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New Orleans “Parental Choice” and the Walton-funded OneApp

July 5, 2013

A common cry of corporate reformers involves their oft-professed desire to “give parents a choice.” It sounds so noble, so altruistic. In reality, corporate reformer “choice” is a daunting, messy, confining process absent the sparkle and shine of the ultra-brite ideology advocated by well-dressed, young non-educators posing as student advocates.

I feel the need to apologize in advance for what my audience will experience in reading this post.  This post is long. It is tedious. It is confusing. It is exhausting.

Just like the New Orleans version of parent choice.

In New Orleans, both RSD and OPSB direct-run schools are now “open enrollment,” which means that their enrollment is no longer based upon students residing in a given area and automatically attending a community school. Thus, the “parental choice” of selecting a school by moving to the neighborhood is moot.  That choice exists no more. Now, parents must apply to the schools they would have their children attend– even if they live right next to the school.

Convenient, huh?

Ahh, school choice is anything but convenient. It now involves a detailed application process, with one application necessary per child within RSD and OPSB direct-run schools, and a different consolidated application (no guarantees here) for some (not all) OPSB charter schools. And even though the RSD/OPSB direct-run application notes that siblings are given priority for attending the same schools, there are no guarantees there, either.

For the 2013-14 school year, it is possible for parents to have to complete multiple applications for multiple schools for their children to possibly attend schools in New Orleans funded with taxpayer money– and possibly for only a single school year.

The plate tectonics of New Orleans public education.

The application used by most public schools in New Orleans (by RSD in 2012-13 and adding OPSB direct-run schools in 2013-14) is called OneApp;  it was paid for by the pro-privatizing Walton Foundation. The application reminds me of completing my taxes– tedious and detailed, and involving numerous contingencies.

More on application “contingencies” to come.

“OneApp” does not mean parents complete a single application for all of their children, nor does it guarantee parents will get to send their children to the schools they choose.

Wait a minute, you might be thinking. I thought as a parent the choice of my child’s school was mine.

Kind of. But not really.

First, RSD charters are the only charters that must offer open enrollment in Louisiana. OPSB- and BESE-run charters operate using selective admission. As far as this “cream” goes, forget parent choice. It’s charter choice.

In 2012-13, BESE ran four charter schools; OPSB ran twelve.

As for “parent choice,” these 16 schools are off of the table.

Page 19 of the Round Three OneApp tells parents as much. However, the New Orleans Parents Guide represents the separate application process for some OPSB charters as an “option” without informing parents that these schools are indeed selective admission.

(The Parents Guide also fails to mention that the application process for RSD and OPSB direct-run schools has been combined. The site’s information is not updated.)

The reality of selective enrollment is important to understand as New Orleans is considered The City for Charter School Success. Districts around the nation are looking to New Orleans as a model of state-takeover and charter-school salvation. Little do they realize that the “secret in our sauce” is selective admission. New Orleans Schools Documentary Master John Merrow knows as much, but he is choosing not to include such information in his upcoming film lauding New Orleans school “progress.” Barbara Ferguson of Research on Reforms reports as much in May 2013:

At his New Orleans event, John Merrow admitted that he knew that New Orleans charter schools can have selective admission requirements, but chose not to reveal this in his film, “REBIRTH- New Orleans.” The film cites the accomplishments of the New Orleans charter school movement, while neglecting to disclose that several New Orleans charter schools have selective admission and retention requirements, allowing the schools to educate only students who are not at-risk. If a school can selectively admit and retain students, how could it not be successful? Does not selective admission and retention circumvent the purpose of the charter movement, i.e., to educate failing at-risk students? It was deceptive for John Merrow to commend the New Orleans charter school movement without disclosing that New Orleans charter schools, unlike those around the nation, can selectively admit and retain students.  …

Just as the failing schools could become charter schools, the successful schools could become charter schools, also. The majority of the successful schools that remained with the Orleans Parish School Board were magnet schools, with selective admissions requirements. These magnet schools became charter schools, retaining their selective admissions requirements. They were successful as magnet schools and they are equally successful as charter schools. John Merrow’s praise of charter schools fails to acknowledge that current successful charter schools were successful magnet schools in the years prior to the state takeover. [Emphasis added.]

