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Louisiana School Board Association

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Hear the Echoes #13 - Friday, April 15, 2011

Hear the Echoes #13

The Realities at Work:  Focus on RSD Myths


Decades of education research has demonstrated that expecting teachers to be able to control and teach large groups of students with effectiveness seems, today, to be less meaningful.  Decades of research has clearly shown that children who are unhealthy, come from under-privileged households, and would benefit significantly from high-quality pre-K education also is somehow now being downgraded in priority.  Decades of belief that national certification of teachers would bring greater conformity in excellent teaching quality now is being rethought.

                Historic neighborhood patterns developed around public schools for children of the area, and alumni often continued, long after graduation, to support their former schools and to remain involved.  Now, reform and choice and fiscal chaos conspire to disconnect from those realities.

                When the public is exposed to methodical bombardment of information by mass media that treats education as if there is but one side to the national debate on education reform, it is not surprising that parents are confused.  It is not surprising that legislators are misled. 

                The missionaries who think that all it takes is some will power in the battle to "change” traditional public schools; and dogged zeal in advocating their version of "change”, regardless of evidence that the reform being advocating shows little evidence of success are more successful in gaining news organization support in perpetuating the hoax.

                Current content featured on the Louisiana Department of Education’s home page includes claims of excellent performance by high poverty/high performing schools.  That same web site boasts that charter schools in New Orleans are growing at amazing rates.  But, none of the high-poverty/high-performing schools are charters.  The top rated charter in New Orleans , a vaunted KIPP school, is revealed in its principal report card to have too few test units to allow award of a School Performance Score.  In order to gain sufficient test units and thus be awarded an SPS, its scores are combined with those of another KIPP school that earns a lower SPS than that top-rated one.  It is sort-of like adding one plus one and getting three.

                The performance of those RSD operated charter schools shows something very different from the findings of the Stanford CREDO study that claimed New Orleans was one of only six areas where charters outperformed cohort equal traditional public schools.  To get to that finding CREDO took its information, not from core student data as was done elsewhere, but from the RSD.  In order to improve the RSD-charter performance it combined the RSD and Orleans Parish School Board charters’ scores.  The fact that OPSB charters are among the highest performing public schools in the state was, of course, not meant to misrepresent lesser performance by the RSD.

                If one seeks confirmation of underperformance by RSD schools, one has but to read the state department packet given to Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members in December.  Those packets revealed that there were 12 charters completing at least three years of RSD operation and proposed for extensions of their charters.  Only one of them met even one of the academic performance or financial reporting goals set forth in their original charters.

                If one seeks further confirmation of underperformance by the RSD, the East Baton Rouge story captures reality.  These RSD charters cannot seem to attract the numbers of students they seek.  Parents peek into the true situation and opt to remain in the EBR traditional schools; and, all of the RSD schools performed worse than those same schools did when operated as traditional public schools.

                If one is forced to selectively hear the drumbeat on behalf of the RSD, it is because Louisiana’s  newspaper  editors and  its television managers are on board with the national media hoax.

                 More baffling aspects of the RSD failure to live up to expectations stems from the fact that it has  been spending upward of $6,000 per student for pre-K, and $13,000 per student for K-12.  The average Pre-K cost in Massachusetts has been reported to be $1,500 per student and its program is rated highly nationally.  By comparison, the average spending in local school districts of Louisiana is slightly above $9,000 per student.

                A March report by the Cowen Institute at Tulane University revealed that RSD Charters in New Orleans "spent $1,203 more per pupil on non-instructional support services than the average for districts in Louisiana.”

                In spite of the added seat time that those large dollar expenditures buy, the charter movement in Louisiana is not yielding the unrivaled success that Pastorek proclaims.

o   Edisonlearning, this month, had its two charter contracts in Baton Rouge terminated.

o   Priestly Charter school surrendered its charter in December.

o   Lafayette Academy Charter hired, and then after six months fired, Mosaica Education.  After the firing the board sued to recover half of the $750,000 fee the for-profit company had charged to manage the school.

o   The New Orleans Charter Schools Foundation did not renew a contract with The Leona Group which, for two years, ran the New Orleans Free Academy and McDonogh City Park Academy.

o   A charter board based in Treme canceled plans to open three charter schools after EdFutures, Inc., the for-profit chosen to manage them, could not explain the rationale for some its expenses.

                These recent developments in Louisiana public education, coupled with a purported fiscal crisis that is said to have the state in a $1.6 billion deficit, (is causing the closing of schools and laying-off teachers across the state).  The highly successful Pre-K programs are among the first being sacrificed to the budget cutting.  Combining schools to save dollars is raising class sizes while teachers are pressed to cope with changing standards, testing regimes and then new curriculum development.  A state guarantee to pay teachers to successfully meet the requirements of National Teacher Certifications is now passed down to local school boards as was the legislatively mandated transportation cost for students attending private schools.

                For the third consecutive year the Minimum Foundation Program that funds public education contains no adjustment for increased costs of doing business.  That is in spite of the fact that the state teachers and school employee retirement systems are raising local district contributions by more than 5%.  Unnoticed is that with the advent of "choice” and charter schools cash is diverted out of the classroom and spent on recruitment of teachers, and on costly advertising to attract students in a newly competitive environment.

                Buried even more deeply is the fact that the RSD has charter schools in New Orleans and East Baton Rouge that are operated by a Pelican Institute related group.  This group is linked to the Turkish political movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a powerful Muslim political figure who fled arrest in Turkey.  Recent leak of classified U.S. Government documents reveal that U.S. officials shared a growing concern over large number of Turkish men seeking visas to work at American charter school; and to the evasive answers given about the purpose of their visits.   

Is this the model school system that Louisiana wants?  Should it be a model for other states or nations?  How much is enough before news media get to the truth?


Don Whittinghill