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Celebrating Ten Years of Post-Katrina RSD, and You Are Invited– If You Pony Up $275

March 18, 2015

From June 18 to 20, 2015, a group known as the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (ERA) will be hosting a conference entitled, The Urban Education Future? Lessons from New Orleans Ten Years After Hurricane Katrina.

ERA’s conference is scheduled to immediately precede the National Charter Schools Conference (New Orleans, June 21-24, 2015), hosted by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

On December 26, 2014, I wrote my first post about ERA and its founder, Tulane economics professor Doug Harris. I entitled the post, Celebrating Ten Years of Post-Katrina, New Orleans Charters– And You Are Not Invited. In the post, I offer information on a number of issues: the calculated, hostile post-Katrina takeover of most New Orleans schools; the glaring truth that almost a decade later, the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans boasts no “A” schools as graded by the state’s own ever-fluctuating, school-grading criteria; selective access to RSD data via the state department of education and ensuing litigation over such exclusionary data access; the major funding source for ERA, the Arnold Foundation, as markedly pro-charter; Harris’ own income as unknown for his being funded via an undisclosed endowment; Tulane University’s connections with known temp-teacher provider, Teach for America; the common address shared with ERA and numerous notable, privatizing-reform organizations, and, finally, the fact that the event was slated to be “invitation only” and that locally-established researchers on the New Orleans schools state takeover, such as Kristen Buras and Barbara Ferguson, had been excluded from the December 2014 email advertisement of ERA’s June 2015 event.

In short, I expressed many concerns about Harris and his proposed June 2015 ERA event.

On January 15, 2015, Harris hosted a community meeting for the purpose of presenting the results of his first RSD study, specifically related to the RSD open-enrollment application funded by the Walton Foundation, the OneApp. I was offered the opportunity to read Harris’ work and write my own blog post. I also attended his community event and wrote a debriefing on my experience.

During Harris’ January community meeting, the audience was allowed to ask questions. One of my first questions concerned when Louisiana’s Class of 2014 ACT scores would be released. Louisiana superintendent John White had not released the scores, and I suspected that the ACT scores for the RSD New Orleans schools were likely the reason. (Had RSD-NO scores been good, White would have paraded them before the press.) Harris had no answer as to when 2014 ACT scores would be released. As it turns out, a contact in higher ed sent me those ACT scores and the scores for all schools in the state (accounting for all 49,178 Class of 2014 ACT test takers in Louisiana.)

All Louisiana Class of 2014 ACT scores are included in this post.

RSD’s Class of 2014 ACT scores were terrible. The RSD-NO composite was 15.7. This information hardly makes for fine marketing fodder for a state-run district begun in 2003 and seriously expanded in 2005..

Another issue that was raised during the question-and-answer time in Harris’ January community meeting concerned the June 2015 ERA event in which Harris is to present all of his research findings on RSD-NO. An audience member asked if the event were open to the public. Harris said yes. I was pleased to hear of this change.

Pleased, that is, until recently.

Yes, ERA’s June 2015 event is open to the public. Sort of.

The cost: $275.00. That sure will streamline what “public” will attend.

Granted, that $275.00 is for three days admittance, meals and snacks. However, this elitist entrance fee effectively ensures that most whose lives are directly impacted by the existence of an RSD will not be able to afford to attend.

ERA offers no lesser rate by day; neither does it offer no rate excluding meals. So. Only those who can pony up just shy of three hundred bucks will be allowed in the ERA event about RSD’s “urban education future.”

I noticed another issue with the list of speakers that Harris’ ERA advertises as offering “first balanced and comprehensive look at the New Orleans education experience and its effects”:

No one listed represents local researchers critical of the post-Katrina, state-takeover of New Orleans schools.

The list of the June 2015 ERA event confirmed speakers includes national names critical of charter districts. It includes national names of those supportive of charter districts. The list includes locals actively involved in not only promoting privatization of public education but also of benefiting financially from such privatization.

Harris’ list of speakers even includes what looks like some parents or possibly teachers. (This is hard to tell since a number of individuals have no biographical information available.) 

But as for those who were against the state takeover from the outset– and those who have been denied access to RSD data for years– and those who have been critical of the sloppy state “oversight” of charter schools as evidenced by no systematic state audit of such schools– and those who have conducted their own research on those under-regulated “state run” schools– those individuals have no obvious voice in what can be best described as an event designed to funnel media attention toward carefully-constructed “RSD progress.”

Meanwhile, Louisiana superintendent John White has taken over as “chief of chiefs” to remake Jeb Bush’s floundering state superintendents’ club, Chiefs for Change. White’s goal is to recruit urban superintendents as well as state superintendents to join this privatizing-reform-focused Jeb Bush toss-off.

Both White’s being put in charge of Chiefs for Change and the new Chiefs for Change focus on urban superintendents serve as a thin covering for the failure of this Bush-centered club to flourish over the past five years as a national force for driving education privatization.

I’m thinking White will not be using RSD’s Class of 2014 ACT scores as a recruiting point.

However, chin up, Johnny: You might get some mileage out of Harris’ 2015 ERA event, which has just enough shaping already applied to it to be able to sell itself as “balanced and comprehensive” to a generally RSD-uncritical, American mainstream press even as ERA limits those in attendance to a more privileged socioeconomic class– or to those who are amply funded by privatizer cash.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

  1. Tried to be included/finagle an invite, but haven’t even received a response to my inquiry. I think of myself as a serious researcher…after all, there are two Research I institutions in the state. Just finished guest editing a special issue on The Promise of Charter Schools in the journal, Equity and Excellence in Education. Would be glad to forward the editors’ introduction.

  2. All who can attend should go to Harris’ monthly brown bag lunch meetings at the Cowen Institute. Harris and his team present their research during these meetings to an audience and ask for feedback and questions. They are always on the second Wednesday of each month. Call and get on list-serv. This is really a good time to question the research and/or to challenge findings.

  3. Mercedes, I think you should go. I am sure we can raise the $. I see it is fairly loaded on the reform side but Helen Ladd is one of the NC heroes against reform and I am a fan of Russell Rumberger’s work. So it may not be balanced as they claim, but it is not completely one sided either. I do agree with your criticism that as for local people, it seems very reform sided with no one that I can see who has researched NOLA is included.

  4. Mercedes,
    Today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel two legislators have an opinion
    piece in support of the creation of a statewide authorizer of independent
    charter schools as well as their own plan to create a “Turnarounds School Program”
    based on the RSD in Milwakee. They contend that prior to Katrina the high school
    graduation rate was 54% and by 2013 it was 76%. Plus they say that math and reading scores
    Increased “200% from 2005.” Is this information accurate? I am aware of many if the failings of
    RSD, but want to verify their claim prior to my response. Any help is appreciated.

    JSonline: March 22. “Expanding access to quality education” Alberta Darling

  5. Thanks for your rebuttal to Leslie Jacobs. It’s very helpful. I’ve already used your ACT
    score information in my contacts with state legislators. I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating all
    the research you do and your willingness to educate us all.

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