Study: New Orleans Principals Admit to Manipulating Student Selection
I have written several posts to date on the Educational Research Alliance of New Orleans (ERA) and its founder, Doug Harris.
ERA is conducting a number of studies on the privatization of most of New Orleans’ schools following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and which has culminated in a 100-percent-charter Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans by 2014.
In 2014-15, the remaining Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) consists of six direct-run schools and 14 charter schools, with with four of the 14 charters being “selective admission” schools— which means these school are (by definition) not open to the public.
Thus, the term “school choice” could well mean that it is the school that exercises greater leverage when it comes to choosing, not the parents.
ERA is studying this “choice”– with results that sometimes are not pretty for the “choice” advocates.
On January 15, 2015, Harris released his first report on the Walton-funded OneApp. (My commentary on the report can be read here, and my observations regarding the community meeting in which the first report was presented is available here.)
My post dated March 18, 2015, concerns ERA’s opening its June 2015 conference to the public yet charging $275 entrance fee, which will undoubtedly serve to exclude those whose children attend the very schools Harris and his ERA are researching.
But let us focus on the previously-introduced idea that “choice” belongs to the schools and can be utilized for schools to benefit themselves.
On March 26, 2015 ERA released its second study, entitled, How Do School Leaders Respond to Competition? Evidence from New Orleans, written by Huriya Jabbar. Here is Jabbar’s opening paragraph:
Understanding how schools respond to competition is vital to understanding the effects of the market-based school reforms implemented in New Orleans since 2005. Advocates of market-based reform suggest that, when parents and students can freely choose schools, schools will improve education in order to attract and retain students. But, for market-based school-choice policies to work, school leaders have to believe they are competing for students, and they have to choose to compete in ways that improve education.
Jabbar’s study was qualitative, based upon administrative interviews that included those of 30 New Orleans school principals:
The data for the study were obtained from 72 interviews with district leaders, charter-school board members, charter network leaders, and principals of 30 randomly selected schools in 2012–2013. This sample of schools represents the schools in New Orleans, including charter schools, direct-run OPSB and RSD schools, and schools at all grade levels. The interviews were transcribed and items systematically coded to identify categories of responses.
One of Jabbar’s findings: “Kids mean money,” so to speak:
School leaders defined competition as competition for students and the government funding that comes with them. Their comments in this regard included, “Every kid is money,” “Enrollment runs the budget; the budget runs the enrollment,” and “We all want our [student] numbers up so we can get more money, more funding.”
Even traditional public school administrators are aware that student enrollment is directly related to school funding. However, traditional public schools do not try to “dump” students deemed less desirable onto other districts in the name of some “competitive edge.”
When test-score-driven “competition” becomes the center of school survival, then one should expect “questionable practices” to enter the student enrollment scene. As Jabbar notes:
School leaders compete using strategies that range from improving academics to more questionable practices like selecting or excluding students based on ability.
Thus, the perceived need for schools to engage in what Jabbar calls “selection strategies”:
One-third of schools in the study reported using selection strategies. These schools used a combination of targeted marketing and unofficial referrals in order to fill seats with more desirable students. Some schools chose not to declare open seats, preferring to have vacant seats rather than attract students who might lower school test scores. The combined pressure to enroll a greater number of students and raise test scores to meet state targets seems to have created perverse incentives, encouraging the practice of screening and selecting students. [Emphasis added.]
Regarding the use of selection strategies, Jabbar notes that principals from 10 schools (five OPSB schools and five RSD schools) directly manipulated student enrollment as follows:
One-third (10 of 30) of schools selected or excluded students by, for example, counseling students who were not thought to be a good fit to transfer to another school, holding invitation only events to advertise the school, or not reporting open seats. This number included five OPSB schools and five RSD schools. [Emphasis added.]
In closing, Jabbar suggests that the OneApp “might reduce opportunities to screen and select students.” However, the practice of some schools’ requiring a supplemental application in addition to the OneApp appears to be a means for some schools to “participate” in open enrollment via the OneApp even as they handily exclude those who do not complete and submit supplemental application materials. (This issue of some schools’ requiring OneApp “supplemental applications” was raised in the January 15, 2015, public-release community meeting related to Harris’ first report, which is available here.)
Where there is high-stakes, forced competition among schools, there will be system gaming, and “choice” will involve including the “right” students and excluding the “wrong” ones.
And America continues to move further from the democratic intention of “public education.”
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.
She also has her second book available on pre-order, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication May/June 2015.