Incidentally, the four OPSB magnets-gone-charters Ferguson offers as examples (Lusher, Ben Franklin High, Warren Easton, and Audubon) all have a 2012 school letter grade of A.

These “magnets-become-charters” are off limits to the general public.

No choice here. Move along, move along.

Some more news: The available school listings are anything but clear.

According to the 2012-13 school structure, parents could choose from 56 RSD-run charters; 12 RSD-run traditional public schools, and 6 OPSB-run traditional public schools. However, the 2013-14 Round Three OneApp identifies 47 charter schools (these should be RSD charters, but at least one is not), and one new school was added. The remaining 31 schools are not identified. They could be charters; they could be state-run. Two schools are listed twice; one of these happens to be among five OPSB direct-run schools accidentally included among the choices. This group of schools is the “open enrollment” set offered to parents as “school choice.”

Searching yet for a white flag to wave?

Second, to apply for choice to attend one of the seemingly legitimate 72 available schools listed above, parents must complete the daunting OneApp, which in 2012, approximately 22% of parents did not do. The notable percentage of parents not submitting OneApps means that 7,000 out of 32,000 RSD students were placed in their schools by the state. In short, over one in five children’s parents did not exercise the “choice” that the state insisted they have in the manner that the state insisted that they have it.

Why wouldn’t parents complete the application?

New Orleans parents did not “choose” this open-enrollment “choice” in the first place. It was imposed upon them as part of the post-Katrina “experiment.”

Too, the application is not a matter of simply taking a few minutes to fill out one or two pages. One must study numerous instructional pages to successfully complete the two-to-four written pages. Moreover, applying is a process; there is a Main Round (Round One), a Round Two, and a Round Three.

I have linked here the OneApp Round Three application for 2013-14. It is 20 pages long, including the list of not-properly-edited available schools and explanations of the contingencies for selecting schools and the required documentation parents must submit with the application for given contingencies (for example, proof of residency, proof of income). The part requiring completion is only between two and four pages long– for single-child families. If a parent has two or more school-age children, the parent must complete two to four information pages for each child.

By Round Three this year (application for 2013-14), no OPSB direct-run schools were available for parents to choose. They are listed as available on the application; then, on a latter page, there is a hastily-added disclaimer that these OPSB schools are no longer available. Thus, by Round Three, all that were left were RSD schools, most of which have 2012 letter grades of D or F.

That ought to tell you something about the New Orleans Miracle.

Based upon reading the OneApp, what appears to be the most favorable scenario for parents is that for Round One (deadline March 31), they have three equally satisfying and viable choices for school attendance for each child. In Round One (RSD alone) in 2012-13, in general, three in four students were placed in their parents’ first choice for schools.

School placement is now a competition, and those parents who are on top of the situation stand more of a chance (it is still a chance and not a parent-determined certainty) of having their children attend the schools that the parents choose. (Barring those off-limits “cream” charters, of course. Also, parents must consider transportation issues and student disability when choosing. More on these latter issues to come.)

The Walton Foundation declared the first year of OneApp to be a success. Pay attention to what they choose to report:

Deemed a success in its first year, ‘One App’ allowed 84 percent of entering kindergarten and rising ninth grade students to be placed in one of their first three choices ranked on their application, with 76 percent placed in their top school.

The reporting is a bit off between the Walton Foundation stat descriptions and that of the Lens article excerpt below, but notice what Walton did not include:

On the first round of applications, 84 percent of entering kindergarten and rising ninth-grade applicants got a top school choice; 68 percent of pre-kindergarten applicants got a top choice; and 76 percent of students in other grades got a top choice. [Emphasis added.]

Just over two-thirds of parents of pre-kindergarten children were awarded their top choice. Walton did not report this. It is not quite the selling factor to note that in Round One, the round where parents are most likely to get their preferences among the open-enrollment schools, only 68% of parents of pre-school-aged children did so.

What was also not reported was that the 84% of ninth graders being placed in their first choice among the open-enrollment schools represented a low percentage of parents of ninth-grade students having submitted applications: Just over half did so, according to RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard.

