Tuesday, February 15, 2011

5 Years Later: Liveblogging

Immediate reaction - the person on this panel the most interested in returning New Orleans public schools to local control, identifying that special needs and low performing students are under-served by the market model, and who mentioned the proposed changes to system governance was the Republican member of the Orleans Parish School Board. He was also the only individual really talking about the serious money issues and externalities faced when running a school system, and his testimony offers the first public acknowledgement of a failed charter school that I've witnessed or heard of.

Also, "blame the teachers" still rules the roost, as far as education reform is concerned. One of the most oft-mentioned advantage of charters is the ability to hire and fire, and ignore tenure laws. This made it to the point where traditional RSD schools are being "forced" to take low-performing teachers, while charters get to pick the best of the best. It makes you wonder who hires these teachers in the first place, how they become certified if they are so bad, and why no one is able to identify or develop their human resources better than this. Teachers just didn't show up one day and take over a classroom, refusing to leave.

Continued "grand opportunity," "petri dish," and "advantages of Katrina" language is pervasive. At least there was some nod to the problems that existed before the storm.

Everyone swung and missed in describing any details concerning what a successful school system looks like. I'm starting to get the idea that no one in this city really knows.

Still, nothing regarding accreditation and how it relates to New Orleans schools or the charters currently participating in this experiment.


Last question: when the question was asked about a successful school system, nobody brought up the local universities. With the only college of education locally at UNO and having trouble, what is the role between universities and local schools.

Hancock - Loyola used to have school of education, but no longer has it. Have to do better.

Guitterrez - New Teacher Project offering alternative certification, so folks at the state level began investigating ways to offer alternative certification.

Asher - many Teach for America teachers want to continue studies and get masters' degrees and Ph.D's and there is no opportunity to do that here.

Bonin - educating our teachers needs to be a state or government priority, especially teachers that come out of private universities.


Audience member knows a principal who managed an RSD school, bitter that charters had so many advantages. Had to take bad teachers, had to take bad students, and don't have resources as charters.

Bonin - at OPSB, they've moved to a site-based model. Site based hiring and site based budgeting. Trying to take advantages of charters and move them to traditional schools.


Why have RSD schools not been as successful as successful charters you've mentioned?

Guitterrez - Charters have no adherence to tenure laws. Charters can control hiring decisions. RSD investigating becoming more charter-like in this area.

Requests for proposals for charters to help RSD's in areas of highest need. Anyone can apply for a charter, but it is a rigorous process. Since inception 60% of charter applications have been denied because they weren't high operators. Always looking for opportunities to improve public schools.

Bonin - With competition for students and test scores, a lot of students who aren't doing well are ending up in regular schools run by the RSD. Place where the market based system doesn't work. Nobody in the marketplace wants special needs kids, nobody wants poorest performing students. Need to provide incentives for charters and schools to take these students.

Some schools end up with all of these students in the bad neighborhoods, and not a lot of wealthy folks put their money into those schools. And when you shut down schools that "fail" or students that move from school to school, what happens to those students.

8:45Q&A from the audience.

RSD in the process of going through a lawsuit regarding special education students in New Orleans. What actions have been taken to address this inequity?

Guitterrez - can agree that there was an problem before the storm with over diagnosing special education needs, especially when it came to African-American males. Had to carefully diagnose or re-diagnose students. Some students just needed to be taught well, others had to receive robust services. Challenges give us the opportunity to meet the challenges head on. Got to meet needs of plaintiff families one-on-one.

Have set up 1-800 number for families to call and approach RSD regarding special needs students.

Bonin - special needs is a money issue. It costs a lot more to deal with a special needs child than the schools can get. Problematic with market-based solutions. State does not have enough money for all of them. No charter can do this individually, risk imploding financially. Heart of issue is inequality of funding. Charters have to protect themselves. Have to find a way to not have so many special needs.

8:30 What went on with the OPSB pre-Katrina?

Bonin - Same amount of money went into OPSB as went into all other city agencies combined. People were upset with the takeover, and the emotions came from shock of takeover effect.

RSD took over more than 100+ schools. The effect is renewed participation and focus on schools. Completely new OPSB, with even two Republicans. Board has made strides, but still a power complaint.

Guitterrez - Regarding governance, natural tension exists with who runs the schools. We have the traditional framework of elected officials, and over 300 volunteers sitting on charter school boards. Mass amount of individuals involved in public education.

