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New Schools for New Orleans: Don’t You Believe It

May 6, 2013

In April 2013, New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) released this report, called, “Accelerating Academic Gains in New Orleans.”  Please know that the only way to “accelerate the gains” is to manipulate what the public sees.  This report is an optical illusion that relies upon both combining data for two different school systems and quoting stats on subcategories as though such are full categories.

Readers might find it helpful to open the link for the report and view the graphs prior to reading about them. (I could not reproduce them in my post.)

Here is how it works:

On page 3 of the report, NSNO presents a beautiful color graph labeled, “District Performance Scores for the Four Largest Districts.” What NSNO does not tell readers is that the “district” labeled “New Orleans” is actually two school districts: Orleans Parish Schools, the district that is not state-run, and RSD-NO, the district that is state-run.  Orleans Parish Schools has a 2012 district performance score of 133.8 A. On the other hand, the state-run RSD-NO has a 2012 district performance score of 76.7 D.

Don’t miss this:  The state-run RSD-NO district is in a sorry second place to the non-state-run Orleans Parish district. But the reformer argument (and the sales pitch of this charter-promoting brochure) so heavily depends upon the fact that Orleans Parish Schools were “so bad” until the state rode in on its knightly horse and “saved” what once were the bulk of the Orleans Parish Schools. Except it didn’t work. The state-run RSD has never excelled.

What to do?

Play with the data. No one will know.

In a 2012 district grade spreadsheet not available to the public but sent to BESE and superintendents in October 2012, the wonder children of LDOE (led by that beacon of dishonor, John White) calculated a bogus district score whereby Orleans Parish’s 133.8 is averaged with RSD-NO’s 76.7 to produce the not-so-offensive 93.7 that just happens to have found its way to this April 2013 report graph.

Notice that the corresponding letter grade, 93.7 C, did not make the cut.

That’s because the public has heard Jindal knock the C letter grade as still indicating failure. So, when reformers want to manipulate data by taking the “look how much we have improved” tact, they omit the now-too-revealing letter grades.

In fact, all of the “risen” scores on this first graph on page 3 of the report range from 92.9 to 102.8 and, were they listed in this report, correspond to C grades.  And according to Jindal, C is “failing.”

So, let’s change the focus to that of alleged “improvement.”

RSD is more than eight years old. It was started in 2003, before Katrina.; executed in 2004, the re-started following Katrina in 2005. How many years should it be “improving” rather than “arriving”?

What is worse: The supposed New Orleans grade is a complete deception created to hide the 76.7 number for RSD, a number that would be drastically lower than any other had it been honestly plotted on the graph.

And one more issue: When the public sees a number like 93.7 and reads that it is a “score,” in the absence of any other explanation, the public will view the number as being “high” because it is close to 100. A score of 100 is the default to which the American public is accustomed when thinking on the subject of grades.  However, in the case of 2012 district letter grades, 93.7 is not high; it is moderate.  Unless the corresponding letter C is next to the 93.7, the public will view it as being more prestigious than it is.  Add to that the fact that NSNO presents a graph in which the 93.7 is plotted high.  Writing the statistic up high on the graph also lends an air of achievement to the deception.

Let us now consider the second graph on page 3.  It is entitled, “Percentage of Public School Students Eligible for TOPS [Taylor Opportunity Scholarship Program].” This graph has two lines, one for the state, and the other, supposedly for New Orleans. However, the 39.1% noted in the graph is not the actual percentage for all of New Orleans’ (Orleans and RSD) schools. This statistic comes from page 31 of the Cowen Institute 2012 analysis of New Orleans schools and was originally misquoted by Leslie Jacobs. I rebut Jacobs in this op/ed. This 39% is for the subgroup of Orleans Parish Public School charter schools and not the rate for New Orleans schools overall.

Below are the actual statistics from the 2012 Cowen report regarding TOPS eligibility for students to attend four-year institutions, and then (two-year institutions):

RSD state-run schools: 7% (7%)

RSD charters: 16% (13%)

Orleans Parish direct-run schools: 21% (17%)

Orleans Parish charters: 39% (15%)

All New Orleans schools overall: 24% (13%)

Louisiana schools overall: 32% (10%)

In their graph, NSNO reports the state average as 42%, which corresponds to 32% plus 10%. Yet the New Orleans schools overall is not 39%, but 37% (24% plus 13%).

Keep in mind that what NSNO is hiding here is the state-run RSD result of 14% (7% plus 7%).

Once again, when actual statistics are examined, the state-run RSD is far below average.  Such is hardly the compelling argument for promoting state takeover of a so-called “failing” school system.

