Saving John Mac Wednesday, Aug 6 2014 

2 Open Letters to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

The Recovery School District has neglected this school for too long.  It's time to return it to the Orleans Parish School Board

The Recovery School District has neglected this school for too long. It’s time to return it to the Orleans Parish School Board

John Mc Donogh High School  was one of the first high schools to open in the Recovery School District after Hurricane Katrina.  Almost from the beginning,  the John Mc Donogh community sought to work with the Recovery School District (RSD)  to improve the school and instill in it, the kinds of programs that the community knew were necessary for the success of the children in New Orleans.  At every turn the community’s efforts were rebuffed, eventually in favor of chartering the school under Future is Now Schools.  The RSD closed John Mc Donogh High School at the end of the 2013-2014 school year.  The John Mc Donogh Steering committee has never given up and will never give up.  It has garnered the support of the Orleans Parish School Board in requesting the return of John Mac and has secured more than 500 signatures on a petition.  Members of the steering committee and attorney Willie Zanders appeared before the July 30, 2014  Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) committee of the whole to request the return of John Mac.  Attorney Willie Zanders  presented 9 very compelling reasons why the BESE should return John Mc Donogh High School to the jurisdiction of the Orleans Parish School Board in his July 30, 2014 Open Letter.

(Be sure to click on the links in the letters)

BESE Committee members listening to the testimony of community members

BESE Committee members listening to the testimony of community members

 

During the July 30, 2014 BESE meeting, Vice President James Garvey stated that the board needed to seek a legal opinion to determine if it has the authority to return the school, or was this a decision to be made by Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard.  Attorney Willie Zanders lays out a very thorough analysis that shows that BESE does indeed have the authority to return John Mac to the Orleans Parish School Board in an Open Letter dated August 4, 2014.

Support the John Mc Donogh High School Steering Committee by liking their Facebook Page and signing the petition.

 

 

RSD One App Chaos Continues Update 7/11/14 Friday, Jul 11 2014 

Today parents exiting the Family Resource Center at Lake Area High School  are saying that RSD One App staff  is telling them that there are not 4th and 8th grade seats in the system.  This is disputed by representatives of two schools who have shown up on the site.  Representatives from Tubman  and Milestones schools both say they have seats available in those grades and can also accommodate siblings.  Parents have been told by RSD One App staff that sibling preference can no longer be accommodated and some parents are forced to split up their kids.  Apparently there is still confusion.

Parents are also saying that they are being told that only Landry-Walker and Cohen College prep have seats available.  Parents living in New Orleans East are unhappy with these options.  You may remember that the Recovery School District closed Reed high school which is in New Orleans East.  Had they not done so, Reed high school would be an option for parents in New Orleans East. Cohen and Landry Walker are very far away from these parents homes.  It seems that the RSD is forcing parents to choose these two schools, which in effect means there really isn’t choice at all.  The parents we spoke to wanted to choose Mc Main High School, Mc Donogh 35 High School, Karr High School. and Wright High School, yet those choices were full.  Many also wanted to choose Warren Easton High School, but Easton does not participate in One App. 

I encourage all parents to contact schools to see if there are seats available before going to Lake Area High School and getting in line.

Many parents are being turned away because they don’t have the necessary paperwork.  I would be helpful if the RSD would create a phone message clearly stating what paperwork parents need to bring.  The paperwork requirements should be posted on the door of every school in New Orleans so that parents would have access as well as be placed on the front page of the RSD website. It is unacceptable to have people wait in long lines to only find out that they have to leave and come back.

We are seeing more Latino parents in these lines and we are told that Spanish speaking translators are on site to help parents enroll their students.

If you are concerned about this chaotic process and want to work with other parents to recommend solutions to the Recovery School District, leave you name, email address and cell phone number on our School Justice Line 504-365-3006.  We will inform you of the next meeting to work on solutions.

If you are as outraged by this week’s RSD One App Enrollment process, please call your state senator and state representative today and demand solutions for the dysfunctional Recovery School District.

Still Waiting in Lines, Nine Years Later Wednesday, Jul 9 2014 

July 9th, over 800 parents try to enroll their children in public schools in New Orleans through the Recovery School District's One App process.

