I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, January 26, 2012

NOLA: Charter Nirvana

Rick Hess took the week off and left the keys to his blog with Neerav Kingsland, the chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans. His posts this week - here, here, here, and here - are both astonishing and infuriating.

Astonishing because they call for a radical upending of public education through the entire country. Infuriating because Kingsland simply ignores the primary issue with charter school expansion:
In the following letter I aim to convince you of this: the single most important reform strategy you can undertake is to increase charter school quality and market share in your city--with the ultimate aim of turning your district into a charter school district.
In other words: rid yourself of the notion that your current opinions on curriculum, teacher evaluation, technology, or anything else will be the foundation for dramatic gains in student achievement. If history tells us anything, they will not be:
Dismissing this letter--and the idea of charter districts--would have been easier five years ago. But over the past five years, educators and policymakers in New Orleans created the nation's first charter school district.
This transformation of the New Orleans educational system may turn out to be the most significant national development in education since desegregation. Desegregation righted the morality of government in schooling. New Orleans may well right the role of government in schooling. [emphasis mine]
You know what's astonishing about that sentence? The blatant refusal to acknowledge that the most significant transformation in NOLA's schools has been the reintroduction of segregation. For example:

Along with the academy supported by Oprah’s Angel Network - - which the entertainer used to raise money from the public -- New Orleans charter schools accused of discrimination include those that are favored charities of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Chairman Bill GatesWal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT)’s Walton family and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Shunning special-education students helps school budgets since the average disabled child costs twice as much to serve as a nondisabled one, said Thomas Hehir, who oversaw federal special-education programs under President Bill Clinton. The practice also improves the reported academic results of schools because children with disabilities often have lower scores on standardized tests, he said.

‘No Incentive’

“There’s no incentive to take these kids,” Hehir, now a Harvard University professor, said in an interview. “If you can avoid educating them, there are other things you can do with the money. You can pay people more or reduce class size.”
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans turned to charters as a way to rebuild schools and overhaul public education. Its charter schools now enroll more than 70 percent of students, a larger share than in any other U.S. district, making it a flash point for concerns about special education. 
One New Orleans charter school recommended the expulsion of a girl with depression for cutting herself in class, records show. An administrator and an aide at another carried a distraught third-grade boy into an empty room, restraining him until he urinated on himself, according to their written accounts. A former special-education coordinator at a third school said administrators told her to stop talking to parents after she counseled them that their children were entitled to more services.


Last October, 10 families, including Lawrence’s, filed a federal special-education discrimination suit against the state of Louisiana. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights group in Montgomery, Alabama, represents the families. Charter schools aren’t named as defendants, and the allegations include complaints about services at conventional schools, as well.
Lawrence’s great uncle, Joseph, 57, lives in New Orleans’ hurricane-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward. Unemployed and recovering from a heart attack and stroke, he became guardian four years ago after the child’s grandmother died.

Army Dream

New Orleans Charter Science and Math, with its polo shirt and khaki uniforms and mission to send kids to college, promised special-education services and hope for Lawrence, Joseph said in an interview.
A lanky teenager who dreams of joining the Army, Lawrence reads and does math at roughly the third-grade level. Along with attention deficit disorder, he has language-related disabilities that make his speech difficult to understand.
In a 2009 evaluation at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, doctors said Lawrence could become “a productive member of society.” They said his fighting resulted from frustration at his difficulty in communicating, and recommended special- education services “at the highest level possible,” including speech therapy, tailored assignments and extended time on tests.
Rather than provide all the services he needed, the charter school excluded him by suspending him repeatedly and keeping him from going to the Oprah celebration, according to the lawsuit.
“He needed a place that would work with him as an individual,” Joseph said. “What they gave him was the opportunity to get out.”

‘Beloved Member’

Lawrence and some other students didn’t attend the ceremony to protect children’s safety,Benjamin Marcovitz, the school’s founder and principal, said in a phone interview. Angela De Paul, an Oprah Winfrey spokeswoman, declined to comment.
And you've really got to embarrass Oprah badly to shut her up about schools; I mean...

This is aside from the equally relevant issue of the change in NOLA's demographics post-Katrina. We know that there is credible evidence that charters may be increasing racial segregation; put this all together with the potential for political favoritism and there is more than enough evidence to voice a real concern for Kingland's charter conversion plan.

So what is Kingland's response? Surely he's thought about this? Surely, in his position, he's gathered data to address this all-important issue? So what does he say about charters and segregation?

