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RSD school fails 6-year-old and the community

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By Angela W. Daliet

I just finished an on camera interview with Sheldon Fox of ABC26 News regarding a disturbing story of a 6-year-old being handcuffed to his desk by a security guard at Sarah T. Reed Elementary, a Recovery School District school, earlier this week. Though you can catch some of my comments on the story on ABC26 News at 10pm tonight, there is too much to be said for them to cover it all. This story is too important to be relegated to a 15 or 30 second spot on the evening news.

The parents of the first grade student weren’t even told about the incident and discovered it only after the child complained of sore wrists! Where is the accountability by the school, teacher and security guard to the community and parents? You won’t find that type of accountability in standardized test scores, for sure.

Here are some other very important points to make note of:

  • Our city’s public school children are the most at-risk within our community and the RSD serves the most severe of these students (though I use the word “serves” loosely). No one “chooses” an RSD school, these are the schools of last resort.
  • They have the largest number of children with special needs, as well as students that won’t or can’t conform to the mostly rigid, strict curriculum and environmental policies of charter schools.
  • These schools are ill-equipped. They have under qualified, inexperienced teachers trying to bring these students up to grade level while also dealing with constant, sometimes severe, behavior issues.
  • These schools and their teachers are under resourced and underpaid.

Now when we talk about the issues, we are labeled as anti-RSD or anti-charter, but the fact remains that the state took over most local schools to rid itself of these issues and educate our children. However, one system simply replaced another without clear plans, interventions and resources to fix the systemic problems that existed before. We now have a public school “system” where the handful of schools that are performing adequately either “choose” their students through selective admissions processes, or the improvements are based on unrealistic and unsustainable reform measures such as teachers and principals working long hours on little pay with no family attachments.

Then there are the rest of the kids, students like this one that was handcuffed to a desk for a school day last week. I leave you with one last thought and two questions.  Until we admit the issues, flaws and inequities that exist in this “system” and fix them by putting a good school in every neighborhood that serves that community’s kids, we will continue to fail more generations of New Orleanians. My questions are these: Why don’t we value teachers in this country by hiring the best, giving them adequate training and resources, supporting them and paying them what they deserve? And why are we not holding the state accountable for not educating and serving our children?

Yes, Secretary Duncan, it WAS a dumb thing to say

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As a public school advocate and parent of 3 kids in New Orleans’ public schools, the secretary’s remarks that Katrina was the “best thing to happen to public education in New Orleans” is incredibly offensive and quite frankly off the mark. And to say that it took Katrina to wake up the community is even more absurd.

New Orleanians have long understood and maintained that our poor public schools are our city’s primary ailment. It did not take the loss of our family members, possessions, homes, neighborhoods and schools to make us realize this.

We are the ones that have not been educated by these schools and who have advocated for years to have a system that provides a quality education to every student in the city, no matter their address or race. If our community of public school parents had some power and access to local, state and national leaders, we would have explained to you and your peers long before August 29, 2005 that our needs weren’t being served and that we must do better together.

The assumption now is that we, the community, are being heard, but I have to challenge that new leadership is just listening to their new friends (who aren’t necessarily New Orleanians and definitely not utilizing the public education system).

So, here’s my question to Mr. Duncan: If, as a national leader in education, you believe wholeheartedly that what is happening in New Orleans is working and will bring a full success story for New Orleans, how do we, the community, bend your ear to the problems and issues being exacerbated and swept under the rug that were ignored by leadership for years before Hurricane Katrina?

Please don’t tell me we have to lose everything again to get you to listen.

Read a transcript of Secretary Duncan’s comments here.

CABL survey not an accurate measure of community and public education

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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