Category Archives: Louisiana Recovery

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.


Katrina at 11 Years

New Streetcar Line St. Claude Groundbreaking

New Streetcar Line St. Claude Groundbreaking

New Orleans    On the Katrina anniversary this year, I’m flying out of the country for two weeks to work in the Netherlands, Germany, and Canada. It wasn’t so long ago that this was a no-fly, must-be-home day because there were commemorations, volunteer projects, and other events that noted the progress or lack of it in the years since Katrina inundated New Orleans. Katrina is in the news now only as a reference point and warning since climate triggered 1000-year rains have recently flooded parishes from the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain across from the city up the river to Baton Rouge. It’s fair to say that Katrina has been off of the front pages for some time, and now is off the back pages as well.

So, how is New Orleans doing eleven years after the storm?

In the last year a hospital opened in eastern New Orleans for the first time, and the first project in the rebuilding of healthcare in the center of the city came with the opening of the new Veterans’ hospital. That’s good, and the expansion of Medicaid finally with the election of a new governor, the first Democrat since the storm, will mean a lot to the city and the state’s lower income families.

The schools are finally on a countdown to unification after their seizure by the state after the storm and the ushering in of the largest charter school experiment in the city. The schools will finally be under the democratic control of New Orleans voters soon, though the business and charter industry is moving rapidly to control the elections. The teachers’ union, decimated by firings after the storm, is organizing again and faced two more elections this year. There was a move finally by the state to equalize support so that some of the charters, many accused of not supporting special needs children but getting a premium for more advanced programs, are screaming in opposition to the new equity in the funding formula.

The slow, slough of rebuilding and downsizing public housing is still underway, and the crisis in affordable housing is still so intense that 80,000 can’t come home, even if they wanted to do so, because there’s no place for them. The major influx has been younger and whiter. A good example of the skewed public policy was the awarding of tax credits to a developer taking over an old school property in Treme to build more affordable housing for…artists. We now will have four housing complexes for artists while public housing is still half-done. There is in-fill construction in some of the older neighborhoods like Bywater that didn’t flood, but graffiti and anti-gentrification vandalism created the opening of the old public market as too upscale for the food desert that remains in the 9th ward.

The police have announced a training program that tries to reshape the culture of the department so that officers will act rather than conceal when they see their fellow officers involved in ethical breeches. The police department reassigned all of its community-beat police because of increased crime.

There is street construction everywhere, but there are estimates that it could take another $9 billion to put the city surface roads in safe condition. Neighbors noted that a project on Galvez has been stuck in a rut for a year now with water so deep when it rains, people fear drowning. A streetcar line though is scheduled for completion from Canal Street to Elysian Fields.

I should talk about jobs, but there’s not much to say really.

So, eleven years on, we’re moving in New Orleans, that’s for certain, but still it’s too often two steps forward and one step back, and that’s where there’s progress. Sadly, there are many areas that are just plain stuck.