Poverty Skyrockets in New Orleans: 65% of Black Children Under Age of Five Living in Poverty Monday, Oct 17 2011 

Guest Blog:                                                                                                                                                  Original date  October 17, 2011

On September 22, 2011, the Census Bureau released information from their 2010 annual American Community Survey based on a poll of 2,500 people in New Orleans.  Not surprisingly, the report was ignored by the local mainstream media since it speaks volumes about the inequality of the Katrina recovery.  Despite the billions in post-Katrina federal dollars for building schools, streets and bridges, and homes, the New Orleans poverty rate has actually increased back to the highest level since 1999.  The survey revealed that 27% of New Orleans adults now live in poverty and 42% of children.  

This recent development reverses the temporary decline in poverty rates reported in 2007 and 2008 surveys when the poverty rate was nearly cut in half compared to pre-Katrina numbers.  Those early declines in poverty were probably the result of large numbers of low-income African Americans who could not afford to return or lacked housing and employment.  The new spike in poverty, despite the increase in overall education levels in the city, signals that blacks are not sharing equally in the employment benefits of recovery dollars.  Indeed, the city may be creating a new generation of chronically unemployed poor who were previously part of the low-wage working poor.

When President George Bush waived the prevailing wage provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act following Katrina, he provided employers with a financial incentive to hire low-wage outside temporary workers.  State contracts to rebuild storm-damaged schools have provided little employment for black storm victims.  The new rise in poverty can be attributed in part to the exclusion of local blacks from recovery jobs, including rebuilding school facilities and school operations.  It is self-defeating to attempt to solve the long-term public education problems while children and their parents are pushed deeper into poverty by unfair education agency employment and contracting policies.

Separating out the numbers by race shows a profound and growing racial inequality.  While the overall adult poverty rate is 27%, black poverty is nearly double the white poverty rate: 34% compared to 14%.  The child poverty rate of black children under the age of five is an appalling 65%, compared to less than 1% for whites. The Census Bureau data indicate that there are 9,649 black children under the age of five living in poverty in New Orleans in contrast to only 203 white children.

But what is truly stunningly is that the survey reveals that that while there are several thousand African American males ages 12 to 15 years old living in poverty, the survey could not find a single white male in the same age bracket in poverty.

With all the triumphal rhetoric of New Orleans as a city rising from the dead, the Census Bureau data offers the harsh truth that that some have risen while others have fallen.  We act at our own peril if we ignore these troubling developments; the problems of education and youth crime and violence cannot be solved as long as local blacks are unfairly deprived the economic benefits of  recovery jobs and contracts.

Sources:  Racial breakout data from U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2010 1-year Estimates (Fact Finder files); for general non-racial 1999 and 2007 data, Greater New Orleans Community Data Center which used Census Bureau reports, Numbers Talk Newsletter September 26, 2011. For Census Bureau fact-sheets on New Orleans income by race in 2010, see http://bitly.com/x1J1Be for black income and http://bitly.com/wbqhxP for white income.  For GNODC report see http://bitly.com/oiN39S

 

Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Southern Institute for Education and Research
Tulane University

Re-posted 1/26.2012

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

Does Hurricane Katrina Have an Effect on Post-K Children? Saturday, Aug 27 2011 

The premise of this story is that the disaster of Hurricane Katrina was the weather event and that 5-year old children are unaffected today. Not surprisingly they use the example of an uptown resident who now works for the RSD. But for the 118,000 blacks who never made it back, and the tens of thousands who could never find affordable housing or work, the Katrina disaster never stopped and its emotional impact on children is as strong as ever; the same is true for those who did return only to encounter a second disaster in healthcare, housing, employment, and political dispossession.  It is inconceivable that the emotional trauma and stress on parents does not affect children; that the child does not know the origins of their own emotional stress does not mean they are unaffected.

In many ways this is a “white blind spot” story that reflects how journalism is one version of reality constructed through the eyes and experiences of the author. This points out that even the way we define disaster is colored by race and class in ways that ignore the fate of those victimized by more than wind and water.

http://bitly.com/nkKTg6

Lance Hill, Ph.D.

