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Here We Go Again…



Members of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) are embroiled in bitter infighting once again and (surprise!) the issue at the center of the dispute is the allocation of district construction contracts.

The recent strife began after the district announced its plan to award a $51 million contract to Woodward Design + Build for the construction of Edna Karr’s new high school. Soon thereafter, it was revealed that about $7.5 million of that contract would be subcontracted to Nolmar Construction LLC, a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) owned by the half-siblings of OPSB President Nolan Marshall, Jr.

It was revealed that part of the contract awarded to Woodward Design + Build would be subcontracted to Nolmar Construction LLC, owned by the half-siblings of OPSB President Nolan Marshall, Jr.

It was revealed that part of a $51 million contract to be awarded to Woodward Design + Build would be subcontracted to Nolmar Construction LLC, owned by the half-siblings of OPSB President Nolan Marshall, Jr.

For his part, Marshall has stated he was not aware that his family’s firm was involved in the bidding process and formally asked U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite to investigate the Nolmar contract matter in an effort to clear him of any wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped former OPSB President Ira Thomas from exploiting the situation to publicly attack Marshall, even going so far as to call on him to step down as board president. When asked why he was seeking Marshall’s resignation, Thomas told the Times-Picayune :

“Mr. Marshall’s letter to the U.S. Attorney asking him to investigate does not absolve him from suspicion…[Marshall should] strongly consider stepping down as president until this investigation is concluded. At this point I have no confidence in him.”

OPSB President Nolan Marshall (left, with Supt. Stan Smith), who has sought to unify the board, is being attacked by Ira Thomas, who has been a divisive force on it.

OPSB President Nolan Marshall (left, with Supt. Stan Smith), who has sought to unify the board, is being attacked by Ira Thomas, who has been a divisive force on it.

In an interview on WBOK-AM last Thursday, Marshall fired back at Thomas, accusing him of having “…a hidden agenda where he’s doing everything he can for certain contractors.” Marshall continued, “What he wants is leadership that demands from contractors that certain subcontractors get the work.”

As I’ve noted previously, several companies and individuals with ties to OPSB construction contracts have contributed to Thomas’ election campaigns, including his failed bid to unseat Sheriff Marlin Gusman in February. Some raised the question of whether those connections played a role in Thomas’ unsuccessful campaign to fire Interim Superintendent Stan Smith last year.

Pat Bryant (right), a vocal supporter of Thomas’ effort to oust Stan Smith last year, has reemerged to join in Thomas' recent attacks on Nolan Marshall.

Pat Bryant (right), a vocal supporter of Thomas’ effort to oust Stan Smith last year, has reemerged to join Thomas’ attacks on Nolan Marshall.

Interestingly enough, a vocal supporter of Thomas’ effort to oust Stan Smith has reemerged to join in his attacks on Nolan Marshall: Pat Bryant. Bryant, a community organizer with the Coalition for Justice and Beyond, led what he termed a “citizens filibuster” during last week’s board meeting, in which he repeatedly abused the requisite public comment periods to raise the Nolmar contract issue and accuse Marshall of malfeasance. Ironically, Pat Bryant was investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2005 on suspicion that he bribed a sanitation official to secure a DBE contract connected to the city’s trash hauling agreement.

On Monday, the sniping descended into a full-scale shouting match when Thomas and Bryant appeared on WBOK-AM’s “The Good Morning Show,” hosted by none other than former City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who himself was convicted and sentenced to prison for corruption in 2007. Thomas and Bryant used the airtime to resume their attacks on Marshall, who immediately called into the show to dispute the accusations, and needless to say, things went downhill from there.

Marshall and Thomas traded accusations of corruption on the radio show of former City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who actually was convicted of corruption in 2007.

Marshall and Thomas traded accusations of corruption on the radio show of former City Councilman Oliver Thomas, who actually was convicted of corruption in 2007.

If history is any guide, it’s likely that we haven’t seen the end of the current melodrama, in spite of the fact that the Nolmar contract is now a moot point. Interim Superintendent Stan Smith has since announced that after re-scoring Woodward Design + Build’s proposal, the company was no longer the recommended contractor.

