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Louisiana Charters Are by Far the Worst According to 2011 8th-grade NAEP Anaysis

August 28, 2015

One of the primary problems with Louisiana’s state-run, all-charter Recovery School District (RSD) is that the same state that is in control of data (and the official word on its data) is also committed to representing its state-run district in the best light.

For this reason, independent analysis of data on Louisiana’s schools is particularly valuable, especially when the researchers are able to procure data independently of the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).

Such is the case of an analysis of student-level eighth-grade 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data by two researchers from the University of Arizona, Francesca Lopez and Amy Olson. The Lopez-Olson analysis is featured in this Network for Public Education (NPE) policy brief. Specifically, Lopez and Olson compared traditional public schools to see what notable differences there might be between charters and traditional schools on eighth-grade 2011 NAEP outcomes.

Lopez and Olson’s analysis of charters versus traditional schools in Louisiana is particularly interesting since most charter schools in Louisiana are located in New Orleans, with RSD being the dominant district in New Orleans. In January 2011, Louisiana had 77 charter schools; 51 (66%) were located in New Orleans. Of these 51 New Orleans charters, 41 (80%) were state-run RSD charter schools. The remaining 10 were operated by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

In order to make clearer comparisons between traditional public school students and charter school students on the eight-grade 2011 NAEP, Lopez and Olson controlled for socioeconomic status, special education status, English language learner status, and ethnicity of students as well as the ethnic and socioeconomic makeup of the schools.

Regarding 2011 NAEP eight-grade math, the five states with the greatest discrepancies between charters and traditional schools (with the traditional schools outperforming the charters) were Massachusetts, DC (counted as a state in this study), Texas, Rhode Island, and– with the largest discrepancy by far– Louisiana.

As for the 2011 NAEP eight-grade reading,  the five states with the greatest discrepancies between charters and traditional schools (with the traditional schools outperforming the charters) were Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, DC, and– once again with the largest discrepancy by far– Louisiana.

On the 2011 NAEP in both math and reading, eight-grade students in Louisiana’s traditional public schools outscored their charter-school counterparts by between two and three standard deviations.

This difference is huge, and it is particularly important for a couple of reasons. First, Paul Vallas was superintendent of RSD between 2007 and 2011, and he and other pro-charter folk like to promote Vallas as a hero of post-Katrina, charter-proliferating, New Orleans education reform.

The second reason Lopez and Olson’s finding is important is that it meets corporate reform in it own living room: that of test-score-based results.

Of course, there is much more to the charter-loving, corporate education reform that converged on new Orleans than numbers could ever capture, and I am pleased that more stories of the devastation of the black community at the hands of the privileged, primarily-white corporate reformers is finding its way into notable media outlets. (For examples, see Jennifer Berkshire’s Salon articleAndrea Gabor’s New York Times pieceColleen Kimmett’s In These Times article, and Owen Davis’ International Business Times piece.)

Post-Katrina RSD is too much “white” done to the black community.

Ironically, in this August 28, 2015, Washington Post opinion piece in which Louisiana superintendent John White tries to argue that Congress should “look at New Orleans for how to fix No Child Left Behind, WashPost includes a 2010 file photo of the staff at one of New Orleans’ charter schools, Akili Academy.

The photo includes 16 individuals. Only three are people of color. Most are young, white women.

When I saw the photo, I thought of words I had read by New York researcher Andrea Gabor, who has spent much time in post-Katrina, New Orleans schools:

I should note that I’ve visited over half-a-dozen charter schools in New Orleans. With two exceptions, I barely saw a single African-American face among any of the educators.

But the photo is five years old, I thought. Perhaps the Akili Academy website will offer some evidence that more people of color teach at this school.

Well, the Akili Academy website does not include teacher information– but it does include photos of is eight-member administrative “team.”

Seven out of eight are white.

And again, I think of Gabor– this time as she quotes Howard Fuller:

When black people came out of slavery, we came out with a clear understanding of the connection between education and liberation. Two groups of white people descended upon us—the missionaries and the industrialists. They both had their view of what type of education we needed to make our new-born freedom realized. During this period there’s an analogy—I’ve said this to all my friends in Kipp And TFA. During this period two groups of white people descended on us the industrialists and the missionaries. And each one of them have their own view of what kind of education we need.

