MEDIA WATCH: How The Washington Post is trying to whitewash the racist charterization of the public schools of New Orleans

The fate of the public schools of New Orleans is still relevant to Chicago and Illinois as the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrine approaches for several reasons, but two are: charter schools' claims of "success" when there is no basis for them; Paul Vallas's part in the destruction of the most powerful Black-led union in Louisiana.

The Washington Post recently published a puff piece about how New Orleans was becoming the first major American city to have an all-charter public school system, basically stating that that is a good thing. But a close look, beginning with the analysis below by Mercedes Schneider, who is from Louisiana, demostrates that once against the Post's starry-eyed version of privatized reality is simply wrong.

Thanks to his slavish adherence to the gospels of privatization and charterization (the the sponsorship of The Business Roundtable and corporate CEOs), Paul Vallas went from Chicago to Philadelphia to New Orleans to Bridgeport busting unions and pushing various privatization schemes at every stop along the way. On the “Success” of a 100% Charter Recovery School District. By Mercedes Schneider, May 29, 2014, deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's EduBlog

Even with the inflation of the 2013 school performance scores, RSD has no A schools and very few B schools. In fact, almost the entire RSD– which was already approx 90 percent charters– qualifies as a district of “failing” schools according to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s definition of “failing schools” as C, D, F schools and whose students are eligible for vouchers.

On May 29, 2014, Lindsey Layton of the Washington Post wrote this article on the conversion of the state-run New Orleans Recovery School District’s (RSD) conversion to charters.

I would like to clarify a few of Layton’s glossy statements about RSD.

Let us begin with this one:

"The creation of the country’s first all-charter school system has improved education for many children in New Orleans."

Layton offers no substantial basis for her opinion of “improvement” other than that the schools were “seized” by the state following Katrina.

Certainly school performance scores do not support Layton’s idea of “improvement.” Even with the inflation of the 2013 school performance scores, RSD has no A schools and very few B schools. In fact, almost the entire RSD -- which was already approx 90 percent charters -- qualifies as a district of “failing” schools according to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s definition of “failing schools” as C, D, F schools and whose students are eligible for vouchers.

The district grade for RSD “rose” to a C due to a deliberate score inflation documented here and here.

The purpose of vouchers is to enable students to escape “failing” schools. Ironic how the predominately-charter RSD has the greatest concentration of such “failing” schools in the entire state of Louisiana.

On to another Layton whopper:

"In the tumult after the hurricane, the state seized control of 102 of the city’s 117 schools — the worst performers — and created the appointed Recovery School District to oversee them, while letting the Orleans Parish School Board run the relatively few remaining."

Read here about the “worst performers” -- a raising of the “failing” score from 60 to just under the state average of 87.4 -- in order to “seize” as many schools as possible for the charter experiment. And former State Superintendent Cecil Picard wanted all Orleans schools, regardless of school performance score, to be state-run. However, the Louisiana constitution would not allow him to completely dissolve the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

RSD was not created after Katrina. It was created in 2003. By the state’s definition of “failing” as a school with a performance score of 60 or below, only a handful of schools qualified for takeover.

Picard wanted more.

As is stands the 17 OPSB schools that were not taken over by the state -- the magnet schools -- were converted into selective admission charters and are often used to boost RSD scores by combining and calling such scores “New Orleans” scores.

Such “score padding” allows for statistics such as graduation rate to appear higher than they are. This takes us to another Layton mis-report:

"Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. "

Graduation rates for RSD high schools are not so rosy. In this January 2013 reporting of “New Orleans” school statistics, Leslie Jacobs plays a game with reporting a “New Orleans” graduation rate” of 76.5% when the OPSB graduation rate was 93.5%. Remove that 93.5% boost from RSD, and the reality that a number of RSD high schools had embarrassingly low graduation rates (in the 40-60% range) shows all too clearly to sell the idea of RSD “success.”