Nevertheless, the fight between Marshall and Thomas has no doubt only further eroded the public’s confidence in OPSB’s ability to manage the city’s schools. As the Cowen Institute’s recent public opinion poll made clear, there is little enthusiasm for returning RSD schools to local control anytime soon.

A recent public opinion poll showed little enthusiasm for returning RSD schools to OPSB.

A recent public opinion poll showed little enthusiasm for returning RSD schools to OPSB.

Given all the nonsense that’s taken place on the school board over the past two years, who could blame them?

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

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Posted on 23 January 201510 November 2015 by Peter Cook comment image” title=”” rel=”nofollow”> In the past few years, Georgia State University professor Kristen Buras1 has tried to make a name for herself by bashing the progress made in New Orleans’ public school system since Hurricane Katrina. She recently reached a new low with an article she wrote for The Progressive entitled, “Charter Schools Flood New Orleans.”For those of us who have been involved in the post-Katrina transformation of New Orleans’ public school system, the claims in Buras’ article are so far removed from reality that one must question the underlying motivations of the author and her editors at The Progressive. To illustrate this fact, I’ve reproduced the article below and highlighted the factual inaccuracies and misleading statements Buras makes in the course of the piece.Charter Schools Flood New OrleansBy KRISTEN BURAS on December 26, 2014This story appears in the current issue of our magazine. Subscribe to read the full issue online. 
 Within days of Hurricane Katrina, the conservative Heritage Foundation advocated the creation of a “Gulf Opportunity Zone,” including federal funds for charter schools and entrepreneurs.  Slowly but surely, the narrative of disaster turned to one of opportunity, even triumph. We were told that families abandoned in the storm were finding new hope in transformation of the city’s public schools by charter school operators.Fact Check:Although Buras seems to mention the “conservative Heritage Foundation” to insinuate that the takeover of NOLA’s public schools was part of some vast right-wing plot, in reality, the plan was homegrown and supported by Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco.Report after report praised New Orleans as a model for urban school districts across the nation. Charter school operators, most of them white, declared “school choice” to be the new civil rights movement.Now, almost a decade later, New Orleans is the nation’s first all-charter school district. Charter advocates describe the district’s achievements as nothing short of a miracle.The truth is quite different: Flooding New Orleans with charter schools has been disastrous.
 I was born and raised in New Orleans and have been studying education reform there for the last decade.  One black veteran teacher told me what transpired in the wake of the storm. Policymakers declared, “You no longer have jobs. The local district no longer exists. We’re going to split it up, make some charters. The state’s going to take control of everything.”Fact Check:Buras may have been born and raised in New Orleans, but she has never worked in our public schools and has not lived in the city since before Katrina. She lives in Atlanta and teaches at Georgia State University.During an exchange with one state legislator, this teacher asked how the legislature could take such drastic action without public input. The legislator’s response was brutally candid: “We called up a few people that we knew were back in town and invited them over to my house, and we sat down and began to dismantle the district.” Justifiably angered, the teacher responded, “These are the kinds of underhanded tactics that were going on while our schoolchildren were still floating in the waters of Katrina.”In November 2005, barely two months after Katrina, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco called a special legislative session. This was the occasion for passing Act 35, which changed the definition of a “failing” school from a performance score of 60 (on a scale of 200) to 87.4, just below the state average.  This allowed the state-run Recovery School District to assume control of 107 of 128 public schools in Orleans Parish, enabling charter expansion on a scale never before attempted in Louisiana or elsewhere.  It was the ultimate public private partnership—state officials serving the interests of private businesses rather than local communities, especially communities of color.Fact Check:Actually, the RSD took over 102 of the 126 public schools in Orleans Parish, not 107.Although a state law, Act 35 specifically targeted the majority-black Orleans Parish. Before its passage, state officials crunched numbers in Baton Rouge to determine the school performance score cut-point and district size that would enable mass takeover only in New Orleans. Act 35 stipulated the Recovery School District could not assume control of failing schools in districts with fewer than thirty schools; fifty of sixty-four districts in Louisiana have fewer than thirty schools.