Just over half applied, and 84% of that half were placed in their first choice. Again, not as impressive in panoramic.

Unfortunately, I can find no detailed numeric breakdown available for Round One in 2012-13; thus, I cannot report how many pre-kindergarten students are represented in that 68%, for example. I do know that overall, parents submitted applications for 1,420 pre-K students.

I do have exact numbers for Round Two for 2012-13 RSD school placement (deadline, May 23, 2012). Round Two included both new applicants and appeals (parents not satisfied with placement who wanted to try again). For grades K-12, new applications were submitted for 709 students; 61.9% were matched to their first choice, and 23.8% were not matched to a top-three choice. As for pre-K, of the 250 new applicants, only 9.6% were matched to their first choice, with 89.2% not matched to any of their top-three choices. (Pre-K had more applicants than seats.)

At this point, I think it will be useful for readers to experience the OneApp process via an exploration of the numerous contingencies (and disorganization, and errors) this process places oppressively upon parents seeking to do well by their children. OneApp advertises resource centers to assist parents with the application process. However, many of the failures and biases evident in this application cannot be overcome by application completion assistance.

The OneApp Document

This section will make for tedious reading. However, my goal here is to give readers a sense of what New Orleans parents experience with this “easy” OneApp process.

I will not present all of the details here. It would be too much. But I do want to convey the difficulty parents face in completing this restricted-yet-forced “choice” process. Thus, I present enough detail to make a capable individual dizzy.

Feel free to examine the actual document.

At the top of the Round Three OneApp is the slogan for the RSD: “Excellence, Equity, Community.”

RSD: 0 for 3.

The application also has the OneApp slogan: “One application. Many choices.”

That is better than saying, “One application. Not all of the choices because some of the schools do not care to enroll all children. Nor do they have to. They get to have their own selective application process.”

The contingencies begin on the first page. First time applicant? Read four pages about the process; read two pages about voucher schools; on one page, rank schools for your child, and on another, offer details on siblings. Not a first-time applicant but want to try for a reassignment? Then same steps as for new applicant, except no need to read the four pages about the process. But a Round Three reassignment forfeits any previous assignment (which means a parent gambles on getting a Round Three assignment that is preferred over the previous assignment. No opportunity to choose between the Round Three and previous assignment once the Round Three assignment is known.)

That is just page one.

On page two (mislabeled as page three), applicants learn that when students outnumber seats (as they obviously did for all of the handful of OPSB direct-run schools), students are given priority based upon 1) a sibling already attending, 2) geographic area only for preK-8 schools– no geographic preference for high schools, and 3) specific priorities offered by school (see pages 11 – 16).

Of the schools listed on pages 11 through 16, only one, McDonough 35 High School, offered priority seating to students from two elementary schools, Bethune and Franklin (all three of these are OPSB schools accidentally left as choices but are not really choices any longer), and one elementary, Milestone SABIS (more to come on this school), noted no geographic priority.

Back to page two (mislabeled as page three).

Now for the contingencies regarding students with disabilities: 1) RSD doesn’t consider disabilities in its assignments. Thus, RSD is attempting to exercise no bias in assignment. 2) OPSB reserves the right to assign students with disabilities to the schools of OPSB’s choice. (Got that?) 3) Voucher schools may or may not be able to accommodate students with disabilities. Parents need to verify as much before choosing a voucher school. (In other words, voucher schools are not required to accommodate students with disabilities even though they are willing to take state money.)

Parents of students with disabilities have fewer choice options than do parents of students without disabilities.

The third page (labeled page four) could be called the “okay, here’s some more about why you might not get your choice, parents” page.

Parent choice means a lot to corporate reform. That’s why they want to be clear on why you might not get your choice, parents.


Seats have filled in Rounds One and Two. Plus, seat availability does not translate to grade-level seat availability. Plus, voucher schools might offer seats for only certain grades. (In other words, the non-public voucher schools willing to take public money exercise more choice than the parents do.)

(PLUS, OneApp has errors, and the OPSB schools listed as available are not available, but OneApp won’t note as much until the page numbered 18.)

