A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL:
The latest School Performance Scores for the state of Louisiana are in. And that makes now a pretty good time to finally come to terms with the fallacy of the miracle in New Orleans.
For the first time in more than a decade all public schools in Orleans Parish were lumped together in the state performance rankings—no separation of Recovery School District campuses from Orleans Parish School Board campuses. We suppose that makes sense with the impending “return” of schools to “local control”. Though, we suspect that the actual reason for the grouping is far more disturbing. With the state department of education finally getting ready to return schools it snatched from local control back in 2005, grouping all these schools together in this year’s performance rankings is an early tip-off to the fact the state education department, the RSD and the “reform” advocates are ready to wash their hands. Don’t you find it interestingly ironic that Leslie Jacobs is announcing her retirement from the non-profit she founded to push her reform agenda just as schools are set to “go back” to local control? We do.
“Reform” Advocates Ready to Wash Their Hands
We can almost hear them saying, “Sure, we have had your schools under our control for 12 years. And, yep, we joyfully and willingly turned them over to outside, for-profit organizations to operate so we didn’t have to bother. Uhhh, yeah, our oversight of those charter operators was marginal at best. Of course, those operators made beaucoup money off the backs of some of the most underserved and disenfranchised public school children in Louisiana. Why do you think we snatched the schools to begin with? Sorry, no, we really didn’t improve educational outcomes for the community. But real soon, we will be giving them back with the caveat that they all remain under the control of charter management operators; and they will be your problem.”
Not yet convinced that the “reformers” are set to dump the schools they stole and failed to improve back in our laps without remorse? Well then, consider Jacobs’ Sept. 8 announcement that she will be stepping down from her role with EducateNow! and the role of the organization as “central repository for information” related to education reform is no longer needed as schools began to return to local control. We are not shocked by her announcement.
Still not convinced that the RSD has done nothing to improve education in Orleans Parish? Well, with the grouping of schools that have been under the auspices of the Orleans Parish School Board with those that were taken over and controlled by the RSD, the OPSB’s school performance grade dropped from a B to a C and its score dropped more than 14 points from 85 in 2016 to 70.8 this year.
We have known for quite some time now that the miracle was really a myth and that this reform and its purveyors, along with the state, the RSD and the charter operations to which they have given our public school students, our facilities and our money were failing our children and our communities. So, we can’t help but be infuriated by all of the recent “revelations” about what has actually been happening in public education, especially since they are not revelations at all. It’s time for folk to stop acting brand new.
To be sure, some of the same media outlets finally reporting the near truth about the failure of these schools as if it is some eye-opener have been some of the same outlets responsible for driving the false narrative of the reform’s success by either suppressing the truth or pushing falsehoods. So when a recent news report in The Times-Picayune/nola.com titled “Charter schools aren’t measuring up to their promises” tells now in October 2017—some 12 years since the state takeover of schools—that many of the charter operators realized that they set “ambitious” goals and made promises that they simply could not realistically achieve, we go full-throttle with the side-eye glance.
Some charter operators even went so far as to suggest that they needed to set the unrealistic goals to get approval to operate schools, according to the report by nola.com reporter Kate Reckdahl.
There is no defending this action no matter how those who have pushed this reform try. And based on her comments in the T-P article, the same Leslie Jacobs indeed tried to spin this story. Thing is, we don’t want to hear about how these goals were set in “good faith” or how poorly schools were performing before Katrina. In fact, if we aren’t tired of the city’s elite pulling strings and crafting false narratives for their personal gain while leading us to slaughter like sheep, we sure ought to be!
It’s been 12 years since our schools were hijacked. And 12 years later, many of them are performing just as poorly as they were before they were stolen. To learn that charter operators set up goals they knew were unattainable just to get their charters approved and their hands on public money and facilities is indefensible Unless and until these pilfering reformers are ready to admit what they did and that it was wrong and then actually return public schools to real local control without charter organizations and unelected boards that come with them under the current model of return anything else they have to say sounds pretty much like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals—a whole bunch of noise.
It’s Been Fake from the Start
We use words and phrases like “return” and “local control” as loosely as possible because we stand by our judgment that the return of local schools as outlined by the current law enacted via senate bill SB 432 is nothing more than a counterfeit effort to deceive New Orleanians while charter operators and the corporate elite remain in control of our schools, our tax dollars and more importantly, the education of our children—our greatest assets, without a doubt.