 Among the remaining districts, the state took over and chartered failing schools only in New Orleans immediately after Katrina. 
Fact Check:The Recovery School District is a statewide agency that has taken over failing schools in other districts in Louisiana, including East Baton Rouge and St. Helena Parishes.The fact is, white policymakers and education entrepreneurs were hell-bent on chartering New Orleans public schools, populated almost entirely by black students and unionized black veteran teachers.  The Orleans Parish School Board had an operating budget of approximately $400 million in 2005-06—hardly chump change.  Most of these monies would be allocated to the state-run Recovery School District and privately operated charter schools, with only a handful of traditional public schools remaining under the locally elected board.Fact Check:In 2004-05, the Orleans Parish School Board had an operating budget of closer to $500 million – it had also amassed $265 million in debt.Not unlike the French Quarter, the city’s public schools would become a playground for outsiders—only instead of spending money, education entrepreneurs would pocket it.
 In late 2005, officials announced that all public school employees in Orleans Parish would be fired. That’s right—all! There was no due process, no consideration for veteran teachers’ hard work or lifetime of accrued benefits, much less the collective bargaining agreement of United Teachers of New Orleans.  The state claimed there was a teacher shortage, and the Louisiana Department of Education advertised nationwide for positions in the Recovery School District.Fact Check:Those ambiguous “officials” – more precisely, officials from the locally-elected school board – did announce layoffs in late-2005, primarily because the school board was essentially bankrupt by September of that year.Fact Check:In October, the Louisiana Supreme Court dismissed a unlawful termination lawsuit brought by teachers laid-off in 2005, ruling that “neither the OPSB nor the State defendants violated plaintiffs’ due process rights.”
 Nearly simultaneous with the termination of veteran teachers, who made up a substantial portion of New Orleans’ black middle class, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a contract with Teach For America.  This edubusiness presents young, mostly white college graduates, without degrees in teaching or any teaching experience whatsoever, as “teachers” for African American and Latino urban school districts.  The state used millions in federal monies to offer signing bonuses and housing allowances to out-of- state recruits. 
Fact Check:The RSD didn’t sign a contract with Teach For America until the 2007-08 school year, when the district hired approximately 125 corps members due to the difficulty they encountered in staffing schools.Fact Check:The incentives offered to recruit people to New Orleans were not targeted for TFA corps members, but were used to attract educators, doctors, first responders, etc., to the region at a time when they were desperately needed.Reflecting on this, one longtime teacher asserted, “It’s all about the dollars. Our rights as teachers have been trampled upon. Reformers say they are revamping the schools. They get rid of everyone, and they rehire whoever they want. In many cases, they replace veteran teachers with first, second, and third year teachers.”This kind of cost-cutting is done at the expense of black children, taught by people with little experience or connection to the community.  In fact, former Recovery School District superintendent Paul Vallas explained to BBC News in 2010: “I don’t want the majority of my teaching staff to work more than ten years. The cost of sustaining those individuals becomes so enormous. Between retirement and health care, it means that you are constantly increasing class sizes and cutting programs to sustain the cost of a veteran workforce.” 
Fact Check:Buras selectively edited the quote from Paul Vallas – here it is, in full: “I don’t want the majority of my staff to work more than 10 years. The cost of sustaining those individuals becomes so enormous. Between retirement and health care and things like that, it means that you are constantly increasing class sizes and cutting programmes in order to sustain the cost of a veteran workforce, so I think you want a mix, you want a balance.”With Teach For America and other “human capital” providers in place, there would be no such worry. Most Teach For America recruits don’t teach for longer than two or three years, and charter school employees are rarely unionized.Truth be told, Teach For America is a teacher-union-busting machine, and a best friend of charter school operators, who care less about the teaching qualifications of those placed in classrooms and more about their bottom line.  In 2005, only 10 percent of New Orleans’ teachers were in their first or second year of teaching. Three years later, 33 percent were. In 2010-11, nearly 40 percent of the city’s teachers had been teaching for three years or less, and the percentage of white teachers had nearly doubled. 
