.  His leadership was defined not by its boldness or its ability to transform; but by its caution, his unwillingness to take meaningful risks even in pursuit of desirable policy outcomes.  He stood on the right side of many issues but seemed unwilling to push too hard, and subsequently accomplished too little of substance. At the beginning of 2011, Jindal was looking like a status quo governor, an uninteresting “anti-tax” cookie-cutter Republican who presided more than he led.  [Emphasis added.]

The article continues to describe “some change in Jindal”:

In the past couple of weeks, Jindal has emerged as the governor many of us had hoped he would be – bold and transformative. [Emphasis added.]

“Bold and transformative.”  Classic reformer words.

Prior to his re-election, Jindal brought in John White to be superintendent of RSD in September 2011.  White happened to be one of those “talented” noneducators groomed via TFA and the Broad Superintendents Academy. (I cannot bring myself to write that White’s two or three years as a token TFA teacher earn him the title of “educator.”)  White was trained by corporate reformer Joel Klein and posited in New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg  as a deputy chancellor (duties included ignoring parental concerns, pushing charters and online education, and campaigning to close schools as he was waiting in line to “be a leader.”).  When White left New York for New Orleans, New York parents were relieved. Disconnected from NY parents’ perceptions, Arne Duncan hailed White as a “visionary leader who has done great things in New York….”

Louisiana had no idea where a second term with Bobby Jindal would take it.  His re-election was not so much due to public favor as it was a default to having no clear, strong democratic opponent on the ballot coupled with Jindal’s strong ALEC ties.   Jindal would open fire on the education profession (and health care and retirement, to name a few) in the following legislative session, promoting (and passing, due to a eerily compliant, ALEC-purchased legislature) a number of ALEC model bills, including those related to education reform (Act 1, Teacher Tenure and Evaluation, and Act 2, Vouchers).

On the ballot with Jindal in the October 2011 election were eight seats for the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).  Controlling BESE was pivotal for Jindal, as it would ensure him carte blanche for any “reforms” he wished to institute.  In my school district, teachers and administrators were well aware of the importance of the BESE elections.

What we did not know was that the BESE board had already been purchased.  The command for assisting Bobby Jindal with the BESE elections is evident in this email from Foundation for Excellence in Education’s (FEE) Patricia Levesque, as she advises  ALEC-entrenched, Jeb-Bush-controlled superintendents group, Chiefs for Change, on helping Bobby Jindal with the BESE elections since BESE is pivotal for approving Jindal’s choice for new state superintendent, none other than recent New York hire John White. In her email, Levesque emphasizes that Jeb Bush has put his support behind Jindal’s choice of White:

An article on state board of education races– that will impact selection of next chief in Louisiana. Gov. Jindal wants John White as next state chief. Governor Bush is lending his support/endorsement to the candidates Gov. Jindal is supporting for the State Board of Ed.

Patricia

And so, it came to pass:

Last fall (in 2011), a coterie of extremely wealthy billionaires, among them New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, turned the races for unpaid positions on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) into some of the most expensive in the state’s history. Seven pro-education “reform” candidates for the BESE outraised eight candidates endorsed by the teacher’s unions by $2,386,768 to $199,878, a ratio of nearly twelve to one. In just one of these races, the executive director of Teach for America Greater New Orleans-Louisiana Delta, Kira Orange Jones, outspent attorney Louella Givens, who was endorsed by the state’s main teacher’s unions, by more than thirty-four to one: $472,382 to $13,815. [Emphasis added.]

By November 2011, Jindal was re-elected; BESE was effectively purchased, and in January 2011, John White was installed as Louisiana State Superintendent of Education:

Why would out-of-state billionaires care about Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education? The state board must approve the governor’s nominee for the powerful state superintendent of education by a two-thirds majority, and the 2007–11 board would have been unlikely to approve Jindal’s nominee, John White. White had been in Louisiana for less than a year at the time, after coming from New York City to head Louisiana’s Recovery School District, which the BESE directly supervises. A Teach for America alum, White had previously spent five years working as a deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education under Michael Bloomberg. Louisiana’s education superintendent administers the state’s educational system, but of particular interest to wealthy donors, the superintendent recommends which schools should be eligible for accreditation and state support to the BESE, which ultimately approves. In the past decade or so, that has meant that the state superintendent and BESE discern which charter or voucher schools are eligible to provide instruction in the state of Louisiana.  [Emphasis added.]

