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Public Education News, Analysis and Views

CABL survey not an accurate measure of community and public education

with 4 comments

By Angela W. Daliet

Recently, many local news organizations and folks in education have been hailing the findings of an Orleans Parish voter survey commissioned by Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL). The survey was conducted August 6 through 11 in which 500 people were queried. Reputable analysts like Clancy DuBois (“The Next Big Fight”), journalists from WWLTV, The Times-Picayune (“New poll shows N.O. voters like changes in city’s school system”) and most recently, Baton Rouge’s The Advocate (“Our Views: Public mood on schools”) have accepted the results of the survey, released in August, as a fairly accurate measure of the community’s stance on several important issues facing the city. However, in terms of the survey’s results on the topic of education, I find them ambiguous at best.

A press release issued by CABL on August 27 stated the poll revealed “strong support for charter schools in New Orleans” and established that most residents want more traditional public schools converted into charters and are concerned about returning schools to the local school board. CABL concluded from their survey results that, overwhelmingly, New Orleanians do not want to go back to the way things were, but rather “continue with the changes in education since Katrina.”

As I see it, a major problem with the poll’s results is that those surveyed do not adequately reflect active participants, or those invested, in our current local public education system. Who better to know if these educational reforms are actually working?

Here are a few striking contrasts regarding CABL’s survey respondent demographics and that of public school families:

•    Last year’s revised Census Report shows less than 25% of New Orleans adults have a college degree or beyond whereas 50% of the survey’s respondents have the equivalent.

•    According to US Census Bureau in 2008, the average adult becomes a parent at about 29 years-of-age and the average age for first-time grandparents is approximately 51 years. Almost half of those queried (47%) were over the age of 54, and only roughly 22% of respondents fall into the average national age range of parents with school age children.

•    Overwhelmingly, most local public school families (approximately 83% according to the Louisiana Department of Education) qualify for free or reduced lunch (meaning a family of 4 earning less than $20,000 per year); yet the majority of those surveyed (75%) reported household incomes well above this amount.

An adequate attempt to measure public opinion regarding the state of local public education must include the thoughts and Child At Schoolobservations of those most closely involved: public school parents, teachers, and students. If an umpire isn’t watching a game or even in the stadium, can he really say how the players are doing? These individuals have firsthand knowledge and experience regarding the benefits and effects of local educational reforms. Their input is crucial to not only truly identify the community’s stance on public education reforms, but, more importantly, determine if they are actually improving schools for all children in New Orleans.

I question what respondents based their answers upon without such inside information and understanding.

Another problem with CABL’s survey is its query regarding whether local schools should be returned to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) or remain with the Recovery School District (RSD).

No one would argue that the local public education landscape is ever-transforming and confusing. Even the most scholarly individuals often have difficulty grasping its complexities. Therefore, I find it difficult to assume that those surveyed actually know or understand the roles of the RSD or OPSB. If you are unable to distinguish the two organization’s functions, how can you actually evaluate their performance or determine if one is better than the other? And for that matter, why didn’t the survey offer an option to consider an alternative to both governing bodies? Other cities have Mayoral control, Community Councils, Appointed/Elected Boards, and other unconventional governance structures, so why not offer participants a “none of the above” option?

If I were a gambler, I would wager a higher bid that those polled couldn’t even explain the difference between a public charter and a traditional school.

It really bothers me that when asked if reforms are working, if anyone expresses their concerns, it is assumed these individuals want things the “old” way with mismanagement of funds, corruption, and generally not educating our children. Who in their right mind would want such a thing? But does that really mean that there isn’t another way? What about a “new” New Orleans way, driven by the people with local knowledge and experience? I say public schools are ours and we should have a say in what is happening inside them and to them.

My final observation is that those community members answering these important questions for the future of public education in New Orleans should not be led to an answer. The public education system has a long history of shading truths and leading reforms with their own agenda for the misinformed community. Unfortunately, well-publicized reports like CABL’s tend to reverberate and get repeated so often that they become widely accepted and ultimately inhibit deeper community inquiries.  By their own account, CABL took “a leading role in the state takeover of failing schools in New Orleans”, therefore it isn’t surprising that the questions were somewhat slanted to gain the answers sought.

Before we can improve schools in NOLA, we must have an honest and open conversation about transparency, accountability, sustainability, and the importance of authentic community engagement. Until each of us understands and accepts that we all have a role in transforming public education in New Orleans, we will continue to fail our children and our grandchildren.


