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On the “Success” of a 100% Charter Recovery School District

May 29, 2014

On May 29, 2014, Lindsey Layton of the Washington Post wrote this article on the conversion of the state-run New Orleans Recovery School District’s (RSD) conversion to charters.

I would like to clarify a few of Layton’s glossy statements about RSD.

Let us begin with this one:

The creation of the country’s first all-charter school system has improved education for many children in New Orleans.

Layton offers no substantial basis for her opinion of “improvement” other than that the schools were “seized” by the state following Katrina.

Certainly school performance scores do not support Layton’s idea of “improvement.” Even with the inflation of the 2013 school performance scores, RSD has no A schools and very few B schools. In fact, almost the entire RSD– which was already approx 90 percent charters– qualifies as a district of “failing” schools according to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s definition of “failing schools” as C, D, F schools and whose students are eligible for vouchers.

The district grade for RSD “rose” to a C due to a deliberate score inflation documented here  and here.

The purpose of vouchers is to enable students to escape “failing” schools. Ironic how the predominately-charter RSD has the greatest concentration of such “failing” schools in the entire state of Louisiana.

On to another Layton whopper:

In the tumult after the hurricane, the state seized control of 102 of the city’s 117 schools — the worst performers — and created the appointed Recovery School District to oversee them, while letting the Orleans Parish School Board run the relatively few remaining.

Read here about the “worst performers”– a raising of the “failing” score from 60 to just under the state average of 87.4– in order to “seize” as many schools as possible for the charter experiment. And former State Superintendent Cecil Picard wanted all Orleans schools, regardless of school performance score, to be state-run. However, the Louisiana constitution would not allow him to completely dissolve the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

RSD was not created after Katrina. It was created in 2003. By the state’s definition of “failing” as a school with a performance score of 60 or below, only a handful of schools qualified for takeover.

Picard wanted more.

As is stands the 17 OPSB schools that were not taken over by the state– the magnet schools– were converted into selective admission charters and are often used to boost RSD scores by combining and calling such scores “New Orleans” scores.

Such “score padding” allows for statistics such as graduation rate to appear higher than they are. This takes us to another Layton mis-report:

Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. 

Graduation rates for RSD high schools are not so rosy. In this January 2013 reporting of “New Orleans” school statistics, Leslie Jacobs plays a game with reporting a “New Orleans” graduation rate” of 76.5% when the OPSB graduation rate was 93.5%. Remove that 93.5% boost from RSD, and the reality that a number of RSD high schools had embarrassingly low graduation rates (in the 40-60% range) shows all too clearly to sell the idea of RSD “success.”

Let us now turn our attention to a quote by New Schools for New Orleans CEO Neerav Kingsland:

“We’ve reinvented how schools run,” said Neerav Kingsland of New Schools for New Orleans, which promotes and supports charter schools. Kingsland is leaving the organization to try to export the model to other cities. “If I am unhappy with service I’m getting in a school, I can pull my kid out and go to another school tomorrow. I don’t have to wait four years for an election cycle so I can vote for one member of a seven-member board that historically has been corrupt.” [Emphasis added.]

In truth, New Orleans parents cannot “just” decide upon which school their children will attend. What is clear is that the Walton-funded OneApp open-enrollment process is anything but simple– with most choices having “failing” grades by the state’s own school letter grade system.

The OneApp even includes misleading information that the cream OSPB schools have seats and then on a subsequent page, such schools are declared not open for more students.

As for the organization New Schools for New Orleans– they are willing to manipulate what information the public is allowed to see– and to reshape the RSD message from one of “miracle” to “improvement.”

After eight years, RSD does not have a single A school. One can see the need to bury the “miracle” message.

As to “corruption”– do not believe Kingsland’s misleading words that “corruption” did not happen in RSD following Katrina. Here’s just a brief example:

The relatively gargantuan salaries of many of the consultants who appeared to rule the new system was another factor in the public’s general unease. Functionaries of the accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal, for example, which will have taken more than $50 million out of its New Orleans public schools’ operation by year’s end, were earning in the multiple hundreds of thousands, billing at anywhere from $150 to more than $500 per hour. The firm’s contracts continued unchallenged, despite the fact that one of its chief assignments — the disposition of left-over NOPS real estate — was being handled without the services of a single architect, engineer, or construction expert. This omission cost the city a year of progress in determining how and where to rebuild broken schools, and endangered hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA money. It only came to light when the two Pauls [Pastorek and Vallas] were forced to hire yet more consultants for real estate duty, and to bring in the National Guard to oversee the engineering operations. … [Emphasis added.]