I cannot emphasize enough that the 25% pre-Katrina Orleans TOPS eligibility that Jacobs criticizes in her op/ed has only changed for the worse for state-run RSD-NO six years later (Cowen stats are from 2011), a remarkable decrease to only 14%. Keep in mind that state-run RSD is “the model for the nation.” And six years later, in 2011, RSD charters had only risen to 29% TOPS eligibility. (Ultimately, NSNO is using this report to promote its charters.)

Prior to 2005, Orleans Parish Public Schools were what might now best be described as the Orleans Parish “direct-run” category above. So, if one considers that pre-Katrina (2005), TOPS eligibility was at 25%, and in 2011, it had risen to 38% (21% plus 17%), this increase strongly supports the notion that RSD should be dissolved and its schools returned to Orleans Parish.

Let us take a moment to consider the general “charter advantage” evident in the Cowen TOPS statistics:

Prior to Katrina in 2005, all New Orleans schools in the subcategories above belonged to Orleans Parish Public Schools. Now, one can see that in general, charter schools fare better than their corresponding non-charter counterparts regarding percentages of students eligible for TOPS. This is hardly surprising since students can be deselected from charters and returned to traditional public schools, yet there is no “catch-all” system to which the traditional public schools might send students who are more difficult, for whatever reason, to educate.  The traditional public school must accept all students– this is both the glory and the burden of traditional public schooling.

Page 4 of the NSNO report lists its funders, including notable reform-pushing names such as Gates, Broad, Dell, and Walton. One should always consider who funds a report when weighing the findings. This is a heavily pro-reform-funded publication. Do not expect any words regarding the actual superior performance of locally-run Orleans Parish Schools to state-run RSD. Indeed, on the next page, page 5, NSNO writes that it wants to “influence education leaders to execute the New Orleans reform model,” one that is undeniably charter-friendly.

Page 6 includes an interesting statement in favor of NSNO’s promoting its charters, noting that they “will transform some of the lowest performing schools in the city– schools that had on average maintained an SPS of 40 out of 200– 35 points below the Louisiana Department of Education’s definition of failing.”

An aside regarding White’s/LDOE’s/BESE’s attempts to introduce confusion into the school letter grade issue:

In 2012, the school letter grade scale was out of 200 points.

In 2013, just to keep the public guessing, the LDOE is attempting to redefine the letter grade scale from 200 points to 150 points, and the current definition of “failing” (so many definitions of “failing”– when it serves reformers, as in the case of doling out voucher money, C, D, and F are all “failing”) is now 75 out of 200 points but will be a 50 out of 150 points– making a 75 no longer an F but a C.

Mass confusion– and a convenient way to retroactively make the “failing” RSD appear to have been passing– or at least, come closer to passing– by recording old RSD scores next to a new scoring scale.

Such practices are part of the optical illusion.

The Louisiana House of Representatives is tiring of the game.

Yesterday (05-06-13) the Louisiana House of Representatives voted to support HB 466, which would require legislative approval for future changes to the school letter grade system. The bill also supports retaining the 2011-12 letter grade system, the one referenced on page 6 of the NSNO report.

The bill now heads to the senate.

Back to the report:

Here is what I find interesting about this statement on page 6:  On page 3, NSNO conceals the fact that RSD-NO, which is comprised of 83% charters (58 out of 70 schools, as advertised in March 2013 on the RSD website), has a 2012 school performance score of 76.7, just 1.7 points above an F.

And not only does NSNO conceal RSD-NO’s low school performance score; NSNO purposely and deceitfully attempts to hide RSD-NO’s miserable failure by averaging it with Orleans Parish’s obvious success.

All for the sake of promoting a national model façade.

Even people like John Merrow are buying into the lie.

Yet, for those who will see, like York, Pennsylvania, that now-unhidden fact really blows a hole through the well-funded message of RSD (and especially, RSD charter) superiority, doesn’t it?  “Be like RSD-NO and score 1.7 points above an F seven years in!”

The report has four more pages, but these read like a time-share promotion, so I will just let them be. They are sales pitch, no doubt, but given the negative exposure in the preceding paragraphs, I think even John Merrow will eventually forego this “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

  1. Alan permalink

    Excellent detailed anslysis!

  2. Sitting here in Arkansas, with the Walton Foundation offering $500k to startup charters, I’m wondering why we only have 30 listed charters, and I run across this:
    Benchmark tests appear to show that schooling is actually dumbing down our children (charts, p. 7-9); or at least those that score advanced are more numerous in grade 3, fewer in grade 8. Basic or below basic numbers increase as advanced decreases. Is this justification for Common Core?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider Deconstructs the Hype about New Orleans | Diane Ravitch's blog
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