Parents who still want to attend the voucher schools are encouraged to investigate paying tuition to have their children attend.

Come again?

LDOE offers in bold print this reminder for public school parents:

For questions about the Louisiana Scholarship program, please contact the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) at 1-877-453-2721.

Gotta get that advertisement in for those Jindal- and White-beloved vouchers. (Just don’t call them “vouchers.” “Scholarships” sounds so much more Chinet.)

Then, LDOE assures parents that information about seat availability is just LDOE’s genuine effort at transparency.  Allow me to paraphrase:

“We told you that you could choose, but, well, you can’t expect to be able to choose this late in the process of choice, so we want you to know that even though you probably will realize that the in-demand schools have mostly filled by now and you might have to settle (which isn’t really “choice”), we want to be honest with you and tell you that your choice is now more limited and you might be locked into attending schools that, well, you wouldn’t have chosen.” 

On the fourth page (mislabeled five), parents learn that “geographic priority” is only for 50% of elementary students. High schools offer no geographic priority.

The death of the community school.

Concerning “geographic priority,” the application does not offer parents details regarding transportation issues related to school choice for situations where geography comes into question.

On this page (four tedious pages in, mind you), parents do learn that this is not the application for pre-K programs.

Page five (mislabeled six) is the “push for vouchers” page. One of the contingencies is that students “must have attended a C, D, F, or T (transition) school for the 2012-13 school year.”

That qualification includes all state-run RSD schools except for six, an issue not lost on the Lens.

Students entering kindergarten for the first time can also apply for vouchers. Lists of verification documentation (income, residency) are included on this page, including the stipulation that eligibility does not guarantee seats (i.e., choice isn’t really choice); the next two pages (mis-numbered 7 and 8) are the voucher student application.

Parents are “strongly recommended” to not only choose voucher schools; doing so and not getting placed in a voucher school means being placed in “leftover” school seats.

It is not good to be last when it comes to school choice.

The pages numbered nine and ten are the application for RSD and OPSB direct-run schools. These two pages must be filled out for each student.

By this time (Round Three), there are only RSD schools. The remaining 11 pages of this application detail in disorganized, error-ridden fashion both available and unavailable schools.

Yes, the list has errors, and the correction of the errors is haphazard and unprofessional. At the top of each page of the “available schools” list, parents see this instruction: Please note that you can only rank schools on the Application Form that appear on these pages (pages 11 thru 16). Once parents follow this instruction, they see on page 18 that all OPSB schools have been excluded even though they were indeed still on the Round Three “available” list. Plus, on page 18, there is the afterthought of two new schools not included on the pages stating that “only schools on these pages are for ranking.”

As for RSD charters on the “available” list, three of the schools, Sci Academy, Lafayette Academy, and Miller-McCoy Academy, have “selective retention” policies that allow them to shape selection by permanently removing at-risk students (i.e., students who might not score well on standardized tests).

Selective retention is a method that allows an open-enrollment charter to “deselect” students via its discipline policy. Unlike traditional public schools, charters are not bound by a district’s discipline code. Charters can develop their own discipline codes, thereby expelling students deemed less desirable and sending them either to other charters or, more likely, back to the traditional public schools.

If this has not been confusing and frustrating enough, there’s more.

As mentioned previously in this post, the page numbered 19 includes a list of OPSB charters. These, the list notes, are “non-participating schools.” Parents are not informed that these are the selective admissions charters; they are only told to contact the schools directly if interested in applying.

No letter grades are included in OneApp with these schools. Why tell parents what they’re missing? These are the Type II charters (OPSB and BESE). If RSD had the letter grade distribution of this group, then RSD would indeed be a miracle. Of the 18 schools listed, 13 have identifiable 2012 school letter grades: 7 A’s; 3 B’s; 2 C’s, and 1 D. No F’s.

Interestingly, one of the Type II charters is included on the “available schools” list: Milestone SABIS. It has a 2012 school letter grade of D. It’s place on the available schools list is suspect; I previously mentioned Milestone as the only elementary school OneApp notes that is not bound by geographic preference. It is a selective admissions school that appears to be fishing for better students among the general OneApp populous.

