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Louisiana School Board Association

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Hear the Echoes #17 - Friday, May 20, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 17


Education News or Propaganda?



            Reading Louisiana daily newspapers on any given day, one soon realizes that education news is uniformly slanted to present as facts the principles of the current administration.  No one contests the premise that the Recovery School District’s (RSD) portfolio model of district operation is a test case.  As such, it has had more than five years to prove its value.


            New Orleans schools with performance scores below the 2005 state average LEAP score of 87.4 were taken-over by the RSD.  Now, more than five years later, only three of the RSD’s 71 schools have exceeded that score.  The RSD schools, with the exception of three, are still all below the 2005 state average. But that is not the whole story of RSD failed performance.  Of those 71 RSD schools, 21 had no 2009-10 baseline School Performance Scores to make comparisons.


            It is tragic that the Times Picayune and the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate persist in reporting RSD performance in positive terms.  When one considers that only three of the RSD open (non-select) admissions schools have increased their performance scores above the 2005 takeover score, it is impossible to conclude success.


            State Department of Education publicity focuses on incremental progress made in the 5 schools that have reported School Performance Scores (SPS).  Prior to the state take-over, 50 schools operated by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) made incremental progress for many years, but incremental progress was not considered by the department intent on take-over. 


            Five years of experiment in public education and more than a billion dollars have still produced five consecutive years of failing students.


            The nationally vaunted KIPP operated schools have done better but still rank well down the rank-ordered list of state SPS.  The best of these is KIPP Central City Primary at 120.6, but its Principal Report Card indicates that it had too few test units reported to qualify for a true SPS and had to be combined with another KIPP school in order to be ranked.  It is most important to know that the KIPP schools are not open admission schools.  Their admissions policies are highly restrictive, and they reportedly move lower performing students out to other RSD schools.


            Most of these schools operate with budgets that far exceed per student spending in the rest of Louisiana schools.  Most operate an extended-day operation that keeps students in class an extra two to three hours, and require students to attend Saturday classes every other week.  These programs, nationally, add $1,500 to $3,200 per student costs.  In spite of the added classroom time the student scores are well below the state average. 


            Ex-superintendent Pastorek testified before Legislative committees that three years should be sufficient to turnaround failing schools.  He reported, in December, that 12 RSD charter schools had reached or were approaching their fifth year of operation but still had failed to meet their academic achievement goals and that only one had reached its fiscal reporting goals.  Even though these two non-met criteria were written into their contracts, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education summarily extended their charters.


            In order to present the appearance of success, the Department of Education has twice claimed that NEW ORLEANS schools were succeeding.  In the Stanford University CREDO national study of charters, the Orleans Parish School Board charters were combined with the RSD’s.  The combining of lower performing RSD charters with very high performing OPSB charters painted a different picture than would be the case in looking at the two as the separate entities which they are.  The same tactic was used in a DOE article published in the Baton Rouge Business Report.  The picture being presented is meant to mislead the public into believing that the progress is greater than it actually is.


            Ex-superintendent Pastorek has made exaggerated claims about high school dropout rates.  A recent study by Research on Reforms, showed that at the 2009-2010 midyear count of New Orleans schools, high schools decreased enrollment by 131 students.  The high schools with the greatest loss of students continued to be John McDonogh and Joseph Clark Senior High Schools, which have been under state control for five years.  But three other charter schools, Sojourne Truth, Miller-McCoy and International High, had a midyear loss equally as great.


            That same year, 46 percent of high school students in New Orleans attended OPSB schools, and 54 percent went to RSD schools.  Yet the RSD schools accounted for over 71% of the decline in high school enrollment. 


            As horrifying as these performance statistics may appear, the impact of state propaganda that touts these results as being favorable is testimony to the media’s jaded presentation of news.  By continuously repeating misstatement of fact the misstatements become "fact” in the eyes of many.  However, recent opinion polling reveals that 59.1 percent of New Orleans area respondents see little or no progress in K-12 public education. 


            Regardless of media influence, there is a growing recognition state-wide that takeover is not producing promised results.  Even with continued tampering with test results and SPS scores, RSD schools contrast poorly with the gains in most locally operated public schools that are producing more positive returns.  If one views the actual fact that 80 percent of 8th grade students in RSD schools of New Orleans failed the LEAP test four years in a row, it is clearly no miracle panacea.


            Concurrently, there is the realization that major differences in per student funding coupled with inordinate upward performance demands by the state puts many additional schools in jeopardy of state take-over.


            The Coalition for Louisiana Public Education, formed little more than a month ago, is spreading statewide and the administration and legislature have recognized its growing influence.  Perhaps the Louisiana news media will also!


(Source for most statistics comes from a pair of reports published by Research on Reforms-Dr. Barbara Ferguson, Feb. 2011; and Dr. Charles Hatfield, May, 2011)


Don Whittinghill