Note:  This is a guest blog post from Dr. Lance Hill.  As we all watch the east coast prepare to for Hurricane Irene, we can’t help but to reflect on our own activities 6 years ago this weekend.  The story referenced in Dr. Hill’s post is particularly painful to be because I know that many of the children who are in Kindergarten now, are definitely experiencing the negative effects of  the changes made in our school system after Katrina.   We all are affected and will be for a long time to come.   We will talk about how many of our children are affected by the changes to New Orleans Public Schools after Katrina at our press conference on Monday, August 29th at 5:30 PM.  The press conference will take place in front of John Mc Donogh Senior High School, 2426 Esplanade Ave.

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

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 Recovery School District Spends Millions to Trap Poor Students in Failing Schools Thursday, May 5 2011 

The Recovery School District is spending millions more than it should to bus children out of their neighborhoods  to the lowest performing schools in New Orleans.  In a recent report on WWL TV, the Recovery School District spends  $1800 per student on transportation.  That’s double what Hinds County Mississippi spends per student.  It would be almost acceptable if  the Recovery School District was bussing children to higher performing schools.  However, since these costs are for the RSD direct run schools alone, which are the lowest performing schools in New Orleans, thousands of children are bussed out of their neighborhoods to schools that are lower performing than schools they could actually walk to.   The RSD calls this school choice.   When you combine this story with my recent post:  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”,  one wonders if this “system of choice” benefits children or the adults who stand to make money off of the backs of poor children.

Two years ago News 21 explored transportation in New Orleans Public Schools and very eloquently depicted the cost to children when they are transported out of their neighborhood schools.    Nearly two years later we see that the costs to children and the monetary cost of this grand experiment in New Orleans Public Schools are much too high.  How long will we pretend that this is working or even that it’s worth it?  We need a return to neighborhood schools as a right of first refusal.  It will save money and  really give parents access to school choice.


Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss SPLC Suit Seeking Equal Education for Special Needs Students in New Orleans Wednesday, Apr 27 2011 

Parent Kelly Fisher shares her story of discrimination against her son.

Parents of  children with special needs in New Orleans  are one step closer to positive changes in the chaotic public school system.   On April 26, 2010  Federal Court Judge Jay Zaney denied the Louisiana Department of Education’s motion to dismiss the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lawsuit seeking justice for more than 4500 students with special needs attending public schools in the 51 different LEA’s (Local Education Agency) operating within the city of New Orleans.

While many hail the changes in public education in New Orleans as groundbreaking, some of the changes have been a nightmare for children with special needs.   Parents have to literally go school to school to apply and  are often dissuaded from even applying if they mention that their chid has special needs.  The state of Louisiana has no way of tracking how many parents are turned away.  Parents report  having been turned away from as many as 8 different schools once they revealed that their child has special needs.  During yesterday’s court hearing Judge Zaney asked the lawyers for the Louisiana Department of Education if this is how the system supposed to work.  The Lawyers responded that this is indeed how choice works in New Orleans.   Of course parents should not be turned away because of the special education status of their children, but the State of Louisiana has failed to put in safeguards to prevent this type of discrimination.  The lawsuit  hopes to correct this type of problem and many more  that many parents experience.

RSD Gets A New Superintendent Friday, Apr 8 2011 

John White has been tapped to lead the Recovery School District.   Honestly I don’t have much to say about Mr. White as the choice to lead the the Recovery School District (RSD).   As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t matter much who the new Superintendent is,  as it matters what is the agenda is for schools in New Orleans.   Recently, State Superintendent Paul  Pastorek held several small group meetings with people throughout New Orleans to get their input into his vision/ agenda for  the RSD.   I attended one of these meetings last week along with a couple of parents.   I told Mr. Pastorek that I didn’t believe the RSD needed to continue as a direct operator of schools and that several schools should come under direct control of our locally elected school board.   of course Mr. Pastorek disagreed with me.   It is my opinion that the RSD has been a complete failure and should not continue.   If I don’t believe the RSD should continue,  why should we get a new Superintendent?  The state operated the RSD just fine before it got into directly operating schools after Hurricane Katrina.  The schools operated by the RSD have been the lowest performing schools in the city.   We need to push for the end of the RSD and not get distracted by Pastork’s choice  lead the RSD.  No matter the person, it is the agenda for the RSD that will lead our kids on a Race to Nowhere.

I’m off to Baton Rouge right now where the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote to approve Pastorek’s choice so I will post more later, but check out what Parents Across America has written about John White.

Also, join us Tuesday for the local screening of Race to Nowhere.  After the screening, there will be a discussion about creating emotionally intelligent, psychologically intelligent schools.

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