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.