Have to keep an eye on which schools are getting more resources than others. How do you deal with the massive amounts of philanthropy? Good problem to have. But have to make sure there is equity so every student is exposed to high quality schools.

Asher - real positives that have come out of Katrina is how many people who are involved from a governance standpoint of our schools. Represent people who weren't involved in old OPSB because of corruption, or who had children in private schools or children who had already graduated.

Bonin - Absolutely right, Board has been working, but only for a short amount of time. Point is to integrate some of the RSD reforms that work and bring that into OPSB.

Final question: What does an excellent public education system look like?

Burns - questions imply that reforms were post-Katrina. Seeds of reforms were planted pre-Katrina. Hurricane provided opportunity to accelerate reforms, but storm didn't create new ideas, they were already coming about.

New Orleans is not a "new" New Orleans, things that happened before Katrina are not irrelevant. Things that went on in the old place will determine what the new place will look like.

Main complaints about OPSB and reforms were planted before hand.

Guitterrez - successful system serves all kids to reach proficiency levels. A system where students are leaving high school with an average 20 ACT score. Have an opportunity so that students can acheive that no matter what neighborhood or family structure they come from.

Hancock - successful system is where every student has the opportunity to get a great education, and have knowledge and critical thinking skills.

Guitterrez - Emotional moment when RSD was authorizing charters and de-authorizing regular schools, when a community member stressed that "reform should be something that happens with me, not something that happens to me." That's the sweet spot where we want to get.

Bonin - We know what a good system looks like, OPSB; RSD's success, and charter schools. Question comes down to power and control, that has to be addressed. Desire a local elected board should be authority for local schools. Desire on the state level to have control, especially of low-performing schools. Hopefully there will be some middle ground. Tension comes when OPSB proves success for 5 years, and once they try to get schools back, are told that a new governance model needs to be put in place.

All learning together. Priestly charter imploded financially just recently, what happens? Does OPSB assume their debt?

Governance is elephant in the room.

Burns - education is a collective problem and needs a collective solution. Does not work when society is divided over solution. Does not work when parts of society abandon it. Can have serious problems in the future, potential for greater tension.

Wonder what will happen when this all gets put back together: RSD, OPSB, Charters.

8:20 Why have New Orleans schools traditionally struggled?

Hancock - For the same reasons most schools have struggled, especially in the South. Lack of seriousness to educate African-American youth, white flight, intense politicization of schools and school districts. Goes back 100 years in New Orleans, when schools were part of political machines. Economic mismanagement and perpetuated willful neglect.

Is this a national city trend, or is there something specific to New Orleans?

Guitterrez - Three school systems in New Orleans before storm: private schools, magnet schools and "other." Most reforms after the storm focus on the "other."

Private school system actually pre-dated public schools in New Orleans. Was confusing as parents determined what private school to sent students to. Now, system can be confusing, but now options are open to low income families.

Schools now a petri dish to figure out what works, but this isn't rocket science. The reforms driving education in the city are 3 things: kids must be aware what test scores mean, so kids can take responsibility of own education, quality of teacher, quality of leader. Movement depends on this, focusing on what we should focus on.

Bonin - completely agrees. Goes back to racism, middle class abandonment of school system. Old system imploded on itself, it went from 180,000, to 80,000 students to 40,000 after the storm. Shrinking school system with a physical maintenance of 120 schools and retirement for a much larger school system. No help from state.

Money for reforms are not pouring into everyone. Minimum funding levels from the state have not increased for three years.

Charter schools great because neighborhoods can participate, but what happens when there is a charter in a good part of the city with massive donations compared to a charter in New Orleans East or the Lower 9 where those donations may not be available.

8:15 Asher - why do you think charters are good, and are they nationally replicated? New Orleans has a tremendous opportunity with the ability to reform education. 71 percent of students in New Orleans attend charter schools, and charter schools are accountable to parents, boards, and lenders.

Charter schools are public schools free to determine curriculum, budgets, discipline and hiring teachers. Charters eliminate collective bargaining that protects teachers, and requires them to perform at highest levels. Charters are no better or worse nationally, but in New Orleans it means you have a shot of being better because you are charter. Charters have better ways to quantify if students are being successful. Needs of students come first.

Value competition between teachers and schools. Can eliminate all academically suspect schools.

Governance framework is critical to moving forward.

8:10 Hancock - Institute for Quality and Equity in Education is continuing research for both parents and systems. Primary focus moving forward is identifying factors independent of school governance that help students succeed. Still in process of building capacity to do that research.