July 9th, over 800 parents try to enroll their children in public schools in New Orleans through the Recovery School District’s One App process.

 

Nine years after the state takeover of our schools, parents find themselves standing in line for education.

This post was going to be very different. I was going to write about how my day started. I just deleted what I’d written because of a text I received from a parent today.

In the text she writes:

“I don’t think I will be there tomorrow I can’t handle all those people. I have flash back from Katherine when we had to stand in line for food &water for our children in the heat now we have to do it for education . So every Charte school can get a head count to get there money that’s not beneficial to our Kids .”

No, I did not correct Katherine, I know she meant Katrina nor fix the spelling and grammar errors. It’s a text message, not a business letter. I simply cut pasted her text message into this post. This is a real, living breathing parent, who wants the best for her child, just like all of the parents I saw today.

The Recovery School District was not prepared as about 800 parents showed up to enroll their children in school through their common enrollment process called One App.  I wonder if the RSD understands that they are re-traumatizing New Orleans parents, over and over again as they try-out running a school system, and get it wrong, over and over again. It reminded me also of a time several years ago when there weren’t enough seats for children in January of 2007. We’ve been here before, for me, it’s another post Katrina flashback.

Then my phone rang.   After this call I wanted to delete what I had just written, but I didn’t.  This call was the second of the day from a parent I’d  met earlier at the Recovery School District Family Center. She’s a lovely mother who is totally blind. (her words, not mine) She spent more than 3 hours standing in the hot sun with her 8 year old, only to be turned away and told to come back tomorrow to a different location.

Lovely Parent

 

While that might be an inconvenience for most, it’s a true hardship for this mother. Many of our parents have transportation challenges, and for this mother it’s no different. Well, maybe it is, she’s blind so she can’t just get in her car or hop on a bus without assistance. She needed to get someone to bring her to the every where she needs to go and have them wait with her, or find someone else to bring her home. If that were not challenging enough, what she shared with me next, knocked me off my feet. To be in today’s lines, also meant that she had to make sure there was a nurse at home with her 18 month old who has cerebral palsy, a feeding tube and a brain shunt. It won’t be easy for this mother to simply show up tomorrow.  She asked me to “put her business in the street” if it will help her get a 2nd grade spot at Behrman Charter school. She’ll accept Alice Harte Charter School also. These are her choices. She said she can’t  put her child “just anywhere” because she has ADD and she needs teachers who really understand how to work with a child like hers.

 

Parents want to be able to choose the school that best fits their children’s needs. After all, we’ve all heard about this all choice system in New Orleans. This is now a system of choice. We have charter school proponents who say that if a parent doesn’t like their current placement, they can choose another one tomorrow. Today’s long lines in the hot New Orleans sun shows us that it’s just not that easy. At the request of this spunky visually impaired mother, I put her request on Twitter about 6 hours ago. I’m still waiting for a school to let me know that they can’t help this parent. I’m still waiting for the One App office to make some reasonable accommodation for this parent with a disability so that she won’t have to wait more hours for a seat that may not even exist.

Come back tomorrow and wait some more.

Nine years after the takeover, I don’t think it’s too much to ask of the state controlled, Recovery School District,  to provide high quality choices for parents, who are trying to educate their children in the newly transformed, open enrollment, choice driven public school system in New Orleans.  Certainly, it’s unconscionable that the RSD would have parents wait hours in the hot New Orleans sun for education just like they waited nine years ago for food and water in those days after Hurricane Katrina.

I sure hope this pain in my chest goes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ed Reform in New Orleans…Truth Does Not Match Rhetoric Saturday, Sep 14 2013 

In a recent story by The Lens , the keynote speaker made an impression on a particular charter school leader. I really do hope more privatizers “get it.” It’s important for those pushing charter schools and privatizing of public education to understand that their simplistic approaches prolong real solutions our children so desperately need. Their propaganda has swayed the court of public opinion, legislators and funders into believing that removing children from schools in their communities has totally transformed the public education system in New Orleans into something that works. This illusion of school choice that they are pushing is just the opposite of what Jeff Duncan-Andrade said to a room full of charter school supporters at the recent Louisiana Association of Public Charter School Conference. To think that by simply taking children out of their neighborhoods, and dressing that up as “school choice,” it would transform a school system, is irresponsible. I’m glad they had someone like Duncan-Andrade speak at their conference. As an education advocate and public school parent, I’ve tried to tell charter supporters that this was flawed thinking, to no avail. What’s important now is what these charter school advocates do with what they heard from Duncan-Andrade.