In the end, it’s all about the money, and the money wins. A corporate reform perfect storm.

Once placed by purchased BESE into the position of state superintendent, White became one of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change members, a national posse to promote corporate reform at Jeb Bush’s bidding. (Former Louisiana Superintendent Paul Pastorek is a member emeritus, as well as a member of the Broad Center Board of Directors, as in Broad Superintendents Academy, as in the place where White spend weekends earning his flimsy “credential.” The reformer web is interwoven.)

Notable BESE Conflicts of Interest

Back to BESE:

Two notable BESE members are Chas Roemer and Kira Orange-Jones.  They have astounding conflicts of interest as BESE board members. Let’s begin with Roemer.

The Roemers

Chas Roemer, newly-installed in January 2013 as BESE president, is a fount of idiocy when he speaks.  Consider the following statements, all taken from this February 2013 newspaper article:

“We should set people free and then hold them accountable” (said in support of the Neville charter in Monroe, LA). [Emphasis added.] (“Freedom”: Nothing else matters; do what you want. “Accountability”: High test scores are all that matter. Build your own scaffold.  BESE/DOE will provide the noose.)

Roemer said charter schools are held to strict accountability standards through the state’s ability to revoke charters after three years if the school is failing. [Emphasis added.] (An open invitation for charter school fraud: Milk the system; take the millions, then move on in three years without repercussions.)

“If we don’t get our business straight, then we run the risk of losing our customer.” (As though public schools are businesses where students, the “customers,” can opt out of compulsory education. Roemer said this in support of vouchers already declared unconstitutional for using public school funds, and that fewer than 2% of students chose to access this year.) [Emphasis added.]

Roemer is vocal about his support of charter schools, and despite an astounding and glaring conflict of interest because of his sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley:

…LouisianaVoice inquired as to the legality of Baton Rouge BESE member Chas Roemer’s voting on matters involving charter schools that come before the board. Roemer’s sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and has already been directed by the Ethics Board not to speak at BESE meetings on behalf of matters concerning charter schools or to talk to BESE members about charter school matters because of her brother’s membership on the board.

Chas Roemer, however, has consistently voted on matters concerning charter schools and in some cases, even made motions to approve or not approve certain agenda items concerning charter schools. [Emphasis added.]

And consider this article::

Roemer’s membership on BESE has been a source of rancor for groups opposing his unabated support for charter schools. Roemer’s sister, Caroline Roemer Shirley, is executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS). The group advocates for expanding charter schools in the state and loosening restrictions on teacher tenure. In 2008, the state’s top ethics committee ruled Caroline Roemer cannot appear before BESE, but LAPCS is not restricted. Chas Roemer was not asked to recuse himself from hearings when LAPCS is present, though sections 1112 and 1120 of the Louisiana Code of Governmental Ethics indicate that he should.

A look at BESE meeting minutes in January of 2011 reveals (PDF) Chas Roemer voted on renewing the charters of multiple charter schools (Type 5 Charter Schools) that are members of the charter school association his sister leads. Some of those include the McDonogh schools, which belong to the KIPP and Algiers charter school networks. [Emphasis added.]

The ethics board is apparently fine with Chas and Caroline’s connection, since Chas has been installed as not only a BESE member, but of late as BESE president, and is openly vocal in support of charters. Meanwhile, Caroline is still allowed to frequent BESE meetings, where one is allowed to use electronic devices to communicate during the meetings.

