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Former La. RSD Supt. Patrick Dobard Says NOLA Needs “More Good Schools”

May 11, 2018

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, former Louisiana state superintendent Cecil Picard wanted to kill Orleans Parish Public Schools (OPSB) and replace the entire system with independently-operated charter schools.

He was not able to do so because it would have taken a state constitutional amendment to dissolve OPSB. So, the 2005 state legislature altered the criteria for “failing school,” which allowed most of New Orleans’ schools (roughly 100 schools) to be taken over by the state’s Recovery School District (RSD). Only about 17 schools remained with OPSB.

I learned the above history from former New Orleans principal and education activist Raynard Sanders, who read the information in the depositions related to the mass firing of thousands of OPSB teachers post-Katrina. (Sanders recently published a book on the state takeover of New Orleans schools.)

By the 2014-15 school year, all RSD schools had become charter schools, which means that RSD didn’t directly operate the schools; instead, the RSD schools were operated by numerous charter management organizations (CMOs) in what some refer to as portfolio fashion– which means that no single entity existed, for example, to assure that no student fell thru the cracks as the student left one charter school and (maybe, maybe not) headed for another.

Once a student leaves one charter school, that school’s responsibility for that student ends. Where the student ends up becomes no one’s responsibility.

New Orleans schools are theoretically (but not completely) an open-enrollment system, meaning that school attendance is not directed by geographical boundaries but supposedly by parental choice. Choose a school, and your child gets to attend, right? Well, it is not quite that simple.

In 2012-13, RSD schools and some OPSB schools began using the Walton-funded OneApp in order to apply for their top three choices in schools. However, not all OPSB schools were required to offer open admission, and the few OPSB schools that participated in the OneApp filled quickly. But there was another catch to some OPSB schools that used OneApp: They also had other, additional application criteria, according to a 2015 parent panel on the subject:

Here is the distilled version of what I heard as I listened to these five women talk about their experiences as parents in open-enrollment New Orleans:

1) The OneApp process is not quick, and it is not easy. (I wrote as much in this July 2013 post.) Many schools are listed on the OneApp have what one parent called “the fine print” of what is additionally required to be included with the OneApp. She said that if the instructions are not followed exactly, students can be denied admission. Another two parents talked about applying for pre-Kindergarten and ninth grade. Both stated that the process was grueling; that it was complicated and required perseverance– and that their flexible schedules and ready transportation made it possible to get through the process. …

After the event, I spoke with the parent who made the comment that the letter grades were “a mirage.” I commented that it seems that the parents on the panel want neighborhood schools. She agreed. I also told her that I learned from an audience member that even though [Doug] Harris’ OneApp research indicates parents choose schools based on having siblings attend the same school, this does not actually happen. In fact, a parent of two or three children could have them at different schools. She added, “Or four.”

I cannot imagine being a parent of four young children assigned to four different schools. But this is the kind of real-life detail absent from an analysis of OneApp data, and it needs to have its place in the research on OneApp.

So, OneApp has its problems, a notable one being that its very name is a misnomer; when additional info must be included with the OneApp, this makes it More-Than-OneApp. Even so, even the One App cannot be blamed for the apparent undesirability of the majority of the charter schools available for the choosing. From my 2013 posting on OneApp:

By Round Three this year (application for 2013-14), no OPSB direct-run schools were available for parents to choose. They are listed as available on the application; then, on a latter page, there is a hastily-added disclaimer that these OPSB schools are no longer available. Thus, by Round Three, all that were left were RSD schools, most of which have 2012 letter grades of D or F.

That ought to tell you something about the New Orleans Miracle.

RSD schools never did live up to the hype that attended state takeover of schools. The best that RSD achieved as a district was a grade of C, and even that was the product of altering grading criteria to boost D to C.

In 2016, OPSB formally agreed to “take back” RSD schools, which makes it sound as though local control is back in play. However, these formerly-RSD charters are not directly run by OPSB, but they do have to answer somewhat to OPSB.

In 2017, RSD superintendent Patrick Dobard resigned, only to assume the helm of the corporate reform nonprofit that promoted RSD, New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO).

In Dobard’s resignation announcement, Louisiana superintendent John White had little to celebrate and was rather subdued about the whole affair:

“The RSD has played its role in New Orleans,” state schools Superintendent John White said Wednesday. “It’s time for the state to move its presence elsewhere.”

RSD failed. Twelve years after Hurricane Katrina, RSD had not become a haven of A-B schools. Still, paints Dobard as RSD magic man:

Dobard closed or turned all RSD’s schools into charters – more than 50 at the peak — then pulled those independent planets into a solar system held together not only by OneApp but by shared expulsion standards, a truancy office and an intensive mental health program. It was a new, nationally unique kind of school district.

Sounds marvelous, doesn’t it? (For some details on NOLA school closures post-Katrina, see this October 2013 article.)

Notice that the wonder of Dobard includes no accolades for a stellar district letter grade. But hey, it was all charters! And it was new, and nationally unique!

Cut to a May 2018 opinion piece by former RSD superintendent Dobard, entitled, “The Problem Isn’t OneApp, It’s a Need for More Good Schools.”

Note this loaded statement:

When a seat opens up at nearly any public school in New Orleans, every interested family has the same chance to send their child to that school.

Not all public schools. Nearly all.

But there’s more. OneApp has been around since 2012-13– but not all NOLA public schools have been involved– and apparently not all are yet. But three more are:

This year, three highly-rated schools participated in OneApp for the first time. In previous years, they had separate applications, so entering the OneApp made them more accessible for all. While 75 percent of students citywide were matched to a school of their choice, at these three schools, fewer than 32 percent of the applicants were matched. One school had more than 1,400 applicants for 100 seats — a 7 percent match rate.

What follows is that the former RSD superintendent– the dynamic leader who kept the RSD “solar system” in orbit– inadvertently criticizes his own work. I suppose that’s okay now that he is no longer Dobard, RSD Superintendent and is now Dobard, NSNO CEO:

The problem here is not the OneApp itself. The real need is for more high quality schools. If 1,400 students are vying for 100 seats at a given school, that means we need more seats — our children’s futures are not a game of musical chairs. At New Schools for New Orleans, we are working with the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) to grow the number of excellent schools that families can choose from.

New Schools for New Orleans is recycling, with post-Katrina “new” being replaced with post-RSD “new.”

New New Schools for New Orleans.

If New Orleans is full of charter schools, but the majority of those charter schools are not “high quality,” and if “our children’s futures are not a game of musical chairs,” then how does one remedy this low-quality-charter-school proliferation without continued school-closure churn, which does indeed contribute to “musical chairs”– or, in this case, “musical school seats”?

Dobard’s response:

We work toward a day when there are enough high-quality schools that every family gets their first choice. Until that day, the OneApp needs to work smoothly for those who don’t get their top pick.

The New Orleans solar system of school choice has an element of settling for a low-quality planet if need be. Some planets are even able to choose to not open themselves to that solar system.

But there is always New New Orleans and the future arrival of those New New Schools.



Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Excellent analysis. Dobard and company know that an all-charter system creates inequality. Increasing pivatized public schools only makes unequal systems more unequal.

    • and for those who would see this happen on purpose, the charter school system so very efficiently separates the haves from the have nots

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