I am glad that Elizabeth Ostertag of the Net Charter “Alternative” School felt that Duncan-Andrade’s message hit home. Ostertag was thinking of the recent murder of 18 year old Leonard George. George lived about a mile away from where I live in a quiet Gentilly neighborhood. Situations like this always lead me to make a quick calculation about how old the child was right after Hurricane Katrina. I then wonder about the child’s post Katrina educational experience. How many different schools has he attended since returning after the storm? Why was this young man at this school to begin with? The Net is an alternative school. What went wrong in George’s post Katrina educational experience that precluded him from attending a traditional high school. Based on reports from family and neighbors, it sounds like his Mother, Christine George, a police dispatcher, who was also slain, was a wonderful person . So let us not do the “blame the parent” thing. Post Katrina, Leonard George would probably have been in the 5th or 6th grade. These 8 years after Katrina have been enough time to transform how he learns, if you want to believe the old public school system messed him up. Based on his address, he may have been a student at Bienville Elementary School, Nelson Elementary School or maybe even Waters Elementary School. However, none of those were options in his neighborhood right after the storm. Even if they were open, he would not have been guaranteed the right to attend any of those schools because we no longer have a right to the school closest to our homes, or a neighborhood schools. The KIPP Believe Charter School would have been the middle school if it had come back to that area post Katrina. KIPP Believe currently operates in the uptown area of New Orleans, not the area that served students from Phillips Junior High School, the school KIPP “tookover.” Nelson has become a charter school and it still struggles as a “D” rated school. Bienville was not opened until recently as Arthur Ashe Charter school, it too is a “D” rated school. The nearest high school is the “C” rated Lake Area high School, which is an early college high school, or the “F” rated John Mc Donogh High School. John Mc Donogh is now a charter school operated by Future is Now Schools and was recently the subject of a reality series on the OWN network. However, George ended up going a little further away from home to attend The Net, an alternative school, why? I would guess that school options and his personal adjustment to post Katrina living were factors in his life that contributed to him being at The Net.

I was moved to tears by another news report about a trio of young perpetrators of crime recently. For every one of these tragedies with our young people, whether they are the victim or the perpetrator, I want you to look at how this post Katrina education landscape complicates the lives of these young people. It is time that those pushing the privatizing of public education, to the exclusion of neighborhood schools, start to recognize the part they play in the stress our young people and their families are dealing with. Perhaps the loss of Leonard George will lead more charter school supporters to rethink their position and begin to value what many of us value was we work to rebuild our lives after the horrible Katrina Disaster. A sense of belonging in our own neighborhoods, surrounded by the people we know care about us goes a long way in helping us adjust after the disaster. A horrific disaster was not the time to experiment with dismantling a public education system. It was a time to give the children a since of connectedness and normalcy. I wish charter school advocated operated by an oath to “first do no harm.” There was much to fix in our school system, but the price paid in the lives of children is too high a price to pay for the mediocre results we are seeing 8 years after the state takeover of public education in New Orleans.

In fixing a public education system, it was hoped that we will no longer see young victims and perpetrators of crime the way we are seeing them in New Orleans today. It was hoped that our city would benefit socially and economically from the drastic changes and infusion of additional public dollars brought on my the state takeover. It was hoped that the lives of the people would be positively impacted and we all would be able to see the improvement without ever knowing the test scores of schools. Instead, in New Orleans, poverty has risen and in the last two weeks we’ve seen children die from violence or the conviction of children from being perpetrators of violence. Something is very wrong with the education reform picture in New Orleans. Our truths do not match the rhetoric of success.

Privatize!! Privatize? Tuesday, Nov 1 2011 

Let nothing in this world evade Jindal’s plan to steer business to his cronies

Federal grant writers, and those who review the applications, rely on obscure language when applications are written and when terminated.  The current rescinding of an $80 million grant to Louisiana is a case in point.