On to the page labeled 20 (really, it’s page 19): Schools “in transition”; school closings, and schools accepting no more students.

Five schools are either becoming RSD charters for the first time or changing charter operators. Even though this poses incredible uncertainty for both faculty and students of these five schools, not to worry, parents: You can leave your children here.

Next come the four school closings. Again, not to worry. Students at two of the closing schools are guaranteed seats at two of the schools listed above that are changing charter operators.  One closing school is assured “priority” seats at any OneApp elementary, and the last of the four closing schools has guaranteed seats at another failing school that has yet to be closed itself.

Let’s hear it for parent empowerment.

The Lens reflects upon this plight:

The vast majority of students leaving four failing schools closed by the Recovery School District are headed to other substandard schools next year.

About 77 percent of students transferring from Abramson Elementary and 72 percent of those transferring from James Weldon Johnson Elementary — both given the letter grade F by the state — are headed to schools graded F or T. For students leaving the smaller Murray Henderson Elementary, it’s about 47 percent. …

Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory School students, who were given preference in the city’s unified school enrollment process, fare much better: Just 16 percent are headed to F or T schools.

But for students leaving the RSD’s three other closing schools, the figures show how the state-run entity still has trouble providing academically acceptable options to parents nearly eight years after it took over all of the city’s below-average schools…. [Emphasis added.]

All of this LDOE grandstanding over choice, and most of the “choices” are either failing by the state’s own standard or exempted from grading to disguise the failure.

The last page of the application includes information about where to find assistance with the OneApp process and when to expect placement information. Parents are told that if no placement is available for Round Three, the default will be Round Two placement.

Time to conclude this post.

Some reflections on parent choice in New Orleans:

Parental choice in New Orleans is yet another fiction promoted to the public as an empowering solution to improving education. In reality, parental choice, part of the post-Katrina state imposition over most New Orleans schools, is a tedious, open-enrollment process designed to destroy all sense of the community school and made more confusing by the errors in the application concerning available schools. Furthermore, this so-called “open enrollment” does not include all New Orleans schools funded with state or federal money; the selective enrollment magnets-gone-charters are excluded from the reach of most parents. As to the schools from which parents are allowed to choose (note the top-down governance of this “choice”), parental “choice” is a forced competition for too few (mostly OPSB) seats at preferred and thriving schools. As such, the requirement of parental choice in New Orleans contributes to the endless churn upon which privatization depends, always keeping the community off-balance as privatizers move in, make their money, and move out.



  1. Sheer Insanity

  2. Holy crap. And this, as Jon called it, “sheer insanity” is reform? Reeks of: Let’s tell them they have choice, but make it so difficult to get that the fact that it sucks won’t matter because they won’t be able to figure it out anyway.

  3. George Buzzetti permalink

    I read every word of that application and it was torture. Thanks for posting it though as without actually reading this stuff you cannot imagine it really exists, but it does. Did you notice all the KIPP and Catholic Schools in the list at the end. Why did they ask if you are Hispanic twice one after the other? The choice is crazybusiness. And that is just how they want it. We have to turn them on their head. That is all there is too it and use their own rules to do it.

  4. Bridget permalink

    I’d like to hear more about those students whose parents make the “choice” NOT to make a choice. Where do those students typically get placed if a parent doesn’t fill out an app? I can only imagine the answer to that question. Also, does a student stay in their same school the next year once in? How often does a family have to go through this process once students are placed, if they are content with the placement? How sad that this whole process has dismantled the concept of the neighborhood school. As usual Mercedes both asks and answers the questions that our media choose not to cover. Thanks for keeping us informed.

    • Bridget, to address your questions: If a parent does not complete the application, then the word is that the student is placed in a school geographically nearby. A student can remain in a school if the school is not being closed, or in the case of the charters, if the student had not somehow been “deselected” via the discipline policy. It would seem logical that students would stay in a school that is not closing if the parents do not complete an application to move the child, but I do not know for sure if this is the case. I do not know what process there is for parents who wish to keep their children in a school to ensure that this happens.

