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New Orleans High School Parent: “My Son Is Being Socially Promoted.”

July 11, 2020

EL is the father of a student at New Orleans-based Sophie B. Wright (SBW) charter school. L resides in Washington, DC, and shares custody of a son who has attended SBW since he was a seventh grader in the 2015-16 school year. In 2019-20, L’s son was a high school junior.

L’s first communication with SBW occured on July 28, 2015, in which L was assuming a proactive role in being involved in his son’s education at SBW by emailing SBW principal, Sharon Clark:

Good morning Principal Clark.

My wife, V, and I are the parents of an incoming seventh grader (student name). We will be leaving Nashville soon to visit New Orleans for a few days. Is it possible to meet briefly with [son’s] teachers this Friday, July 31st?

Regards,
EL

L was not able to meet with his son’s teachers because of summer break. On August 13, 2015, again as a proactive step taken by an involved parent, L emailed Clark, as follows:

Good afternoon Ms. Clark,
When possible, would you provide us with [son]’s schedule for the fall so that we can introduce ourselves via e-mail to his teachers.  Thank you.

Sincerely,
E and VL

Given that L has already established himself as an involved father who is eager to support his son’s teachers in their efforts to educate his son, it should come as no surprise that months into the 2015-16 school year, L contacted Clark about taking action to confront the situation of his son’s poor grades. In this case, L asked Clark to curtail his son’s extracurricular band involvement until the son’s grades improved. From November 09, 2015:

Good morning Ms. Clark,

Is there a minimum GPA required to participate in extracurricular activities?  Based on my conversation with my son, he has two “D’s” on his report card.  Certainly, he should not be participating in extracurricular activities if he is failing his classes and not turning in homework?

We have attached the child custody judgement.   Would you or Mr. Williams provide us with access to Power School login?  If [son] is struggling in school as we suspect, we ask that he be immediately removed from the band and not allowed to participate in any activities until he has improved his grades.  We are terribly concerned that our son is being allowed to ignore his school work for the sake of extracurricular activities.  Thank you for addressing this matter.

Sincerely,

E and VL

“We ask that he be immediately removed from the band and not allowed to participate in any activities until he has improved his grades.” A simple request, and a seemingly logical one, especially since the 2017-18 SBW Extracurricular Activities Handbook includes the following stipulation as its first, bolded, point regarding student involvement in its marching units:

MARCHING UNITS

SBWCS offers students the opportunity to participate in the following marching units: Marching Band, Dance Team, Flag Twirlers, Majorettes and Cheerleaders. The purpose of the marching units is to promote school spirit and a positive school climate through approved performances and activities at the school and throughout the community. 

ELIGIBILITY RULES AND GUIDELINES

Students must maintain a 2.5 GPA the entire school year. If a student does not have a 2.5 GPA, he/she will be placed on probation for one grading period. The student cannot participate in any activities while on probation. If the student does not achieve a 2.5 the next grading period, he/she will be taken off the team for the rest of the school year. Students will have to try out again, and may not participate in any activities while on probation.

According to L, the situation transpired as follows, across years:

My son began his seventh grade year at Sophie B. Wright in 2015.  He began performing poorly due to a lack of effort.  When I asked Principal Sharon Clark to remove him from the band, Principal Clark offered a compromise.  If he continues to do poorly, he will be automatically removed from the band as a result of his GPA not meeting the minimum requirement to participate in extracurricular activities (2.5 GPA).

My son had a 1.78 GPA average at the end of his eighth grade year (2016 – 2017).  He was allowed to remain in the band despite not meeting the 2.5 GPA requirement.  Both Principal Clark and the Sophie B. Wright board violated school policy by allowing my son to place an extracurricular activity ahead of his education.

At the end of the fall semester (2017 – 2018 school year), my son’s GPA dropped to a 1.71.  He was neither removed from his extracurricular activity nor placed on probation (required by school policy).

Two other issues also happened across the years. First of all, SBW diluted its (non-adhered-to) academic requirement for extracurricular involvement. From the 2018-19 SBW Extracurricular Handbook:

MARCHING UNITS

SBWCS offers students the opportunity to participate in the following marching units: Marching Band, Dance Team, Flag Twirlers, Majorettes and Cheerleaders. The purpose of the marching units is to promote school spirit and a positive school climate through approved performances and activities at the school and throughout the community.