Fact Check:According to the 2014 MFP Accountability Report from the Louisiana Department of Education, 57% of teachers in the RSD are minorities, they have an average of 11.2 years experience, 71% are certified, and 30% have a masters degree or higher.It is difficult to imagine that well-paid white charter school operators would send their own kids to schools where so many of the teaching staff have never held a teaching position before.I remember seeing a video produced by an edu-business consulting group in New Orleans. It showed typical scenes from the French Quarter, where twenty-somethings share how much they love the food, weather, and bands. One young white newcomer explains she taught ninth-grade math and is now CEO of a start-up company that sells data management software to schools. The line between tourist, teacher, and profiteer is thin indeed.
 With the autonomy to virtually do whatever they please, charter schools ought to have high performance delivered, you might think.  After all, advocates of free-market school reform assert that government bureaucracy and interference undermine urban public schools.Fact Check:As detailed in a previous post, the evolution of the RSD toward an all-charter district has been marked by greater oversight of and collaboration among schools. They do not have “the autonomy to virtually do whatever they please.”
 But the performance of charter schools in the Recovery School District is dismal. In 2011, the state began issuing letter grades. All of the state-run Recovery School District schools received a “D” or “F” and 79 percent of charter schools in the district received a “D” or “F.”  In 2014, RSD-New Orleans is still performing below the vast majority of the state’s other districts at the fourth and eighth grades in subjects tested by the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, including English language arts, math, and science.  Charles Hatfield, a statistician with Research on Reforms, a New Orleans-based watchdog group, has been analyzing school performance data since 2005, he says.  Results in the “newly reformed” schools of New Orleans have been perpetually disappointing.Fact Check:In 2014, 54% of RSD charters were graded B/C, 21% were graded D/F, and 25% were not issued a grade because they were newly opened schools. Last year, NPR issued an on-air correction when they erroneously claimed 80% of charters were D or F schools.Fact Check:Charles Hatfield is not a statistician. Like everyone else associated with Research on Reforms, he is a former OPSB district administrator presumably with an ax to grind.
 Notably, the standard used to judge charter schools is substantially lower than the standard used to take over schools in Orleans Parish in November 2005.  After the cut-point for failure was raised from 60 to 87.4 on a scale of 200, it was lowered back to 60. It currently stands at 50 on a scale of 150, with “bonus points” sometimes calculated as part of the final score.  Still, most charters continue to fail. 
Fact Check:Contrary to Buras’ claims, the standards used to judge schools are substantially higher now than they were in 2005. Previously, School Performance Scores (SPS) were based on a number of factors, including attendance, while they are now primarily based on student performance.Fact Check:As noted above, most charters are NOT failing, although Buras does not seem able to wrap her head around that fact.There was a public hearing in 2010 on whether or not New Orleans’ schools would be returned to local control or remain under the Recovery School District. Hundreds of people from the city’s African American community attended the hearing, with anti-RSD protest signs dotting the audience.A respected community activist took the microphone: “What we’re talking about here tonight is a simple question of democracy. We want in Orleans Parish what every other parish has in this state and that’s the right to control our own schools. High crimes and misdemeanors have been carried out by  the RSD and the people who run these charter operations. We don’t believe that these schools have served the best interests of African American students.”A veteran of the city’s civil rights movement also spoke, reminding everyone that an earlier generation of activists “went to jail and died for us to have the right to vote for who we want to represent us.”  She concluded her comment by pointing to Paul Vallas, underscoring that he was never elected but oversaw most schools in Orleans Parish. 
