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Mercedes Schneider

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Mercedes Schneider is an English teacher at Slidell High School in St. Tammany Parish on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain. In recent years, she has emerged as a prolific and vitriolic anti-education reform blogger. Her favorite targets for abuse are the Recovery School District and Common Core. As a result, Mercedes has become a favorite of Diane Ravitch, who often brings attention to Mercedes’ work on her blog.

Click on the link below to read a post I wrote in response to one of Mercedes’ pieces in Huffington Post on Louisiana’s School Performance Scores that was riddled with errors.

Deconstructing Mercedes

The one thing that is clear to anyone who’s attempted to read Mercedes Schneider’s blog is that she’s angry: angry at John Merrow, angry about Common Core, angry about evolution, and angry at Teach For America, along with a whole host of other things. However, she reserves her greatest fury for t…

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

Which New Orleans Schools Made The Grade? An Analysis Of 2019 Letter Grades & School Performance Scores

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🎶IT’S THE MOST WON-DER-FUL TIME OF THE YEAR… 🎶

… Or at least, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for those New Orleans schools that showed progress on their 2018-19 school letter grades and School Performance Scores (SPS), which were released by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) on Wednesday.

This was the second year that school and district performance was assessed using new formulas that incorporate students’ annual growth on state standardized tests, which the state adopted as part of its plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind. As a reminder, here’s a breakdown of how school performance is measured at various grade configurations:

  • For elementary grades, 25% of letter grades and SPS scores are based on student growth, with the rest based on an absolute measure of achievement on state standardized tests;
  • For middle grades, 25% of letter grades and SPS scores are based on student growth, 70% is based on an absolute measure of student performance on tests, and 5% is based on a metric that measures how many credits their recently graduated students accumulate in their freshman year of high school.
  • For high schools, 25% is based on a metric incorporating test performance and student growth, 25% is based on the cohort graduation rate, 25% is based on achievement on the ACT and career-readiness assessments, and the final 25% is based on a metric that takes into account in how many students take college-level classes (such as Advanced Placement) and earn Jump Start credentials.

This year also marked the first time that Louisiana’s alternative schools were graded using a new accountability framework that takes into account the unique circumstances in those settings. Previously, alternative schools and traditional schools were assessed using the same formula, with the result that every alternative school in the state received an “F” year after year. 

With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at school performance in New Orleans…

NOLA School Performance: The Big Picture

Overall, the district’s performance score ticked up 1.6 points (from 66.2 to 67.8) in 2019, while maintaining its “C” letter grade.

Out of 81 public schools operating in New Orleans last year, 57% (45) received a grade of “C” or better, 28% (23) received a “D”, and 15% (12) were deemed failing. It should be noted that six of those “D” and “F”-rated schools (Cypress, Harney, Nelson, Fischer, McDonogh #32, and Clark) were closed last year. Another “D” school, McDonogh #35, was taken over by the high-performing InspireNOLA charter network this summer and relaunched under their management in August.

McDonogh #35 alumni, including New Orleans City Councilman Jared Brossett, above, joined InspireNOLA to welcome students back to school earlier this year.

Ben Franklin High School was once again the highest-performing school in the city with a SPS of 135.5, easily beating its selective admissions rival Lusher, which came in at number two with a score of 123.1. Meanwhile, whatever New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy is doing must be working; it’s not only the highest-performing open-enrollment school in the city, but its SPS score jumped 10 points year-over-year.

Other open-enrollment standouts this past year included Warren Easton, Edna Karr, Lycée Français, Rosenwald Collegiate, and International School of Louisiana. (And yes, I’m intentionally leaving out Hynes and Audubon from this list since the former is somehow allowed to pull a good portion of their students from one of the wealthiest zip codes in city, while the latter gives enrollment preference to children whose families can pay for their pre-kindergarten program. Sorry, not sorry.)

NOLA School Performance: The Most Improved

The addition of a growth measurement to the grading formula is a welcome change since our so many of our city’s students enter school well-behind where they should be. It allows us to identify schools whose students are making significant academic growth over the course of the year, even though that progress might not be reflected in an absolute measure of performance.

This past year, 74% of New Orleans public schools received an “A” or “B” on their progress index, which gauges student growth year-to-year. Students at Dwight D. Eisenhower showed the most growth of any open-enrollment school in the city, followed by Habans, Wilson, Harte, and McDonogh #42.

The top ten schools with the highest progress index scores in the city.

In terms of SPS, Sophie B. Wright saw the biggest increase of any school in the city – jumping an impressive 17 points – which makes one wonder why they were so concerned about a silly senior prank last year. Landry-Walker, whose performance plunged following a testing scandal, rebounded with their SPS rising 12.4 points and their letter grade jumping from a “F” to a “C”. Eisenhower, which was taken over by InspireNOLA, also saw a significant jump of more than 12 points, while McDonogh #42 rose nearly 10 points.

NOLA School Performance: The Bottom Feeders

On the other end of the spectrum are those schools that saw some of the biggest drops in performance last year and the list includes some surprising names. For example, Lafayette Academy saw its SPS fall 15 points and its grade plummet from a “C” to a “F”. Rooted School, a so-called “micro school” that has gotten lots of attention for its focus on preparing students for careers in the tech industry, fell 13.1 points, although it still earned a “C” grade overall. Booker T. Washington, which is part of the nationally-recognized KIPP charter school network and recently moved into a new school building in Central City, also saw a double-digit drop of 10.2 points.