The original grant approval was based upon Louisiana’s agreement to bring high-speed Broadband to universities, K-12 schools, hospitals, libraries and other hubs in unserved and underserved areas of Louisiana.  The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency awarded a grant for a project that proposed to construct 900 miles of new fiber-optic  infrastructure.  The new network would have connected with the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative, a more than 1,600 mile network connecting Louisiana and Mississippi to a national network.

A year after the state began the project NOAA, with $5.3 million of the initial $15 million in state funds and $431,747 in federal funds already spent, the State took control and changed the entire plan to rent rights-of-use from commercial providers.  Problem is that there are no commercial providers to provide the services required, no 900 miles of fiber-optic and few commercial providers willing to invest $90 million to do so.  Shades of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s when most farm and rural town families could get no electricity from existing electrical generating stations whose management believed it would take too long to recover the investment cost.

The federal rescission document includes in its reasoning  the “…response outlines a solutions-based procurement approach that leaves key determinants to be provided by entities responding to its IRU (Indefeasible rights of use) RFP (Request for Proposals) and therefore does not provide the details required.”  The withdrawal of grant letter also notes that the state “does not include information related to the methodology used for revenue projections related to fiber leases…”

If this sounds familiar one might remember how the administration unlocked the door to immeasurable riches by uncapping the number of charter schools allowable, or by granting charters to for-profit virtual schools that will make at least $1,500 profit on every student taken from traditional or other bricks-and-mortar charter schools.

The underlying assumption is that private interests will ALWAYS perform better than any government effort.

One might be caused to wonder how Lafayette Academy, in New Orleans, was forced to recover half of the $750,000 paid to for-profit education manager Mosaica by going to court to prove the company failed to perform.  Or how Baton Rouge’s 100 Black Men were forced to fire for-profit Edison Learning when that company said it needed another $1 million to meet teacher payroll before the school year ended, and the end result was the schools they ran performed worse on state tests than did the prior school board.

Anything that lets private business interests into reap a harvest of state or federal tax collected funds is allowable.  The Governor’s Office of Risk Management was working just fine and costing the state budget but $1.4 million a year.  All of government was self-insured and the program operating efficiently.  But, privatization brought a company that was to be paid up to $68 million over five years.  That, after six months, was judged not to be sufficient so the price tag was raised to $75 million.  At that point a company in Ohio (that was not the low bidder) bought the Louisiana-based company.  We don’t know what the sales price was, but adding that $7 million in contract had to help justify the cost.  Then the Ohio company realized it could come out even better financially if it sold itself to a company across the Pacific in India.

Then of course there is the much fought over move by the Jindal administration to sell out four prisons.  The legislature raised sufficient havoc with that proposal that the Governor postponed action.  The fact that the federal government is charged more, by one of Jindal’s chosen buyers, to operate its Oakdale prison than it costs to operate any of the four state-run prisons is apparently not relevant.

The same kind of initiative was tried in the effort to sell the Office of Group Benefits which successfully runs, on less than 3% of premiums, the health insurance coverage for state and local employees and state retirees.  The low cost, plus the build-up of $500 million in reserve that is dedicated by the State Constitution for the purpose of insuring employee coverage are testimony to the soundness of the agency.  Yet, the administration still harbors the intent of selling it out.

Perhaps it is interesting to note that the Jindal administration could not get its act together to take the offered $60 million in pre-K grants, but when the recently passed TOPA constitutional amendment freed up $80 of the general fund appropriation no thought was given to using the additional cash for the 56,000 eligible LA4 children.  Instead Gov. Jindal urges that it be put into the kitty to lay fallow until some company comes along and needs to be lured to set up shop in Louisiana.

This is a guest blog by:

Don Whitinghill

Consultant

New Orleans: Beachhead for Corporate Takeover of Public Schools Friday, Oct 28 2011 

New Orleans

The national media consensus is that New Orleans has discovered the miracle cure for urban education.  Their conclusion is largely drawn from data provided by the Louisiana Department of Education, which obviously has a vested interest in emphasizing the good and ignoring the bad in the post-Katrina education changes.  New Orleans is important in the national education debate, but not for the reasons we commonly hear; it is important because it is the beachhead for a national movement to remove schools from local democratic control and accountability.  The privatization trade-off is that the public sacrifices control of schools for a privatized system that delivers better education for the same tax dollar.  While the citizens of New Orleans certainly lost control of their schools, it cannot be said that they have received a better education, if that also means an equitable education, nor can it be said that it came at the same cost.