ELIGIBILITY RULES AND GUIDELINES

1. Students must maintain a 2.3 GPA for each marking period. If a student
does not have a 2.3 GPA, he/she will be placed on probation for one grading period. The student cannot participate in selected activities while on probation. If the student does not achieve a 2.3 the next grading period, he/she will be taken off the team for the rest of the school year. Students will have to try out again and may not participate in any activities while on probation. Any student playing sports must be in compliance with LHSAA academic requirements.

Down from a 2.5 GPA requirement for the entire year to a 2.3 GPA requirement for each marking period. Then, in 2019-20, yet another dilution, as noted in the 2019-20 SBW Extracurricular Activities Handbook:

MARCHING UNITS

SBWCS offers students the opportunity to participate in the following marching units: Marching Band, Dance Team, Flag Twirlers, Majorettes and Cheerleaders. The purpose of the marching units is to promote school spirit and a positive school climate through approved performances and activities at the school and throughout the community.

ELIGIBILITY RULES AND GUIDELINES

1. Students must maintain a 2.0 GPA the entire school year. If a student does not have a 2.0 GPA, he/she will be placed on probation for one grading period. The student can participate in selected activities while on probation. If the student does not achieve a 2.0 the next grading period, he/she will be taken off the team for the
rest of the school year. Students will have to try out again and may not participate in any activities while on probation.

Thus, across three school years (2017-18 to 2019-20), SBW has gone from a 2.5 GPA requirement (entire school year) to participate in marching band, with no participation while on probation, to a softwer, 2.0 GPA requirement (also entire school year) and *participation in selected activities* while on probation.

On July 09, 2020, I emailed SBW principal, Sharon Clark, regarding the easing of the GPA needed for marching unit participation:

Good morning, Principal Clark.

My name is Mercedes Schneider; I am a Louisiana teacher, researcher, and writer (bio: https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/about/). I am writing a piece that references Sophie B Wright’s (SBW) changes over time in the GPA required to participate in SBW’s marching units. According to the 2017-18 Extracurricular Activities Handbook, a 2.5 GPA was required. Then, in 2018-19, the GPA requirement was lowered to 2.3. In 2019-20 the requirement was lowered yet again, to 2.0. Also in 2019-20, the handbook language was changed to indicate that students with a GPA lower than 2.0 would not automatically be prohibited from all participation, in contrast to such language in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 handbooks.

Would you care to comment on

1) The decision of the SBW board to lower the marching units participation GPA from 2.5 to 2.0 over the course of three school years, and

2) the impact that such a softening of GPA standards has had or could have on the academic rigor of student achievement (i.e., grades) at SBW?

Thank you.

–Mercedes Schneider

Clark has not responded as of this writing.

A 2.0 GPA represents a C average across all classes. However, hidden in SBW’s lowered, 2.0 GPA is the issue that one of the classes is band, a class in which L’s son consistently scores an A. What this means is that since band is an A, then one other class can be an F– which averages out to a 2.0 C. Therefore, in lowering its GPA requirement from 2.5 to 2.0, SBW has effectively allowed students like L’s son the possibility to fail an academic class for full year and still escape even the most tepid probation.

Even still, L’s son’s grades have dropped below a 2.0 GPA even with band as his A-grade class for consecutive semesters, and L’s son has never been removed from the privilege of participating in marching activities. On the contrary, as noted in this April 10, 2018, email from a frustrated L to the SBW music director:

My son is currently failing Math and English.  Despite that tragedy, he was allowed to miss a week of school prior to Mardi Gras week so that he could march in parades.  When I brought this problem to your attention, you responded by allowing him to miss another day of school so that he could perform in Lake Charles the evening of March 7th.  Early this morning, April 9th, I explained to you that [son] had a paper due this evening and he has a paper due on Thursday.  I asked that he not be allowed to attend band practice.  Your response: Allow him to practice with the brass band which cut into his time to complete his homework and focus on his paper.  We finished the paper after 10:30 pm cst.  What is your priority at Sophie B. Wright, the band or the students?

EL

Based on L’s experience, the priority at SBW is not the student earning his/her own grades.

That doesn’t mean students cannot somehow get better grades in short order, which is the second other issue happening across the years at SBW.

Consider these two grade reports for L’s son.  (For the sake of divulging a minimum of personal information on L’s son, I abbreviated the images.)

The first is dated May 18, 2020.

IMG_1833

Note that the only class in which L’s son has consistently performed well is band, and those A’s have prevented his GPA from being lower than the overall 1.8938 that is.

The remainder of his classes are sprinkled with F’s and D’s across grading terms (T1, T2, etc., which seem to be roughly 5- to 6-week intervals), semesters (S1, S2), and, finally, the grades for year’s end (Y1).

