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Black Opinions

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

Publisher’s Note: This is Part One 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

Late last year, “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post” criticized the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for its call for a moratorium on charter schools. Editorial writers at The Post even got all clever with their Oct. 11 headline, “The NAACP opposes charter schools. Maybe it should do its homework.”

Of course, the pun was intended. And it was cute, off beam, but cute.

To be sure, it is both media outlets that need to do a little extra studying when it comes to the question of putting the brakes on charter schools.

First, let’s be abundantly clear. When the board of NAACP called for a temporary stop on the opening of additional charter schools nationwide, they suggested only that the impact of the publicly-funded, privately-operated institutions on both equity and excellence in education deserved further scrutiny before another dollar was spent or another public school student was sacrificed in the name of so-called education reform.

They have not asked for a permanent end to charters.

They have not asked that all existing charters be shutdown.

They have asked, as best as we can surmise, only that we stop, take a collective breath, and actually determine what has been accomplished or damaged in public education as a result of the proliferation of charter schools across the nation before another charter is granted by a state or local education agency until the following demands are met:

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1. Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools.
2. Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system.
3. Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate.
4. Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high, but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

That seems fair enough. In fact, it is more than fair, especially when we consider the impact of this corporate-driven education reform model and the proliferation of charter schools here in New Orleans. And we are especially angry as the architects of the fake reform movement put their money and power behind convincing Black people that the NAACP is wrong and trying to hurt them. Scratch that. We are mad as hell at all the Black folk falling for that narrative.

Indeed, it’s the editorial writers at both The Post and The Times that need to go straight to the principal’s office for attempting to thump the NAACP without having a deep understanding of how the littering of the public education landscape with charter schools has adversely impacted disenfranchised and marginalized communities.

Make no mistake, New Orleans – home to the nation’s first and only all-charter school district and the epi-center of a corporate-driven reform effort – serves as the example of why a stop, temporary or otherwise, to charters is needed.

Despite grand claims to the opposite, the results of charter schools are hardly remarkable.

According to recent school performance measures, the 50 schools currently under control of the all-charter Recovery School District for which school performance data is available have earned letter grades as follows:
A’s – 0; B’s – 7; C’s – 19; D’s -16; F’s – 6; and T’s – 2.

Let’s analyze this. Two of the 50 are graded “T,” meaning they are in transition from one charter operator to another and have been given additional time before SPS scores and grades are applied to the campus.

Nineteen (19) of the schools have earned a “C”; and last we checked, a “C” meant that a performance level was not perfect, not great, just average. So, “average” traditionally-operated public schools have been replaced by “average,” privately-managed, publicly funded charter operations with non-elected boards that do not have to answer to voters or taxpayers.

To be sure, there are charter school boards operating in New Orleans for years that have only in recent months begun to follow state law as it relates to the public posting of their meetings and minutes. Now, if that wasn’t enough to make folk want to pump the brakes on charter schools, consider this: A full 22 of the 50 charter schools operated by the all-charter RSD in New Orleans are either D or F schools, meaning they are close to failing or have failed.

Of course, it’s not all bleak. There are seven charter schools overseen by the RSD that earned school performance scores that gave them a “B” letter grade. Wait, before you blow up the balloons, hang streamers and cut the cake, let’s get a few more facts straight as to how the school closures, takeovers, so-called reform and the charter explosion happened in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

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With a city decimated and its residents scattered across the country, the state education leaders and state legislature – pushed, no doubt, by the masterminds of the corporate-driven reform movement – met in Baton Rouge to authorize the takeover of Orleans Parish Public Schools, a plan that had been designed and put in place long before Katrina. 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.

…Continued next week

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