The New Orleans School Miracle is a Myth

New Orleans' African American newspaper offers a brutal assessment of the city's experiment with school privatization.

A school destroyed by Hurricane Katrina
Photo Credit: AFT.org

The latest School Performance Scores for the state of Louisiana are in. And that makes now a pretty good time to finally come to terms with the fallacy of the miracle in New Orleans. 

For the first time in more than a decade all public schools in Orleans Parish were lumped together in the state performance rankings—no separation of Recovery School District (RSD) campuses from Orleans Parish School Board campuses. We suppose that makes sense with the impending “return” of schools to “local control.” Though, we suspect that the actual reason for the grouping is far more disturbing.  With the state department of education finally getting ready to return schools it snatched from local control back in 2005, grouping all these schools together in this year’s performance rankings is an early tip-off to the fact the state education department, the RSD and the “reform” advocates are ready to wash their hands.

We can almost hear them saying, “Sure, we have had your schools under our control for 12 years. And, yep, we joyfully and willingly turned them over to outside, for-profit organizations to operate so we didn’t have to bother. Uhhh, yeah, our oversight of those charter operators was marginal at best. Of course, those operators made beaucoup money off the backs of some of the most underserved and disenfranchised public school children in Louisiana. Why do you think we snatched the schools to begin with? Sorry, no, we really didn’t improve educational outcomes for the community. But real soon, we will be giving them back with the caveat that they all remain under the control of charter management operators; and they will be your problem.”

We have known for quite some time now that the miracle was really a myth and that this reform and its purveyors, along with the state, the RSD and the charter operations to which they have given our public school students, our facilities and our money were failing our children and our communities. So, we can’t help but be infuriated by all of the recent “revelations” about what has actually been happening in public education, especially since they are not revelations at all. It’s time for folk to stop acting brand new. 

To be sure, some of the same media outlets finally reporting the near truth about the failure of these schools as if it is some eye-opener have been some of the same outlets responsible for driving the false narrative of the reform’s success by either suppressing the truth or pushing falsehoods.

So when a recent news report titled “Charter schools aren’t measuring up to their promises” tells now in October 2017—some 12 years since the state takeover of schools—that many of the charter operators realized that they set “ambitious” goals and made promises that they simply could not realistically achieve, we go full-throttle with the side-eye glance.

Some charter operators even went so far as to suggest that they needed to set the unrealistic goals to get approval to operate schools, according to the report by Kate Reckdahl.

It’s been 12 years since our schools were hijacked. And 12 years later, many of them are performing just as poorly as they were before they were stolen. To learn that charter operators set up goals they knew were unattainable just to get their charters approved and their hands on public money and facilities is indefensible Unless and until these pilfering reformers are ready to admit what they did and that it was wrong and then actually return public schools to real local control without charter organizations and unelected boards that come with them under the current model of return anything else they have to say sounds pretty much like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals—a whole bunch of noise.

It’s Been Fake from the Start

We use words and phrases like “return” and “local control” as loosely as possible because we stand by our judgment that the return of local schools as outlined by the current law enacted via senate bill SB 432 is nothing more than a counterfeit effort to deceive New Orleanians while charter operators and the corporate elite remain in control of our schools, our tax dollars and more importantly, the education of our children—our greatest assets, without a doubt.

As we looked over the 2017 school performance data, one thing was clear—Orleans Parish will be getting back schools that aren’t much better than the ones taken over 12 years ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In other words, the reform was a ruse. And this subterfuge has cost us dearly.

But we knew that already. Didn’t you? We said that. We wrote about it.

Numbers don’t lie. And year after the year, the numbers were telling the story. We’re just journalists over here—not a statistician among us. But all we had to do was look at the annual SPS reports to know that this “reform” was failing. Year after year, the school performance report cards filled with Cs, Ds, Fs and SPS scores so low that would not have held up in the fall of 2005.

All we had to do was examine the havoc it was wreaking in the lives of local parents and students: 

Schools opening. Schools closing. Schools changing from one charter manager to another.

A tortuous admissions in which parents crossed their fingers and hoped—no prayed—that some computer algorithm’s random selection would work in their favor. It was also a process that some schools were allowed to exclude themselves from altogether.

This brings us to the bogus notion of school “choice” that reformers have held up as a blessing for parents and students, when, in fact, the only entities that exercise any real choice in admissions have been the charter schools—not parents, not students.

Unelected boards not bound to parents or taxpayers determining school policies and deciding how money is spent.

Many parents even uncertain as to who they could or should call if they had problems, questions or complaints—the OPSB member they elected or the board actually governing the school.

Kids waiting in the early dawn to catch a school bus from one part of the city to another and getting home at dusk because neighborhood schools have become non-existent. And even if there was one just a block away from home, the question became was it a quality school? And even if it was, could your child get a seat there? 

They Never Cared

Let’s not forget that these power brokers and elite citizens that engineered the takeover of our schools cared nothing about firing more than 7,000 veteran teachers and school board employees—delivering a crushing blow to the city’s Black middle class—so long as their agenda moved forward, 

And back in early 2005, before Katrina, when only a handful of schools were deemed failing, the legislature—no doubt at the behest of so-called reform advocates—lowered the minimum SPS to 60 to make way for the wholesale takeover of our schools right after the storm while New Orleanians was strewn across the country in shelters and hotels. That was a dirty move, and we won’t forget it.

They created a narrative to fit their scheme, telling all who would listen that public schools in Orleans Parish were deplorable and that this “reform” would be a magic bullet. They knew that was a lie then. Lying is easy for the diabolical.

Question. When the state hijacks local public education and fails to improve it after more than a decade, who is there to snatch public schools out of the incapable hands of the state? 

Well if Orleans Parish is the example, the answer is easy—corporate giants and for-profit charter management organizations. In fact, they don’t even have to snatch them. Our schools have already been placed in their control; and under the current model of return, these charter operations will remain in control under what we suspect will be the loose oversight of the OPSB, whose superintendent does not strike us as being interested in acting as much more than an agent of this bogus reform movement.

For the last decade, the reform advocates—buoyed by the mainstream media—have pushed the message of widespread improvement in local public education as a result of the takeover.

The so-called education reform movement that has held our city captive for 12 long years has been faking the grade this entire time. And we are angry and saddened that few of our so-called leaders have had enough conviction of character to dare to stop it. Many have been complicit even as they return to us every two or four years asking for our votes.

There are those who suggest the local education battle is a lost cause and that the widespread operation of our schools by charter managers is here to stay. From time to time, we become a bit dismayed and almost accept that position ourselves. But we have fought too long for what is right, and we won’t stop demanding the complete and absolute return of local schools to real local control, even if we stand alone.

Our mantra of late—taken from the words of Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez, founder of the historic New Orleans Tribune—is that it is time for us to be leaders ourselves. It is way past time that those who portend themselves as leaders of our community take a stand on the issue of public education in New Orleans. Far too much time has already been wasted. 

This is an excerpt of a longer editorial that appeared in the New Orleans Tribune. Read the full version here.

The New Orleans Tribune is the modern day descendent of the first Black daily newspaper in the US, founded by Dr. Louis Charles Roundanez in 1864. Then, as now, The Tribune was dedicated to social justice and civil rights for all Louisiana citizens.

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