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New Orleans Tribune’s Withering Editorial Shines a Light on Failure of “Reform”

November 23, 2017

In an editorial that excoriates the “reform” movement in their city, the New Orleans Tribune bluntly outlines the shenanigans that took place at all levels in order to reinforce their “success” narrative. Near the beginning of their extended editorial, the writers offer this grim description of how the takeover by privatizers affected parents:

Schools opening.

Schools closing.

Schools changing from one charter manager to another.

A tortuous admissions in which parents crossed their fingers and hoped—no prayed—that some computer algorithm’s random selection would work in their favor. It was also a process that some schools were allowed to exclude themselves from altogether.

This brings us to the bogus notion of school “choice” that reformers have held up as a blessing for parents and students, when, in fact, the only entities that exercise any real choice in admissions have been the charter schools—not parents, not students.

Unelected boards not bound to parents or taxpayers determining school policies and deciding how money is spent.

Many parents even uncertain as to who they could or should call if they had problems, questions or complaints—the OPSB member they elected or the board actually governing the school.

Kids waiting in the early dawn to catch a school bus from one part of the city to another and getting home at dusk because neighborhood schools have become non-existent. And even if there was one just a block away from home, the question became was it a quality school? And even if it was, could your child get a seat there?

In one section of their essay they describe how the state department manipulated test scores to help “prove” their reform efforts were succeeding, how they willfully hid problems they identified with some of the privatizers, and how difficult it was for parents to get the information they needed to make an informed choice about the schools:

The state education department, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana legislature have messed with the numbers since Katrina—lowering the minimum SPS to facilitate the takeover, raising it again to hide its failure. It is hard to tell up from down, especially with a LDE and other leaders that have done everything in their power to “muddy up the narrative” and “take some air out of the room” (LDE Superintendent John White’s words from 2012 taken from e-mails in which he was discussing damage control in response to revelations about sketchy private schools receiving state money through school vouchers). The LDE has even taken to withholding comprehensive data from those attempting independent analysis and research into the academic progress and education reform.

Under the state’s Freedom of Information law, citizens have requested data such as voucher programs’ exact enrollments and costs, and demographics of voucher students; test-score distributions and technical reports; details of School and District Performance Score calculations to verify accuracy and credibility; charter schools’ enrollments, charters and leases; and exact enrollment numbers. Those requests have been repeatedly thwarted by John White. So do we really know how these scores and letter grades are being determined? Do they line up with the same standards the state used to engineer the wholesale takeover of our schools? Or does the game remain rigged?

Meanwhile, a state audit released in early October 2017 panned how Louisiana’s education department monitors charter schools and urged the LDE to improve how it measures school performance of the charter schools attended by more than 53,000 public school students—most of them here in New Orleans, but also across the state.

As the editors note throughout their essay, none of these actions was a surprise to them, for they had attempted to alert the public to the failure of “reform” all along. Their conclusion, after their blistering assessment of “reform” is this:

There are those who suggest the local education battle is a lost cause and that the widespread operation of our schools by charter managers is here to stay. From time to time, we become a bit dismayed and almost accept that position ourselves. But we have fought too long for what is right, and we won’t stop demanding the complete and absolute return of local schools to real local control, even if we stand alone.

Our mantra of late—taken from the words of Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, founder of the historic New Orleans Tribune—is that it is time for us to be leaders ourselves. It is way past time that those who portend themselves as leaders of our community take a stand on the issue of public education in New Orleans. Far too much time has already been wasted.

In New Orleans, the privatization of all public schools has not worked… and as noted in earlier blog posts the takeover by states has proven to be a failure in every state…. and 35 states have lawsuits pending on the issue of inequitable funding. Is possible that providing more funds for the schools serving children in poverty might be the best solution to this problem?

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