      • Bridget permalink

        Thanks Dr. Schneider. Your information is very informative for those of us who live in Louisiana. In addition to what the parents and students have to deal with, I have also heard first hand horror stories from fellow teachers who have taught in the RSD charter schools. The charter administrators rake in millions while teachers are treated with disrespect and left with minimal or no teaching resources and no voice. Of particular interest was the Lagniappe Charter schools’ treatment of teachers. I recently wrote a published letter to the editor of Tulane Magazine expressing my dissatisfaction with the Cowen Institute’s participation in dismantling NOLAs neighborhood public schools. I suggested they might better serve children by putting their resources into supporting neighborhood schools. They push Tulane graduates to do a stint as a TFA to pad their resume. This all sounds like some science fiction experiment. So sad that it predominantly affects our most at risk students.

  5. This writer should probably talk to someone actually working in public education in New Orleans before writing about it. This blog is a mess and full of errors. Completely a waste of time – don’t believe it.

  6. Worldcurmudgeon permalink

    Charter schools are a joke, they don’t play by the same rules and therefore don’t create a level playing field vs public schools, they pay less, demand more of their uncertified teachers, and their environments are usually in strip centers and burned out shopping centers. Do they get more done, well that really remains to be seen, national statistics show they are less effective.

  7. Why do you always highlight the republican states who are doing this public education privatizing…..we all know that New York, California, Illinois, and Maryland all use school choice to segregate and gentrify…..we need to know as well that it will not stop there….they intend to privatize all public education!

    • Cindy, I live in Louisiana, so most of my blogging concerns what happens here.

      I have also written about Joel Klein as part of my NCTQ series, and I have written several chapters on the goings-on in Chicago for my book.

      Too, I have a chapter on DFER (Democrats for Ed Reform).

      I cannot release this writing right now since it is part of my as-of-yet unpublished book.

  8. geographic priority , the application don’t offer parents details regading school choice for geographic comes into the question .

  9. Mercedes… I think you are being unkind…. Walton Family FOundatoin did this ouit of the kindness of their heart, and according to their own myth, it was successful in its first year! ” Deemed a success in its first year, ‘One App’ allowed 84 percent of entering kindergarten and rising ninth grade students to be placed in one of their first three choices ranked on their application, with 76 percent placed in their top choice school.” I’m not really sure what happened to 1st graders, 2nd graders, 3rd graders, 4th graders, 5th graders, 6th graders, 7th graders, 8th graders, 10th graders, 11th graders… 12th graders… but hey, it worked for a small minority! 🙂 You are so hard on these reformers…. 🙂

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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How School Choice Works in New Orleans (Hint: It Doesn’t) | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. 7/17/2013 – An Education Debate Going Nowhere
  3. New Orleans “Parental Choice” and the Walton-funded OneApp | Ramy Abdeljabbar's Palestine and World News
  4. Democrats Shouldn’t Buy Conservative Ideas Sold With Civil Rights Rhetoric
  5. Philadelphia Schools Partnership seeks private management over student placement | Parents United for Public Education
  6. On Vouchers In General and Particularly the 2014 All-voucher Arizona Push | Dr. Rich Swier
  7. Home | Equity Alliance Blog
  8. Charter schools, competition and choice, New Orleans Style | Save Our Schools NZ
  9. The Dishonest Case for The New Orleans School Reform Model
  10. empathyeducates – Celebrating Ten Years of Post-Katrina, New Orleans Charters– And You Are Not Invited
  11. Ghastly Impact of Closing Schools on Students and Communities | Cloaking Inequity
  12. I Doubt Hillary Clinton Plans to Close Half of All Public Schools – But She Does Want to Close Some | gadflyonthewallblog
  13. CURMUDGUCATION: LAUSD: More Cyber-shenanigans | Mister Journalism: "Reading, Sharing, Discussing, Learning"
  14. The Waltons and Their Charter-Choice “Inroads”: Making Strategic Purchases | deutsch29
  15. “Right-sizing” All-Charter New Orleans Schools | deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog
  16. Mercedes Schneider: The All-Charter New Orleans School District Must Downsize | Diane Ravitch's blog

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