Caroline Roemer Shirley is also very much involved in the oft-referenced, dealings of one charter in particular, Lycee Francais, a French immersion charter that splintered from another combination Montessori/immersion school. Unlike most charters, Lycee Francais is authorized directly through BESE rather than RSD or Orleans. And Lycee Francais has a brief yet tumultuous history.  The school has been steeped in turmoil, including failing to openly advertise its student openings; experiencing an $85,000 budget shortfall, using questionable admissions standards (very low percentage of minority students admitted); experiencing the abrupt resignation of its CEO;  and suffering the suspected capriciousness of its board.  The Lycee Francais board has retained the services of ALEC-member attorneys Adams and Reese in the wake of records requests.

John White is protecting this school. For example, when BESE member Lottie Beebe asked for a report on the school based upon concerns raised by her constituents, White brushed off the request (White also later excludes Beebe from this communication regarding his “assistance” to Lycee Francais). Read the previously-linked article to see how many times White ignores concerns over the operation of Lycee Francais. Finally, BESE does “direct White to look into the concerns.” In December 2012, the state had intervened and hired a consultant to oversee “swift” changes, including the hiring of a new CEO and changing the school’s board:

Roemer Shirley said board members were open to the intervention (John White’s directing the charter school operation via a hired consultant) , adding that it’s the first time she’s seen a charter authorizer step in this way. [Emphasis added.]

Since White/BESE is “charter authorizer,” is it not a conflict of interest for White to assist one charter school in particular with “succeeding” if as state superintendent he has not offered such “assistance” to other Louisiana charter schools?

In all of this, I cannot help but ask, why is BESE in charge of this school?  Why the special treatment for Lycee Francais?  Hiring attorneys in the wake of a records request? White’s snubbing Beebe’s request for a report on the school?  The hiring of a consultant?

And keep in mind that Caroline Roemer Shirley is also promoting the false message that the Louisiana charter schools “are outperforming their non-charter school peers on student achievement”:

“Due to our state’s embrace of the charter school movement, Louisiana is one of a handful of states that is closing the achievement gap between African-American students and their white counterparts,” said Caroline Roemer Shirley, Executive Director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. “Now that charter schools have proven their effectiveness at improving learning for African-American students, we need to continue to share how they’re achieving these academic successes with all public schools so the entire system improves.”  [Emphasis added.]

I did mention that Lycee Francais is extremely racially unbalanced, did I not?  How could Lycee Francais “close the achievement gap between African-American students and their white counterparts” when Lycee Francais is overwhelmingly white? As The New Orleans Imperative notes:

Latest Census results indicate that New Orleans’ population is approximately 60% black. 42% of New Orleans’ children live in poverty. If the goal of the charter school movement is to serve the communities in which the schools are located, why are there so few black children at Lycee Francais? Why are there no poor children at Lycee Francais?  … It is clearly obvious the Lycee Francais has manipulated its enrollment practices with BESE approval to basically insure a white student population, which is not representative of New Orleans. [Emphasis added.]

Such unaddressed yet crucial issues. Yet Roemer Shirley ignores such issues and, like her reformer cronies, declares corporate reform victory.

Another bit of information worthy of note is that the controversial Lycee Francais makes absolutely no appearance on the 2012 school-level data offered by DOE.

In her praise of charter performance, Roemer Shirley does not include this Education Law Center caution offered regarding so-called “comparisons” of charter versus noncharter (traditional public school) performance:

…Some of these results [favoring charter schools] may be somewhat misleading. In particular, some of the benefits attributed to charter schools may actually be a result of study designs or due to differences in student bodies between charters and regular public schools. [Emphasis added.]

Though Roemer Shirley cites a Stanford study lauding charter performance, she is silent regarding the possibility that unusually high score gains might be the result of cheating (documents under Freedom of Information were just released under duress, so more on this to come).  Also, Roemer Shirley is silent about school performance scores and cohort graduation rates, particularly of RSD, which advertises 12 traditional and 58 charter schools for New Orleans on its website.  In the course of this post, I will discuss RSD school grades and graduation rates.  They reveal that the so-called “achievement gap” has not moved and that the oft-pronounced RSD “success” is a fiction.

Orange-Jones

For now, let us turn our attention to the second BESE member I mentioned whose presence poses an incredible conflict of interest: Kira Orange-Jones.