As we looked over the 2017 school performance data, one thing was clear—Orleans Parish will be getting back schools that aren’t much better than the ones taken over 12 years ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In other words, the reform was a ruse. And this subterfuge has cost us dearly.
But we knew that already. Didn’t you? We said that. We wrote about it.
Numbers don’t lie. And year after the year, the numbers were telling the story. We’re just journalists over here—not a statistician among us. But all we had to do was look at the annual SPS reports to know that this “reform” was failing. Year after year, the school performance report cards filled with Cs, Ds, Fs and SPS scores so low that would not have held up in the fall of 2005.
All we had to do was examine the havoc it was wreaking in the lives of local parents and students:
Schools changing from one charter manager to another.
A tortuous admissions in which parents crossed their fingers and hoped—no prayed—that some computer algorithm’s random selection would work in their favor. It was also a process that some schools were allowed to exclude themselves from altogether.
This brings us to the bogus notion of school “choice” that reformers have held up as a blessing for parents and students, when, in fact, the only entities that exercise any real choice in admissions have been the charter schools—not parents, not students.
Unelected boards not bound to parents or taxpayers determining school policies and deciding how money is spent.
Many parents even uncertain as to who they could or should call if they had problems, questions or complaints—the OPSB member they elected or the board actually governing the school.
Kids waiting in the early dawn to catch a school bus from one part of the city to another and getting home at dusk because neighborhood schools have become non-existent. And even if there was one just a block away from home, the question became was it a quality school? And even if it was, could your child get a seat there?
All we had to do was look. This year is no different. Out of the 73 Orleans public schools (OPSB and former RSD schools combined), only 15 (about 20 percent) earned an “A” or a “B”. We will get back to them later.
Twenty-seven schools earned “Cs”, which signify acceptable or satisfactory performance, but not exceptional. One school has been given a letter grade “T”, meaning that it is in charter management transition and not subject to ranking this year.
Now, let’s talk about the Ds and the Fs. There are 30 of them. More than 41 percent of all Orleans Parish and RSD schools are failing or have failed.
Almost one-third of the schools—22 to be exact—have school performance scores 60 or lower. In other words, nearly one-third of the schools are performing at a level that would have gotten them taken over by the state of Louisiana in the wake of Katrina. And we can’t even trust this data. Indeed, we fear the truth is far worse.
A Numbers Game
The state education department, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana legislature have messed with the numbers since Katrina—lowering the minimum SPS to facilitate the takeover, raising it again to hide its failure. It is hard to tell up from down, especially with a LDE and other leaders that have done everything in their power to “muddy up the narrative” and “take some air out of the room” (LDE Superintendent John White’s words from 2012 taken from e-mails in which he was discussing damage control in response to revelations about sketchy private schools receiving state money through school vouchers). The LDE has even taken to withholding comprehensive data from those attempting independent analysis and research into the academic progress and education reform.
Under the state’s Freedom of Information law, citizens have requested data such as voucher programs’ exact enrollments and costs, and demographics of voucher students; test-score distributions and technical reports; details of School and District Performance Score calculations to verify accuracy and credibility; charter schools’ enrollments, charters and leases; and exact enrollment numbers. Those requests have been repeatedly thwarted by John White. So do we really know how these scores and letter grades are being determined? Do they line up with the same standards the state used to engineer the wholesale takeover of our schools? Or does the game remain rigged?
Meanwhile, a state audit released in early October 2017 panned how Louisiana’s education department monitors charter schools and urged the LDE to improve how it measures school performance of the charter schools attended by more than 53,000 public school students—most of them here in New Orleans, but also across the state.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s report outlines serious and non-critical violations in how the LDE determines school performance ratings. Among the report’s finding was the state department of education’s failure to ensure charter schools enrolled the required number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, students who have disabilities or students who are parents.
In other areas, auditors said the department didn’t specify how to address violations in charter schools and should better inform parents of how to make complaints.
Another report by the legislative auditor on the use of academic performance in the charter school renewal process was released Oct. 18 and found among other things that the state department of education was renewing charter schools that may not have demonstrated improvement in the academic performance of its students.
