Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Definition of Insanity: Repeat the RSD Model, Over and Over Again

Former Louisiana State Superintendent, Paul Pastorek, a New Orleans attorney and faux education reform expert is probably the worst choice possible to serve as a school reform advisor to a governor. But shortly after “resigning” from his position as State Education Superintendent in Louisiana he became a close advisor to Michigan governor Rick Snyder for the development of his Michigan Education Achievement Authority modeled after the Louisiana Recovery School District. The reform model Pastorek calls the portfolio model, did not work in New Orleans and should never have been transplanted in Michigan. By his association with Pastorek, Governor Snyder has latched on to an education failure promoting a bogus education reform model!

Pastorek however fits the new model for school reform leader by having no background whatsoever in the actual practice of teaching or school administration. Arne Duncan, our federally appointed supreme education Tzar is part of the same zero credentials group.  This breed of reformers seem to take pride in knowing nothing  practical about education. Letting them run an education reform effort is like asking a garbage worker or a lawyer to take over an operating room and telling the doctors how to perform surgery. Yet this is exactly the insane system that has been embraced with blind faith for improving education in several of our states.

The so called portfolio model involves taking over schools that happen to have a majority of low preforming students and turning them over to charter school operators who then compete to see who can produce the highest student test scores.  These operators often hire untrained young people such as TFA corps members as teachers and install various systems of test prep instruction.  They often cut out courses in the arts, music, social studies, physical education, and vocational education and focus most efforts on preparing kids to pass the almighty annual tests in math and English. The idea is to let entrepreneurs experiment with different methods of improving student scores, then closing down the poor performers and installing new entrepreneurs who in turn try their luck at engineering education success. It’s like a combination of survival of the fittest, free enterprise competition, and a hope and a prayer.  As a former science teacher I am pretty sure this is a highly unscientific process and will usually do more harm than good.

Two years before hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature had set up a process for turnaround of schools deemed as “failing” based on several years of low student test scores. The original purpose of the state takeover of schools was to be a limited-term effort by Department of Education officials to change the management of such schools with the goal of greatly improving student performance on state tests of basic skills and then returning the schools to their local school boards. But along the way the plan was changed. Now the takeover schools seem to reside perpetually with the RSD and most never really improve student test scores to an acceptable level.

A special law was passed for the New Orleans school system, allowing any school preforming below the state average to be taken over by the New Orleans Recovery District. This means that the New Orleans RSD was allowed to take over the majority of schools in New Orleans including some that had been performing well above the so called failing level.

The N. O. RSD has now been in operation for 10 years and has been touted by special interest charter groups and the Tulane Cowen Institute as a dramatic success.  Very soon after the establishment of the RSD, press releases announced major improvements in student performance.

The RSD has been recognized over and over again by the Louisiana Department of Education and the New Orleans based Cowen Institute as the most improved district in the state. The news media including the national media published the press releases without double checking the claims of success and the Louisiana RSD soon became the national poster child for the turnaround of schools and hope for low achieving students.

The RSD model has now been imitated in several states including Michigan, Connecticut and Tennessee. The only problem is it does not work. It does not work in the new settings, and the truth is it never did work effectively in Louisiana. For example, after ten years of “dramatic improvement”, the New Orleans RSD ranks in the bottom third of all districts in Louisiana in student performance; and Louisiana districts as a group perform within the bottom four states in the nation.  The Recovery District in the Baton Rouge area is nothing short of a disaster equivalent to Katrina. Baton Rouge takeover schools were so poorly run that most of them lost their student enrollment to the point that they had to be closed down. But the RSD still maintains control of the takeover school buildings, which they are allowing to fall into disrepair and serve as offices for the RSD bureaucracy, which now presides over very little actual education.  I don’t think that was the purpose of the Recovery District!

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce and local business persons in a continuing effort to disprove Einstein’s definition of insanity have recently promoted the creation of the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone which is set to install a new set of charter schools in the buildings which the RSD acquired and failed to maintain. They have also succeeded in electing a new EBR school board dedicated to this effort. But the new charter operators they have attracted from New York and Los Angeles know how to make such schools appear to be successful. As long as you have a dumping ground for low achieving students such as the traditional EBR system, you can churn your student population using our tax dollars for advertising campaigns. These managers select only the best performers for the charter schools and dump the low performers back to the traditional schools who are required to accept them. The new reform model is to just tell the low performers to go elsewhere while keeping those that make your charters look good. It's a zero sum game that enriches the entrepreneurs but ends up with no help for the students it was intended to save

The original goal of all education reform systems was to get high poverty, at-risk students performing on par with middle class students. The problem is that despite the claims, the New Orleans high poverty students still perform slightly below high poverty students in all other parishes in the state. (According to the latest Cowen study) They don’t even come close to performing on par with middle class students. So transferring schools into the RSD after ten years still results in mediocre performance for the targeted students. The statistics show that those kids would be doing better if their schools had never been taken over in the first place! The schools taken over in the Baton Rouge area went from struggling schools to total failures after the RSD takeover.

Rick Snyder and several other governors have been sold a bill of goods by Paul Pasteric and the charter school advocates. Our mainstream media should be ashamed for publishing the faux success of the Louisiana RSD!

1 comment:

Ann Edwards said...

CRPE, The Center for Reinventing Public Education, is a center for promoting the "portfolio" model. CRPE has a handy Portfolio Snapshot Tool to show in table form which school systems are adhering best to the portfolio model. New Orleans is near the top. Jefferson parish is listed as well. I'm surprised more Louisiana school systems are not listed, since the Governor, the LDOE, John White and most of BESE are in the tank for the portfolio program of privatized public schools.