Friday, January 11, 2013

Miracle Results of School Takeovers . . . .Not in Louisiana!

The education reformers in Michigan and Ohio were told that Louisiana had achieved almost a miracle in student achievement by taking over low achieving schools using a State Recovery School District (RSD) and converting these schools into semi-autonomous charter schools. The news out of Louisiana was so good according to reform activists, that other states should hurry to copy this plan and also produce stunning results for their students. So I understand that Ohio and Michigan have now formed Recovery Districts patterned after the Louisiana model.

There is only one problem with the Louisiana Recovery District model. It does not work! In fact when Louisiana tried to expand its own Recovery District beyond the New Orleans school system, the result can only be described as a clear failure.
After 4 years, out of the twelve schools taken over by the state RSD and converted to charters outside of New Orleans, all of them are still rated “F”, and on average have declined slightly instead of improving. But not only have the schools declined academically, enrollment has dropped by an average of 39%. See the linked spreadsheet. So when Governor Jindal touts the success of parental choice, it must be recognized that many parents are “choosing” to pull their children out of the State sponsored choice charter schools!

So how could the news out of Louisiana have been so wrong? How could an entire nationwide model for school reform be based on a failing program? How could Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst organization have rated Louisiana as number one in the nation in providing the best education reforms for the benefit of children? How could the highly touted “Chiefs for Change” have chosen the Louisiana Recovery School District as a model for reform across the nation? How could former State Superintendent Pastorek under whose watch the RSD was developed be headlined around the country along with Rhee as one of the heroes of successful school reform?

It's actually hard to believe that in a country that prides itself in having a news media that provides for fact checking of bogus claims by both government and private business that so much misinformation could continue to influence public policy. The fact is that the corporate reform advocates have put out a story about Louisiana's Recovery District that is 100% spin and and most of the media have swallowed it. I guess everyone is hoping so much for a miracle solution to low achievement by our at-risk schools that we are willing to believe a totally bogus story of success. It is the classic rainmaker scam, where the people wish so hard for a miracle that we can be easily taken in by the charlatans.

Maybe the scam of the privatizers worked because the New Orleans Recovery District experienced such great success with its charters. Actually based on the facts, I don't see how the New Orleans charters can be portrayed as a success of any kind. See this recent analysis of the New Orleans Recovery District by Charles Hatfield of Research on Reforms. 

When the New Orleans Recovery District was formed by a special law right before Hurricane Katrina, it was allowed to take over any school in New Orleans that was rated as below the state average. This means that from the beginning the RSD already contained a fair number of "non-failing" schools. Following Katrina, there was a mad scramble by the various charter operators to attract the best students. Also some of the better connected charter operators such as KIPP were able to get huge grants from both government and private foundations and therefore were able to pick the most motivated students and supportive parents by offering an enriched program. As a result, out of 70 charters (mostly charters) now operating in the N. O. RSD, 5 are rated as “B” schools, 5 are rated as “C” schools and all the rest are D's and F's. Some of the well connected spin doctors supporting this movement were able to tout the accomplishments of the few successful schools and ignore all the unsuccessful ones. The fact is that the New Orleans RSD is rated above only the poverty stricken St Helena district which is mostly run by the RSD anyway. Taken as a whole, the RSD is dead last in the state! The New Orleans Recovery District is one of the lowest performing large school systems in the country. Ranking better than only Washington DC which was “reformed” by none other than Michelle Rhee. I am simply amazed at the ignorance of our policy makers and news media when it comes to analyzing the performance of Louisiana's RSD!
Note to my Readers: I and many other educators in Louisiana believe that the school rating system used here to compare schools is seriously flawed and should not be used to rate schools. I only use it here because the school ratings and letter grades are used to justify school takeover and conversion to charters by the state. The takeover advocates deserve to be judged by their own system.

I keep expecting the truth to come out. The miracle results of school reform have not happened in Louisiana!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Jindal War on Public Education Will Continue

Members of the Coalition For Louisiana Public Education meeting in Baton Rouge Monday predicted that Governor Jindal will continue his deliberate dismantling of public education in the coming legislative session. Key members of the Coalition representing the LSBA (Louisiana School Boards Association), LAE, LFT, parent groups, and other organizations of public educators expect that the Governor and his big business allies will find new ways of getting around three recent court decisions opposing their plans to privatize our education system.

Number one on the Coalition's list of concerns will be a continued attack by Jindal on funding for public education in the coming fiscal session. Some members of the Coalition predict that Jindal and White will demand that BESE reduce funding for public schools even as they continue to increase unfunded mandates on local school systems.  Coalition members fear that Jindal will create a new line item for funding of vouchers in the state budget and at the same time induce a compliant BESE to reduce MFP funding for public schools. This tactic which may or may not be allowed by the courts would allow Jindal to continue to support many dubious private schools at the expense of public schools.

The attack on teacher unions will continue. There is a proposal by LABI, the big business ally of Jindal to prohibit the use of payroll deduction as a benefit to teachers to pay their union dues. At the same time the LABI legislation would exempt the A+PEL organization from such a rule because in the opinion of big business, this group is more "progressive" and does not support political candidates. What an insult to the teaching profession! Jindal and LABI would do every thing possible to discourage teachers from joining the very organizations that would protect teacher rights and benefits and encourage their own version of a company union that just goes along with actions that hurt teachers and the profession. The legislation passed last year that allows any college graduate to become a teacher in a charter school without formal training is just the beginning of attacks on the profession. Another front in the battle is an attack on teacher benefits such as our defined benefit retirement system. Most charter schools do not allow their teachers to participate in the teacher retirement system and refuse to pay into the system for the legacy costs of our retired teachers. A decline in teacher union memebership in LAE and LFT would make it much easier to strip teachers of benefits and all the trappings of a profession!

There are many other insidious and hidden attacks on our public schools promoted by the ALEC inspired legislation passed last year. For example, the parent trigger legislation in Act 2 (which has not been nullified by the court rulings) allows charter school hired guns to run parent petitions in schools with D or F ratings by the state requiring that they be taken over by the RSD and then converted into charters. Yet there is no provision for a school to be converted back to a school board run school even if the parents find that they don't want to be run by the RSD. Many parents in the New Orleans area are frustrated now because some charter schools that are eligible to return to New Orleans school board management are refusing to do so.  Previous State Superintendent Pastorek convinced BESE to leave it up to the local charter board to decide to go back to local school board governance. So the parent trigger system only works one way to encourage dismantlement of public schools!

All I can say to educators, parents, and school board members is wake up! If you care about keeping democratic control of your public schools and if you care about keeping teaching a profession instead of a disorganized bunch of test teachers, do the following:
  1. Join your teacher union or administrator organization in efforts to support our public school system against these attacks. Yes, and that means pay your dues! Because every dollar you save by not being a member, you will pay back ten times over in lost benefits and respect as a profession. I keep my membership in LAE active even though I am not actively employed. I am also encouraging parents to join or form parent orgtanizations to help fight aganist this threat to our neighborhood schools.
  2. Sign up today for my Defenders of Public Education data base so I can keep you informed by email when important issues come up in the legislature that require you to talk to or send an email to your legislator. All you have to do is send me an email to and either tell me the name of your Senator and Representative or give me your address so I can look the information up on the Louisiana Legislature web site. Be sure to include your preferred email address so I can reach you more efficiently. 
Our public education system is worth fighting for. But we have to be willing to make our case early and often to our local legislators!