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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?

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More on Charter School Segregation

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Guest blogger Alexander J. Hancock from 
Institute for Quality and Equity in Education at Loyola University shares his thoughts on the UCLA study that looks at re-segregation trends in charter schools.

(Cross-posted at the blog of the Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education)

Over at ‘A Quality Education Blog’, Sara [Sands] had a thoughtful post yesterday on charter schools and segregation, which I’m going to piggy-back on today by writing about the January 2010 report published by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA on re-segregation trends in charter schools. Some time has passed since the report was first published, so you’ve got to ask if there’s really any reason to keep talking about it. My answer to that is a resounding “yes”. I think that all too often studies like this are published, they create a mini-firestorm, bloggers and reporters and policy wonks talk about them for a couple of weeks, and then they disappear. I don’t think that’s a good thing. Instead, I think it’s good to revisit controversial issues after the firestorm has died down a bit, so that we can examine the issues with a slightly clearer focus, and determine to what extent they apply to our work as we move forward.

At the center of this study is the finding that charter schools are more segregated than their traditional counterparts. This is notable because of the great political success of the charter school movement.  Between 2000 and 2008, charter school enrollment increased by 172%. In Louisiana, the increase was 556%, largely due to the post-Katrina charter school movement in New Orleans.

Enrollment patterns reveal two disconcerting trends. First, there’s the disproportionate representation of White and Black students in charter schools. In 2008, while White students made up 56% of traditional school students, they comprised only 39% of students in charter schools. Conversely, Black students were over-represented in charter schools, making up 16% of traditional school students and 32% of students in charter schools.

Second, in addition to disproportionate racial composition in the two types of schools, charters are more segregated than traditional schools. In 2008, 70% of Black charter school students attended schools that were 90-100% Black (which the report terms “intensely segregated” school settings”), fully twice the proportion of Black students in intensely segregated settings in traditional schools.  (The study also reports a similarly heightened level of economic segregation in charter schools.)

While these trends are seen at the national, state, and metro-area levels, we should be careful to remember that most charters are located in low-performing urban districts, which often have predominantly minority and high-poverty student populations. For example, by my count, 66% of all of Louisiana’s charter schools are located in the City of New Orleans, either under the RSD, the OPSB, or BESE. The student population under those three governing boards is over 90% Black (per the Cowen Institute’s 2010 “State of Public Education in New Orleans”). So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that, when looking at Louisiana, or even the New Orleans metro, charters serve disproportionately more Black students because they are disproportionately concentrated in a school district that serves a very high minority population. Even still, the number of minority students in intensely segregated schools is high enough that it should give us pause and make us ask if there’s a better way to do things.

I fear, however, that people will look at this data and think, “Well, charter schools are bad. We should get rid of them.” Or, just as bad, they’ll think that the people producing (and reproducing) the data are simply anti-charter and refuse to work with anyone who supports charters. That is not, I believe, a productive use of this data. The success of the chartering movement is due in part to the fact that, with their autonomy and short-term authorization, charter schools allow us to assess what works and what does not. When a charter is successful, its methods can supposedly be replicated. When one is unsuccessful, it can be closed (or, rather, denied reauthorization). The UCLA report mentions, by name, several charter schools that are highly proactive in ensuring a diverse, non-segregated environment. So perhaps, instead of engaging in a discussion of whether or not charter schools are successful and whether or not they should exist, we should instead look at which charter schools are successful and how they achieve that success. So in this case, we could look at charter schools that buck the trend — or districts that have charter schools whose demographics reflect the racial and socioeconomic composition of the traditional schools — and work to replicate that, in both charter and traditional public schools.

Perhaps that way we can build integrated school systems that serve all children equally, in New Orleans and across the country.

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.

