The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover

Source: Andrea Gabor, The New York Times, August 22, 2015

But the New Orleans miracle is not all it seems. Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation. The new research also says little about high school performance. And the average composite ACT score for the Recovery School District was just 16.4 in 2014, well below the minimum score required for admission to a four-year public university in Louisiana. There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data. … But stark problems remain. A recent report by the Education Research Alliance confirmed that principals engage in widespread “creaming” — selecting, or counseling out, students based on their expected performance on standardized tests. In a forthcoming study, the alliance expects to show that lowest-scoring students are less likely to move to higher-performing schools. … For example, Paul G. Vallas, the superintendent of the Recovery School District from 2007 to 2011, boasted recently that only 7 percent of the city’s students attend failing schools today, down from 62 percent before Katrina, a feat accomplished “with no displacement of children.” This was simply false. Consider Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, one of the city’s last traditional public schools to be “taken over.” Most of its 366 students declined to re-enroll when it reopened under new management in the fall of 2011. During its first year under FirstLine, a charter management organization, Clark had only 117 “persisters,” or returning students, according to a study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, known as Credo. FirstLine could not account for where the students went after they left Clark.

Related:

10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans’ All-Charter District Has Proven a Failure
Source: Colleen Kimmett, In These Times, August 28, 2015

…Carver is part of New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD), the first all-charter school district in the nation. In the chaos after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana opted to completely overhaul the city’s failing public schools by putting them on the open market. Ten years later, cities and states around the country have embarked on their own charter-school experiments and are watching New Orleans closely, laser-focused on outcomes. … The study compared charters in Louisiana, the majority of which are in New Orleans, to Louisiana public schools, controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, poverty and whether students qualified for special education. On eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations.  The researchers found that the gap between charter and public school performance in Louisiana was the largest of any state in the country. And Louisiana’s overall scores were the fourth-lowest in the nation. … Community members mourned the closures of public schools that had served as neighborhood hubs. Students at no-excuses charters described feeling like they were in prison, or bootcamp. Teachers felt demoralized, like they didn’t have a voice in the classroom. Parents complained about a lack of black teachers. In interview after interview, people said the same thing: The system doesn’t put children’s needs first.

“Reform” makes broken New Orleans schools worse: Race, charters, testing and the real story of education after Katrina
Source: Jennifer Berkshire, Salon, August 3, 2015

… The awful story was at the root of the decision to fire 7,000 teachers after the storm, the majority of whom were black New Orleanians and the backbone of the city’s middle class. It is the reason why so few locals can be found among the ranks of education reform groups here. And it is a rarely acknowledged justification for the long school day favored by charters here—10, even 12 hours when you factor in the cross-city bus trips that a choice landscape necessitates. … But again and again, the official theme of “measurable progress” was undercut by reminders of the real cost of what ERA director Doug Harris describes as “the largest overhaul of a public school system that the country has ever seen”: the 7,000 teachers whose firing was described as a wound that won’t heal; the shunting aside of special education students and English language learners, especially in the first years of the experiment; the loss of trust among New Orleanians who believe they’ve been shut out of any meaningful decision-making regarding their city’s schools. … It turns out that when you replace a permanent, local teaching force with one that’s largely transplanted and temporary, even the lure of “historic homes at affordable prices” may not be enough to get them to stay. When Bigard asks her standard question—”How many New Orleanians work here?”—the staff member who greets us isn’t sure. “One maybe?” (The correct answer, as I’ll learn later from CEO Jonas Chartock, is two out of twelve.) Bigard explains why she wants to know: that it seems strange to her that yet another organization focused on improving the city’s schools wouldn’t benefit from the knowledge and experience of people who are actually from here.

The Charter School Challenge (Subscription Required)
Source: Leo Casey, New Labor Forum, Vol. 24 no. 1, January 2015

Do charter schools pose an existential threat to public education and teacher unions? One need look no further than post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, widely touted as a national model of education reform, to understand why many observers now answer this question in the affirmative. Today, New Orleans charter schools enroll more than nine in every ten public school students, a share that continues to grow as traditional public schools are closed and new charters are opened. With the growth of non-union charter schools, the post-Katrina teaching force has become significantly younger and whiter, supplanting the predominantly African-American and unionized teaching cohort that was illegally dismissed en masse in the wake of the hurricane. Despite this sweeping change, there is scant evidence that the academic performance of New Orleans schools has meaningfully improved in the nine years since Katrina. But that did not stop U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, an outspoken advocate of charter schools, from declaring that “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”