Three weeks later, on June 08, 2020, L’s son’s grades had experienced some puzzling alterations:

IMG_1835

First of all, his annual grade in psychology has risen from 68D to 75C, despite only term grade change: for T3, the F actually is lower in June (a 60F) than it was in May (a 64F).

Too, the 64F in Algebra II B has morphed into a 78C, with grade changes made to terms T2 from the first semester (which would have been Algebra II A) and T5 from the second semester.

In Chemistry B and English III B, grade changes go back to F’s from T1 (which would have been Chemistry A and English III A). Some serious Chemistry B F’s (one as low as 17F) were also taken care of, as were the F’s (including a 16F) for Spanish II B.

Thus, in three weeks’ time, L’s son’s annual GPA suspiciously rose from 1.9 to 2.3.

In his July 06, 2020, email to me, L summarizes this fast-tracked GPA improvement experience as follows:

My son earned a 32 in Algebra II after Term 2. He was allowed to continue marching during football season, was not asked to catch up on the missing work over Christmas break, took a band trip to Cuba, marched during parade season and had a peaceful spring break.  Then, Credit Recovery was offered and my son was able to make up months of academic neglect within weeks.

I have asked to see the work that was completed, but no teacher has shown me any completed assignments although FERPA requires that custodial parents be provided educational documents within 45 days.

I have visited my son’s Google Classroom only to find the words “Missing” in red where a submitted assignment should be.

When I ask my son where an electronic copy of the submitted work is, he offers a gumbo of explanations that are nonsensical.  Do I believe he turned something in?  Yes.  Do I believe it would earn him the grade that he was given if graded by a teacher outside of Sophie B. Wright? Absolutely not!

After credit recovery, my son’s grade changed from three F’s and three D’s to two D’s and Four Cs.

*After credit recovery.*

According to this March 2018 US Department of Education issue brief, “credit recovery” is defined as follows:

The U.S. Department of Education (Department) sponsored the National Survey on High School Strategies Designed to Help At-Risk Students Graduate (HSS), which aimed to provide descriptive information on the prevalence and characteristics of dropout prevention strategies for at-risk students. …

The HSS defined credit recovery as a strategy that encourages at-risk students to re-take a previously failed course required for high school graduation and earn credit if the student successfully completes the course requirements. The strategy was designed to provide a pathway for high school students who have a history of course failure and help them avoid falling further behind in school (U.S. Department of
Education 2015b). Credit recovery courses may be available online or in alternative settings and can be scheduled at different times to suit the needs of the student.

Credit recovery occurs in the form of formal, distinct courses, to be completed after a student fails a course, not a some quick means of raising grades in current courses by completing last-minute, thrown-together “work” used to alter any term grades that administrators wish.

What the SBW administration allowed L’s son to do was not credit recovery, and if SBW admin is allowing this to pass as credit recovery, they are abusing the credit recovery program.

In late 2019, New Orleans Public Schools (NOLA-PS) conducted a compliance review of all high schools after the Class of 2019 at another New Orleans high school, Kennedy High, found itself embroiled in scandal for graduating half of its senior class despite students not meeting academic criteria for graduation eligibility.

I gained access of SBW’s credit accumulation compliance review report, dated December 18, 2019, by filing a public records request with NOLA-PS superintendent, Henderson Lewis.

SBW was found “not in compliance” concerning an aspect of credit recovery, which the report defines as “applicable to courses student has been unsuccessful in passing, not the initial attempt.”

Specifically, for students’ individual graduation plans (IGP), SBG was found “not in compliance” for the criteria, “IGP includes all credit recovery courses listed.” The note clarifying this noncompliance is as follows: “Files for four Credit Recovery students were reviewed. 0/4 files correctly denoted Credit Recovery Courses on the student’s IGP.”

If L’s son had been taking credit recovery courses, such courses should have been added as part of his graduation plan, which would have been modified to include credit recovery for specific courses once L’s son had failed his initial attempt at passing said specific courses.

Thus, L’s observation about credit recovery being “offered” to “make up months of academic neglect in weeks” illustrates misuse of credit recovery, an issue with which NOLA-PS identified SBW as exhibiting compliance issues in December 2019– the semester prior to L’s son’s May-to-June 2020, fast-tracked, mystery grade clean-up.

