[News] Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 25 11:31:51 EDT 2017


  Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing

by Bill Quigley <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/bill-quigley/> - 
April 25, 2017

New Orleans is the nation’s largest and most complete experiment in 
charter schools.   After Hurricane Katrina, the State of Louisiana took 
control of public schools in New Orleans 
and launched a nearly complete 
transformation of a public school system into a system of charter 
schools.  Though there are spots of improvement 
in the New Orleans charter system, major problems remain.

Many of these problems were on display in New Orleans when the NAACP, 
which last year called for a moratorium on charter schools 
until issues of accountability and transparency were addressed, held a 
community forum in New Orleans on charters.  The New Orleans hearing, 
which can be viewed here 
featured outraged students, outraged parents, and dismayed community 
reciting a litany of the problems created by the massive change to a 
charter school system.  The single most powerful moment came when a 
group of students from Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools 
<http://www.therethinkers.org/about.html> took the podium and detailed 
the many ways the system has failed and excluded them from participating 
in its transformation.

“We really wanted to share what happens in our schools” writes 18 year 
old Big Sister Love Rush in an article on the challenges the students 
“How the few permanent teachers we have work so hard for us, how so many 
classes are ran by short term substitutes, how food runs out at meal 
times, and how we worry if our school’s reputation is good enough to 
support us in getting into the college or careers we want.  We shared 
how we face two hour commutes to and from school, are forced to 
experiment with digital learning with systems like Odyssey, are punished 
for having the wrong color sweater, or how we worry about being able to 
attend a school that will give us the education we need.”

In summary, the NAACP heard that they charter system remains highly 
segregated by race and economic status. Students have significantly 
longer commutes to and from school.  The percentage of African American 
teachers has declined dramatically leaving less experienced teachers who 
are less likely to be accredited and less likely to remain in the 
system.  The costs of administration have gone up while resources for 
teaching have declined. Several special select schools have their own 
admission process which results in racially and economically different 
student bodies.  The top administrator of one K-12 system of three 
schools is paid over a quarter of a million dollars.  Students with 
disabilities have been ill served.  Fraud and mismanagement, which 
certainly predated the conversion to charter schools, continue to occur. 
  Thousands of students are in below average schools. Students and 
parents feel disempowered and ignored by the system.

The birthing of the charter system occurred in 2005 when the community 
was displaced by Katrina.  Control of the public school system was taken 
away from a board which had an elected majority of African American 
officials and was given to the white majority board of the state system 

The first casualty of the abrupt change was the termination of the 
South’s largest local union 
and the firing of over 7000 most African American female teachers 
Attorney Willie Zanders told the NAACP of the years of struggle for 
those teachers which, though initially successful 
ended in bitter defeat 
years later.  The city’s veteran black educators were replaced by 
younger, less qualified white teachers from Teach for America and Teach 
NOLA <http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0895904815616485>.

The change to charters reduced the percentage of black teachers from 74 
percent to 51 percent 
There are now fewer experienced teachers 
fewer accredited teachers, fewer local teachers, and more teachers who 
are likely to leave than before Katrina. Five charter schools have tried 
to unionize 
with United Teachers of New Orleans.  Though two schools cooperated, two 
other charters have said they are exempt from NLRB – a position rejected 
by the National Labor Relations Board 
One of those charter schools shut out the public in 2016 by meeting 
privately and online 
over how to respond to unionization efforts.

New Orleans now spends more on administration and less on teaching 
than they did before Katrina.   One charter school executive, who 
oversees one K-12 school on three campuses, was paid $262,000 in 2014 
At least 62 other charter execs made more than $100,000.  This compares 
with the salary of $138,915 for the superintendent of all the public 
schools in Baton Rouge 

Admissions have been dramatically changed.  In the new system, there is 
no longer any right to attend the neighborhood school. 86% no longer 
attend the school closest 
to their homes.  Siblings do not automatically go to the same school, 
and no one is guaranteed a spot at their local school.  Many families 
are frustrated 
by the admission process.

Seven select high performing schools 
do not use the system wide application process, called ONE APP.   The 
“lotteries” run by these super select schools are not transparent but 
complex screening devices 
  The most selective, highest performing, and well-funded charter 
schools have many more white children attending them than the system as 
a whole as a result of special non-transparent admission processes 
This is so well known that a local newspaper article headlined its 
article about some of the schools as “How 3 top New Orleans public 
schools keep students out 

This special admission process has significant racial impact. Most white 
students in public schools attend selective public schools 
that administer special tests that students must pass to be enrolled. 
Tulane University 
reported the charter system in New Orleans remains highly segregated in 
much the same way as before Katrina.  This seems to be reflective in 
schools across the country where the charter school movement has been 
charged with re-segregating public schools 
   One select New Orleans charter school, Lusher, reported its student 
was 53% white, 21% economically disadvantaged and 4% special education 
in comparison to the overall system which is 7% white, 85% economically 
disadvantaged and 11% special education.

Another result of eliminating neighborhood schools is New Orleans 
students now have nearly double the commute and the system is paying $30 
million to bus students compared to $18 million before 
Katrina. Dr. Raynard Sanders 
<https://theneworleansimperative.org/your-host/> notes the elimination 
of neighborhood schools can be observed in the early morning hours. “We 
now have thousands of children beginning their school day travel at 6:15 
and ending at 5:15 PM, with many students spending hours or more 
traveling to and from school. This insane strategy puts kids in harms 
way daily as students cross major thoroughfares in the early morning 
hours, which resulted in one five year old’s death to date.   Despite 
numerous complaints from parents stating they want neighborhood schools 
state education officials have ignored their cries and continue this 
dangerous daily student migration.”

