Scorecards Indicate Charter Schools are Failing in New Orleans Experiment

Snapshot of New Orleans Charter School Performance

New Orleans   Performance rankings for schools conducted by the Louisiana Department of Education indicate that most New Orleans schools have tanked between 2014 and 2017 with 65% of them scoring more poorly in that period. Schools in Orleans parish overall now only rate a “C” grade. About 40% of the city’s schools received either a D or an F grade. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans school system has been the site of the largest and most extensive charter school experiment in the country, so this is a bright yellow flashing caution light, if not a solid red stop sign.

Part of the problem, according to educators and the online news site, The Lens, lies in the tougher standards being implemented since Louisiana adopted Common Core standards in 2010 and introduced as a test in 2015 that reflected the new standards. Part of the failure, as conceded by charter operations like one of the larger New Orleans groups, Firstline Schools, lies right at the feet of charters compared to central, public school districts. Firstline’s CEO was quoted in The Advocate saying, “The resources to develop a comprehensive curriculum that aligns with those (new standards) exceeds the capacity of a single charter or group. It’s interesting that one of the things that helped the schools – autonomy – can work against us if we’re not also open to adopting things that are more standardized when helpful.” Needless to say, this goes to the heart of the charter school movement’s key arguments for their existence and their superiority over public school systems.

And, worse it turns out that all of this reflects the fact that the state has been grading on a curve to protect against the criticism of lower performance. As Marta Jewson reports, “For the last four years, school letter grades have been assigned on a curve to ensure the statewide distribution didn’t get worse than it was in 2013.” Without the curve school board members note that more than half of the schools would have been D or F’s.

The school performance grades are used by the state to assure charter accountability, but this has broken down as well. Charter contracts are only evaluated three years after their first initiated and then “again after the fourth year.” Worse, critics and other observers note that the same schools are staying at the bottom of the list, and too often it means that when the reckoning comes due, one charter is simply switched for another, and the clock is allowed to run out on the students yet again with substandard schools and curriculum.

No matter which side of the argument you have been on, this has to trigger a demand for immediate accountability and direct responsibility for school performance by the public, not a con game shuffle of kids from failing charter to failing charter.


Quick Reopening of Schools is Key to Recovery if You Care about Your People

New Orleans   The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has 287 schools. There are 20 school districts in Harris County. Our union represents school workers. We were on the phones with anyone we knew last week in Houston, calling our members to assess their situation and offer assistance in filling out FEMA forms or anything else they might need. We were also talking to managers up and down the district about the reopening, the number of schools that would be involved, and how workers would be deployed. At one point it looked like only a few more than 30 would be unable to open two weeks after the storm and at other times as many as 80. The final number on opening day seems in the mid-50 range, but the key accomplishment in Houston, and a huge lesson learned from Katrina, was that school in fact did open, come hell or high water.

After Katrina the tragic error made by everyone connected to the New Orleans school system started with the decision to keep schools closed. Obviously the storm was worse and schools were damaged, but blowing off the school year created irreversible harm, that the city has not recovered from after a dozen years. Families with school age children, often traumatized by the storm and unable to find housing and often with jobs in jeopardy as well, were forced to stay where they were sheltered or evacuated, find housing, enroll school age children in school, and find jobs, making it hard to return and hard to work to recover in New Orleans.

In Houston, school employees were retained and in fact were guaranteed wages for the weeks they were out of school. In New Orleans more than 5000 teachers and other personnel were fired. In Houston workers in shuttered schools are being deployed elsewhere in order to be maintained. In New Orleans senior workers were not only not retained, but were also forced to face discrimination and barriers in reapplying. In Houston the emphasis has been retaining people and gaining stability. In New Orleans the leadership decision, influenced by federal policy and incentives, was to reorder and replace people. In Houston there is determination to recover. In New Orleans there was an effort to achieve something similar to ethnic cleansing by whitening the population. Houston will retain its people. New Orleans is still 80,000 people or more below its 2005 population.

Does it matter? Heck, yes!

Look at just one factor, like the mental health and resilience of children living through such disasters. Here’s a report from the Times:

Unlike an earthquake or a fire, flooding from a storm like Katrina or Harvey leaves many houses and buildings still physically standing but uninhabitable, simultaneously familiar and strange, like a loved one sinking into dementia. Surveys done in the seven years after Katrina found that the rate of diagnosable mental health problems in the New Orleans area jumped 9 percent – a sharper spike than after other natural disasters – and the effects did not discriminate much by race or income.”

There are impacts to public policy decisions. There are tragic outcomes to ideological and governmental initiatives that use entire cities and populations as test tubes and Guinea pigs for disastrous experiments. And, everybody pays, both the intended victims and the bystanders.

Good work, Houston. Another lesson from Katrina learned!


Please enjoy Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black.

Thanks to KABF.