The Myth of “Choice” in New Orleans: How the Recovery School District, Through the Charter School Movement Has Cheated Nearly 5000 New Orleans Students Out of Access to Real “Choice” Friday, Mar 25 2011 

Recently, the Times Picayune published a story that said “most charter schools outperform traditional schools.” The traditional public schools cited in the article include the low performing schools that were taken over by our state and placed in the Recovery School District (RSD). The Recovery School District was supposed to improve the schools and give them back to our local board; however, it seems that the only method that the RSD is utilizing to improve the schools is  to maintain the schools failure so that the schools will qualify to become charter schools.  The RSD has not improved any of its direct operated schools enough to qualify for return to the local board, and it’s imperative to question the validity of the RSD. One has to ask, “was this by design?” Has the RSD deliberately trapped the lowest performing students in schools under their jurisdiction so that the charter schools would have more access to the higher performing students in New Orleans?

 

The unreleased analysis  commissioned by New Schools for New Orleans, of the 2009 Stanford University, CREDO Study would have us to believe that the charters are so much better, that they out perform the Recovery School District direct operated schools. The scariest part of all of this is that New Orleans is being viewed as a model for educational reform by the rest of the country.  In this reform we tout our “All choice” District as the opportunity for all of the children our local school board failed prior to the takeover, to choose better schools.  We state that children have their choice of over 70 schools to attend in New Orleans; however, this assertion is mere propaganda.  In truth, students only have the choice to apply to over 70 schools; many students end up in lotteries for the higher performing schools.  Students not selected in the lottery don’t have a choice; they have to attend schools where available seats remain.  Therefore,  the schools that  many students are left  choose from,  are the lower performing Recovery School District Schools. Thousands of students have found themselves trapped in RSD’s failing schools.  Trapping these lowest performing students in RSD schools ensures that there will be schools to convert to charters because these schools will definitely be identified as persistently failing.  Trapping students in failing schools should not be replicated as an academic improvement strategy.

 

Through the Recovery School District, the Louisiana  Department of Education has actually trapped students in it’s RSD direct operated schools by failing to ensure that parents were notified of the opportunity for low income, low performing students to be placed at the front of the line in the school choice movement.  I recently discovered that for at least the last 3 years and perhaps longer, the RSD has not given its student’s access to real CHOICE as prescribed in the No Child Left Behind Act.   Top Officials within the Recovery School District told the U.S. Department of Education that the system of open enrollment in New Orleans gives all students CHOICE.  The Feds told the RSD that they still had to offer choice in accordance with No Child Left Behind and they had to make it very clear to parents that the system of open enrollment was not the same as Choice under the No Child Left Behind Act.  Despite  posting information about school Choice on their website, many parents  whose children attend  RSD traditional schools  have never seen the letter that was supposed to be sent home to alert them of their right to school CHOICE.  The RSD was supposed to notify 4779 students of their right to choice prior to the start of the current school year, and they claimed to have notified parents of their right to school choice.  However, I have found only 1 parent who actually received a Choice letter. In fact, the Recovery School District directed that parent to one of the failing high schools instead of one of their higher performing charter schools.  Additionally, according to a report to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, of the 4779 students eligible for real Choice in the RSD, only 15 applied for Choice and only 6 actually transferred to a higher performing school utilizing Choice under NCLB.  Most of those high performing charter schools in the recent Times Picayune story were not offered as options for the lowest performing students in New Orleans eligible for Choice under NCLB.

 

There is a cruel hoax being perpetrated upon the most academically needy students in New Orleans.  The Louisiana Charter School Law was meant to provide opportunities to At-Risk students by creating innovative schools.  In New Orleans, the most At-Risk students have been shut out of what some are calling a great education reform miracle. Recently Sen. Mary Landrieu called for New Orleans schools to serve as a model for education reform across the country.  New Orleans schools are not a model that should be replicated across this country, unless we want to replicate trapping students in failing schools so that charter schools can have the appearance of being successful.  Our children deserve real Choices and real opportunities to quality education reform.

