Sunday, March 10, 2013

NOLA.com, Blackboard Wars Reveal Charter Shortcomings

Recent reports in NOLA.com have described California charter school developer Steve Barr's problems with expanding his charter concept to New Orleans. Bar has a contract with Oprah's OWN network to produce a documentary series on his efforts to turnaround John McDonogh high school in New Orleans

Bar's comments in the NOLA story contradict each other. In one instance he talks about how "beautiful and brilliant" he finds the students of John DcDonogh High School. In another instance he criticizes the New Orleans community and students exclaiming "this is what seven generations of crap looks like!"

The OWN network documentary focuses on some of the new TFA teachers struggling to succeed in their teaching assignments at John McDonogh. Steve Barr is quoted explaining that such teachers are having problems because of inexperience. He points out that it takes at least 4 or 5 years for a teacher to become proficient at his/her craft. If he knew that beforehand, then why did he hire so many minimally trained TFA teachers for his experiment at John McDonogh?

The NOLA article reveals discontent in the parent community and on the charter board and advisory committees. Two of the Board members have threatened to resign because they were not consulted on the approval of the documentary series filming. They also believe that Board members should be able to vote on hiring of staff and teachers. (Note: This is contrary to Jindal's Act 1 of 2012 which places all hiring totally in the hands of school administrators. This provision of Act 1 has been ruled unconstitutional by a district court, so the charter board at McDonogh may still have some say so in employment matters.)

But the real issue is that charter board members are not elected by the public the way the law provides for traditional Louisiana public school districts. Charter schools are really run by their charter management organizations (In this case Steve Barr who lives in California) and by corporate reform power brokers like John White. There is a related story about Lycee' Francais, another charter in New Orleans, which is in the process of being reorganized by John White and Charter School Association head, Caroline Roemer Shirley, using ad hoc appointed puppets.

These recent disputes highlight one of the weaknesses of the charter system. Like other recent school reform schemes, the charter concept assumes that schools cannot be run effectively by democratically elected school boards. The corporate reform movement assumes that schools need to be taken over by business oriented managers like Steve Barr or even for-profit organizations like Edison Schools or K12 or Connections Academy. All of these have proven to be failures in Louisiana, yet the Jindal and White power structure wants to give them more and more students to experiment with. They even want out-of-state Course Choice Providers to be able to freely recruit students from Louisiana public schools paid for by our tax dollars with minimal accountability, just because they are privately run. There is absolutely no research that shows that these schemes educate children better. But there is plenty of evidence that for profit groups like Edison, K12 and Connections squander our tax dollars with minimal service to students. Jindal and White talk about "the urgency of now" as justification for throwing out democratic systems upon which our successful public school system has been built.

The chickens are now coming home to roost. All over the state we are witnessing dramatic charter school failures. Absolutely all the schools taken over and converted into charters in EBR, St Helena, Pointe Coupee and Caddo are failures by the very grading system forced upon our schools by Jindal and White. In recent months we have seen scandals in charter schools from unreported child sexual abuse to embezzlement, to financial collapse with schools not being able to pay utility bills, and to sheer mismanagement by incompetent amateur administrators. Now White and his TFA administrators have announced they will form an "Achievement Zone" in Baton Rouge with the very schools they have so badly mismanaged. Yet the Baton Rouge Advocate reports on the Achievement Zone as though it is an innovative action designed to correct the failures of our local school boards! 

The secret weapon of Jindal and White is a strategy of appointing local power brokers such as business leaders, ministers and state legislators to puppet advisory boards for all these hair brained schemes. This assures buy-in from the powers that be. The same strategy has been used in Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D. C. to implement the corporate reform models while bypassing professional educators. These schemes are all failing to produce academic results and end up in the closing of schools serving at-risk students dislocating thousands of students and ruining the careers of thousands of professional educators.

My questions are: When will our news media start doing their job of exposing the fraud and abuse of charters, vouchers, and reform profiteers? When will our legislature call a halt to this misuse of our tax dollars? When will our District Attorneys start prosecuting the crooks who are using our public school children to raid our school funding?

One way for educators and parents to fight the corporate takeover of our schools is to participate in groups like my Defenders of Public Education. Please consider signing up in the manner described in my post below.

2 comments:

Joe Nathan said...

I have served as an inner city public school teacher and administrator, and having helped write charter legislation in a number of states. I disagree with your assertion that the "charter concept assumes that schools cannot be run effectively by democratically elected school boards."

The charter concept believes that people with innovative ideas ought to be able to go to either a local (elected) school board or another group to obtain permission to create a new public school.

Any fair analysis of the New Orleans district will acknowledge that prior to Katrina, it had numerous scandals, corruption and low achievement.

We'll see over the next decade whether there is overall progress in New Orleans.

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