New aOrleans Few do not know that New Orleans schools are “ground zero” in the so-called “reform” movement to privatize public school systems with charter schools. With the excuse of Hurricane Katrina the State of Louisiana, which had never run a school (never, ever!) in a wink-and-nod deal took a $20 million federal carrot to clobber the Orleans Parish School Board, which was slow to reopen, and gobbled up almost two-thirds of our schools to reopen as charters. This was supposed to be a five year deal. These schools usurped democratic accountability since they were no longer responsible to a citizen elected school board, and essentially got to “invent” their own boards. Now at almost Katrina Plus 6 (K+6), both the city and the experts are split over the analysis of whether or not the schools have gotten better or not with the States Recovery School District (RSD) czar swearing so, and former superintendents and other researchers looking at the same data and saying, “no!” Worse, some of these charter operators are solidifying their control with new 10-year extensions of their original takeovers.
That’s the necessary background for you to understand that now the wheels are totally coming off of this pimpmobile!
Two months ago the New York Times ran a front page story raising a wide variety of disturbing questions about a Turkish-related company (Cosmos Foundation and Atlas Texas Construction and Trading) connected to a religious movement in that country running a vast network of charter schools in Texas and others states, including in Louisiana and specifically Abramson Science and Technology Charter, a local high school. Nothing stirred in New Orleans at this news, not even a mouse. Suddenly, a whistleblower report inside the state Department of Education came into the hands of the local paper, The Times-Picayune. Some pretty serious allegations involving potential bribes, possible rapes, cheating on science projects by teachers, teachers missing in action, and more all came out as grist for the mill. Oh, and then the state and the city seemed to realize that this school was also linked to the Turkish movement and acted surprised. The state and its puppet, the RSD, reversed course and suspended the charter, leaving parents and students scrambling with only weeks to go before the opening of the 2011-12 school year.
Today the state fired the whistleblower, who had raised questions about Abramson and its operator over a year ago, along with his boss. What?!? No explanation given of course, just a call for a “change in direction.” Egads!
Critics, or frankly anyone who thinks about any of these no account and no accountability charters, have long questioned how in the world the state could effectively supervise thirty (30!) different school charter operators under either the RSD or the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) Board. Now it is clear from the squirming that the DOE didn’t really bother to tell the BESE board or others about the problems they were finding here. And, remember there is no elected school board control and the charters appoint their own, self-perpetuating boards who never face the citizens.
This is a prescription for disaster, so who should really be surprised when disaster unfolds?
Now everyone who should have known and should have acted is playing “he said, she said,” and I dunno nada! The local RSD superintendent is now claiming Abramson will reopen in a month or so with some kind of new operator, but there still are no assurances that anyone is on first, and I’ll guarantee that no one is on second. Meanwhile these are all taxpayer supported playgrounds for so-called reformers and play-pretend “experts” who know better than parents and citizens, while flaunting and making a farce of democratic standards and traditions.
Hasn’t New Orleans suffered enough already?