“Finding Our Voices”

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SOSNOLA’s 2010 Student & Family Workshop Series

Last year we held our very first Shindig Fundraiser & Community Celebration and part of what made that event so important and successful was the student presentation at the center of it. We were able to help a talented and inspiring group of young students from New Orleans public schools put together their own very personal production and present it to the over 200 parents, teachers, school, city and state leaders and officials who attended our event.

The students—calling themselves Young Minds—beautifully presented their original spoken word, song and expressive dance that spoke volumes about their hopes, visions and experiences regarding public education in the city.

When we were planning our inaugural fundraising event we knew we wanted it to be all about the kids and we wanted to do something that gave them the opportunity to express their dreams and desires for their education, and to address the ever-changing New Orleans public school landscape.

So we  came up with the idea of hosting a student and family workshop series that would help participants identify and articulate those dreams and desires with the conclusion of the workshop being a platform for that expression at the Shindig. Our goal was to help empower students and their families to be leaders and advocates for themselves and their vision for the future of public schools.

At times the workshops were tough, but the result was beyond anyone’s expectations. Overall, 39 students representing 12 different public middle and high schools completed the series of workshops.  Students were guided in numerous trust and team building exercises to develop camaraderie, overcome social and communication barriers and create a unifying collaborative around their visions. Along the way, participants built their own skill sets and learned valuable lessons around respectfulness, teamwork, leadership, visioning, compromising, accountability, and collaboration. They boldly took the risk of articulating their ideas to peers, families, teachers, principals, and the community. And, we believe these students will become the next generation of local leaders for better public schools.

“The workshops were a wonderful opportunity for students to showcase their talents,” says 2009 participating parent LeMechele Freeman. “It encouraged them to explore self-expression in a supportive environment and the experience boosted my children’s self-esteem.” Freeman recently joined SOSNOLA’s 2010 Volunteer Steering Committee and has taken a leadership role in helping to plan this year’s workshops and Shindig.

This coming Saturday, January 23 marks the first workshop for our 2010 series “Finding Our Voices”. We’re excited about working with a new group of student and family participants, and about the organic growth of the workshops as students from last year will join us in mentoring this year’s participants. The workshops will again promote teamwork, visionary thinking, activism, and community leadership. Along with our partners, we’ll provide critical training, resources, motivation and support that builds the capacity of workshop participants and empowers them to identify, articulate and deliver their vision for the future of local public education in a unique and personal way.

If you would like to sponsor a student for a workshop, please join us tomorrow for a cocktail hour fundraiser at the W Hotel’s Zoë Lounge, 333 Poydras Street, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., or contact Angela Daliet at 504-416-3146 or email adaliet@sosnola.org to make a donation.

$7 sponsors on student for one workshop. $70 sponsors one student for the full series of workshops.

Learn more about “Finding Our Voices”.

Get Schooled on Schools Part II

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Did you take SOSNOLA’s Citizen Year-End Exam in our last blog entry? Well, how did you do?

In case you needed a little help remembering which schools fall under which governing entities, here’s an organizational chart we created that outlines public schools and agencies:

Get Schooled on Schools: Informed Citizens Make Smart Decisions

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SOSNOLA’s New Orleans Citizen Year-End Exam

(Worth 50 points)
1. Explain the differences between a Louisiana traditional public school and a Louisiana charter school. (Must give a minimum of three differences)

(Worth 50 points)
2. Explain the roles of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and Recovery School District (RSD). (Must include list of all schools within each entity’s jurisdiction)

Would you pass this test? Most citizens would fail miserably.

Is it really important that you develop a better understanding of the local public education system and its current reforms? If you don’t, you will continue to be a part of the problem rather than the solution.

Should you care? If you want to live in a safe city that provides ample economic opportunity for you and your family, then yes, you absolutely should care.

Local public schools affect each and every New Orleanian. Rampant murders, soaring poverty, excessive juvenile delinquents, inflated insurance rates, and unstable property values are only a few factors affecting residents that are directly related to our city’s poor public schools. Until citizens make this connection and participate in improving public schools, the problems will only get worse. In order to ensure real improvements are implemented that truly increase student outcomes for all children, at a minimum, each of us must gain a better understanding of our public schools. Only then will citizens be able to intelligently participate in the conversation of where our public schools need to be.