I have filed another records request for “any documentation (i.e., letters of response from the SBW board or other related individuals or entities; a formal remediation plan devised and submitted by the SBW board or other related individuals or entities) related to addressing areas rated “not in compliance” in the audit findings for Sophie B Wright High School,” the fulfillment of which is pending.

In his initial, July 06, 2020, email to me, L wrote in the subject line, “Three Fs and Three Ds Changed to Two Ds and Four Cs: My Son is Being Socially Promoted at Sophie B. Wright.”

“My son is being socially promoted.”

“I have asked to see the [alleged credit recovery] work that was completed, but no teacher has shown me any completed assignments.”

Given SBW’s increasingly-diluted GPA criteria for marching unit participation coupled with a muddied “grade recovery” that allows a student’s annual GPA to incredulously jump .4 in the final weeks of the school year, the term, *social promotion* certainly– and sadly– fits, making an SBW high school education a college-and-career-prep house of cards.

house of cards

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13 Comments
  1. jim2812 permalink

    Castlemont High School, Oakland, California public school had this year a scandal with reported credit recovery cheating that mirrors New Orleans charter school report. Cheating should be intolerable to public school and charter school supporters.

  2. Jolon permalink

    Wow. This is incredible.
    I have one nagging question, how come Mr. Lundy couldn’t stop his son from participating in the band? Meaning, if he told his son not to participate, how/why did he?

    • Mr. Lundy parents from a distance, which complicates the issue. He asked the school to honor its own participation policy, which it did not, and this decision was apparently fine with the child’s mother.

      • jim2812 permalink

        Oakland Unified School District was years ago required to write and its school board pass, a Board policy ending social promotion.

        Because of financial problems, the State in 2003 took over management of Oakland Unified. When the State returned operational control back to the Oakland School Board, the Board policy eliminating social promotion had been dropped.

        And to date, the Oakland Unified School District School Board has NOT ratified a replacement promotion policy barring social promotion as required by California State law.

    • Jazmine permalink

      He clearly has no control over any decision that is made for the child. She mentioned he is parenting from a distance and it complicates the issue. It’s understandable that it’s complicated because he is not who the child lives with.

  3. Jazmine permalink

    This blog is disgraceful. You mentioned the child’s name countlessly, knowing that he is a minor. No value of privacy. You also mentioned that he parents from a distance, where’s the standpoint from the parent that he lives with? Do better.

  4. anonymous permalink

    Man this is ludicrous to have had this sent to me by one of my friends. It is so frustrating to have to keep dealing with this foolishness. My mom did not know about this. I’m sure she did not approve of any of my private information being put out there. My dad is trippin. I don’t know who this woman is but she has no facts. This is so wrong. If y’all knew how messed up my dad is in the head. This is not cool.

    • The issue here is one of school policy. There is a GPA requirement for marching unit participation, and that requirement has been reduced over the years and appears not to be adhered to even though reduced. There is also the issue of credit recovery and whether that program is being misused. These are the points of this post.

      • Jazmine permalink

        This is not about an issue of school policy or an issue of credit recovery. This is personal. You can tell by the title of this blog. The info provided may not even be accurate but skewed. This is from the perspective of a parent who apparently isn’t even actively present or involved in his child’s life. This is about more than is stated here.

    • I removed your name as the commenter since I also removed it from my posting.

    • J L permalink

      I am commenting on behalf of my son. Without going into further details as this matter does not concern anyone outside of my household and the school that my child attends, I will state that this is an ongoing trend. My ex-husband was not chosen to be the parent who makes decisions regarding the well being of our 3 children. The decision could possibly be based on the years of physical, mental ad emotional abuse inflicted on our family. It has been more than 13 years that we have been tormented by this man. He lost his right to have a say in decisions made as a result of his abuse. He is lucky to have been given visitation. He is a narcissist who despises strong women. I have fought hard to move forward in life while raising our children to rise above the way they have been treated by their father. It has been difficult. He has no control and is still trying to gain control. He is miserable and cannot accept his role in all that he has lost. He has had to go around every wall that I have put up and this is his latest attempt. Two children down, they are high school graduates, attending college and grown. There’s only one left to conquer. Well it will not happen. Even as our daughter has entered college, he has contacted the university president in an effort to control her. When will it end? Attempting to take down institutions through slander will not replace what he has destroyed. Although he makes it appear to be an issue of school policy, it is merely another way to penetrate the wall I have put up to protect our son, who is a senior now. All he wants is an opportunity to spend his last year without turmoil and interference that his siblings experienced, at different schools. He is asking for peace and respect for those who care and support him. In the 8 years that our children have been in schools in New Orleans, I have been the only parent present at every event that has mattered to our children. All that their father has done is add to their pain and distress. Please do not give any further energy to this negativity. It is bad enough he is an absent father, to leave a legacy of abuse, scrutiny, and harassment behind, speaks volumes to his presentation of being a concerned father.

