Do We Still Need A Recovery School District? Tuesday, Oct 14 2014 

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 5.39.09 PMI was invited to guest host The New Orleans Imperative Radio Show on Monday, October 13, 2014.   We asked the question:  Do we still need a Recovery School District?  You can listen to a rebroadcast of this show at:  The New Orleans Imperative 

What are your thoughts?

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisiana’s Worthless Accountability Plan for Voucher Schools Wednesday, Jul 25 2012 

Louisiana State Superintendent John White

After all that fanfare about accountability, John White has crafted a completely worthless accountability plan for the voucher schools.  It’s  a shame that so many people on the BESE can’t read.  All but 2 Board members voted to support the plan.  Only members Lottie Beebe and Carolyn Hill voted to reject this plan and send White back to the drawing board to correct some of the concerns presented by various members of the public.

Worthless parts of the plan:

  • If a school has less than 10 students per grade, the students results will not be reported publicly
  • Unless the school has 10 participating  students per grade level taking tests  AND 40 students total voucher students in the school, the test results will not be reported
  • Schools will only be required to score above 50 on the Scholarship Cohort Index
  • John White can waive any provisions of the policy without seeking approval from BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) or the Legislature

This plan is problematic because it promotes  gaming the system.  The plan clearly says the schools will determine how many seats they will accept.   All a school has to do is enroll 9 students per grade or less than 40 students total.   John White said that this plan ensures that all schools are accountable.  However, based on the criteria released,  75% of the eligible voucher schools will not fall under the guidelines of the accountability plan crafted by John White.

Over the past 4 years the Combined results for the voucher schools in the pilot program have had between 52-72% of it’s students fail to reach basic on the iLEAP and LEAP tests.  What’s the purpose of a pilot if you ignore the results and expand the program even though it’s proven to be a failure?

The first stated purpose in the plan is “a common standard for student performance across the system of traditional public, charter public, and non public schools.”  However, the plan as adopted completely ignores that purpose.  Students in voucher schools will NOT be retained as public school students in 4th and 8th grades if they fail the LEAP test.  Public schools are given a letter grade of A, B, C, D, or F, but voucher schools will NOT receive a letter grade.  The State Superintendent can’t waive any part of the accountability system for public school, but he can waive any provision in the accountability plan for voucher schools.  Another purpose of the adopted plan is to uphold the public trust when public funds are involved.   Clearly the accountability plan presented makes a mockery of the public trust.

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

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.

Sen. Landrieu Wrong on Sci Academy Thursday, May 19 2011 

Sci Academy recognized by Oprah Winfrey

In a recent opinion published in The Hill, Senator Landrieu talks about the role of Charter Schools.   I agree that there is a need for a variety of schools, but I was disturbed by an example from New Orleans used by Senator Landrieu.

Landrieu says:

“The city’s Sci Academy is one remarkable example of a successful charter school. Sci Academy opened in 2008 with 90 ninth-graders entering a rigorous and inspiring environment. More than half of the ninth-graders who entered Sci Academy’s inaugural class had failed state promotional tests, and more than 70 percent read well below the ninth-grade level. Many of these students had missed a full year of school because of Hurricane Katrina and were significantly behind other students their age. Incredibly, that same freshman class later scored a 76 percent on our state test, making it the third most successful high school in New Orleans.”


Perhaps  Sen. Landrieu should  look  deeper into the data related to the inaugural class of Sci Academy.   Basically, the school started off with 83 students in it’s inaugural year.  That first class cohort drop to a population of 63 in the second year of existence.  By the third year of existence, the enrollment dropped to 45 students.    Where did these students go?  Do we know the performance level of those who left?  Were they higher or lower scoring students?
Furthermore, while Sci Academy started the year off with a student body enrollment  of 83 students,  they only tested 67/68  students in  English Language Arts and Math respectively  for the state’s spring  iLEAP test.   Where did  16  of those students go by testing time?  Sen. Landrieu says half of these “90” students had failed the state’s promotional test.  She said these same freshmen later score a 76% on the state test.  This is very confusing since our state test scores are not reported in terms of percentages.    Not only is it inaccurate to say these same students scored a 76% on the state test, it’s inaccurate to say that these “same” students scored anything on the state test since 16  of the students no longer appear  at the school.  If these students were at the school,  why were’t they administered the 9th grade iLEAP?    We don’t know the performance level of the students who mysteriously disappeared from Sci Academy’s rolls by testing time.  We can assume that the scores of those missing students would have an impact on the apparent success or lack of success of Sci Academy during it’s first year.
When looking at Sci Academy’s data we do find that 12 students were tested using the 8th grade LEAP test.  It’s safe to say that these 12 students  came to Sci Academy having failed the state’s promotional tests, but were promoted on waivers to the 9th grade since state enrollment data does not indicate that Sci Academy enrolled any 8th grade students in it’s inaugural year.    If these 12 students took the  8th grade LEAP rather than the 9th grade  iLEAP, that could account for 12 of the missing students from Sci Academy’s testing roll for the spring iLEAP.  If these 12 students also took the spring iLEAP, then there are only 12 students who failed the state’s test and we know that 12 students of 83  is not 70%.
Sen. Landrieu should double check her facts regarding the performance level of the inaugural class.  Generally, you can’t enter 9th grade if you have failed the state’s 8th grade LEAP test unless you enter as a waiver student.   The Sci Academy miracle  is  often repeated as an example of the success of charter schools in New Orleans, but there are various inaccuracies in the Sci Academy  story as told by Sen. Landrieu.
Sen.Landrieu’s poor grasp of the facts surrounding Sci Academy brings up the  very real issue of the lack of independent review of the charter school movement in Louisiana.  We need an independent entity to make sure Senators and ordinary citizens have access to accurate data in an easy to read format so that they can see for themselves if this charter school movement is successful.   I urge Senator Landrieu to refrain from promoting unproven education reform strategies  such as charters and help provide greater funding for studying  such  reforms to determine their effectiveness.

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.

 

 

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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