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Here We Go Again…

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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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NOLA

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

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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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Louisiana

AFT On The Bayou Union Spends Less In Louisiana, But More On Charter Organizing in New Orleans

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The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) spent less overall in Louisiana in the past fiscal year than it did in F.Y. 2016, but the union boosted its funding for charter school organizing efforts in New Orleans by more than forty percent.

An analysis of expenditure data from AFT’s 2017 annual report to U.S. Department of Labor shows that the union spent $2,326,573 in Louisiana during the fiscal year that ended June 30th, a slight decrease from the from $2.49 million it spent in the state in 2016.

About a quarter of AFT’s spending went to political activities, which included nearly $125,000 in payments to the political action committee of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, as well as a $15,000 contribution to Defend Louisiana, a super PAC behind Foster Campbell’s unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate last fall. In addition, AFT spent nearly $370,000 to influence last year’s Orleans Parish School Board elections, as I exposed in a previous blog post in January.

A diagram showing the distribution of AFT’s F.Y. 2017 spending in Louisiana.

AFT also invested heavily in organizing activities across the Bayou State. It gave nearly $192,000 to Red River United to support recruitment in Bossier, Caddo, and Red River Parishes. AFT spent another $184,000 on organizing in Monroe and $147,000 in Jefferson Parish.

Furthermore, AFT’s most recent annual report suggests that the union is stepping up its efforts to organize charter schools in the Big Easy. In F.Y 2017, AFT national poured $412,926 into its New Orleans Charter Organizing Project, a significant increase from the $292,000 it allocated in 2016. In all, AFT spent more than $850,000 on its New Orleans-based activities in the past year.

Although their recruitment efforts in the city have had mixed success, AFT’s willingness to spend substantial sums of money in New Orleans makes clear they still pose a serious threat. Over the past four years, AFT has steered more than $1.6 million to organize New Orleans charter schools and roll back the city’s reforms.

We need to remain vigilant to ensure that never happens.


Explore the data:


Read AFT’s 2017 annual report:

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