Monday, October 13, 2014

Louisiana Recovery District: Still Failing

This article in the Times Picayune reports on a major retraction of a flawed study by the Tulane based Cowen Institute claiming that the New Orleans Recovery District was “Beating the Odds” in educating the at-risk students in the New Orleans area.  In its retraction of the entire study the Cowen Institute apologized for the report and admitted that its methodology and conclusions were wrong. This is no surprise to those of us (The Louisiana Educator, Crazy Crawfish, Mercedes Schneider, and Research on Reforms) who for years now have been reporting that the claims of amazing success by the RSD and their Charter schools are a complete fraud.

This blog has posted three different reports in the last 10 months exposing the following: (1) The dismal results on ACT scores by the RSD even though the publicized goal of most RSD schools is college prep. (2) The fraudulent misreporting of dropouts as transfers for years by the RSD, resulting in a highly inflated graduation rate. (3) The accurate comparison of RSD charters with other public schools in Louisiana showing that RSD charters consistently perform in the bottom third of all schools.  So why has the Louisiana Recovery District been touted across the nation as the miracle model for school reform and for the turnaround of low performing schools? That has happened because supposedly prestigious groups like the Cowen Institute in the past had issued glowing reports of progress by the RSD using carefully selected data, much of which was bogus and covered up the truly poor performance of the RSD.

The sad part of this education reform hoax, is that thousands of students and teachers have been harmed in the process. Dedicated teachers were unfairly fired; thousands of students have been pushed out into the streets while the new charter managers cooked the books, and the charter operators made off with huge profits from our tax dollars. This is what the Cowen Institute and charter advocacy groups like Educate Now have promoted to the public, our state legislature, and even to the "do gooder" national news shows like Morning Joe, where both conservative and liberal opinion makers touted the New Orleans RSD school “miracle”.  

So several other states have created their own Recovery Districts and Achievement Zones patterned after the New Orleans model, only to produce disastrous results, because they were fooled by the corporate reformers and privatizers of public education. Politicians in some states are including in their platforms privatization plans based on the New Orleans Recovery District model. Never before have I seen both a local and national news media more complicit in the proliferation of false propaganda that benefits con-artists like the privatizers and charter promoters portrayed in the RSD model. Yet the retractions of these bogus reports are rare and the hoax goes on.

The most recent Cowen report has been totally removed from the web site so it is impossible to fully analyze it in detail for its methodology, and the Cowen Institute is not eager to discuss the reasons for their retraction. But here are a few key flaws in the report: (1) The report continued to use inaccurate and inflated graduation rates for RSD schools and concluded that many of the schools had “Beat the Odds” in graduating a higher than expected percentage of at-risk students. The truth is that these schools had pushed out the lowest performing students and called many of them transfers so they would not be counted in the calculation of the graduation rate. The LDOE recently reported that the overall graduation rate for the RSD in New Orleans was now a dismal 59.5%. And this does not even count the students forced out before they get to 9th grade. (2) The Cowen study used an inaccurate value added calculation for students which produced the conclusion that even though the at-risk students in the RSD were performing poorly on state tests, they were still doing better than their socioeconomic status would predict. This conclusion is easily discredited when one observes that the report admits that RSD at-risk students on the whole still perform below similar students in our regular public schools across the state. (3) The inclusion of more advanced placement courses in the RSD has demonstrated the utter failure of the charter schools in preparing students for college. The pass rate of only 5% on the AP tests is the lowest in the state. An appallingly low percentage of these students are being adequately prepared for college even though college prep has been the primary stated goal of the RSD charters.

The entire structure of the RSD and its charter schools is a house of cards built upon an obsessive drive to privatize schools and enrich the operators at the expense of the students and the taxpayers. But now there are so many legislators "on the take" from charter operators, who are still protected by the compliant news media, that it will take some time to clean up the mess and get back to solid basic education practices that really focus on the students and take into account the real issues in dealing with high poverty communities.

Take notice, Lane Grigsby and Baton Rouge Area Chamber!