Don’t Close Schools, Fix Schools! Wednesday, Mar 18 2015 

Children should not be punished because adults violated the law.

Children should not be punished because adults violated the law.

For many years parents and special education advocates have alerted the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) of special education violations in the charter system in New Orleans. Years before the creation of the Recovery School District (RSD), I did the same with the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). In my experience as an advocate, the problems we saw with OPSB schools and special education, pale in comparison to what we see now with this new landscape of public education in New Orleans. Worse yet, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the LDOE believes that an adequate solution to the special education violations at Lagniappe Academies, is to close the school. These same entities did not exact that punishment on other schools in New Orleans that also violated special education laws. The Southern Poverty Law Center detailed numerous violations over a period of several years in multiple schools, in their federal complaint and subsequent federal lawsuit. Yet, not one school in New Orleans over the last 4 years was closed due to special education violations. Nor is closing schools an element in the Consent Decree to correct those violations. When I think back to my own children’s schools, even on my maddest day at McMain High School, when the principal refused to provide an accommodation that my son needed, I never saw closing the school as the solution to that violation. It is illogical to me to close a school to fix a special education violation.   I do not support closing schools, as a form of accountability, not even the closure of charter schools. There are better solutions that punish the violators, and do not destabilize the education of children. I support corrective action plans to correct the problems so that children can get special education services they need. I support revoking charter contracts and returning schools to the elected school board as an option that shows that the department of education is tough on special education violations. It should be the decision of the elected school board whether or not to seek a new charter operator or run the school as a direct operated school. The department of education has had it’s chance at operating public education as a business, and when charter schools fail to uphold the law, it’s time for their participation in the experiment to end in a responsible way that protects children.   When the state department of education failed to provide adequate monitoring and oversight of Lagniappe Academy and other charter schools in New Orleans for years, it set the stage for the alleged egregious violations at Lagniappe Academies. The  (LDOE) Louisiana Department of Education does not have the staff or the funding to look deeply into every charter school to uncover special education violations that are not exposed by parent complaints or whistleblowers, but it should if it wants to continue to recommend charter schools as a solution to our troubled public education system. Clearly such a wide open, market based system of independent, privately managed charter schools with expanded autonomy, deserves a robust system of monitoring and oversight. The Louisiana Legislature, The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Department of Education share equally in the blame with the Lagniappe Academies Charter Board and administration for the violations discovered after being tipped off by 2 former Lagniappe Academies employees. In a system built on the idea of choice, there is a responsibility to protect the choice parents have made, not punish them for being in a city where over 90% of the schools are charter schools.   There is something fundamentally flawed with an education reform strategy that closes schools rather than fixing them.  Never has this been made more clear than now as parents at Lagniappe Academy prepare to look for new schools for their children because adults failed to create the kind of landscape of public education that values every child. I call on everyone to rethink closing schools as accountability. Contact your elected officials, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the State Department of Education today and encourage a more child centered approach to education reform.

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.

Choice as a Red Herring Friday, Jun 22 2012 

There’s so much talk about “choice” as a strategy in public education reform. This rhetoric distracts us from the real barriers to educating ALL children. The push for school choice at any cost is very destructive to the most vulnerable children, and it leads to the destruction our democracy. Public education serves a real purpose for the common good, just like police protection and fire protection. As neighborhood residents concerned about crime, we don’t buy private patrols in lieu of public police protection for all. We buy private patrols in addition to public police protection. Private patrols and private schools are private choices and should be funded PRIVATELY. When individual choice makes education funding inadequate for children whose parents are unable to choose for them, society will suffer, so does the child.

Let us not be fooled by “choice” as the great equalizer in improving public education. We must stop the reform rhetoric and move towards REAL reform.