Major concern is to provide resources to organizations and parents to help them navigate the system in its current state. Making sure people have access to data and research so they can make the right decisions.

Also providing opportunity for Loyola students to get involved with the community and engage in New Orleans. Not interested in being advocates, but ready to assist advocates and parents with research or access needs.

8:05 Mogg - how have schools improved since the storm? Improvement in school scores, and student success on standardized testing. It is hard to tell which reforms have driven improvement, from school choice to longer school days. Now that federal funding is running out, some of those reforms will have to be scaled back.

OPSB has made financial progress, RSD has started paying vendors on time.

Nature of new system, and control charters have help money get spent more effectively. "Those closer to students are know better how to spend money than those in a central office."

Pastorek and Vallas were able to get 2 billion from FEMA to address physical concerns, and 3 schools have already been completely renovated.

8 Dr. Burns, what is the most important reform? The increased attention to schools in New Orleans by large sections of the population. This is very important. Increased local participation in civic organizations and focus on schools is a good thing.

Overall concerns: When you read about New Orleans, the word that comes up most is "fragmentation." Before the storm there were ten major entities with interests in New Orleans schools (A jigsaw puzzle would see New Orleans as divided..har.)

First thing thought after the storm was happiness that old OPSB no longer running schools. Second thing is that the schools may now be more divided, based on how you look at things.

7:55 Guitterrez on the RSD. RSD has been around since 1997, was not tied to the storm or recovery, but became that after the storm and flood. Accountability organization, supposed to take over schools that have been deemed failing for four consecutive years.

Average "school performance score" has risen to "93" since 1999. A score of "93" means that at least 68% of students score "proficient or better" on tests. This of course means many students are still scoring too low.

RSD wants to get schools and students to a point where they are high-performing and sustaining that performance so they can revert to local control, charter control or state charter control. Meant to revive schools.

7:50 To Bonin, what is the role of OPSB today and in the future? OPSB is supposed to educate students in New Orleans. Since most OPSB was diminished following the storm and flood, they've been working on making sure tax dollars get where they need to go. OPSB experienced a $3M deficit in 2005, but now has the highest bond rating in the city. Trying to resurrect faith in government and the image of the OPSB.

Role is to marshal all of the talent in the city - universities, new New Orleanians, and locals. Need to channel successes of OPSB and RSD (?) to continue reforms.

They are a taxing body, and this is a heavy responsibility. Have to supply textbooks to various private high schools, and money to test and support special education.

First board to charter a majority of schools (75%). Policies to stimulate high test scores and accountability. Stay out of the news, which they have done.

7:45 I hate to be the one to bring this up, but we're discussing the New Orleans Public Schools, which serves a largely African-American population. And yet. Not one panelist is African-American.

Bonin mentions that he volunteered with the NOPD for nine years, and once he realized that coworkers who had a high school diploma sometimes could not read, he decided to run for OPSB. He is from New Orleans.

Guitterrez is also from New Orleans. Both he and Bonin mention that their formative educational experiences were in parochial, private schools. (Christian Brothers is private, correct?)

Dr. Burns is all about government and systems.

Mogg says the Cowen Institute is an action-based think tank focusing on reforming education and research. Even though Tulane University has no College of Education.

Hancock describes the mission of the Institute for Quality and Equity in Education.

Asher mentions that she is from West Virginia and graduated from Tulane, and she has served on the board of several charter schools over the years. ReNEW Charters took over several low performing schools, and have been approved to take over another school, while opening two specialized accelerated high schools to serve overage and under-credit students. 1200 students at two schools at this time, will serve 2000 students this time next year, and students are an average of 2 - 3 grade levels behind and they spend most of their time trying to catch the students up.

ReNEW does not believe that students have failed, they believe adults have failed the students.

7:40 The panel will be moderated by LSCE President Richard Tucker. Benediction by Fr. James Carter, S.J. Loyola SGA President Kate Gremillion gives the introductions all around.

7:35 Oh, we're on New Orleans time, of course. All the panelists are here and moving to the stage. Event is sponsored by the Loyola University Sociology Student Organization and Loyola Society for Civic Engagement. LSCE always puts up memorable fliers for their events, because they always feature some likeness of Stephen Colbert.

7:30 Much better crowd streaming in. Going over the program, I think about the title. "5 Years Later." As if New Orleans public schools have only been having problems for 5 years.