Let us now turn our attention to a quote by New Schools for New Orleans CEO Neerav Kingsland:

“We’ve reinvented how schools run,” said Neerav Kingsland of New Schools for New Orleans, which promotes and supports charter schools. Kingsland is leaving the organization to try to export the model to other cities. “If I am unhappy with service I’m getting in a school, I can pull my kid out and go to another school tomorrow. I don’t have to wait four years for an election cycle so I can vote for one member of a seven-member board that historically has been corrupt.” [Emphasis added.]

In truth, New Orleans parents cannot “just” decide upon which school their children will attend. What is clear is that the Walton-funded OneApp open-enrollment process is anything but simple– with most choices having “failing” grades by the state’s own school letter grade system.

The OneApp even includes misleading information that the cream OSPB schools have seats and then on a subsequent page, such schools are declared not open for more students.

As for the organization New Schools for New Orleans– they are willing to manipulate what information the public is allowed to see– and to reshape the RSD message from one of “miracle” to “improvement.”

After eight years, RSD does not have a single A school. One can see the need to bury the “miracle” message.

As to “corruption”– do not believe Kingsland’s misleading words that “corruption” did not happen in RSD following Katrina. Here’s just a brief example:

The relatively gargantuan salaries of many of the consultants who appeared to rule the new system was another factor in the public’s general unease. Functionaries of the accounting firm Alvarez & Marsal, for example, which will have taken more than $50 million out of its New Orleans public schools’ operation by year’s end, were earning in the multiple hundreds of thousands, billing at anywhere from $150 to more than $500 per hour. The firm’s contracts continued unchallenged, despite the fact that one of its chief assignments — the disposition of left-over NOPS real estate — was being handled without the services of a single architect, engineer, or construction expert. This omission cost the city a year of progress in determining how and where to rebuild broken schools, and endangered hundreds of millions of dollars in FEMA money. It only came to light when the two Pauls [Pastorek and Vallas] were forced to hire yet more consultants for real estate duty, and to bring in the National Guard to oversee the engineering operations. …

Compare the above blatant robbery of school funding with Layton’s words about OPSB pre-Katrina:

"When Katrina struck in 2005, the public schools in New Orleans were considered among the worst in the country. Just before the storm, the elected Orleans Parish School District was bankrupt and couldn’t account for about $71 million in federal money."

Read here for more of the story on post-Katrina millions squandered -- millions that were meant to rebuild New Orleans schools.

Charter conversion has not “solved” fiscal misappropriation, friends.

White’s refusal to properly oversee charters only confounds the issue.

As to Layton’s report of the less-than-stellar “57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013,” read here for the latest on Louisiana Superintendent John White’s botch job on 2014 LEAP/iLEAP reporting. And notice that his press release was quiet about RSD’s performance. It was nothing to showcase.

And then there’s Teach for America (TFA).

Charter presence produces continuous churn -- charter school turnover -- as one charter operator comes in, makes relatively unregulated money for at least three years, and then leaves, only for another to come in its place.

Charters depend upon turnover staff. TFA provides such people.

John White is counting on a strong TFA presence in RSD. He has the TFA-lucrative contracts to prove it.

One final Layton article quote, this one by RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard:

"The Recovery School District closed failing traditional schools or turned them over to charter operators, never intending to reconstruct a traditional school system, said Patrick Dobard, the superintendent."

That is true. RSD was not supposed to be a permanent district. However, Dobard is not telling the entire story. Following Katrina, state-run schools were supposed to be returned to home districts according to this Cowen Institute history of RSD:

Intended as a mechanism for restructuring and reform, the RSD was never meant to be a permanent part of the public school governance landscape in New Orleans. Instead, the RSD was meant to take control of and turn around chronically failing schools for an initial period of five years. After that time, and assuming adequate school improvement, schools would be released from the jurisdiction of the RSD and returned to their local school board. [Emphasis added.]

In 2010, former State Superintendent Paul Pastorek and Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) changed the rules. No need for state-takeover schools to return– a perfect scenario for charter-promoting privatization.

Wonder what Dobard’s job will be if RSD is “transformed” into a 100% charter district.

Superintendent of Charter School Turnover?

Layton might not realize it, but that is the end game of this “grand experiment”:

Charter churn, churn, churn.


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