  5. E L permalink

    I am E.L., the father mentioned in this blog. My concern is simple: My son is a very bright teenager who is not working up to his ability. He chooses to not make his education a priority. Teenagers do that. Sophie b. Wright is complicit in the declining quality of my son’s education by lowering academic standards (e.g., grades are given even when my son has not earned them) and by not adhering to school policy which requires a specific GPA in order to participate in extra curricular activities.

    As a college professor, I meet students who are not able to complete college-level work. I often wonder “How did they get through high school with such limited academic skills?” It is my goal to ensure that my son does not share this fate. I have tried to address this growing problem since fall 2015, by focusing on a strong educational foundation for him prior to his matriculation from high school. If my son, or any student, is not completing his homework (based on teacher comments), is not working hard in class (based on teacher comments), and is not putting forward his best effort (based on the quality of his work product), I expect all Sophie B. Wright faculty and staff to follow the extra curricular handbook and remove all privileges until my son ideally puts forth his best effort, or at least maintains the minimum required GPA. It is absurd that a student can fail a class, but remain active in an extracurricular activity. Should that time not be spent mastering content? Is subject matter mastery not the primary purpose of attending school (i.e., reading, writing, ‘rithmetic)?

    By ignoring their own school policy outlined in the student handbook and by lowering academic standards, Sophie B. Wright is engaging in pedagogical malfeasance. They have lowered the GPA requirement for extracurricular activities year after year year from a 2.5 GPA requirement in 2017-2018 to a 2.3 GPA requirement in 2018 – 2019 to a 2.0 GPA requirement in 2019 – 2020. To make matters worse, my son submits work that would be immediately returned if he were attending a rigorous high school.

    My son is not learning how to learn. Instead, he is learning how to cut corners. My son is given grades that he did not earn. The grades on his report card do not reflect his work product (F’s changed to D’s and D’s changed to C’s). This is fraudulent on the part of Sophie B. Wright High School, Principal Sharon Clark and the Sophie B. Wright Charter School Board. An audit of the school’s grading practices will reveal that dozens more students are receiving final grades that do not match the accumulation of their individual grades across each of the six terms The audit coupled with EOC scores will show that student grades don’t match student competence in a specific subject (e.g., “C” in an Honors English class, but “Unsatisfactory” on the English EOC). Finally, an audit will reveal that the quality of work submitted in honors classes does not meet expectations, even as students receive the benefit of weighted scores.

    As a father, I want my son to be well educated. Any personal complaint is not relevant to an investigation into pedagogical malfeasance at Sophie B. Wright.

    • This is my final comment. As the parent who enrolled and registered my children in the schools they attended/attend, I have been present, in person, to discuss my children’s successes, failures, strengths and weaknesses. I do not believe there is now or has ever been fraudulent activity, on any level, from any of the schools my children have attended. As an educator, of twenty-plus years, I know and fully understand what educators and parents face. There are various stories as each child is different and each family is different. As teachers, we often go above and beyond for our students and their families. Do students always perform at the level we’d like to see, not always. I have taught summer school and credit recovery. If a grade has been changed, it was because a student did what was required to bring up that grade. I have also tutored students which in some cases, helped students bring up grades. I have had many students shock and surprise me from the start of their freshmen year of high school to the end of their freshmen year of college. I have known students to perform better on tests than in the actual core subjects and vice versa. Some students require external motivation while others use internal motivation. There are also those students that struggle with balancing their learning with focusing on their passions. Some students struggle with learning due to traumatic experiences. I have even witnessed students who have been straight A students all of their lives, suffer set backs in college and have known students who were considered average, strategically progress through college without set backs. Regardless of the situation, we meet our students and our children where they are. We encourage, we support, we demand, we praise, we express frustration or disappointment, we set expectations, we take away privileges, we reward and we congratulate successes. For those who are on the outside looking in, perception may be reality. For those who are on the inside, hands on, day in and day out, we are not concerned about anyone’s implied perception. We know the reality. No one is interested in hiring a representative. When you present your “perceived” desire to be a stakeholder, be prepared to do every aspect of the job. At this point, over the last eight years, none of the stakeholders fulfilling the requirements of the job, who’ve been present before, during or after, have the initials, EL.

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