The corporate education forces that advocate a free-market business model have developed a “beachhead” strategy in New Orleans.  Taking advantage of the evacuation of 90% of the population after Katrina, they set in motion educational changes that bypassed the elected school board and destroyed virtually all local democracy and accountability.  They hoped to use New Orleans as a showcase for a model school system they could imposed throughout the nation; one based on privatizing public schools into charter schools and shifting dependence from veteran teachers to temporary and inexperienced Teach For America (TFA) recruits.

At the heart of the beachhead strategy was a quiet policy of subsidizing select charter schools to provide them with additional instructional resources and incentives to ensure increases in high-stakes test scores.  But the flaw in the subsidy system was that the showcase model “successful schools” could not possibly be replicated on existing revenues throughout the district let alone throughout the nation.  The corporations and foundations had only enough funds to bankroll a display system in one city—not in 50,000 schools nationwide.

From the outside, it appeared that the charters and TFA have “done more with less” when in fact—if they did more at all—it was through massive subsidies from the state, corporations, and foundations, all largely concealed from the public.

The funds to prop up test scores at all the state-controlled schools and charters rolled in by the millions after the state takeover of most of New Orleans schools.  In a state that never spent much on public education, suddenly the takeover superintendent was given a blank check; he promptly doubled the expenditure per student.  Teacher salaries were increased 50% in three years; the Broad foundation gave one KIPP school $150,000 to pay students up to $50 a week to behave (it worked: Angelina Jolie toured the school and remarked on how well behaved the students were).  One charter school spent twice per pupil as the state funding formula by using corporate and foundation subsides.  In-kind subsidies flowed into the charters: AmeriCorps volunteers were used as teachers although they were classified as tutors; Konica-Minolta annually handed out $180,000 in private high school scholarships at one KIPP school ensuring that it would attract hundreds of applicants to cherry-pick from; Bill Gates made a $3 million grant to plan charters and train charter CEOs and the U.S. Department of Education recently awarded $33.6 million to develop more charter schools in Louisiana

The outcome was a handful of showcase charter schools that the corporate reform advocates market as the norm.  It was crucial for the corporate education reformers that New Orleans school privatization appear to succeed at all costs.  Still, a dual school system emerged of privileged charters for a few and the vast majority of students in struggling schools. The new education system was like a Ponzi scheme: great profits were returned to a few at first, but in the end, the architects of the system could not sustain the flow of benefits to the majority.  This month the state released a new grading system that gave a “D” or “F” to 83% of the state-controlled schools in New Orleans.

Why would Gates and Broad and Duncan promote a deeply flawed and unequal subsidized system as a national model?  Because privatizing education is primarily about shifting education from the public to the private sector, and especially removing control of public education from urban Black governance.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that, John White, the new Superintendent of the state-takeover schools, “declared the old model of elected school board in urban districts to be a failed idea.”  Urban, is this case, means minority-controlled.

One of the lessons of New Orleans is that once the schools are privatized, they are never returned to local public control.  The worse, chronically failing charters have simply been given to another charter operator.  Although the state legislature in 2005 promised to return the seized schools once they were brought up to standard, that promise was broken in 2008 when the law was quietly changed to allow the state superintendent to put conditions on the return of the schools.  Those conditions in effect guaranteed that schools would not be returned.  New Orleans is a case study in the misuse of the original concept of charter schools which were intended to provide autonomy to create replicable innovations at the same cost to tax payers; the charter movement was hijacked by the free-marketers who simply wanted control of education and the profits that come with that.  Instead of serving the students with the greatest needs, showcase charters boost test scores by discriminating against special needs students and recruiting high-skills students and using special disciplinary policies to force out low-performing students.

The public can’t be blamed for the skewed view of the New Orleans education changes.   The first year that post-Katrina promotional test scores were published by the local Times-Picayune, the paper published only the top charter school scores. They did not publish the scores of the “dumping schools” within these charter networks where, in one case, 93% of the students failed the 4th grade LEAP promotional test.