Written by Angela W. Daliet

October 7, 2009 at 8:33 AM

4 Responses

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  1. Angela you make excellent points here. I have not seen the CABL study and agree that the tendency has been to slant the contexts of data, both surveys and test results, in the desired direction of charter proponents.

    A couple of points here: first regarding corruption, there are a few examples of corruption within the ‘old’ OPSB system and those people have been charged and either convicted or are awaiting conviction. We don’t throw out democracy because of the poor example set by a few people. We hold them accountable and replace them with new elected officials and new staff. Second, It isn’t clear to me that anything has changed for the better with respect to cronyism in hiring and contracting under the RSD. And still, third, I am most concerned that the RSD superintendent reports to no local board. He has a free hand in deciding what to do with our schools and public money. Lastly, in the example of Frederick Douglass High, all the promises of community involvement have been a lure to keep us engaged with no decision-making power. The RSD is moving forward to place KIPP at Douglass as they always planned. Too bad I wasn’t surveyed.

    Another point regarding formerly ‘failing’ schools, two wrongs don’t make a right and violating the rights of a community is not a good foundation for public school reform. The school performance bar was raised for Orleans and only applied to Orleans Parish when the RSD took over our schools. If the standard which applied pre-Katrina had been the measure for school take over in Orleans Parish, the OPSB would still control an additional 80+ schools and the state would have only taken a dozen or so. Differential treatment of Orleans Parish with an agenda to take control of all its schools should be illegal and I wonder why there has been no litigation of this issue to date.

    Keep up the good work.

    Greta Gladney

    October 8, 2009 at 8:21 AM

  2. I find it hard to believe that any rational adult who lived here pre-Katrina can say that the OPSB was anything other than an abject, 100% complete failure. The criminal charges aren’t even the most disturbing part. The budgeting and internal processes uncovered by Alvarez & Marsal go beyond a few bad apples – this was a system meltdown from top to bottom and it’s revisionist history to ignore that.

    I realize that you all may believe that Charters are the root of all evil and that the OPSB was “local” control. But the charters all have regular people who aren’t in it for a buck on their boards and parents actually have a choice of where to send their children – how can that be a bad thing? The OPSB was controlled by political people for political and monetary purposes, which is why so many of the school board have ended up in criminal investigations.

    Charters are not the panacea to our ills as a community but it is disingenuous to suggest that somehow returning all the schools to the OPSB is going to make things better.

    chris reade

    October 8, 2009 at 9:55 AM

  3. Angela,
    Thank you for your thorough handling of the problem with the CABL survey. I agree that the fix for one problem is not to be another problem. I share Greta’s concern fot the process by which the effort of the RSD is being carried out. I am uncertain where Chris got the idea that your article or Greta’s are anti-charter. I don’t read that in your remarks. I think everyone will agree that the charter movement has major positives. I am not sure we can say the same thing for the RSD’s efforts. There seems to be a separate set of rules for RSD efforts. The frightening thing for me is that the rules are not apparently fixed. They can be adjusted as needed to support decisions made and actions taken by RSD Leadership. Imagine what any district in the state could accomplish with the funding and rules allowed to the efforts at the RSD. It would be great if the efforts of the RSD really woudl produce an amazing improvement in student outcomes. It is a major concern that the outcome is so dissappointing after so long and so much. It is even more of a concern when the State Superintendent tells the puiblic they cannot get too anxious for positive outcomes because the efforts at the RSD will take time. I would be happier if we could know how much time we should allow before we need to reconsider the plan.

    Here is what I think we need to watch for next. Many wonderfulpeople have jumped into the deep end of the pool with both feet heavily weighted to open charter schools and are now having the wake up call of their lives to keep their effort alive. I am sorry to say that the state has not provided sufficient support for these operators to help them to plan and implement a way to handle all the non-classroom pieces of the puzzle to make themselves a long term success. The effort is not easy and the attitude that says, “They wanted to be a school, let them figure it out.” is counter-productive to the appropriate services fo education in this city.

    Peggy Villars Abadie

    October 8, 2009 at 11:45 AM

  4. Awesome blog!

    I thought about starting my own blog too but I’m just too lazy so, I guess Ill just have to keep checking yours out.


    October 17, 2009 at 3:42 AM

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