 

 

A Parent Perspective on Charter Schools and Special Education: Where Does School Choice Meet IDEA? Friday, Mar 18 2011 

Where does school choice meet the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act [IDEA]?  Educational reformers should take steps to ensure that children with disabilities are included in policy reforms.

Families of kids with disabilities are waiting for reforms.  When is it our turn?  Louisiana Charter School Law speaks to the purpose of the legislation.  It reads:

“Finally, it is the intention of the legislature that the best interests of at-risk pupils shall be the overriding consideration in implementing the provisions of this Chapter.”

Special needs kids are defined in this law as at risk pupils.  However, schools are being allowed to discriminate against children with disabilities.  Schools have been allowed to become charter schools in Louisiana who have policies for entry criteria that would exclude children with disabilities.  Some schools have been allowed to have student academic retention criteria that exclude children with disabilities.  Some schools  also often lack the ability to provide accessible spaces.

Because the charter proliferation has resulted in competition for students, it has had the unintended consequence of making it not beneficial for charter schools to accept students with disabilities.  Children with disabilities are often more expensive to educate and have a negative impact on the school’s performance scores (SPS).

This has created environment where parents have been turned away before even applying to a school.  Many families find that schools don’t have the services their children need.  Children are pushed out of  some schools due to poor academic performance or behavior performance. There are many issues for families of children with disabilities that center around access to quality public schools.  They include access to school transportation at a time when education reforms have eliminated neighborhood schools.  Parents are constantly being contacted during the school day because of the school’s inability to serve the child often exacerbating student behavior challenges.

The Louisiana Department of Education does not collect the data in a format that would uncover the kinds of problems parents are experiencing.  We need a way of collecting data on every student  that  applies to a charter school or that leaves  a charter school.  The state should track who applies for schools and where and why families are being turned away.   Within the Recovery School District, there is a common application process.  Parents can apply to over 70 different schools.  For many of the most successful schools that maintain entry criteria, the application deadlines occurs well before the publicizing of the common application process.  There are parents who are turned away even before being given an application.

The challenge is to end discrimination, segregation, abuse, and the violation of children with disabilities.  The strongest advocates for the defense of our rights can come from the very same parents being affected.  We want to make things better in a systemic way.

We’ve engaged the political process by working to come up with a model compliance plan in a bill we had  filed with the state legislature.  In the application to become a charter school, this plan will force the charter operator to think through how they will provide services to children with disabilities.  If they do, this they will be better prepared to deliver these services when children show up at their door.  Sadly, we were met with opposition from the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools at every turn.  The provision to have a model master plan for complying with federal laws was stripped from the bill that eventually passed.

In order to support our case, we needed data.  We collaborated with a local research reform group to get some of our questions answered.  Any data collection system used by education agencies should clearly depict any IDEA category of exceptionality.  Do they serve a variety of exceptionalities is the question for schools when they indicate they have a student with a disability.

If there is to be an experiment with charters, there has to be a system to collect data so that the impact of changes can be accessed on a variety of students.  If schools are not serving a certain category of children, the state needs to have process where they intervene.  In New Orleans, a school was flagged as having too few students with disabilities.  When up for charter renewal, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education continued their charter anyway.  Another school showed a low percentage of students with disabilities.  Instead of triggering an investigation, the school was simply flagged.

Before charters, the only schools in New Orleans that had less than 5% of students with disabilities were Magnet schools with selective entry requirements.  Clearly the admissions criteria at these schools also discriminated against students with disabilities.

Charter schools must operate with transparency and be accountable to families in this system.  A charter advocate said that we can count the number of due process hearings for students with disabilities, 99 percent never make it to the due process stage.

We, as parents, work to have to a visible presence in the community and the media, raising issues to show what parents are going through so that decision and policy makers don’t lose site of kids.