New Orleans is at the center of the national debate on education because it was forced to trade democratic control of education for the illusory benefits of increased efficiency and lower costs—the promise that privatization always makes.  The danger is that rest of the nation will forsake its local control of schools in exchange for the same illusion.  In the end, the charter and on-line schools will make billions and leave the public with schools that perform at the same level but cost more as foundation and corporate subsidies disappear.   It’s a classic bait-and-switch game played on a financially stressed nation searching for low-cost solutions to high-cost problems.

New Orleans is not, as charter advocates would have us believe and Louisiana charter law mandates, an ”experiment,” in which methods are scientifically tested and bad ideas are discarded:  to the contrary, it is a carefully planned, ideologically-driven corporate takeover of public education that ignores its failures and emphasizes marketing over evidence-based science. The free market has no problem selling products that don’t work as long as they turn a profit.

Hurricane Katrina was the perfect storm for the corporate education movement: No democracy, no unions, and a goal of 100% privatization of all public schools.   It is no mystery why they chose New Orleans as their beachhead.

 

Guest Blog by:

Lance Hill, Ph.D.

Southern Institute for Education and Research

The Deception of the “Lottery” at Lycee Francais and Audubon Schools The Misuse of Charter Schools — Part II Wednesday, Oct 5 2011 

Research on Reforms, Inc.
October 2011                                                                                                                Dr. Barbara Ferguson and Karran Harper Royal

Charter schools are tuition-free, independently-operated public schools that admit students based on a lottery if more apply than can be accommodated. However, the lottery is skewed at Lycee Francais de la Nouvelle-Orleans Charter School and Audubon Charter School, each located in uptown New Orleans. Lycee Francais’ pre-kindergarten children, whose parents pay $4,570 tuition, are able to re-enroll into the tuition-free kindergarten, skipping any lottery. At Audubon, children whose parents pay $9,050 for a private pre-kindergarten, enter Tier 1 of the lottery and enroll first into the tuition-free kindergarten. Charter schools are to be open and accessible to all children. Skewing the lottery in favor of children whose parents are able to pay for pre-kindergarten is a misuse of the charter school concept.

To read the entire article, please go to: http://ResearchOnReforms.org/html/documents/DeceptionoftheLottery.pdf

Broken Promises: New Orleans Public School Reform Thursday, Aug 25 2011 

Students, teachers, parents, community members and the press are invited to join the John McDonogh Alumni Association, Parents Across America NOLA, the Downtown Neighborhood Improvement Association, and the Esplanade Ridge/Treme Civic Association in front of John McDonogh High School, 2426 Esplanade Avenue, at 5:30 PM on August 29, 2011 to commemorate the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, to review the state of public education in New Orleans six years later, and to set a course to save our schools.

Taking the fate of John McDonogh Senior High as an example of the failed policies and broken promises of the Recovery School District, advocates for children, teachers and community schools will gather to pray and to demonstrate our investment in our children and our schools.  We will be asking hard questions about the ways charter schools have negatively affected our children and about the scandals and failures of charter schools and RSD-run schools.  Together we will assert our right to a democratic voice in how schools are rebuilt, what schools are rebuilt, and who runs the schools in our communities.

We will look at the betrayal of public trust in the past six years as the RSD has held community meetings, promised public engagement and then disregarded the wishes of parents and stake-holders again and again.  We will examine the false choices that the school district has offered parents and children and the way school choice has divided schools from their communities and from parental oversight and involvement.  We will condemn the political influence, waste and lack of foresight that has characterized the rebuilding and renovations of schools thus far and demand a fair, equitable and transparent process going forward.  We will expose RSD’s deliberate and systematic neglect of certain schools to justify takeover and closure.  We will stand up to save John McDonogh and all of our schools from autocratic decisions made by unelected, out-of-touch and out-of-town administrators.

Please join with us on Monday, August 29, 2011 at 5:30 PM in front of John McDonogh High School to advocate for the right of every New Orleans public school child to real recovery, real reform, real improvement and real choice in their schools.

