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Part Two: What Parents and Students Should Know About Charter Schools

Publisher’s Note: This is Part Two of a Two-Part commentary on charter schools in New Orleans which is home to the nation’s first and only all-charter school district and the center of reform efforts supporting charter schools. The author argues New Orleans serves as the example of why a stop, temporary or otherwise, to charters is needed.

By Anitra Brown
Managing Editor, The New Orleans Tribune

In order to facilitate the wholesale takeover of public education in New Orleans, the legislature had to amend state law to raise the minimum school performance score from 60.0 to 87.4. Before this, only five schools in Orleans Parish had scores that designated them as failing. After amending the law, more than 100 schools were deemed failing. In short, the takeover was manufactured by slight of pen.

Of course, there is inherently nothing wrong with raising the bar – if the plan is to keep it high. But it wasn’t. When it became evident that charter schools weren’t performing miracles, keeping the higher standard did not work for the architects of the reform. So they went back to their buddies in the state legislature, who were happy to amend the law again to lower the minimum SPS a school needed to have in order to hide the failure of the very reform it ushered in.

Today, elementary and middle schools only need to have a 66.2 SPS to earn a “C.” The SPS for a high school can be as low as 70 to earn a “C” letter grade. This sort of legislative maneuvering makes measuring real progress or any regression impossible.

But this much is clear – as of right now only five of the charter schools under the all-charter RSD have school performance scores higher than 87.4 – the score used to declare public schools as failures and hand them over to charter operators more than 10 years ago.

To put it another way, most all of these campuses – now being heralded as the answer to all that was wrong with public education – would have been taken over by the state after Hurricane Katrina. Of course, that’s a lot like giving someone a one dollar bill, but trying to convince him it’s worth $5 by taking a magic marker and writing a big “5” on George Washington’s face.

Now add to all of this mayhem, the fact that charter schools in New Orleans and elsewhere have developed notorious reputations for their failure to adequately serve special needs students; or that the loss of neighborhood schools and bussing students all over the city has wreaked havoc on families that have had to send their children to bus stops as early at 5:30 in the morning to go to a “C” (if they are lucky) school 20 miles away from their homes.

Or that with the proliferation of charter schools has come the promulgation of non-elected charter school boards that use the people’s money without the people’s oversight effectively resulting in taxation without representation.

Or that with this so-called reform has come the same mismanagement and misappropriation of public dollars under the control of some charter operators for which the elected school board and public school system were often criticized and denigrated prior to the takeover.

Or that the billions in funding that came to Louisiana to stabilize public education after Katrina was doled out as grants to private charter management companies and used to provide Teach for America recruits with signing bonuses while more than 7,000 veteran educators and school employees were fired without cause or due process.

Or that this entire reform is funded by major corporations with their eyes fixed on profiting from our children as opposed to serving them and providing a quality education.

It is worth noting that all of this started under the watch of a Democrat governor, Kathleen Blanco, and has been sustained and heavily funded at both the federal and state levels under the executive or legislative leadership of Democrat officials, who must be held responsible for their continued role in undermining public education.

Did we mention that only five of the charter schools in the all charter RSD-New Orleans actually have SPS scores higher than the scores of the schools taken over by the state after Katrina?

These schools, the so-called miracles are failing – the numbers say so. How much more homework does The Post need us to do?

Even when we look at the performance of the handful of public schools – both traditional and charter – currently under control of the Orleans Parish School Board, we perceive their claims of tremendous success with a jaundice eye, recognizing that the local school system – after being pilfered of its schools by the state – was left with those schools that were its top-performing academies and magnet campuses prior to Hurricane Katrina. We have also watched as this local school board – all but co-opted by pro-charter, pro-reform advocates – has abandoned its role in creating more traditional public schools.

In fact, here in New Orleans – ground zero for all things charter school – the evidence tells that most of these schools are performing as bad or worse than the traditional public schools they replaced.

So yes, it is high time the farce ends.

Anitra Brown is the managing editor at The New Orleans Tribune. You can reach Anitra by email abrown@mckennapublishing.com.

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