Fact Check:The Orleans Parish Superintendent is hired by the school board; it is not an elected position.The feeling of disenfranchisement was palpable that evening. But afterwards unelected charter school board members were given the right to determine whether or not schools remained under the Recovery School District. Not surprisingly, almost every charter school did.
 That’s the name of the game when it comes to charter school reform: disempowering the locally elected school board and communities, while consolidating power and money in the hands of unelected and unaccountable private operators. 
Fact Check:Public opinion polls have shown little enthusiasm for returning RSD schools to local control anytime soon.Charter school expansion in New Orleans has generated a host of lawsuits. Veteran teachers lodged a wrongful termination suit. Two lower courts ruled in favor of the teachers, but the Louisiana Supreme Court recently overturned those rulings. The case is on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
 The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Approximately 4,500 students with disabilities assert that they have been denied access and/or appropriate services by public schools in New Orleans, the majority of them charters.  This case remains under way, with reports that violations have worsened rather than being resolved since its initiation. Why would profit-hungry school operators embrace those children? They’re expensive and could compromise performance of the “business.”Fact Check:The SPLC lawsuit was settled earlier this month and it was noted that many of the issues raised by the plaintiffs had since been addressed through the creation of OneApp, the universal enrollment system used in the RSD.A civil rights complaint against Collegiate Academies, a private charter operator in New Orleans, asserts that its schools are based on “a harsh and punitive discipline culture” that “endangers the safety and welfare of students, violates students’ rights under state and federal laws, pushes students out for minor infractions, and ultimately deprives students a right to education guaranteed by the Louisiana Constitution.”
 Collegiate Academies has one of the highest out-of-school suspension rates in the city. One of the high schools it operates suspends almost 70 percent of its students. On behalf of students and parents, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law filed a complaint against three charter schools operated by Collegiate Academics. It alleges “out of control suspension practices for trivial matters,” “failure to report injuries to parents,” and “bullying and harassment of children with special needs,” among others. 
Fact Check:Interesting Buras failed to mention that the Louisiana Department of Education announced it was suspending its investigation into allegations made by the Loyola Law School activists because the complaint provided insufficient evidence to substantiate the charges.Even when charter schools fail, charter school operators are paid executive-level six-figure salaries. The CEO of Future Is Now, a charter operator in New Orleans, was paid a salary of $250,000 when John McDonogh High School, seized by Future Is Now despite community resistance, posted a performance score of 9.3 on a scale of 150. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that taxpayers received their money’s worth.
 In 2012, students from various historic high schools in New Orleans that had been taken over and chartered issued a list of demands to the Recovery School District. 
Fact Check:Unfortunately, critics of the RSD have tried to manufacture student “protests” against the district. In a previous post, I detailed how the Southern Poverty Law Center stage-managed a protest against the aforementioned Collegiate Academies.“A lot of money has come to New Orleans for education reform,” they protested, “but none of it benefits the children.”“People are making a lot of money on the backs of poor black children in New Orleans,” they continued, “We want resources for our schools. We do not want to line the pockets of other people.”Kristen Buras is an associate professor in educational policy studies at Georgia State University. She is the author of Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance. She is also director and co-founder of the New Orleans-based Urban South Grassroots Research Collective for Public Education.  To reach her, or to get a discount code for her book, contact [email protected]Fact Check:Alternatively, you could send Kristen Buras an email to tell her to stop lying about public schools in New Orleans.
Full disclosure: Buras once filed a DRM takedown request with Twitter against me after I pointed out that her New Orleans education reform conspiracy flowchart quizzically had a Star of David at its center 

