Leslie Jacobs, Field Goals, and the Shotgun Wedding of Charters to Special Needs Students
On December 26, 2014, I posted a rather extensive, 4500-word confrontation to what is shaping up to be a ten-year-anniversary of the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) as a now-all-charter “success.” In June 2015, there is to be a conference that will be leveraged to promote all-charter RSD as a national model.
At this point, the conference has the veneer of a critical look at RSD; however, there are already notable cracks in the facade based upon who will be given a voice at this event– and who will not.
Tulane University economics professor Doug Harris is heading this operation via a questionably-funded “initiative,” Education Reform Alliance (ERA), which is advertising as a “first balanced and comprehensive look at the New Orleans education experience and its effects.” The invitation-only ad continues by noting, “Local participants will include architects of the reforms.” Not only does the ad not mention local researchers critically appraising the reforms; it seems that Harris’ ERA is willing to invite noted RSD researchers such as Kristen Buras only to sit in the audience.
Biased right out of the six-months-in-advance starting gate.
I should note that the “architects of the reforms” orchestrated what amounted to a hostile takeover of New Orleans schools in order to realize their vision of an all-charter district. Furthermore, the data on RSD has never been made publicly available, and groups not among the pro-charter set, such as Barbara Ferguson’s Research on Reforms, has had to sue to try to gain access to data that the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) continues to make selectively available to organizations likely to present New Orleans charters in a favorable light.
All of this I discuss in my December 26, 2014, post linked above.
Given the hostile nature of the post-Katrina seizure of most New Orleans public schools, Harris’ event at “invitation only” reinforces the disenfranchising atmosphere exacerbated by New Orleans post-Katrina “school choice.”
As to the ERA inclusion of “architects of the reforms,” there is no doubt that a major voice will be that of former Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) member Leslie Jacobs, who is credited at the “mother” of the post-Katrina school takeover legislation, Act 35.
Jacobs is staunchly supportive of the charters she birthed. They will succeed.
The first piece I wrote in response to Jacobs’ New Orleans school “success” image-shaping was this January 2013 opinion piece for WWLTV.com, which had published Jacobs’ slanted report of charter “success” only days prior.
I also had an opportunity on June 11, 2013, to confront Jacobs on WBOK1230am radio in New Orleans. Jacobs had requested to be on the show, and she proceeded to tell the public how “the reforms are working.” I phoned in and confronted her with the state’s own letter grading of those New Orleans schools.
It’s the closest that I know of for Jacobs to have had to debate the issue of RSD “success.” Jacobs does not do debates.
She will sit before a camera. Here is Jacobs in 2010.
This two-minute interview is condensed from a nine-minute interview with ABC. Local filmmaker Phoebe Ferguson created this abbreviated version, with the following explanation:
Published on Aug 18, 2013
Leslie Jacobs is interviewed by local ABC reporter [in] 2010 about success of Charter Schools [in] New Orleans. The original interview was 9 min. I might have put it in a comment or two, but the rest is all Leslie and no manipulation was done to voice or words spoken by Leslie or the reporter. It is exactly as it sounds here in the video.
In the video, Jacobs comments that she is unsure as to whether New Orleans charters will be “a touch down or a field goal.”
And Jacobs does like the op/eds. In this December 26, 2014, op/ed, Jacobs declares victory for special education for New Orleans charters. More special education students are graduating with their peers, and it’s all because of the fabulous charters– the very same ones for which LDOE refuses to release data to Research on Reforms as per court order.
The court declared that LDOE may not fulfill public records requests to agencies based upon its own determination of whether the requested information will be used according to LDOE approval.
This judgment came from the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Research on Reform’s favor in September 2014. As of December 26, 2014, LDOE continued to refuse to comply with the court’s judgment.
Yet Jacobs purportedly has data, and Doug Harris will present his findings on New Orleans charter outcomes in June 2015. He will have data, some of which must originate with either LDOE or the charters themselves.
Jacobs has access.
Harris has access.
Barbara Ferguson of Research on Reforms has been consistently denied access. She has still managed to conduct some research, as had her associate, Charles Hatfield.