Compare the above blatant robbery of school funding with Layton’s words about OPSB pre-Katrina:

When Katrina struck in 2005, the public schools in New Orleans were considered among the worst in the country. Just before the storm, the elected Orleans Parish School District was bankrupt and couldn’t account for about $71 million in federal money.

Read here for more of the story on post-Katrina millions squandered– millions that were meant to rebuild New Orleans schools.

Charter conversion has not “solved” fiscal misappropriation, friends.

White’s refusal to properly oversee charters only confounds the issue.

As to Layton’s report of the less-than-stellar “57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013,” read here for the latest on Louisiana Superintendent John White’s botch job on 2014 LEAP/iLEAP reporting. And notice that his press release was quiet about RSD’s performance. It was nothing to showcase.

And then there’s Teach for America (TFA).

Charter presence produces continuous churn– charter school turnover– as one charter operator comes in, makes relatively unregulated money for at least three years, and then leaves, only for another to come in its place.

Charters depend upon turnover staff. TFA provides such people.

John White is counting on a strong TFA presence in RSD. He has the TFA-lucrative contracts to prove it.

One final Layton article quote, this one by RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard:

The Recovery School District closed failing traditional schools or turned them over to charter operators, never intending to reconstruct a traditional school system, said Patrick Dobard, the superintendent. [Emphasis added.]

That is true. RSD was not supposed to be a permanent district. However, Dobard is not telling the entire story. Following Katrina, state-run schools were supposed to be returned to home districts according to this Cowen Institute history of RSD:

Intended as a mechanism for restructuring and reform, the RSD was never meant to be a permanent part of the public school governance landscape in New Orleans. Instead, the RSD was meant to take control of and turn around chronically failing schools for an initial period of five years. After that time, and assuming adequate school improvement, schools would be released from the jurisdiction of the RSD and returned to their local school board. [Emphasis added.]

In 2010, former State Superintendent Paul Pastorek and Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) changed the rules. No need for state-takeover schools to return– a perfect scenario for charter-promoting privatization.

Wonder what Dobard’s job will be if RSD is “transformed” into a 100% charter district.

Superintendent of Charter School Turnover?

Layton might not realize it, but that is the end game of this “grand experiment”:

Charter churn, churn, churn.

 

 

 

29 Comments
  1. Well, I like Lyndsay (and we have mutual friends)–I worked with her on some stories years ago, but you should write this up and submit it as a response, op-ed.

    • It’s not an issue of not liking Lyndsey. She needs to back her statements with facts.

      My post is on its way to her.

  2. Mercedes or Diane, I just read another blog that I thought was significant enough for one of you to comment on:

    http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2014/05/avoiding-gaps-large-test-score-gains.html

  3. Victor3 permalink

    With such a foul, hot mess going full speed ahead in the RSD, it’s a wonder that TFA is still letting their “teachers” work there. The shinola of sales pitch successes can’t last much longer and TFA will then have to own it’s rather large share of the failure of the whole charter/voucher/privatization experiment in Jindal-land. It remains to be seen how much longer they can proclaim victory while they are so obviously circling the drain.

  4. Bertis Downs permalink

    A friend in the nuclear power industry once observed to me that “where there’s chaos, there’s profit.” Truer words . . . as mastered by the New Orleans school masters.

  5. Tn momma bear permalink

    Again, a parallel universe here in TN… Memphis is being taken over by the Achievement School District (modeled after New Orleans’ Recovery District). The ASD is strangling the public schools but the ASD results are dismal. In fact, they even changed the grading scale for the ASD schools to make it appear it is working. Excellent teachers are being abolished while Teach For America temp teachers are guaranteed spots. It is too, too sad.

  6. Reblogged this on Notes from a Boy @ The Window and commented:
    So, so sad. Bottom line: NOLA situation is but one example of the truth behind education reform and charter schools. The reforms are in it for the money, and for the opportunity to get rid of public education. And the poor and of color don’t need the best possible education. Thanks, deutsch29 (Mercedes Schneider), for posting.

    • Charter schools ARE public education. I know I will be scolded and called names, but if I sent my kids to the public school they were supposed to go to, they would have FAILED my kids. I adore my charter school. And if you don’t think unions aren’t making money off education, you are blind. Why are we fighting charters when we should be fighting Common Core? I am so disappointed in this article and your closed view-points that I want to scream. Parents should be alowed to choose what works for their families and not be funneled I to this school or that school due to where they love. We cannot afford private school and therefore we chose a charter.

