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Charter Schools 7:48 pm
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
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.
“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.”
Uncategorized 11:29 pm
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.
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.
Uncategorized 6:25 am
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.
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.
Where does school choice meet the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act [IDEA]? Educational reformers should take steps to ensure that children with disabilities are included in policy reforms.
Families of kids with disabilities are waiting for reforms. When is it our turn? Louisiana Charter School Law speaks to the purpose of the legislation. It reads:
“Finally, it is the intention of the legislature that the best interests of at-risk pupils shall be the overriding consideration in implementing the provisions of this Chapter.”
Special needs kids are defined in this law as at risk pupils. However, schools are being allowed to discriminate against children with disabilities. Schools have been allowed to become charter schools in Louisiana who have policies for entry criteria that would exclude children with disabilities. Some schools have been allowed to have student academic retention criteria that exclude children with disabilities. Some schools also often lack the ability to provide accessible spaces.
Because the charter proliferation has resulted in competition for students, it has had the unintended consequence of making it not beneficial for charter schools to accept students with disabilities. Children with disabilities are often more expensive to educate and have a negative impact on the school’s performance scores (SPS).
This has created environment where parents have been turned away before even applying to a school. Many families find that schools don’t have the services their children need. Children are pushed out of some schools due to poor academic performance or behavior performance. There are many issues for families of children with disabilities that center around access to quality public schools. They include access to school transportation at a time when education reforms have eliminated neighborhood schools. Parents are constantly being contacted during the school day because of the school’s inability to serve the child often exacerbating student behavior challenges.
The Louisiana Department of Education does not collect the data in a format that would uncover the kinds of problems parents are experiencing. We need a way of collecting data on every student that applies to a charter school or that leaves a charter school. The state should track who applies for schools and where and why families are being turned away. Within the Recovery School District, there is a common application process. Parents can apply to over 70 different schools. For many of the most successful schools that maintain entry criteria, the application deadlines occurs well before the publicizing of the common application process. There are parents who are turned away even before being given an application.
The challenge is to end discrimination, segregation, abuse, and the violation of children with disabilities. The strongest advocates for the defense of our rights can come from the very same parents being affected. We want to make things better in a systemic way.
We’ve engaged the political process by working to come up with a model compliance plan in a bill we had filed with the state legislature. In the application to become a charter school, this plan will force the charter operator to think through how they will provide services to children with disabilities. If they do, this they will be better prepared to deliver these services when children show up at their door. Sadly, we were met with opposition from the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools at every turn. The provision to have a model master plan for complying with federal laws was stripped from the bill that eventually passed.
In order to support our case, we needed data. We collaborated with a local research reform group to get some of our questions answered. Any data collection system used by education agencies should clearly depict any IDEA category of exceptionality. Do they serve a variety of exceptionalities is the question for schools when they indicate they have a student with a disability.
If there is to be an experiment with charters, there has to be a system to collect data so that the impact of changes can be accessed on a variety of students. If schools are not serving a certain category of children, the state needs to have process where they intervene. In New Orleans, a school was flagged as having too few students with disabilities. When up for charter renewal, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education continued their charter anyway. Another school showed a low percentage of students with disabilities. Instead of triggering an investigation, the school was simply flagged.
Before charters, the only schools in New Orleans that had less than 5% of students with disabilities were Magnet schools with selective entry requirements. Clearly the admissions criteria at these schools also discriminated against students with disabilities.
Charter schools must operate with transparency and be accountable to families in this system. A charter advocate said that we can count the number of due process hearings for students with disabilities, 99 percent never make it to the due process stage.
We, as parents, work to have to a visible presence in the community and the media, raising issues to show what parents are going through so that decision and policy makers don’t lose site of kids.
New Orleans newspaper, The Times Picayune, reported on March 29, 2010:
“New Orleans parents complain that charter schools are leaving most vulnerable students behind”
Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA] may promulgate the chartering of more schools across the country. What are the implications for children with disabilities? How do we ensure that parents of children with disabilities have access to choice?
If there is to be a proliferation of charter schools we have to review the states policy to make sure they don’t discriminate against students with disabilities. In the charter authorization process, candidates need to be able to demonstrate that they have the knowledge and capacity to serve families of children with disabilities.
If states accept education dollars, they should be held accountable. We want to see states come up with policies to ensure that charter schools have the capacity to provide a continuum of special education supports and services.
Fake Community Involvement 6:33 pm
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
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
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:
KIPP Mc Donogh 15
Mc Donogh 35
KIPP Central City
N.O. Charter Science and Math
NOLA College Prep
Mc Donogh #28 City Park Academy
Mc Donogh #42
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.