The Political Theatrics of False Community Engagement: Who’s Playing Whom in Education Downtown? Thursday, Jul 28 2011 


At a recent education summit at the healing Center on Saint Claude Avenue, Ms. Karran Harper Royal, an educational advocate, spoke frankly about the false community engagement that has become the norm in the post-Katrina educational reform environment and the battles between public schools controlled by the Recovery School District (RSD) and Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).  She was critical of public forums that were simply staged to check off the community engagement box while closed-door decisions had already been made concerning what neighborhood was going to get what school.
She addressed the frustrations of false processes that have exhausted many communities across the city, where they have been told that their engagement was crucial to the decision-making procedure for schools in their neighborhoods—only to learn that a charter model not of their choice was moving in.  For community members in attendance from the St. Roch, Marigny, and Bywater neighborhoods, her comments could not have been more sobering.  Many concerned families in these three historic neighborhoods have been struggling with the RSD over what charter model was going into the Colton School Building, which is under reconstruction.
Describing the actual rebuilding at Colton a “renovation” is a stretch.  Sadly, the historic building is undergoing a destruction process, and it has been literally stripped to an empty concrete shell of its once regal redbrick imposing and historical characteristics.  I live two blocks from Colton on Saint Claude Avenue, and it breaks my heart everyday I pass the destruction site.  However, that’s another story altogether.
This story continues with another educational gathering concerning the Colton site and the corporate-for-profit educational behemoth know as KIPP, whose acronym stands for Knowledge is Power Program.  Apparently, KIPP is not only all-powerful but also all-knowing of the future to come because it blatantly claims the Colton facility on its web site as its own—as a done deal.  The flyer distributed at its recent Monday, July 25th meeting, where the new RSD Superintendent Mr. John White spoke, claims it again.  It literally states “Colton will house KIPP New Orleans Leadership Academy and Primary (KNOLA), temporarily operating in the Frederick Douglass Building (alongside KIPP Renaissance High School) in 2012.  At KIPP, we believe that communities and schools are partners in serving children.”
It continues, “Altogether, families living near Colton are choosing a KIPP education, making the voice of the community clear: KIPP operates schools that the people in the neighborhood want.”  It looks like the KIPP Corporate leadership team forgot to tell that to Mr. White, who clearly stated that before making a decision on Colton, he was also open to hearing from a neighborhood group that was creating their own charter.  He candidly opened by saying, “I think in the past my organization has not always done the best job of being transparent.”  He expressed “deep regrets” about questionable decision making processes that have affected neighborhood families and their children.  Quite convincingly, he portrayed himself as a leader committed to hearing all sides before making any decisions on what school gets what facility.
So who is playing whom here?  Was Mr. White putting on a public show, and did he not see the flier that KIPP distributed to all who entered the Douglass Building presentation hall?  Was this just another episode of false community engagement?  For all his seemingly genuine talk about listening to all sides from the community at large, and after more than half an hour of numerous orchestrated testimonials from KIPP parents proclaiming how great the school was for their children, Mr. White finished by saying that he was open to hearing from other community members in attendance, but that only three minutes were left.
Mr. White’s charismatic and candid approach had me convinced he was a new breed of RSD leader, but when he left all of three minutes for anyone else to question KIPP or him, it was obvious that the community was being played.  Unfortunately, it became even more apparent when I asked a critical question about whether KIPP hires novice non-union teachers who are unprepared, and in doing so have helped to cripple the African American Teachers’ Union in New Orleans.  I asked a direct hard question because these are hard times.  Our children’s future demand hard questions about who is properly prepared to take on the monumental responsibility of educating them.
Mr. White’s mood turned.  His lips became pursed, and he was dismissive of my question by simply asking the KIPP crowd, “Do you have good teachers here?”  They roared a resounding yes.  It was expected like an eerily orchestrated event, where questioning the all-mighty KIPP was not part of the community engagement process.  I continued with my line of questioning and referred to an article in the American Independent, which quoted a Southern Poverty Law Center study about many charters’ suspect security measures.  KIPP was the biggest culprit with draconian punishment of their students written into their guidebook.
Mr. White responded abruptly, “You are bringing politics into an environment that’s about kids and parents, and it’s an unfortunate occurrence.”  Dismissively, he looked away and ended the three-minutes for the community to ask questions.  He made a political choice to shut down any line of questioning that challenged KIPP, whose educational practices he applauded time and time again during his ample time professing his more “transparent” strategy to hear all sides of the educational debate.
How is it not a political struggle when the article I referenced is from a section called “State Politics in Context,” and the renowned SPLC, whose Civil Rights and social justice practices are about challenging the bad politics that affect people of color?  The RSD itself is a state governance agency from Baton Rouge, and its making political decisions on education reform in New Orleans post-Katrina.  The questions were concerned with accountability of a corporate charter that is awarded millions in public funds generated by the taxes collected from homeowners like myself.  Mr. White’s job is to develop just policies on what charters get what facilities.  It sounds like politics, but it is looking more like the same dubious politics that we, the people, have struggled with since the RSD took control of our neighborhood schools.
Colton is two blocks away from the home I own with my wife and two little boys, and the KIPP corporate charter model is not the type of school I want in my neighborhood.  The taxes I pay will go to support them, whether I want them or not.  The families in the immediate area of Colton envision a different charter model, one dramatically in contrast to KIPP and the offensive presumptuous that “all people in the neighborhood” have chosen them.  The KIPP propaganda flyer is attached.  Read for yourselves and forward it to Mr. White.  Post it on your face book accounts and distribute it to your own cyber communities.
We are being played all over again.  This is not a time for civility.  This is a time for outrage.  This is a time to demand that policy makers like Mr. White give us more than three minutes and the theatrical politics of public lip service as part of more false community engagement.
Ashé y adelante gente!
José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
New Orleans, LA 70117
www.torrestama.com
“Make art that matters!”
Note:
This is a guest blog from a gentleman I met at a community meeting last week.   I am very pleased to have inspired Mr. Torres-Tama to write this piece.   This is exactly the kind of community push back that we need  to truly reform our public education system.  We can’t allow “Fake Community Involvement”  to go unchecked.
Thank you very much Mr. Torres-Tama