      • Yes, they are, but…

        From Forbes.com (not exactly a haven of closed-minded liberal thought), September 10, 2013 (http://onforb.es/1hJAANK):

        “On Thursday, July 25, dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors gathered in New York to hear about the latest and greatest opportunities to collect a cut of your property taxes. Of course, the promotional material for the Capital Roundtable’s conference on ‘private equity investing in for-profit education companies’ didn’t put it in such crass terms, but that’s what’s going on.

        “Charter schools are booming. ‘There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children,’ according to Reuters.

        “Charters have a limited admissions policy, and the applications can be as complex as those at private schools. But the parents don’t pay tuition; support comes directly from the school district in which the charter is located. They’re also lucrative, attracting players like the specialty real estate investment trust EPR Properties (EPR). Charter schools are in the firm’s $3 billion portfolio along with retail space and movie megaplexes.

        “Charter schools are frequently a way for politicians to reward their cronies. In Ohio, two firms operate 9% of the state’s charter schools and are collecting 38% of the state’s charter school funding increase this year. The operators of both firms donate generously to elected Republicans.”

        This isn’t choice — this is a way to generate profit, end public education, bust teachers unions, and manipulate a docile American public. Period.

      • Benoit permalink

        Ms. Rosich, I do not fault you for your choice in schools. I am glad your children were successful. My question is why the animosity toward teacher unions? Who cares how teachers spend their own hard earned money? That is how they pay their union dues, it’s from their paychecks, and no teacher in Louisiana is forced to join a union. We are okay with charter operators making money hand over fist, but the teachers (the unions are teachers) should live in squalor?

        Instead if focusing our limited resources on charter schools which only serve a small portion of our population, we should be focusing on high quality schools in every community. And if you think it is the fault of teacher unions for the perceived poor quality of our public schools (here in a Louisiana) you are giving them too much credit.

  7. Lillian Neumann permalink

    The article Ms. Schneider is commenting on says, “Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent.”

    Ms. Schneider’s argument is that this number is inflated because it is RSD and OPSB combined. But – and I may be misinterpreting this – it seems like before the storm the scores were for all of New Orleans, as well. This seems like a significant improvement, and graduation rates are harder to manipulate that standardized test scores.

    Could someone help me understand this?

    • Magnet schools retained by OPSB after Katrina did not have low graduation rates prior to Katrina.

    • To add to the difference in graduation scores, after H.Katrina children with disabilities, probably in the thousands, were denied services in schools. This would seriously alter test scores anywhere and the absence of the children with disabiilties is never referenced in the boosterism campaigns to prove that charters work. Major civil rights groups have a current class action lawsuit about this.
      Prior to the wholesale firing of all school board employees after H. Katrina, teacher certification was required and a goal for the entire system’s teaching staff. Currently, that criteria is non-existent and the TFA’ers do not even have education degrees. I recently intervened when a huge white male teacher was stalking an RSD African American female student, maybe 8 years old, yelling at the top of his lungs at her. His face showed that he had lost control as well, was frightening even to me, and was upsetting at many levels. It was the second occasion that I had witnessed of two while males yelling at the children on the playground within 15 minutes of each other.
      The school system was majority African American employees, and now it has majority White employees. There is also a new civil rights lawsuit about this.

      Within the classrooms there is a paramilitarized discipline system that is inappropriate outside of prison. We now have a school to prison pipeline due to teachers who call the police instead of the parents.
      Yet, studies show that parents believe that charters are better, even when they are not. How do you deal with this phenomenon?
      The very basic principle of a charter school is that it is a small business, and there’s a payroll that has to be made each cycle. So, of course, the cheapest teachers are the most cost effective. The structure of a charter system is so bogus that the parents can be tricked into thinking that it’s swell even when it’s not; there’s no real accountability so the funds for it can be spent in any way the principal desires. The community has no voice, even though our taxes support the schools. Ideologues w a bankroll like the Walton family, can give millions to charters contingent on their not allowing a union in the school and this is legal in America. We have an education program that is built on a negative and can’t sustain itself or properly educate the children. That’s why the lies and charades are so important.

  8. Victorino Verboten permalink

    Very sad indeed. So glad you’re on their case!

    Andre Agassi is powering up, aiming to raise $1 billion dollars for charter school expansion. It really makes my blood boil to see his Longine commercials on the French Open about “giving back,” showing charter school kids, when corporate profiteers are in it what they can take, not give –and what does that have to do with Longine watches?

    Mercedes, if you have a chance, could you please take a look at Agassi’s 990s? This one from 2012 is very detailed and it looks rather hinky to me, but I don’t have your skills in interpreting 990s: http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2012/341/759/2012-341759295-09e9815b-9.pdf

  9. Reblogged this on TN BATs BlOG.

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