Consider the following information regarding Orange-Jones’ campaign funding of her race for a BESE seat:

Why has nearly 25 percent (almost $60,000) of the more than $241,000 in campaign contributions to BESE candidate Kira Orange Jones come from out-of-state contributors?  Why are more than one-third of her contributors from outside of LouisianaWho are these people and why are they so concerned about who represents the New Orleans area and other surrounding parishes on the LOUISIANA Board of Elementary and Secondary Education?  The reality is that the list of Orange Jones’ major contributors reads like a who’s who of Teach for America top brass. [Emphasis added.]

Why so much TFA support for Orange-Jones? Orange-Jones is the executive director of TFA’s Greater New Orleans office. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu even campaigned for Orange-Jones (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoyLAgmU4ls)  (This is the same Senator Landrieu who was connected to the earmarking of $2 million in federal funds for a Voyager Learning reading program, after Landrieu had received $80,000 from Voyager associates for her campaign.)

Like Chas Roemer, Kira Orange-Jones’ presence on BESE raises questions about a conflict of interest. However, the ethics board ruled in Orange-Jones’ favor, despite her title of TFA “executive director”:

The decision, which received unanimous support from the eight [ethics] board members at Friday’s meeting, hinged on arguments made by Orange Jones’ lawyer that she served more as a supervisor than a decision-maker for the nonprofit teaching organization, which has annually received approval for a $1 million contract with the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Attorney James Babst successfully argued that this arrangement allows Orange Jones to fit into a exemption carved out in previous rulings by the board allowing rank-and-file employees to serve on boards that have contractual relationships with their employer. The exemption should apply despite Orange Jones’ title of “executive director,” he said.

The argument in favor of Orange-Jones is that she has no “controlling interest” in TFA.  There is no mention of the extravagant financial support Orange-Jones’ campaign received from high-ranking TFAers.  It is the elephant in the ethics committee room. If Orange-Jones’ position on BESE carried only “rank and file” significance, why did she raise 34 times the money as her opponent if not for her ability to influence BESE in matters TFA and corporate reform?

And here is another elephant:  John White, who pushed for approval of that $960,000 TFA grant in October 2012, is himself alumni of TFA and of Broad, a foundation where TFA President and Founder Wendy Kopp currently sits on the board. In fact, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan once sat on a Broad board. And Eli Broad himself contributed to Orange-Jones:

To support Orange Jones’s campaign against [Louella] Givens, Eli Broad, billionaire head of the education reform organization the Broad Foundation and a major trainer and placer of school superintendents, chipped in $5,000.  [Emphasis added.]

Are we so foolish as to believe a “controlling interest” can only take the form of a direct route?  Corporate reform specializes in laundered, indirect routes, in complex arrangements of favors begetting favors. Through White and Orange-Jones, Eli Broad himself is sitting on the BESE board.

John White’s Information Hiding Game

Even thought White and BESE approved a $960,000 grant for TFA in October 2012, White continues to withhold specifics regarding the degree of TFA presence in Louisiana’s schools.  Why hide TFA?  Is it possible that TFA is not the miracle it purports?  Louisiana Voice’s Tom Aswell is pursuing Freedom of Information requests of DOE documents related to TFA specifics in Louisiana’s schools.

John White hides specifics because he knows that detailed information, even if it is a lie, can lead to probing and scrutiny, which can, in turn, unveil the truth.  Take Tom Aswell’s request for emails concerning the justification for altering the DOE website.  White said that he revised the website based upon complaints from users. Wanting to verify this, Aswell made a records request of White/DOE:

[We made requests for] a list of complaints about the Louisiana Department of Education’s web page that White said prompted his decision to revamp the page to its current unnavigable mish mash of a web page that is about as user friendly as a sidesaddle on a Hampshire hog.

What Aswell received after beginning legal proceedings for the information was as follows:

Because White made such a big production of the complaints he said he received about the old format of the department’s web page which led to the complete revamp of the page, we decided to call his bluff and ask for those complaints.

