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When Offered the “Choice,” Who Enrolls in a “Failing School”?

June 29, 2015

On June 27, 2015, I posted a piece entitled, 37 Percent of New Orleans Students Attended Excelling Schools in 2014, in which I take the news byte of the dramatic, “67-to-7-percent” drop in “failing schools” in New Orleans and flip it to produce three more modest news bytes regarding the number of students in “excelling schools.” My goal was to confront the potential assumption that “not a failing school” and “excelling school” are one and the same– and to communicate as much in the corporate-reform-preferred delivery of a marketing-friendly news byte.

However, I veered form typical corporate reform delivery in that I linked to documentation of my calculations behind the news bytes as well as to the data used in my calculations.

All of the above work was the result of my attending the Education Research Alliance (ERA) of New Orleans conference and hearing former Recovery School District (RSD) chief of staff and current Educate Now! consultant Nash Crews publicly toss off the “67-to-7-percent-in-failing-schools” statement without also publicly and clearly defining the term, “failing school.” (See my post above for details.)

My colleague Herb Bassett– who teaches music in LaSalle Parish; who also holds a minor in mathematics, and who is well-versed in the history of Louisiana school performance score (SPS) calculations– read my June 27, 2015, post, including the links.

On June 29, 2015, Bassett sent me the following observations, which constitute much of the remainder of this post:


I would like to explain some curious methods used to low-ball the figure for Orleans students enrolled in failing schools.

Nash Crews states that since Katrina, the percentage of New Orleans students enrolled in failing schools has dropped from 62 to 7 percent. LDOE excludes a “T” school and claims that it dropped from 62 to 6 percent. (The school had a failing SPS but its “transitional” status kept it from receiving an “F”)

1) Sounds great, but what do they mean, “enrolled in a failing school”? I thought New Orleans had school choice. Who chooses to enroll in a failing school?

Let me impersonate a reformer for a moment.

“We must empower students!  At the end of each year, close all the failing schools and let the children choose other schools. In the fall, every child will attend a non-failing school! And at the end of that year, close all the schools that fail and let the children choose other schools. As long as we rigorously close all the failing schools each year, no student will ever ENROLL in a failing school in the fall!”

See what I did there?

Crews states that 3174 students enrolled in failing schools in the fall of 2014.

Now, in 2013-14, 3938 students attended schools that earned failing scores in 2013-14. Three of the failing schools closed; most of their students switched to schools that did not fail in 2013-14. Viola! Those students disappeared from the count because they enrolled in non-failing schools in the fall of 2014. (see my spreadsheet for details)

In 2013-14, just over nine percent of students attended a school that failed in 2013-14.

2) Let’s curve the Letter Grades to keep schools from failing!

Louisiana’s state tests were modified in 2013-14 and it was feared that proficiency rates would drop. That didn’t happen because the cut scores were adjusted to compensate, but LDOE still curved the school letter grades as promised. Kipp New Orleans Leadership Academy missed the passing mark, but was given a passing grade thanks to the curve.

If that school is called failing, then 11 percent of students attended failing schools.

3) What is failing?

The definition has been tweaked over the years, but failing is having a high concentration of non-proficient students. To pass, a school had to have about half of its students score Basic on the state tests both in 2005 and 2014. If anything, I think it was a little harder to pass in 2005 than 2014. The number of failing schools statewide enrolling students dropped from 170 to 94 by Crews’ methodology.

Closing schools is all about spreading the non-proficient students around so that there are never too many in any one school. Take the schools with high concentrations of non-proficient students (aka – “failing schools”), close them and spread the students among other schools with fewer non-proficient students. As long as the receiving schools do not reach too high of a concentration of non-proficient students, then they still pass.

In Kipp NO Leadership Academy’s case, they took on just a few too many non-proficient students and just missed the passing mark.

At some point, all the non-proficient students are evenly distributed throughout the system and there is nothing more to gain from the shell game. If only there was a way to pull non-proficient students out of the system entirely… hmm…

4) Let’s give out vouchers! (oops, I meant to say scholarships)

It appears that when a child is given a voucher, the child no longer counts in OPSB/RSD statistics.

Vouchers were to save students from failing schools, so I give OPSB/RSD the responsibility for those students who were “failed” by the system.

(Crews and LDOE lump all the students of OPSB and RSD together into a Orleans figure. Since the two systems jointly are responsible for the children of Orleans parish, I have no objection, as long as we also include the children who take vouchers.)

Voucher program data are closely guarded by LDOE. While I could not find solid numbers, I will make some thoughtful deductions here.

In her email correspondence, Crews cited enrollment numbers for OPSB and RSD that do not match LDOE-published data for 2013 and 2014.  Her enrollment counts are about 2400 over the LDOE data.  That aligns closely with the scant information published about the voucher program.  I believe those are the voucher numbers.

We also know that proficiency rates in the voucher program are 41-44%.  This would be failing if it were a school.

So I include the voucher program as a failing school.  This raises the percent of students attending failing schools to just under 16 percent.

I see her figures as immaterial. Who enrolls in a failing school?

A more realistic version would be: in Orleans, students attending failing schools dropped from 62 to 16 percent while the number of failing schools statewide dropped dramatically. Most of the drop in percentage here came from spreading weak students more evenly throughout the system.

Yes, I believe that OPSB/RSD has improved from rock-bottom over the years, but I see no miracle here.

I do see one of the most bogus metrics ever put out by LDOE, and that is a high honor, because LDOE is so masterful with bogus metrics.

Herb Bassett

There are other ways to get rid of the food on a plate than by eating it.

Just spread it around, for example.

playing with food



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 a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, newly published on June 12, 2015.

both books

  1. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Image is a great conclusion to this keen analysis of the shell game, except that it is not really a game but a scam.

  2. permalink

    This helped me understand the scenario- ““We must empower students! At the end of each year, close all the failing schools and let the children choose other schools. In the fall, every child will attend a non-failing school! And at the end of that year, close all the schools that fail and let the children choose other schools. As long as we rigorously close all the failing schools each year, no student will ever ENROLL in a failing school in the fall!”

    It also demonstrates another ridiculous thing- are we to believe that the vacated shell of a public school that remains is the “bad” part?

    And, that is we move all of it’s (reformed) contents to a new building- ‘Viola! It’s a winner’!?

  3. Zorba permalink

    Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads.

  4. dolphin permalink

    Reblogged this on Dolphin and commented:
    This is just busy work. Keep moving kids around to sever relationships with other kids and their teachers. After all that I have seen this past week, it is clear to me that this is not just profiteering by the hedge funders, but something deeper than that. Destroying the fabric of society where we knew one another and made lifetime friendships from schools and church. It’s more than dumbing kids down.

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