Abramson Scandal Proves Democracy is the Only Solution Friday, Jul 22 2011 

A recent story on the Abramson Charter school scandal highlighted a fired state education official’s recommendations of better oversight of charters. I think it is safe to assume that the anti-democracy privatizers will spin this scandal into an argument for a special appointed board to oversee charters. We have to be anticipate and refute that argument before it takes hold.

If anything, the Abramson scandal demonstrates how appointed oversight officials are not effective and cannot ensure quality education and safe schools. Their credibility and position is dependent on presenting a public image of success and integrity for the pro-charter special interest groups. The “charter czar” concept has proved to be a failure in terms of transparency and oversight, and any appointed “privy council” will fail for the same reasons. Only locally elected officials are accountable to the public that pays for and uses public education. Unlike appointed officials and boards, elected officials can be recalled or replaced by the public. In New Orleans, the only solution to charter corruption and inequality is to return oversight to the Orleans Parish School Board which has already proven to be a self-correcting institution.

Democracy has produced it’s share of failures, but before Katrina, allegations like the ones against Abramson would have immediately been known to the parents and the board. The cure for democracy’s flaws is more democracy.

Failure is the only outcome of appointed officials charged with regulating privatized organizations that regard regulation as a violation of free market principles. That is why it has taken outside organizations like Southern Poverty Law Center, Research on Reforms, The American Independent, and other media to make public the abuses of the charter system. That these organizations did what the appointed officials would not do is the best argument for local board control.

Finally, we need to end the practice of charters firing teachers at-will (without cause). Without a union, teachers fear reporting charter mismanagement, corruption, abuses and even alleged rapes. Absent union protections, we need state laws to protect teachers from retaliatory firings for simply criticizing charter management and practices. The charters want to fire teacher at-will because they believe any government regulation encroaches on their market prerogatives. It is impossible to have transparency in public education if teachers don’t have the right to speak their minds and act according to their conscience without fear of reprisals.

The notion that the elected government, and only the elected government, has the common good as it’s responsibility and mission needs to be made crystal clear. Market–driven organizations, be they for-profit or non-profit, are guided by the bottom line and the financial survival instinct–not the welfare of our children or the desire for equitable education opportunities.
Guest Blog Post by:
Lance Hill, Ph.d.
Follow Dr. Hill on Twitter @LanceHill2011

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