What we got instead of complaints about the old web page was a stream of complaints about the current format, including one writer who, in the email’s subject line wrote “YOUR NEWLY DESIGNED WEBSITE SUCKS,” and who then proceeded to chastise the department for the misspelling of “recieve.” (Yep, that’s the way your new DOE website spells receive.) “For crying out loud, USE YOUR SPELLCHECKER!” the Monroe critic wrote, adding, “Please correct this and make this site professional, not juvenile.”

Another wrote: “Many of your links lead to errors. Come on, man!”

I am unable to locate information that I need to do my job. If we no longer have a website that is user friendly, what are we expected to do?” asked another.

Strangely, however, there were no complaints provided by White about the old web site even though he said the changes were made pursuant to “many complaints” about the old site.  [Emphasis added.]

One of White’s ploys was to remove or make otherwise virtually unlocatable the DOE data on Louisiana’s schools.

After all, it is easier to proclaim the RSD miracle if no one can verify the fraud.

However, those trained in research develop an almost-instinctive habit of downloading and saving data files.  We also actively seek to cross-reference questionable data files with other files (for example, cross-referencing state and federal data files; cross-referencing files posted for public use with those sent privately to administrators).  And often, a beautiful exchange occurs in which we are able to distill truth from confusion.

The Truth Evident From the Data

The rest of this post I will devote to the distillation of quantitative truth.

I base the following discussion on several data files that I have saved. I have two 2012 district performance score/letter grade spreadsheets originating with LDOE, one made available to the public, and a second, sent to superintendents and BESE members.  I also have two 2012 school performance score/letter grade spreadsheets: one public; the other, sent to admin/BESE.

(The data sets sent to admin/BESE are much clearer in their labeling of data. On the school-level data set made available to the public, labelings of RSD schools make it very difficult to determine which are RSD-NO and which are RSD-LA.  However, the school-level data sent to admin/BESE has these schools obviously differentiated.)

I also have access to USDOE graduation cohort information (2007-11) for all participating schools in all parishes in Louisiana.

I have used the information available from these data files to audit and expound upon school information from the RSD website.

Thus, places like York County, Pennsylvania, and other cities nationwide that are considering emulating the “New Orleans miracle of school reform” might be truly informed that no miracle exists. It is a complete and utter fraud.

As of February 21, 2013, on its website, RSD advertises 12 traditional schools and 58 charter schools in New Orleans, for a total of 70 schools.  However, RSD only offers names and physical locations for 67 schools.  Furthermore, three “schools,” G.W. Carver College and two named G.W. Carver Prep, have the same physical address. On both school-level data sets, there is only one G.W. Carver, labeled simply as “G. W. Carver High School.”  This means that either G.W. Carver is a set of splinter schools, or there is really only one G.W. Carver. Also, the RSD designation “N O Accel” appears to be ReNew Accel (City Park) and ReNew Accel (West Bank), though RSD offers only one physical address named “N O Accel.”

If RSD counts G.W. Carver as three schools and N O Accel as two schools, this equals 70 schools.

One school, Nelson Elementary, was omitted from the RSD website but had 2012 data available on the DOE school-level spreadsheet. Therefore, it appears that RSD has a possible 71 schools.

The 2012 LDOE school-level spread sheets (both admin and public versions) account for only 60 schools (including both ReNew schools). Thus, RSD has not offered information on the physical addresses for potentially three of its schools, and LDOE has not even included a hint of data on 9 of the 70 (not including Nelson, which RSD “forgot” to include) supposed RSD schools (listed below).

Making schools difficult to locate and track is a reformer trademark.

If some of these “missing” schools are “shadow schools”, those where student test scores are added to other, “visible” schools in the district in order to boost scores at a given school, it isn’t working for RSD.

The following schools are listed as existing on the RSD website yet have no information available on the LDOE 2012 school-level spreadsheet:

Two of the three “G.W. Carver” schools; Cohen College Prep; Craig, Crescent; Hughes; McDonough High (the recent focus of Oprah’s schemes); McDonough 42; Net.

But enough about what is nebulous and not listed.  There is enough of substance in what is accounted for on 2012 LDOE school-level data to debunk the repeatedly-perpetrated myth of the RSD Miracle.