And then, I remember some nonsense that came out of anti-union, pro-charter corporate reformer, Campbell Brown, in an August 2015 C-SPAN clip. In the clip, she justifies the firing of thousands of New Orleans teachers right after the storm. She also offers her white-privileged perspective on the success of New Orleans absent any knowledge or concern for the impact of the charter-ization of New Orleans schools led by privileged whites.

She even speaks of “the decision” of orchestrated, post-Katrina state takeover of most New Orleans schools in passive voice related to some undefined “they”:

After Katrina, a decision was made in Louisiana… when they were trying to figure out how to rebuild that school system, they made a choice to basically take almost all the schools in New Orleans and make them charter schools, which, take the handcuffs off and put the union contracts aside and give those schools the flexibility to be innovative and to do different things than they had been doing before. And I’ll tell you what: Before Katrina, New Orleans was one of the worst school systems in the country. It was appalling. It was absolutely appalling, and heartbreaking to me, as someone from Louisiana, that we had failed so many kids that way….

That decision to remake the school system in Katrina has proven without question massive, massive gains for the students there. Those schools are doing better than they ever have. There’s still a long way to go. it is far, far from perfect, but there has been tremendous progress in New Orleans because of the decisions that were made after Katrina. And it’s heartbreaking that there would have to be a disaster like this where you have a clean slate and you can start from the beginning to see this kind of progress. But the story of what’s happened in New Orleans post-Katrina… is amazing, and all of the research and all of the studies that have, bear that out… That’s a story the world needs to hear….

The story that the world needs to hear is nothing like what Brown advocates.

New Orleans charter success is white-privileged-blown smoke and state-controlled mirrors. However, a more realistic, sobering word is surfacing, and the frayed, marketing edges of all-charter, state-run RSD are getting increasingly more obvious to the American public despite the likes of John White and Campbell Brown.

frayed edges


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?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books



  1. PBS New Hour August 28, 2015

    Ten years ago, New Orleans public schools were headed for academic rock bottom. And then Hurricane Katrina came, a disaster so devastating that it offered the rare opportunity to start over. Charter schools, empowered to take over, have raised test scores and graduation rates. But some say that success comes from bending the rules. Special correspondent John Tulenko of Education Week reports.

  2. LAEducator permalink

    I have worked in a very good traditional Louisiana public high school for over two decades. Up until 2011, our school was a solid C to C+ high school for over two decades under Louisiana’s school accountability system which began with our first reform efforts in 1989. Around 2010, we had an SPS in the upper 80s, a C rating, & needed to reach an SPS of 114 to earn a B, which was going to be a difficult to impossible task given the poverty & illiteracy plaguing so many of our students. Then in 2012, enter John White with his “higher standards” & new accountability system & suddenly we were a B, then an A high school & we have remained an A to B high school ever since. How has this happened when our ACT scores have only grown minimally & even taken dips over that period (just like schools in most of the rest of the state I might add)? It’s simple: Under John White’s new & “improved” accountability system, on a five grade scale, A, B, C, D, F: 100 to 150 points equals an A! The bar is set so low so that JW can let more than a few low scorers in RSD charters go missing in the “data” & the RSD school district can earn a C & the OPSB which is made up of about 20 primarily selective-enrollment schools, can earn an A. Then you average those district SPS scores together, even though the two entities are entirely separate, & voila, Orleans Parish schools get a B! It’s a miracle! No, it’s simply manipulation of the data to create the illusion of success. You don’t have to be a statician to see that John White’s success is only smoke & mirrors. Anyone who believes that things in Orleans are as John White & the rest of the pro-charter crowd depict them, is just not looking at the facts. They probably never will because it’s easier to just drink the Kool-Aid & besides, their privileged children will be educated mostly at the most exclusive private schools which are not following those miraculous CCSS standards.

