The great Post-Katrina Scam Factory is almost complete: the last of New Orleans's public schools will soon become for-profit charter operations run on taxpayer dollars.
New Orleans may soon be the first city to have an all-charter school system -- a landmark in U.S. history.
Orleans Parish Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. announced Friday (Dec. 9) he had "received informal expressions of interest from current school and charter leaders to convert some or all of our remaining five network elementary and high schools to charter schools authorized by OPSB."
The five schools currently under school board control this would affect: Ben Franklin Elementary, Eleanor McMain Secondary, Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Mary Bethune Elementary, and McDonogh No. 35, comprising a middle and high school.
Charters are publicly funded but run by independent boards, held to benchmarks set by an authorizing party -- in this case, the Orleans Parish School Board.
Lewis offered no further details, saying only, "We are beginning the process of informing school board members, staff, principals, teachers and families. When that process is completed early next week, we will be in a better position to provide more details."
The School Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday.
If the decision proceeds, it will have been a long time coming. In 2014, the Louisiana Recovery School District finished converting to charters all the New Orleans public schools it took over after Hurricane Katrina.
The Louisiana Legislature made the victory of the charter model obvious this spring when they passed a law returning the Recovery schools to Orleans Parish School Board control -- but as charters.
By any reasonable metric, the conversion to charter schools has been a disaster for the city and its people.
Last year, 63 percent of children in local elementary and middle schools were proficient on state tests, up from 37 percent in 2005. New research by Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance shows that the gains were largely because of the charter-school reforms, according to Douglas N. Harris, the alliance’s director. Graduation and college entry rates also increased over pre-Katrina levels.
But 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.
That's the whole point of the charter operation: to drive out the "undesirable" kids and say "look at us, we've improved test scores!" And now the entire district will most likely be charter. The reality of the existing charter schools has been ten years of neglect and shame.
Test scores have improved, according to two major reports that examine academic achievement over the past nine years. On Katrina’s 10th anniversary, RSD is being held up as a national model. The graduation rate has risen from 56 percent to 73 percent. Last year, 63 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored basic or above on state standardized tests, up from 33 percent.
But by other measures, the RSD suffers. In These Times received an advance copy of research conducted for the Network for Public Education (NPE) by University of Arizona researchers Francesca López and Amy Olson. The study compared charters in Louisiana, the majority of which are in New Orleans, to Louisiana public schools, controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, poverty and whether students qualified for special education. On eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations.
The researchers found that the gap between charter and public school performance in Louisiana was the largest of any state in the country. And Louisiana’s overall scores were the fourth-lowest in the nation.
“You can say until you’re blue in the face that this should be a national model, but this is one of the worst-performing districts in one of the worst-performing states,” says NPE board member Julian Vasquez Heilig, an education professor at California State Sacramento.
Arguably New Orleans and its charter schools are among the worst in the country. And our incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to do to America's public schools what charter schools have done to New Orleans, and she's already spent millions to make charter schools in the city to buy off politicians so that she can do so.
Trump's chosen Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her organizations have spent a lot of money in Louisiana. How much? Try $1.6 million in campaign contributions alone, according to Louisiana ethics filings.
DeVos heads the Alliance for School Choice and the American Federation for Children, which in turn runs the Louisiana Federation for Children. Trump announced her as his nominee Wednesday (Nov. 23).
Louisiana Education Superintendent John White commended the selection. He spoke at an AFC policy summit in 2015.
"Betsy DeVos has long advocated for the rights of families and children to a quality education," he said. "We congratulate her on being nominated for Secretary of Education, and we look forward to working with her."
Eliminating public schools has long been a crusade of the far right, and New Orleans is the prime example of what will happen to the rest of the nation should people like DeVos get their way.