Let us begin from the beginning.

Both the current RSD website and the 2012 LDOE school-level spreadsheet include information on the very first RSD school, Pierre Capdau.

Pierre Capdau, the very first school to be assumed by RSD in 2004, remains a state-run, RSD-NO school.  After eight years, Pierre Capdau has a D for its 2012 letter grade. I have never heard any reformer boast of the “miracle” that is Pierre Capdau. It has not succeeded according to the reformer-determined definition of “success.” Pierre Capdau has never been “transformed” as a result of its state takeover.

That right there ought to give pause to those tempted by the veneer of a New Orleans Miracle.

There is much more:

Of the 60 state-run RSD schools (59 from the RSD website plus omitted Nelson) included on the DOE 2012 school-level data spreadsheet (both admin and public versions), none received an A as a school letter grade.

Of 60 state-run RSD schools, only 6 received a B in 2012. That’s 10%.

One RSD school, Gentilly Terrace, received a T, meaning no grade this year. A free pass.

According to Jindal’s and the State of Louisiana’s definition of a failing school, the remainder of the RSD schools given letter grades are failing.  That’s 90%.

In 2012, 5 state-run RSD schools received a C.

In 2012, 19 state-run RSD schools received a D.

In 2012, 29 state-run RSD schools received an F.

Given that RSD is overwhelmingly comprised of charter schools (83%, based upon information available on the RSD website), I think it safe to write that Caroline Roemer Shirley’s praise of unqualified charter school success in New Orleans is unfounded.

When reality reflects poorly on a reformer with access to data, he/she could always try to, as John White often says, “tweek”:

On the district-level spreadsheet sent to admin, White/LDOE created a nonsense district score whereby RSD-NO’s district score of D was “averaged” with Orleans (which had an A for a district score). This produced an amalgam of C.

(This “fake” C has a numeric “grade” of 93.7, a number that has been used by New Schools for New Orleans [NSNO] to “prove” New Orleans success in this April 2013 report. It is a lie. Orleans Parish has an A that was combined with RSD-NO’s D to get this 93.7.)

Good enough to reduce the glory of Orleans, but still not good enough to make RSD-NO look “good enough.”

Not quite the “tweeked” success.

Even though this post focuses on RSD, I would like to offer a word about Orleans Parish Schools. Of the 17 Orleans schools listed on the DOE school-level spreadsheet, five are labeled as magnet schools. Seven schools received an A; 5 received a B.

Orleans is skimming the better students. It’s that simple. A true litmus test of charter “success” is the presence of whole-district/region charter success. Anything else is a lie.  Spotty “successful” schools among predominantly “unsuccessful” ones only betrays the division of academic “haves” and “have nots.”  Orleans Parish Schools is an island in the midst of the sea of RSD-NO failure.

Reformers like John White and former BESE member Leslie Jacobs will attempt to conceal the unsuccessful reality by combining it with the “skimmed” success.  In Jacobs’ case, she wrote an op/ed claiming that the “achievement gap” was “closed” in 2011, based upon data from the U.S. Department of Education on cohort graduation rates. In my response to Jacobs, I highlight the truth based upon the reality of the USDOE graduation data.  Rather than rewrite my findings, I will simply copy them below.  They provide reinforcement for the truth of RSD failure:

As to Jacobs’ shining moment, her ultimate point of the article, that “in New Orleans, 76.5% of our students graduated on time”:

First, one must consider the unclear term, “New Orleans.” This is the name of a city, not a school district. There is Orleans Parish Schools, and its 2010-11 graduation rate was 93.5%. This begs the question: Why focus on 76.5% as the evidence of “New Orleans success” instead of Orleans Parish Schools’ 93.5%? Furthermore, Orleans Parish received an “A” on its 2012 district report card. Why not highlight the achievements of Orleans Parish Schools? Jacobs cites “the failure of New Orleans Public Schools” later in her writing. Why not note a beautiful recovery (pun intended)?

The answer: The success of Orleans Parish Schools only serves to underscore the failure of the state-run counterpart, RSD-NO.