Nothing. Seriously - and I've read every post twice - he says nothing about charter schools segregating on the basis of race, creed, language, or disability.

Instead, he cites India - India! - as a model for success. Hey, America, ready to put a caste system in place? And he comes up with a timetable to convert the Newark district into charters (sorry, but Eli Broad will have to sign off on that first, thank you very much).

In fairness, he has a day left; maybe he'll get around to this tomorrow. We'll see...

ADDING: It's worth saying yet again that this "reformer" judges the success of a school solely on its standardized test scores. Swell.


Deb said...

Perhaps in some ideal world Kingsland idea of relinquishing control back to parents and communities is noble. But that is not what charter schools are doing. In fact it is quite the opposite - the ultimate disenfranchisement of parents and students - and teachers.

In New Orleans besides segregation, it is clear that community voices are not being heard about preferences for charter school creation. See http://parentsacrossamerica.org/2012/01/nola-charter-schools-favoritism-with-community-parents-shut-out/
NOLA charter schools: favoritism with community & parents shut out

Returning schools to local control is the antithesis of the current movement in charter schools which want to corporatize and control from the top - sometimes even for profit. They are granted as means of political favor and perhaps just plain old greed. And yes, they are segregating and discriminating too.

But it is very hard to have substantive discussions with people propagating the charter ideology because they seem determined to deny any problems. Sooner or later their bubble must pop, but in the meantime, there are a lot of children paying the price.....

Duke said...

Well said, Deb. Thx for the great comments you've left here lately.

Anonymous said...

From democracynow.com, 6-20-2006:
"Immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit, the Louisiana state legislature voted to take over most of the city’s public schools and effectively fire the 7,500 teachers and employees who work in them. The city schools are now part of the state-run recovery school district and control of many of schools is being given to private charter organizations. Just last week, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced $24 million dollars in federal aid to Louisiana for development of private charter schools which doubles the amount the state has already received. This federal grant was made only to charter schools–not traditional public schools. Many parents and teachers have expressed concern the move towards private charter schools is being done with little public discussion about curriculum, the efficacy of the schools, and working conditions for teachers."
JOE DeROSE (Communications Director for the United Teachers of New Orleans): "Exactly. And first of all, I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell this very sad story. You’re right. Every teacher in New Orleans was fired. There weren’t 7,500. There was 7,500 school employees, everybody from cafeteria workers, truck drivers and custodians to teachers, and there were about 4,000 teachers. Solid middle class employees, career professionals who had dedicated their careers to helping try to educate the children in one of the neediest cities in the country, a city with one of the highest poverty rates, as everybody saw in the days immediately following Katrina.

They were treated with utter disrespect. There was no notification that they would be fired until one day in October, when the school board called a press conference, notified us about an hour before that they were going to have such a conference. Therefore, most people found out that they were being terminated on the 5:00 news. Those who didn’t have TVs or weren’t still living in the city found out in the newspaper the next morning or by phone calls from friends and relatives who were in touch with the media."

Anonymous said...

@Deb: If relinquishing control back to impoverished parents who don't enjoy the civil right of being able to choose their children's school without having to pay twice for it through taxes and then tuition is so great.....why don't you just allow vouchers? Why should parents like community organizer Obama or (to use one example) Ron Rice be able to send their kids to private schools (Rice-- Pingry) when poor parents have no choice?

Unknown said...

Anonymous, you missed Deb's primary point. Pay delivery does not give parents choice- if anything parents have less choice with vouchers. The charter or private school decides if THEY want your child and can (and do) exclude them for any reason. Period. Many kids are expelled after the private school has taken the money and your kid is floating in limbo looking for a school in October.

Charters and private schools have ALL of the choice. They are, by design, established to deny students, parents their civil rights to fight their decisions. Public schools are not permitted to exclude any child for any reason.

'Choice' was the brand to sell their product to policy makers and the public. Segregation is both the goal and outcome of vouchers and charter practices.

Stuart Buck said...

Please please don't cite the Orfield study on charter "segregation." It actually compared charter demographics to state-wide demographics, which is about as stupid as one can get. http://educationnext.org/a-closer-look-at-charter-schools-and-segregation/

Duke said...



I do think there are some interesting points in the critique, but not nearly enough to keep me from having grave cautions about charter segregation. My blog is full of examples of such.

And the central point stands: why, with all of these concerns, are we seriously talking about charterizing entire districts?