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Peeking Behind The Curtain… Thirteen years after Katrina, UTNO is still a shadow of its former self



The United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) was once the largest union local in Louisiana and a powerful force in local politics. That changed thirteen years ago, when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, killed nearly 1,000 residents, and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the city’s perennially-failing public school system was in complete disarray. After decades of corruption and mismanagement, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) was essentially bankrupt and board members were unable to set aside their differences to effectively respond to the crisis. The state soon moved to takeover nearly all of the city’s public schools and put them under the oversight of the Recovery School District (RSD). As a result, the school board had little choice but to layoff nearly 7,600 of its employees in September 2005.

Within months, UTNO’s membership had plummeted more than 90 percent, from approximately 4,700 members before Katrina to only 300 in the spring of 2006. It was a blow from which the union has never recovered.

UTNO had approximately 4,700 members before Katrina; by May 2006, the union had only 300 members left.

As the city embarked on a radical transformation of the school system, there was little interest among educators in reviving UTNO, an organization which many viewed as part of the problem before the storm. Lacking support, UTNO largely faded from public view, while relying on its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to subsidize its operations.

However, over the past five years, UTNO’s fortunes have gotten a shot in the arm, as AFT has taken an aggressive stance against charter schools and has sought to discredit and undermine the success of New Orleans’ charter-driven school reforms,

According to its annual reports to the U.S. Department of Labor, AFT steered more than $2.3 million to UTNO between F.Y. 2012 and F.Y. 2017 to underwrite organizing efforts in New Orleans charter schools. Yet in spite of this infusion of cash, the results of these efforts have been mixed.

Since 2015, UTNO has launched organizing drives at five local charters, but only two of those schools – Ben Franklin High School and Morris Jeff Community School – have voluntarily recognized the union. Meanwhile, a contentious push to organize Lusher Charter School was ultimately voted down by teachers, while UTNO’s attempts to organize International High School and Mary D. Coghill have stalled due to legal challenges.

UTNO’s effort to organize teachers at Lusher was ultimately voted down.

Where do things stand with UTNO today?

To get some idea about UTNO’s current strength, I recently took a look at campaign finance reports from UTNO’s Committee on Political Education (COPE), which is a fancy name for its political action committee. Most AFT affiliates, like UTNO, have associated COPE PACs, which are funded through voluntary contributions made by members. As opposed to super PACs, which can engage in unlimited independent spending, COPEs can only make direct contributions to candidates of up to $2,500.

UTNO COPE’s 2017 annual Committee Report, which the union submitted to the Louisiana Board of Ethics in February of this year, is of particular interest. First of all, it reveals that UTNO has been rather sloppy when it comes to managing its members’ COPE contributions. According to a note included in the report, the union accidentally deposited over $740 of COPE funds in the wrong bank account and didn’t realize the mistake until a year later.

The filing also reveals that UTNO can’t seem to follow basic reporting guidelines, which require PACs to identify the names of each contributor, the amount of their contribution, and the date on which those contributions were made. Instead, the union attached what appears to be a membership list to the report, which nevertheless still doesn’t indicate who contributed to UTNO COPE, nor how much they contributed.

The list itself, which I’ve reproduced below, contains the names of 592 members, many of whom are retired. Even if incomplete, the list corroborates indirect estimates of UTNO’s membership gleaned from its tax filings with the IRS, which indicate the union could have no more than 650 members.

In sum, while UTNO’s membership has rebounded somewhat since its low point immediately after Katrina, the union is still a shadow of its former self. Although AFT has poured money into organizing charter schools in the city, they clearly haven’t gotten a return on their investment. For those of us who want to see the school system move forward and build upon its successes over the past thirteen years, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Read UTNO COPE’s Annual Committee Report:

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The Great NOLA Train Wreck Disappointing School Performance Scores Point To Need For Changes



This story has been updated with additional information below.

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released 2016-17 School and District Performance Scores and letter grades on Tuesday, and while the summative performance of the state’s public schools rose from a “C” to a “B” this past year, the results from New Orleans’ schools can only be described as a train wreck. Three-fifths of the city’s public schools saw their performance scores decline in 2016-17 and the district’s overall grade dropped from a “B” to a “C”.

Every fall, LDOE issues updated letter grades and School Performance Scores (or SPS, which are akin to number grades) for every public school in the state. Scores for elementary schools are based entirely on standardized test results. For middle schools, 95% of SPS is based on testing and 5% is based on credits earned through the end of their students’ freshman year in high school. The SPS formula for high schools takes into account ACT and end-of-course test scores, a “graduation index” that measures factors like Advanced Placement participation, and the cohort graduation rate. All schools can receive bonus points if they make significant academic gains with struggling students.

Graphic from the Louisiana Department of Education.

These annual letter grades and performance scores not only provide families and policymakers with a clear picture of how schools are progressing, but they play an integral role in the state’s accountability system by identifying failing schools that require intervention and determining whether charters should be renewed.