Back to that 76.5% of “our students graduating on time”:

LDOE does not report a district percentage for RSD-NO 2010-11 graduation rate. How Jacobs arrived at 76.5% is a mystery to me. Perhaps she took the overall 2,051 graduates “in New Orleans” and divided by the number of 2010-11 students classified as seniors “in New Orleans.” Doing so would certainly paint a fairer picture than does the detailed account posted on the LDOE website for RSD-NO (I also included 2012 school letter grades and scores where available): RSD-NO 2010-11 Graduation Rates (percentage) and 2011-12 School Letter Grades/Scores

  • Thurgood Marshall Early College High School – 87.8% – C – 97.9
  • Abramson Science and Technology Charter School – 82.1%*
  • O. P. Walker Senior High School – 74.6% – B – 108.9
  • Algiers Technology Academy – 67.9% – D – 85.5
  • Joseph S. Clark Senior High School – no score – T** – 55.8
  • Walter L. Cohen High School – 53.6% – F – 45.5
  • John McDonough Senior High School – 45.6%
  • Rabouin Career Magnet High School – no score
  • Sarah Towles Reed Senior High School – 49.6% – F – 47.6
  • Schwarz Alternative School – no score
  • G. W. Carver High School – 55.7% - F – 46.4
  • Excel Academy – no score
  • Hope Academy – no score
  • New Orleans Career Academy – no score
  • Sophie B. Wright Institute of Academic Excellence – no score – D – 78.9

*Abramson’s school code (300003) is currently assigned to a school named Lake Area New Tech. The 2012 school grade and score for Lake Area New Tech is F 59.4.

**Exempt from a letter grade this year.

I think it is fair to say that Ms. Jacobs’ enthusiasm at the “closing of the achievement gap” is undeniably premature. When one observes that actual graduation rates for the RSD-NO schools that have been assigned such a number, there is quite a gap. Three of the eight schools with scores are above the state 2010-11 graduation rate average of 70.9%; however, the remaining five are below the state average, with half, four of the eight, woefully below average.

What these results do show is the effective academic segregation of a school district.  [Emphasis added.]

This evidence does not support Jacobs’ assertion of a “game changer for the city.”

It is worthy to note that three of the schools with low graduation rates highlighted above, Carver, Cohen, and Reed, have students actively speaking out nationally regarding the need for “fairness and justice in public schools across New Orleans.”  Such desperation in its student body does not become a “miracle school district.”  However, this behavior can be expected from students tired of being pawns in a chess game that says “miracle” but is “sham.”

Jacobs also writes that 39.1% of “New Orleans pubic school graduates” qualified for TOPS.  The NSNO April 2013 report also cites this “gain.” It, too, is a lie:

This statistic (39.1%) comes from page 31 of the Cowen Institute 2012 analysis of New Orleans schools; Ms. Jacobs fails to mention that this 39% is for the subgroup of Orleans Parish Public School charter schools and not the rate for New Orleans schools overall.

A Closing Word

The school- and district-level data presented in this post unequivocally demonstrates that the state-run RSD is hardly a miracle.  It should be an embarrassment to any reformer insisting otherwise.  And it should come as no wonder why RSD doesn’t even mention school letter grades on its website.

The history of the state-run RSD in New Orleans is one of opportunism and deceit, of information twisting and concealing, in order to promote a slick, corporate-benefitting, financially-motivated agenda.  It is certainly not “for the children.”

It is very easy for corporate reform to stand in front of the media and proclaim a New Orleans miracle. Bobby Jindal is doing it.  So are John White, Wendy Kopp, Leslie Jacobs, and a host of others.  No matter how oft-repeated the term “New Orleans miracle” has become, it is a lie.

To other districts around the nation who are considering adopting “the New Orleans miracle”:

Reread this post, and truly consider what it is that you would be getting:  A lie packaged to only look appealing from afar.