The legislative auditor has also been a longtime critic of the RSD’s failure to maintain and account for state property and equipment housed on charter school campuses.
But have we ever really been able to trust the state to determine which schools are failing and which ones are meeting the academic needs of its students. Has it not always been some arbitrary determination that fits the end goal of those wielding power and influence—no matter the impact on our communities?
They Never Cared
Let’s not forget that these power brokers and elite citizens that engineered the takeover of our schools cared nothing about firing more than 7,000 veteran teachers and school board employees—delivering a crushing blow to the city’s Black middle class—so long as their agenda moved forward,
And back in early 2005, before Katrina, when only a handful of schools were deemed failing, the legislature—no doubt at the behest of so-called reform advocates—lowered the minimum SPS to 60 to make way for the wholesale takeover of our schools right after the storm while New Orleanians was strewn across the country in shelters and hotels. That was a dirty move, and we won’t forget it.
They created a narrative to fit their scheme, telling all who would listen that public schools in Orleans Parish were deplorable and that this “reform” would be a magic bullet. They knew that was a lie then. Lying is easy for the diabolical.
Question. When the state hijacks local public education and fails to improve it after more than a decade, who is there to snatch public schools out of the incapable hands of the state?
Well if Orleans Parish is the example, the answer is easy—corporate giants and for-profit charter management organizations. In fact, they don’t even have to snatch them. Our schools have already been placed in their control; and under the current model of return, these charter operations will remain in control under what we suspect will be the loose oversight of the OPSB, whose superintendent does not strike us as being interested in acting as much more than an agent of this bogus reform movement.
For the last decade, the reform advocates—buoyed by the mainstream media—have pushed the message of widespread improvement in local public education as a result of the takeover. And for the last 10 years, we and other courageous leaders, like retired educator and administrator Dr. Raynard Sanders; community leader Brenda Square; parent advocate Karen Harper Royal; researcher Dr. Charles Hatfield; and retired educator, administrator Dr. Barbara Ferguson, who have seen through the mud, have called foul.
Of course, Orleans Parish is home to some high-performing public schools. Fifteen of them have earned at least a B in latest round of performance Before you get all excited or try to convince us that the nine “A” and six “B” schools are shining examples of success as a result of the takeover and the so-called reform…don’t bother.
We know the truth. Schools like Benjamin Franklin, Lusher, Warren Easton and a few others have always been top performers. They were the schools OPSB were left with after the reformers pillaged and plundered. Decades before Katrina, long before the RSD and even before high-stakes testing became the order of the day, these schools benefited from selective admission processes and extraordinary resources that were not available at many other public schools in the city. As the reform movement took hold and charter operators were allowed to come in and create arbitrary rules and special agreements, admission to those schools and others like them only became more selective—like setting aside seats at the exclusive Lusher for children of Tulane University faculty and staff.
All of this simply made it easier to get the best and brightest students while excluding others. So that Lusher and Ben Franklin are two of the top 10 schools in the state does little to impress us. When these campuses get to cherry-pick who they want to educate and weed out others, it becomes a lot easier to get results.
Mostly, we refuse to get excited about a few schools doing well because these schools can only serve a fraction of the public school students in New Orleans. Orleans Parish has always had a handful of great schools. This takeover, this so-called reform was supposed to improve all of our schools. It did not. Nearly 79 percent of public schools in Orleans Parish are either failing, have failed or are only providing mediocre results. And that’s not good enough.
The so-called education reform movement that has held our city captive for 12 long years has been faking the grade this entire time. And we are angry and saddened that few of our so-called leaders have had enough conviction of character to dare to stop it. Many have been complicit even as they return to us every two or four years asking for our votes.
Just like the RSD’s time in Orleans Parish will soon come to an end, so should their time as influencers and elected officials.
There are those who suggest the local education battle is a lost cause and that the widespread operation of our schools by charter managers is here to stay. From time to time, we become a bit dismayed and almost accept that position ourselves. But we have fought too long for what is right, and we won’t stop demanding the complete and absolute return of local schools to real local control, even if we stand alone.
Our mantra of late—taken from the words of Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, founder of the historic New Orleans Tribune—is that it is time for us to be leaders ourselves. It is way past time that those who portend themselves as leaders of our community take a stand on the issue of public education in New Orleans. Far too much time has already been wasted.