New Orleans newspaper, The Times Picayune, reported on March 29, 2010:

“New Orleans parents complain that charter schools are leaving most vulnerable students behind”

Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA] may promulgate the chartering of more  schools across the country.  What are the implications for children with disabilities?  How do we ensure that parents of children with disabilities have access to choice?

If there is to be a proliferation of charter schools we have to review the states policy to make sure they don’t discriminate against students with disabilities.  In the charter authorization process, candidates need to be able to demonstrate that they have the knowledge and capacity to serve families of children with disabilities.

If states accept education dollars, they should be held accountable.  We want to see states come up with policies to ensure that charter schools have the capacity to provide a continuum of special education supports and services.

Also related:

Special -Needs Students File Complaint Against Louisiana Department of Education

Southern Poverty Law Center Files Suit Against the Louisiana Department of Education

Newsweek Article on Charter Schools and Special Education

Parents Across America Weigh in on “Parent Trigger” Wednesday, Mar 16 2011 

Parents Across America has released a position statement on Parent Trigger Legislation.

Little Known Facts About Louisiana’s School Performance Scores Wednesday, Mar 2 2011 

Letter Grades & Their Corresponding School Performance Scores

Next school year the state of Louisiana will apply a letter grade to each school based on it’s School Performance Score (SPS).  Currently our schools are given 1 to 5 stars based on their performance level.  If a letter grade were applied to the current SPS for some of the most  highly touted schools I believe many people would be surprised to see the letter grade of  those  schools.

2010-2011 School Year

Letter Grade  with SPS

A     120-200

B     105-119.9

C     90-104.9

D     65-89.9

F      0-64.9

Now that we know which letter grade pertains to which school performance score we now know that our accountability  system is failing many of our kids even when we  are told by the State Department of Education that our schools have stars.   I was appalled to find out that the level of SPS scores lead us to understand how many students are scoring below basic on the LEAP and GEE tests.

Letter Grade and Corresponding % of Students Scoring Below Basic

A 0-12%

B   12-23%

C   25-36%

D   37-61%

F 62-100%

Many of the charters the RSD claim are high performing,  fall in that D range.  Do you consider a school that can have between 37-61% of their kids scoring below basic on the state test high performing?  Why  has  the Louisiana Department of Education assigned  stars to schools that are failing large percentages of students on the state assessments?  This practice  gives the schools, community and the students a false sense of accomplishment.   If we hope to improve our children’s academic achievement, we must be honest about where they are performing.

This is a list of schools whose current scores would qualify as “D” level schools:

Sci Academy

Einstein

Mc Main

KIPP Mc Donogh 15

Karr

Ashe

Wright

Mc Donogh 35

KIPP Central City

N.O. Charter Science and Math

Eisenhower

Abramson

Lafayette

Milestone SABIS

Tureaud

Langston Hughes

Green

NOLA College Prep

Capdau

Schaumburg

Mc Donogh #28 City Park Academy

Singleton

Miller-Mc Coy

Walker

Crocker

Intercultural

Mc Donogh #42

Nelson

Many of these schools are thought of as “good” schools.  Some are even called “High Performing Charters”    A schools  has a LEAP/GEE failure rates between 37-61% should not be considered  high performing in an accountability system that values high academic achievement.

We have been told that charter schools are the solution to our failing schools problem.   All but 4 schools listed above are charter schools.  The Recovery School District  (RSD) operates 2 of the non charter schools and the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) operates the other 2 schools.  The  fact that some schools are charter schools does not necessarily mean that they are higher performing schools.  The term “Charter” simply indicates that the school is operating under a non democratically elected governance structure.   Clearly many of the charter schools in New Orleans are just as academically inferior as some of the schools that were taken from the Orleans Parish School Board after Katrina.

The fact that so many of our schools continue to produce high numbers of students scoring below Basic on the LEAP and GEE  is evidence of the failure of Louisiana’s Accountability System.   It is time to press the reset button and come up with research based practices to improve the academic performance of our children  and stop pretending that the type of governance structure has a positive impact on student academic achievement.


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