7:25About to kick things off. Panelists include Brett Bonin, member of the Orleans Parish School Board; Kevin Guitterrez, Deputy Superintendent of the Recovery School District; Carol Asher from ReNEW Charter Schools; Alexander Hancock from the Institute for Quality and Equity in Education at Loyola University New Orleans; Laura Mogg from the Scott Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives; and Dr. Peter Burns, professor of political science at Loyola.

7:20Coming to you live from Nunemaker Hall at Loyola University New Orleans. You always hope more people attend these things.



dsb said...

Spot-on immediate reaction, Pat. I didn't read the rest because I was there and I can't bear to re-live it. But you're right about Bonin, he was surprisingly forthcoming. At one point he even uttered "the mythology of charter schools" before quickly rephrasing.

And the trashing of the teachers was astonishing. Talk about scapegoating! It's also astonishing what a dirty word vibe "collective bargaining" has nowadays, at least here in this part of the South.

Further, you're exactly right about how everyone fumbled "what a successful school system would look like" question. I hope they were at least embarrassed.

Two points were made last night that should've been linked but weren't: the "politicization" of education (especially the bad old School Board) and the legacy of racism in institutionally limiting opportunities for African Americans. It felt like many of the panelists get the legacy of racism in the abstract but are unable to see how it's the subtext to the politicization they so abhor. Just because they think they "get it" doesn't mean the issue is settled. "It" informs much of the distrust that exists in our community.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Frankly, I was stunned by the lack of diversity of opinions on the panel. And I say that with all the empathy of someone who has organized a panel on NOLA public education that encountered its own criticisms regarding lack of diversity in opinion. There are two completely different conversations taking place in this city regarding public education, almost wholly independent of the other. Talk about divisive fault lines.

That being said, Bonin absolutely "won" the panel, and got a lot of face time. I don't agree with him on everything, but he seems to have a grasp of deeper, complex issues and a diplomatic way of talking about them that you don't see from a lot of folks on this issue.

Who is this guy and why have I not heard of him before? He stayed for at least 20 minutes afterwards talking with folks, and was having a frank discussion with Asher when I left.

And Asher. If there wasn't a face of the charter school movement's stereotypical worst rhetorical oversimplifications, there is now. You could have told me before the panel started she would play the role of "charter school political marketer" and I could have typed all her answers before hand - we already know what the script says.

One other panel observation: I just had to go back to my transcript to see if the Cowen Institute rep. said anything during the whole hour and a half. According to my notes, yes, she did.

Moving on, there's still a lot to unpack here. Especially about what a real, successful school system looks like.

Because, as I think about it, the absolute across-the-board strikeout on that question bothers me more than all the pre-scripted teacher-blame I've heard in the last 5 years put together.

oyster said...

Very valuable note-taking and analysis. I wasn't able to attend and very much appreciate your efforts.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Thanks, Erster!

And thanks to Leigh C for linking over here, too.

suspect device said...

The OPSB is like the drunken, abusive dad who does his damage, abandons his family, and then comes back a few years later claiming to be ready, finally, to be a father, and expects to be welcomed back to his entitled place.

If NOLA wants to have a locally governed public school system, it can't be under the OPSB. Period. It has to be razed and rebuilt from the ground up.

jeffrey said...

Thank you so much for doing this, Pat. This kind of reporting is indispensable to me.

jeffrey said...


To borrow a line of questioning from the forum, what would you say a successful locally governed public school system should look like? And how would it be different from the current iteration of OPSB?

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Unfortunately, I don't think we can just "nuke the site from orbit, its the only way to be sure" when it comes to the OPSB.

First of all, 7 of the 8 accredited public schools (that's right, we only have 8) that are operating in NOLA are OPSB. One reason they didn't already get rid of OPSB is that doing so may adversely affect accreditation for the likes of Edna Karr, Warren Easton, O. Perry Walker, Lusher and Ben Franklin.

That would be a devestating blow to public education in this town. At that point, you might as well admit that this city is ungovernable as is and write up contracts with the Archdiocese and Jefferson Parish to take over what's left of our schools.

There is also this - the majority of highly functioning school systems in this country depend on a board of individuals elected by the local population. There are also the debt, retirement funding, taxation and property ownership issues to consider. Who takes those functions over without the OPSB? Whatever entity replaces them, meaning someone's going to have to deal with the same problems and interests under a new name.

The bottom line is that New Orleanians - just like communities all over this country and particularly in the South - have to take education seriously and hold elected officials accountable for the systems they have.