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“Right-sizing” All-Charter New Orleans Schools

January 1, 2022

New Orleans does not have enough K12 students to support all of its schools, which happen to be all charter schools. As a result, it seems that this charter-portfolio district will be undergoing a downsizing/restructuring, the initial plans for which will be revealed “in the coming weeks,” as Marta Jewson of the December 29, 2021, Lens reports.

Jewson notes that over 3,000 seats are currently not filled (47,000 students and 50,000 seats.)

The euphemistic term for potentially closing or consolidating some of New Orleans’ underenrolled charter schools is apparently “right-sizing.”

Jewson reports that having too few students affects a school’s ability to maintain facilities. This problem is old news for traditional school systems that lose per-pupil student funding when competing charter schools pop up in their districts. In the case of all-charter New Orleans, the competition for New Orleans’ too-few students is all charter-to-charter and has KIPP New Orleans CEO Rhonda Kalifey-Aluise saying, “It’s really hard to run an efficient building– you just end up wasting resources.”

Do tell.

Stability in a school district is not a goal of market-based education reform. On the contrary, “disruption” is the name of the ed-reform game; supposedly disruption and market forces somehow come together to foster parental empowerment and a “choice” situation in which the best schools automatically thrive and the less-than-best are efficiently weeded out as a result of empowered parents not choosing them.

The simplistic, smooth-operation fantasy noted above has never come to fruition in New Orleans’ “portfolio” district– one comprised completely of charter schools, some under the same management organizations, most authorized by the district but some authorized by the state (under the label Recovery School District, or RSD, with the true purpose of converting traditional New Orleans schools into charter schools) but none directly operated by a local, elected school board.

Having no consistent, centralized, publicly-elected oversight of a loosely-comprised school “district” creates many problems. First of all, the level of bureacracy is magnified as each school or small groupings of schools is under its own appointed board and management organization. It is therefore no wonder that in New Orleans K12 schools, more salary dollars for admin increased as salary dollars for teachers decreased. Lack of centralization also makes it unrealistic to track students who leave one school to be sure that they arrive at another school. In 2015, then-RSD assistant superintendent Dana Peterson admitted that he “didn’t know” how many students disappeared from the decentralized, RSD schools.

Then comes the issue of how parental choice translates into impractical outcomes, including the inability for parents to get their children enrolled in schools physically near their homes. Parents must apply for schools using New Orleans’ “OneApp” application process, which parents complain is opaque. In 2013, I wrote about the difficulty in navigating the OneApp, which left parents to mostly choose from schools graded D or F. Some schools institute additional acceptance criteria, such as special meetings and parent essays. Former RSD superintendent Patrick Dobard admitted in 2018 that New Orleans needed “more good schools.” Nevertheless, somehow, New Orleans’ white students seem to overwhelmingly end up enrolled in New Orleans schools rated A and B, so it is no wonder that New Orleans parents complain about the opaqueness of the OneApp process.

“Parental empowerment” seems to practically translate into “selective parental empowerment.”

By June 2018, all-charter New Orleans was once again under a New Orleans school board (as opposed to being under the state-run RSD). However, the schools still have that previously-mentioned extra layer of “portfolio” bureacracy. It seemed that the New Orleans Public School (NOLA-PS) district (as the new district is called) was primarily in place to investigate financial mismanagement and fraud, such as the “emergency revoking” of three charters due to financial issues and the 2019 Kennedy High School grade-fixing scandal, which resulted in transferring Kennedy and another school to another management org (that is, to a different, non-cheating, extra “portfolio” layer of bureacracy) and NOLA-PS instituting a new means of auditing student records.

Portfolio oversight can only truly happen outside of the individual portfolio entities– which bespeaks the need for a local board like NOLA-PS.

NOLA-PS’s having to “right-size” all-charter New Orleans implies that “choice” absent the oversight of district-level authority has somehow yielded a set of schools that is the wrong size for the city and that choice and the market cannot rectify the situation. Indeed, the added level of portfolio-model bureacracy is a glaring waste of money that shows that the portfolio gluts itself at student, parent, and taxpayer expense.

“Right-sizing” should mean “cutting the fat.”

Portfolio-level, each-school-an-island bureaucracy is the fat.

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5 Comments
  1. Linda permalink

    Not about NOLA charters but, about the Classical Academies of Hillsdale College-

    The Wisconsin Examiner posted an article about a Native American tribe’s college that is sponsoring a “classical” charter school, Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College in Wis. (The Diane Ravitch blog linked to the article.)
    The President of the College, Dr. Russell Swagger, is identified at an Aspen site as a 2021-22 Aspen New President Fellow. What a surprise.

    The President of Hillsdale College’s bio describes him as a trustee of the Heritage Foundation (Koch).
    I’m also not surprised that the Knights of Columbus made a documentary in 2021 that Indian Country
    Today (6-29-2021) reviewed and titled, “Documentary about indigenous Catholics short on accuracy, long on spin”. A University of New Mexico professor described the film as a “conscious decision to white wash history.”
    Carl Anderson, former Jesse Helms legislative aide and past head of the K of C was quoted in the article.
    Conservative religion’s operatives and billionaire libertarians will leave no stone unturned in the quest for GOP voters and school privatization.

    • Linda permalink

      Clarification
      Anderson was quoted in the promo for the K of C documentary posted at DenverCatholic.org, 5-26-2021, “Native American Catholics focus of new Knights of Columbus documentary”, by the Catholic News Agency.

  2. Linda permalink

    Daily Beast has an article about a “Stop the Steal” supporter who has been appointed to the Jefferson Parish school board, Rafael Rafidi

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: The All-Charter New Orleans School District Must Downsize | Diane Ravitch's blog

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