There are also some not-so-surprising names on the list. Lawrence D. Crocker, which is run by the struggling New Orleans College Prep network, earned an “F” grade after its SPS fell nearly 14 points. Of particular concern are the three remaining schools in the ReNEW Schools network, which seems to be (or more accurately should be) on a trajectory toward dissolution. ReNEW Schaumburg in New Orleans East went from a “D” to an “F” this past year, while its other two schools, Dolores T. Aaron and SciTech both earned a “D”. Meanwhile, Joseph A. Craig, which is run by the once-admired-but-now-dishonored Friends of King network, earned an “F” grade and a woefully-bad SPS of 38.8. And finally, Mary D. Coghill, which is overseen by the ironically-named Better Choice Foundation, will likely be closed at the end of the school year after earning an “F” and SPS of 44.

You can explore grades and SPS scores for all New Orleans schools in the table below.

NOLA School Performance: Explore The Data

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School Choice For Me, But Not For Thee BESE Candidate Bashes NOLA Schools, But Illegally Sends Her Child To One

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To hear Ashonta Wyatt tell it, New Orleans public schools are nothing short of a disaster.

“This ship is crashing, it’s sinking,” Wyatt said in a recent interview with the New Orleans Tribune. “And if we don’t do anything about it, our children are the ones who will be paying the price for greed, for corruption, for malfeasance, for privatization.”

Wyatt is one of two candidates trying to unseat Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) District 2 member Kira Orange Jones in next month’s elections. While Jones is seeking another term on BESE to build upon the progress schools have made over the past 15 years, Wyatt is running on a platform that can most charitably be described as retrograde, in the sense that it would take our district back to its dysfunctional pre-Katrina days.

Ashonta Wyatt and Kira Orange Jones.

If elected, Wyatt has promised to repeal Act 91, the law which reunified the city’s public schools last year (never mind that only the legislature – not BESE – can rescind the law), restore the power of the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO), and turn the city’s charters back into traditional public schools. She also wants to replace State Superintendent John White, the longest-serving state superintendent in the country, whom she nonetheless considers “unqualified.”

Wyatt insists that such drastic (or, more accurately, disastrous) moves are necessary because the education system in our city is so terrible. She dismisses research that has shown that the reforms we’ve undertaken in New Orleans have raised student performance, insinuating that the data has been manipulated by education officials. She asserts that the people who work hard everyday running the city’s schools are simply trying to “benefit their businesses” and has said, “our children are just collateral damage in this business that is charter reform.”

Ashonta Wyatt with Tia Mills, the president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, who has endorsed her along with the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and United Teachers of New Orleans.

Not surprisingly, Wyatt’s platform and portrayal of New Orleans public schools are music to the teachers unions’ ears. In recent weeks, the Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and United Teachers of New Orleans have all endorsed her. The unions’ proxy organizations have followed suit as well. Step Up Louisiana, a local activist group launched by the Center for Popular Democracy – whose previous efforts to sabotage charter schools in Louisiana were exposed by this blog, as well as the New Orleans Advocate – threw its support behind Wyatt earlier this month. Wyatt has also allied herself with the so-called Erase The Board coalition, a group that wants to get rid of the city’s charters and uses social media to make ugly, slanderous attacks on Kira Orange Jones, OPSB officials, school leaders, and anyone else who happens to disagree with them.

In one particularly vicious attack on Facebook, Erase The Board mocked OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis for wearing a shirt commemorating his late father, who was a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School in New Orleans.

Given Wyatt’s distain for our city’s education system – a system in which, to borrow her words, students become “collateral damage”  – you may be surprised to learn that she sends her own child to a New Orleans public school even though she lives in Jefferson Parish, a fact that was revealed by Kira Orange Jones during a BESE candidate forum at Audubon Charter School last week.

“Again, you are choosing to send your child to a New Orleans school, which takes a seat from a New Orleans child,” Jones told Wyatt during the candidate forum. “If you don’t want to send your child to a New Orleans school where you don’t like the testing, or you don’t like the board, or you don’t like the way schools are moving here, then send your child to a school in Harvey, legally.”

Sources confirm Wyatt sends her child to Alice Harte Elementary, a high-performing, open-enrollment K-8 charter school in Algiers operated by the InspireNOLA network, which is one of the most sought-after school options in the city. As is the case elsewhere, students enrolling in New Orleans public schools (with the exception of BESE-authorized “Type 2” charters like the New Orleans Military And Maritime Academy) must be a resident of Orleans Parish. However, as Wyatt stated in her public comments at an Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) meeting in February 2019, she in fact lives in Harvey. As a result, her child should be enrolled in the Jefferson Parish Schools system.

Moreover, Wyatt previously indicated that she lived in Harvey (at the same address she shared at the OPSB meeting in February) in a 2015 state filing for a non-profit organization she started, which suggests that Wyatt’s deception has been going on for years.

On the one hand, one might have sympathy for Wyatt, or even forgive this transgression, since she’s a parent who is simply trying to provide her child with the best education that she can. But that’s hard to square with the fact that Wyatt decries our charter-based model as “privatization” and is running for BESE on a platform that would take away good schools like Harte from families who actually live in this city. Regardless of whether Wyatt’s actions are criminal, it’s hard to view them as anything other than hypocritical.

When citizens in BESE District 2 head to the polls on October 12th, they will have a choice between a candidate who wants to strengthen and build upon what our school system has accomplished over the past decade, or candidates who seek to drag our schools backward. Let’s hope they choose the former rather than the latter.

Those of us who support the city’s reforms can help ensure that happens by showing up on Election Day.

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