The recent slump in performance in New Orleans couldn’t come at a worse time. More than a dozen charters are up for renewal before the end of the year and the Recovery School District (RSD) is scheduled to hand over control of its schools to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) in July. That means RSD and OPSB officials will face difficult decisions over the fate of several schools in the coming months that will test their commitment to holding the city’s charters accountable. It also means that the city’s education leaders need to step back and identify the root causes of the drop in performance, as well as recommit themselves to focusing on academic achievement as their primary goal.

Now let’s take a closer examination of how schools fared in New Orleans…

The 15 worst performing schools in 2016-17

These 15 schools saw the biggest SPS declines between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

A number of things stand out when looking at the schools that saw the biggest SPS declines in 2016-17, but the most striking is that ReNEW Schools clearly had a terrible year. Four of the charter network’s schools – Schaumburg, Sci Tech, Dolores T. Aaron, and Cultural Arts Academy at Live Oak – ended up among fifteen worst-performing schools in the city.

While a case can certainly be made that Schaumburg’s dismal performance is attributable to the fact that it was struck by a tornado in February, it is much harder to make excuses for the other three ReNEW schools on the list. These results, coming on the heels of several scandals at ReNEW in recent years (including all sorts of malfeasance at ReNew SciTech), should raise serious questions about the future of the network.

It’s also interesting to note that Einstein finds itself among the worst-performing schools in the city. Not only has Einstein rapidly expanded its network of schools (and just got approval to open a new school in Little Rock), but OPSB recently cited Einstein for failing to provide bus transportation to many of its elementary students.

Einstein is currently gearing up for a legal fight over the district’s transportation mandate – a policy that every other school in the city has to follow – that they are unlikely to win. Perhaps if Einstein spent more time focused on academics and less on trying to skirt the rules, they wouldn’t find themselves near the bottom of the pile.

The 15 worst performing schools over the past four years

These 15 schools have had the biggest SPS declines over the past four years.

Looking at the fifteen worst performing schools over the past four years, two names in particular stand out: Capdau and Nelson. These two schools were the first taken over by the RSD in 2004 and the fact that they’re still struggling thirteen years later is inexcusable. (The same could be said of Fischer, which was notoriously bad long before Katrina.)

There are also a few surprises on the list, such as the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School now finds itself among the lowest of the low. King, which was the first school to reopen in the Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, was once celebrated as one of the highest-performing schools in the city. That luster has worn off over time (MLK’s leaders have, at different times, faced nepotism charges and been accused of turning away special needs students) and apparently the school’s academic performance has gone with it.

The 15 best performing schools in 2016-17

These 15 schools saw the biggest SPS gains between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Turning to the brighter side of things, it’s interesting to note that many of the most-improved schools in the city last year also happen to be those that are rarely highlighted in discussions of New Orleans’ reforms. Although not listed above, Ben Franklin High School once again was recognized as the highest-performing public school in the state with a SPS of 141.3 (on a scale of 150).

The highest performing RSD school this year was Livingston Collegiate, an open-enrollment high school launched by the Collegiate Academies network last fall, which received an SPS of 115.9.

The 15 best performing schools over the past four years

These 15 schools have had the biggest SPS gains over the past four years.

Taking a longer view of school improvement over the past four years, KIPP schools – KIPP Renaissance and KIPP N.O. Leadership – clinched two of the most-improved spots on the list. New Orleans Maritime and Military Academy, which employs what could be considered the ultimate “no-excuses” charter model, has also made significant progress, with its SPS rising nearly 26 points since 2014.

Sophie B. Wright and Paul Habans – along with Andrew Wilson, which was taken over by InspireNOLA in 2015 – have also seen double-digit jumps in their performance scores in the past few years.

Update: 11/10/17

I wanted to add two responses from readers regarding the data above. The first comes from Kathy Padian, who formerly oversaw charter schools for the Orleans Parish School Board:

The second comment comes from Rhonda Dale, principal of Abramson Sci Academy, a open-enrollment high school in New Orleans East:

Explore the SPS trends of NOLA schools:

Explore NOLA’s School Performance Scores:

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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