Don’t assume you know without learning the facts.

There are important internal conversations going on between and amongst powerful local and state leaders regarding the future of public education in New Orleans, including which entity is better equipped to control the city’s public schools—the OPSB or the RSD—and whether or not New Orleans public schools are on the right path for real improvements around equity, quality, and accountability. Without knowledgeable residents contributing their thoughts and experience into these discussions, decision-makers will develop long-term plans for our public schools without a clue as to how these schools can and should serve the needs of New Orleanians.

So, get schooled on schools! Learn the facts below and continue to ask questions until you can pass SOSNOLA’s Year-End Citizen Exam.

OPSB, BESE AND RSD
Before Hurricane Katrina, the OPSB controlled 129 schools and BESE oversaw 2 charter schools. Following the storm, the state redefined “failing schools” and expanded their authority for a certain period of time over such schools in large, poor districts through legislation aimed at taking over most public schools in New Orleans. The new law required these schools be operated by the state’s latent “Recovery School District” for an initial period of 5 years, and stripped OPSB of the ability to open any new schools. The RSD gained control of 112 former OPSB schools and their buildings (not all have reopened) leaving 17 schools under direct control of the local district with BESE still operating their 2 charter schools. Currently there are 90 public schools open in New Orleans (54 charter and 36 traditional).

LOUISIANA BOARD OF ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION
•    Is the administrative policy-making body for all state public elementary and secondary schools
•    Is governed by a board of 11 directors (8 elected from state BESE districts and 3 governor appointed members-at-large) representing 8 districts
•    Sets key education initiatives, education agenda and curriculum for all public schools in the state
•    Serves as the governing authority for 2 local public charter schools

LOUISIANA RECOVERY SCHOOL DISTRICT
•    Serves as the governing authority for 40 public charter schools (see below for explanation)
•    Directly operates 31 traditional public schools (2 of which are “alternative” schools managed through a third party contract), managing budgeting, payroll, staffing, academic performance, reporting, etc.
•    Is overseen by Superintendent Paul Vallas
•    Has no local public board, but rather directly reports to State Superintendent and BESE
•    Has control over all closed public schools and their buildings

ORLEANS PARISH SCHOOL BOARD
•    Serves as the governing authority for 12 public charter schools
•    Directly operates 5 traditional public schools (2 of which are “alternative” schools managed through a third party contract), managing budgeting, payroll, staffing, academic performance, reporting, etc.
•    Serves as the traditional public school governing authority of New Orleans
•    Is represented by 7 districts with each district represented by an elected board member that serves a 4-year term
•    The board sets policy for district schools
•    Board meetings and activity are open to public review

CHARTER SCHOOLS
Louisiana’s purpose for the creation of charter schools is to provide the framework and mechanism for educational experimentation for improving academic achievement by which positive results will be broadly repeated or replicated and negative results identified and eliminated. There are 54 charter schools operating under OPSB, BESE and RSD.

The following are key concepts of local charter schools:

•    Authorized by OPSB or BESE for initial 5 years and subsequent renewals every 10 years
•    Revocation or non-renewal occurs by majority vote of chartering authority only if the school, its officers or employees do any of the following: violate charter agreement; fail to meet agreed upon academic results; fiscally mismanage resources; or breach applicable laws
•    Formed and overseen by a nonprofit corporation’s appointed board of directors with a requirement that 3 or more persons must hold a valid current Louisiana teaching certificate; no other experience, qualifications, or affiliations necessary (unless school imposes additional regulations upon itself)
•    Operate independently with public federal and state funding exempt from most traditional public school laws and regulations
•    Most are required to have open admission enrollment policy (any student from any neighborhood with any capability or history may attend) though several do have enrollment requirements

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