  3. Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    People take John White and LDOE at their word that RSD is doing outstanding Independent analysis continues to show otherwise. RSD is not a separate agency from LDOE, it is a part of it.

    We would never consider taking a teacher’s word, alone, as proof they were the best teacher in the state. We don’t let principals evaluate their schools for us and tell us how great they are or if they are struggling. We don’t let any other districts in the state evaluate themselves except RSD, which is always self-evaluated as outstanding and revolutionary, every year. Yet even with all these “vast improvements” it still ranks at the bottom of our state by just about any positive metric you can find. And that, my friends, is before we even touch on all the scams they pull like exiting 10% more of their 9th grade cohorts out of the country than the sister, parish run district, colocated in New Orleans. That means that their grade rates, which are worst in the state, are a minimum of 10% lower than they’ve claimed. If a 50% graduation rate is what you are looking for, then RSD might be for you. It will cost you though. In the first years after the storm per pupil amounts were more than 4 times the average per pupil amount in the state.

  4. LAEducator permalink

    I also have to add that the rising grad rates in Louisiana are due to the fact that 20% of the Louisiana SPS is now based on graduation with one’s cohort, i.e. on time within 4 years. The kids who fail to earn 24 credits out of 32 courses over 4 years are simply put on computer software called Odysseyware for credit recovery & they graduate on time & the school SPS does not take a hit. Teachers are also being discouraged from documenting behavior issues because of the negative impact on the SPS. It’s like the OP police statistics: if it’s not documented, it never happened. This is happening in schools in parishes across the state. Some success, huh!

  5. LAEducator permalink

    That’s the OP as in Orleans Parish police stats. Thanks, Mercedes, for another excellent expose!

  6. Christine Langhoff permalink

    “Well, the Akili Academy website does not include teacher information– but it does include photos of is eight-member administrative “team.”

    Seven out of eight are white.”

    And the eighth is “Director of Student Culture”.

    • Christine, that “Director of Student Culture” is the disciplinarian. I’ve dealt with her. Not impressed at all.

      • Christine Langhoff permalink

        The photo is of an older Black gentleman:

  7. stefananders323323 permalink

    Just yesterday I heard someone on Npr state that the charters in new Orleans are successful.

  8. LAEducator permalink

    Yes, NPR & PBS have been bought up by the rich masters like everything else. I stopped my annual donations to local “non-profits” WYES, WWNO, United Way, etc in 2011 when they insisted on calling the NOLA charter movement “school choice” instead of privatization of public education for monetary & political gain which is what it truly is. Perhaps WYES doesn’t even miss my donations as they may be getting enough money from the Koch Bros., Walmart, the Rex Organization, & even the budget-stressed state of Louisiana. WYES got $1.12 million out of our embattled state budget last year while Jindal vetoed a COLA of about $30 a month for state retirees, many elderly retired public school teachers living on $700 a month. In return, Errol Laborde & the Uninformed Sources touted victory after victory of the “miracle” charters of NOLA & Errol even praised Jindal for his state-wide initiatives in Education. They would not have Clancy Dubos on the show for about the last two years of Jindal’s reign as governor, but on the very day that the ink was drying on Jindal’s last 10 vetoes (he does the max of 10 every year), they brought Clancy out of moth-balls & let him speak. Too late WYES, your credibility is gone with the wind!

  9. Nikki Napoleon permalink

    @Mr. Lloyd Lofthouse-The RSD charter schools have the lowest ACT test score (16.6) among all school districts in Louisiana. Additionally, high school students enrolled in AP courses cannot pass the AP exam to earn college credit. Students graduating from these experiment charter factories don’t have the aptitude to compete in four year state colleges, and are often denied acceptance into LSU, ULL, UNO, and Southern University at New Orleans, because they need remedial courses. Yes, the charter schools were ’empowered to take over’ but that takeover has resulted RSD being labeled as a high suspension rate school district, and a district that practice discriminatory methods to push out special needs children. Over the last ten years, the RSD charters have been given the power to bend rules, break laws, pervert data, all without zero accountability or oversight. That’s not progress; it’s criminal and all for profit…

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