Thursday, March 4, 2010

Recovery District on Life Support

Latest Accountability results show continued failure of Recovery District
In an article for Education Week on September 2, 2009 titled “Race to the Top Lessons From New Orleans”, Paul Vallas and Leslie Jacobs touted the “compelling results” since the state takeover of New Orleans schools. Vallas and Jacobs in their article suggested that the New Orleans takeover plan could serve as a model for turning around other troubled school systems in the U S. In describing the Recovery District they pointed out that the term "Recovery District" meant “recovery from academic failure- not from the hurricane”. They announced that since the takeover of many New Orleans schools by the Recovery District, “dramatic gains” by students have resulted in a turnaround of previously failing schools!

Taxpayers and parents in Louisiana and observers in other states may be curious to know what are the “dramatic gains” and exactly what “recovery from academic failure” has occurred since the Recovery District was created in 2003. Here it is. A recent report by the LA State Dept of Education reveals that the percentage of students performing below grade level in the Recovery District now stands at 71.3%. The state average percent of students performing below grade level in all the other schools in the state stands at 37.2%. After 5 years of operation, only 13 of 58 schools in the Recovery District now have a baseline SPS above 60. 15 of the schools in the Recovery District now have an SPS of below 40. None of the public schools outside the Recovery District have baseline SPS scores below 40. 1174 schools out of a total of 1192 schools in all the rest of the state had better student performance than the sum performance for the schools in the Recovery District.

In addition, a recent analysis by Barbara Ferguson of the New Orleans Center for Action Research on Reforms finds that 25 of the schools taken over by the Recovery District in New Orleans had SPS scores above the score of 60 at the time of state takeover. Yet nine out of ten of these schools that were reopened by the RSD are now scoring lower than before the takeover, and 5 of those are below 60. (Click on this link to see the full report on Declining SPS scores in New Orleans)

It is important to note that since all schools in the New Orleans Recovery District now have open enrollment as opposed to attendance zones, it is improper to compare performance with the old school system on a school-to-school basis. There are now fewer students in the Orleans area but the demographic composition of the students is about the same as before Katrina. Therefore it is appropriate to review the results of the Recovery District as a whole. If this takeover was supposed to produce a “recovery from academic failure” one would expect to see a reasonable improvement in student performance. Sadly, this is not the case.

Supporters of the Recovery District and associated Charter Schools have figured out that the only way to make the Recovery District look successful is to combine its results with that of the New Orleans Public School System (OPSB). That's what Ms Jacobs does in a recent article on her web site. But that distorts the real performance of the Recovery District. Taxpayers deserve to know how good a job the Recovery District has done in turning around the schools it was trusted to improve. Ms Jacobs in her previous Education Week article said that we can no longer blame abysmal performance on issues external to the schoolhouse such as poverty and demographics. Using that logic, the Recovery District should be judged on its performance alone!

We should continue to ask the following of the State Superintendent and BESE: What recovery is happening in the Recovery District? And also who will take over the failing Recovery District schools? (BESE is required by law to review the status of many Recovery District schools in 2010) The answer to the last question is that the Dept. of Education may already have agreed to give the failing Recovery District schools a four year free pass because that is one of the exemptions given to any school system in Louisiana that agrees to participate in the Race to the Top. Supt. Vallas has shrewdly moved to include his Recovery District in this exemption. Too bad for the students, he was not as shrewd at providing for academic recovery.