One of the more dramatic and well-documented problems in the changeover 
to charters is the absence of services for students with disabilities.

The Southern Poverty Law C 
sued over disability violations in 2010…  The original complaint 
is here.  Children with disabilities had been denied enrollment 
altogether, forced to attend schools ill-equipped or lacking resources 
to serve them, and suspended without procedural protections.  A third 
grader with emotional problems was locked in the school closet and 
similarly a seventh grader expelled for emotional disabilities.   After 
suit was filed it took an additional four years 
to set up a system to uphold the educational rights 
of students with disabilities.  Now, there is a district-wide consent 
decree in place overseen by an Independent Monitor who reports to the Court.

Yet, the disability problems remain.  In 2017 a charter was rebuked for 
suspending a student who the school thought was depressed 
In 2016 the State found that the school was engaging in special 
education fraud 
by illegally taking public money by artificially inflating special 
education services, while at the same time ignoring special education 
students, telling staff they were “to be a secondary priority to 
students who were more likely to pass the state assessments” and that 
some kids “don’t count.”  At another charter, since closed, the State 
identified egregious special education violations 
Staff refused to screen students, tried to keep them from enrolling, put 
them in rooms with nothing to do, deprived students of their services, 
and faked records to cover it up. Yet another charter was accused of 
telling students with disabilities to stay home 

Discipline has been an ongoing problem.  One charter in 2012-2013 had a 
suspension rate of 68% meaning over half of the student body was 
out of school at least once in a school year. In 2017 another charter 
used handcuffs to restrain a 9 year old 

Fraud and mismanagement continue to plague New Orleans under the new 
system. **A detailed 2015 report found systemic financial fraud and 
of millions of dollars in local charter schools.  The report documented 
numerous instances of fraud in charter schools in amounts ranging from 
tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars at ten different schools.  
These problems resulted from a dramatic underinvestment in oversight, 
reliance on self-reporting of fraud and mismanagement, insufficient 
auditing techniques, and understaffed and overworked auditors.

Transparency is a problem.  The State of Louisiana has been withholding 
basic school data about economic disadvantage and language 
issues until a recent court decision 
made it public.  There have been problems with lack of compliance with 
Open Meetings Law even into 2017 
  The overall whiteness of the education reform movement in New Orleans 
which has been pointed out by scholars, was also criticized at the NAACP 
forum.  The authorization process for starting charter schools has been 
criticized by African Americans in New Orleans as actively working to 
keep local African Americans from operating charter schools 

The NAACP was offered hours of painful evidence that the charter system 
has significant problems with transparency and accountability.  These 
problems led Representative Joseph Bouie of New Orleans 
the head of the Louisiana Black Caucus and former Chancellor of Southern 
University in New Orleans to insist to the NAACP that the experiment of 
charters schools imposed on the children of New Orleans was similar to 
the Tuskegee syphilis experiment 
<https://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm> conducted on African Americans.

No doubt many students are being left behind in the charter school 
experiment. Thousands of students 
are attending schools rated C or below.  According to a 2016 report on 
Grades for the public schools 
in New Orleans: 8 schools received F; 21 received D; 26 received C; 11 
received B; 12 received A.

The Stanford Center for Opportunity in Education issued a report on the 
system in September 2015 
which concluded:  “Successful reform must also support school 
improvement in ways that ultimately create a set of schools that are 
worth choosing, in which every child will choose and be chosen by the 
schools that meet their needs. /_That system has not yet been created in 
New Orleans._/ Time will tell whether it can be developed. It is likely 
that acknowledging the realities of the experiences of the most 
vulnerable children is a necessary first step in that direction.

NOLA reforms have created a set of schools that are highly stratified by 
race, class and educational advantage; this impacts the assignment to 
schools and discipline in the schools to which students are assigned. 
  Fully 89 percent of white students and 73 percent of Asian students in 
New Orleans attend Tier 1 schools. However, only 23.5% of African 
American students have access to these schools. And whereas 60% of 
students who are above the poverty line (i.e. those who can pay for 
their school lunch) attend Tier 1 schools, only 21.5% of students whose 
family income is low enough to be eligible to receive a free lunch have 
access to these schools. Not only do Tier 1 schools rank as the best in 
the city, they consistently rank among the best schools in the state of 

As the New York Times reported in an article titled “The Myth of the New 
Orleans School Makeover,” “The New Orleans miracle is not all it seems 
Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation. The new 
research also says little about high school performance. And the average 
composite ACT score for the Recovery School District was just 16.4 in 
2014, well below the minimum score required for admission to a four-year 
public university in Louisiana. There is also growing evidence that the 
reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged 
children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no 
longer included in the data.”

The students in the system are taking matters in their own hands.  As 
Rethink student leaders write 
“Youth lives, voices, and futures are not being valued. A stand for 
justice needs to be took and the time is now! Youth are the experts and 
we deserve to be treated like we are… We want curriculum that represent 
us and people like us.  We want input from youth of color on curriculum 
and teacher trainings.  We want educational infrastructure to support 
youth entrepreneurship, youth cooperatives and business opportunities 
that support the communities we come from.  And we want real youth and 
community input and veto power on all decisions regarding school 
openings, closings, leadership, and locations.”

The NAACP hearing certainly documented many of the problems.  The 
question remains as to what will be done about them.   The students are 
not waiting.

/*Bill Quigley* teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be 
reached at quigley77 at gmail.com <mailto:quigley77 at gmail.com>./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
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