Kristen Buras has been traveling from Georgia to New Orleans on a regular basis since 2005 in order to conduct her own research.
But back to “architect of the reforms,” Leslie Jacobs, and her December 26, 2014, op/ed:
One curiosity about “more special needs students graduating” concerns the truth that “special needs” is a broad category. One can be classed as “special needs” for a variety of reasons, not necessarily related to intellectual or emotional issues. Moreover, even among students classified as “special needs” based upon learning disabilities or behavioral issues, there exists a spectrum of functioning. Some students’ learning disabilities might be profound, and others’, mild.
So. Is it possible that the “rise” in special needs graduates is related to students’ attending charters having milder disabilities than those to which they are being compared in the former public school system?
Here’s another thought: “Special needs” students are required to have an individualized education plan (IEP). Are the IEPs of some students being ignored in favor of tallying these students’ on-time graduations as a charter “success”?
It sure would be nice to have access to de-identified, detailed data on these “special needs” students to add context to Jacobs’ op/ed claims.
Jacobs says that the marvel of higher post-Katrina “special needs” graduation rates can be attributed to open enrollment via the Walton-funded OneApp process. Notice the comedy in this Jacobs statement:
The Recovery School District (RSD) focused on equity in access. The OneApp enrollment process, implemented in 2012, is a single application for all but eight public schools in Orleans Parish.
Equity… except for the selective-admission schools….
Since they selectively-admit, they are (naturally, naturally) exempt from “equity.”
But for all other schools, equity is guaranteed. Nevertheless, before the 2012 introduction of OneApp, Jacobs states that “some schools” (may it never be!) “avoided enrolling special needs students.”
Here are Jacobs’ words:
Prior to the OneApp, some schools avoided enrolling students with special needs. By centralizing and monitoring enrollment, students with special needs are now guaranteed equal access to the school of their choice. [Emphasis added.]
Charters need regulating to ensure that they enroll special needs students, and Jacobs inadvertently admitted as much. But it’s okay now. New Orleans charters are fair now. The OneApp took care of it, and you can believe it because
it is a well-researched concept Jacobs wrote it in one of her op/eds.
The charter “proclivity toward selectivity” leaves the issue of insufficient auditing of those remarkable New Orleans charters. Last year, I had a story come my way in which the parent of a former RSD charter school student was concerned because her child was being given credit for courses she had not actually taken. The parent thought of publicizing her story but decided not to since her child had graduated and was headed to college. She did not want to jeopardize her child’s chances in college if the high school transcript were publicly exposed as fraudulent.
Putting parents in such a position virtually guarantees that counterfeited transcripts will go unexposed.
The parent chose to keep silent on the issue. So, no story. That does not nullify the fact that a “balanced and comprehensive” audit of New Orleans charters is long overdue.
What really humors me about Jacobs’ December 26, 2014, op/ed is the confrontation she faced in the comment section. One commenter, Sandy Rosenthal, applauded Jacobs. However, Jacobs is actually Leslie Rosenthal Jacobs, and her token supportive commenter is actually her sister-in-law. One commenter confronted Jacobs on that one. Another confronted her featuring Vera Triplett, who “plans to start a charter school called Noble Minds” as “just one of the special picked Black Faces used by Leslie Jacobs so people will think that it’s ok!” What the op/ed does not detail about Triplett is that she is already the COO for Capital One UNO Charter Schools Network, which is now Capital One New Beginnings Charter Network.
It seems that New Beginnings operates four schools: Pierre Capdau (Elem/Middle), Lake Area New Tech (High), Gentilly Terrace (Elem/Middle), and Nelson Elementary.
In 2012-13, Pierre Capdau had an F, and the remaining three schools each had C’s. However, in 2013-14, Pierre Capdau’s F became a B– amazing, I know– but the remaining three schools that had C’s in 2012-13 had D’s in 2013-14.
A “field goal,” or just a hostilely-procured ball haphazardly kicked in the general direction of the uprights?
Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistleblower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education