Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pastorek is a Modern Rainmaker for Charter Schemes

Former Louisiana State Superintendent Paul Pastorek has created a new career for himself as an education consultant to various governors for the purpose of creating “Recovery” or “Opportunity” school districts similar to the one created in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Various education reformers and some in the national news media have falsely touted the Louisiana Recovery District as a “miracle” remedy for so called failing schools. More recently Pastorek is serving as advisor to Georgia Governor, Nathan Deal in an effort to create an opportunity school district in Georgia charged with turning around their failing schools.

Pastorek last week wrote an Op-ed for the Ledger-Enquirer newspaper of Columbus Georgia. The opinion piece titled No school ever has to fail is filled with misinformation about the Louisiana Recovery District designed to convince Georgia citizens that Pastorek has brought to Georgia a miracle formula for transforming schools so that low performing students will quickly begin to achieve at desired levels. Just like the rainmakers of the old days, Pastoric’s miracle formula for transforming schools is a hoax and is meant to divert hard earned tax dollars from the rubes in Georgia to our modern flim-flam men who are now charter school entrepreneurs.  It is an age-old formula. You can always fool the suckers by promising them an easy, miracle solution.

Here are just a couple of corrections to the false claims in the Pastorek op-ed:
Pastorek claims that before the Louisiana Recovery District took over most of the schools in New Orleans and turned them over to charter school operators, only 53% of the students graduated on time and today the graduation rate is 73%. This is a blatantly false claim based on discredited bogus figures. The latest official graduation rate reported for the 2012-13 school year (The New Orleans RSD is near the bottom of the chart) by the Louisiana Department of Education was only 59%. It was discovered that the charter operators had inflated their school graduation rates by falsely reporting their high school dropouts as transfers to other states. But many observers in Louisiana believe that the true graduation rate is probably worse than before Katrina because the charter operators have figured out how to encourage low performing students to drop out even before they get to high school so that they will not count in the calculation of the graduation rate.


But there is one very revealing statistic about the New Orleans Recovery District performance. It basically negates all the claims of dramatic improvement in RSD schools. Louisiana student performance was most recently ranked at approximately third to last in comparison to all 50 states and the Disrtict of Columbia based on the National Assessment of Education Progress (The nation's most authoritative comparison of school performance). Then, in comparison to all school districts in Louisiana, the New Orleans RSD was ranked at the 16th percentile. (Click on the highlighted section then download the District Percentile Comparison for 2013-2014) This means that 84% of the school systems in Louisiana produce better results with their students than does the New Orleans Recovery District. That’s about the same ranking the New Orleans schools had before they were taken over.

The low ranking of Louisiana schools and the near bottom ranking of the New Orleans RSD schools track almost precisely the extreme poverty level of our students compared to all other states. So all the claims of dramatic success in Pastorek’s op-ed piece amount to the same kind of bogus claims made by the rainmakers of the old days. This is just a new group of rubes to swindle and a new confidence game. 

By the way, the Michigan Recovery District encouraged by Pastorek is a disaster, the Tennessee RSD centered in Memphis is still a low performer, and Arkansas just refused to convert the Little Rock school system into charter operations, partially because the truth is beginning to leak out about the RSD in New Orleans. Finally it is important to note that when the RSD in Louisiana expanded to Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Pointe Coupee and St Helena, all but one of the takeover schools actually declined. Their percentile ranking is dead last in the state. Two of the takeover schools were given back to their original school boards and one closed as parents removed their children. It is unfortunate that parents were never actually given a "choice" about converting their neighborhood schools into charters. Yet some of them voted with their right to simply remove their children from the fiasco. 

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