14 Comments
  1. dormand permalink

    While the above discussions are virtually all post-Katrina, one news piece of Hurricane Katrina time is informative as to the unique culture of New Orleans:

    As Hurricane Katrina was approaching New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico, one news piece reported that a New Orleans Independent School District ( NOISD ) truck, filled with building materials from a NOISD warehouse and with three ( 3 ) maintenance employees on the NOISD payroll drove as instructed to the home of the NOISD Superintendent.

    On arrival, they proceeded to board up the windows and doors of the Superintendent’s home with the NOISD materials that they had gotten from the NOISD warehouse.

    As these NOISD employees were boarding up the NOISD Superintendent’s home with the NOISD building materials, the noble NOISD Superintendent and his family were at the airport, boarding an airplane to take them safely out of the reach of Hurricane Katrina.

    No doubt this significant expenditure of NOISD resources resulted in the NOISD students being far better prepared for entry into higher education or the workforce.

    • Dormand, you have your facts wrong about Hurricane Katrina and the superintendent’s house being boarded up. That was a previous Superintendent and a previous storm. You even have the name of the school district wrong. There is no “Independent” in the name of our school district. The erroneous news you speak of has nothing to do with our culture or the story in this article.

      As for the information in this article, can you speak to this? The last 7 years were supposed to be about reform, yet the vast majority of our schools in he so called reform district are rated D or F. All the changes people like Kopp support have had full access for implementation, and the result is still failure. Even the charters in the RSD are overwhelmingly rated D or F. Lets face it. The so called reforms in New Orleans have failed. It’s irresponsible for Kopp and company to keep pushing school privatization with amateur teachers as education reform. The Recovery School District has shown that even with full access, no teachers union contract, parental choice, etc. their methods don’t transform public education as promised.

      Now can we work together for real reform strategies?

      • dormand permalink

        “While the above discussions are virtually all post-Katrina, one news piece of Hurricane Katrina time is informative as to the unique culture of New Orleans……”

        Identification of the culture of a segment of society is critical. You might want to review Diamond’s
        “Collapse…..” for a better understanding of this vital aspect.

        Thank you for the clarification of the nomenclature of the prior educational unit with ad valorum taxing power.

        I have referred your piece to a friend whose son served for two years in the NO schools with TFA.

        He was All-Ivy football while at Yale and is now at the Wharton School.

        You might find that your effectiveness is enhanced with a less adversarial approach. Not all who point out differences or clarifications oppose improvement of education in this wasteland of human capital from generations of neglect.

        It is interesting that for some state bureau heads, for some each of the last three incumbents are now in prison for corruption offenses.

  2. Mike in Texas permalink

    So is there buyer’s remorse in LA, or will the people continue to elect officials who work for their corporate bosses as we do here in Texas

  3. laMissy permalink

    I am in awe of the work you are doing. Thank you.

  4. Reblogged this on Cloaking Inequity and commented:
    Senate Bill 1718 (Texas Achievement School District) has passed out of the House Education Committee and will likely be voted on by the Texas House.

  5. David permalink

    Coming from a teacher who taught in the RSD after Katrina, the charter school system has revampled how NOLA does eduation (for the better). Knowing and hearing stories about how things were before, I have first-hand accounts and knowledge to back up that statement. Also, while a good percentage of the schools are still failing in the RSD (29%), this is quite a jump from where it used to be right after Katrina (over 80%). Furthermore, the state has at least raise the bar once to what a failing school is. Therefore, the bar continues to get higher for the RSD schools to become a D or C school.

    Your view of Orleans parish school is wrong. Everyone knows these schools have pre-requisites to get into every school. They are all known to be selective and make no qualms about that. Therefore, of course, there scores will be higher than the RSD. While some charter schools say anyone gets in, just like a business (since the charter schools in NOLA are run like businesses) some charter schools won’t accept a kid who has a past criminal record and a current ankle bracelet on his ankle. While these situations are not public knowledge, at some points, school is not for everyone in student’s lives.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The Big Lie About New Orleans, Exposed | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Ideological Warfare : Ravitch v.s Kopp | Away & Anywhere
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  4. A-F Accountability Letter Grades: Reform or Different Name, More of the Same? | Cloaking Inequity
  5. Dad Gone Wild | Welcome Back From Friday News Dump

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