At the end of May, Lyndsey Layton reported in the Washington Post that the last of New Orleans’ traditional public schools in what has been called the Recovery School District (RSD) have been converted to charter schools, leaving no remaining neighborhood public schools in New Orleans.
Today over 40 separate boards oversee what has become a fragmented patchwork of school choice. In the context of the charter conversion of the last traditional public schools in New Orleans, the New Orleans Equity Roundtable has just released the first of a series of videos that will tell the story of the the creation of America’s first all-charter school district.
The transformation began in the months immediately following Hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005. Interviewed in this film are the Rev. Torin Sanders, who was serving on the Orleans Parish School Board back in 2005 when laws were quickly changed by the legislature under pressure from Cecil Picard (the state superintendent of education at the time); Barbara Ferguson a former superintendent of the Orleans Parish Schools; and Karran Harper Royal, an informed and passionate New Orleans parent advocate.
Huge federal grants arrived before Christmas in 2005 from the U.S. Department of Education (under Margaret Spellings) to support the experiment. Very soon philanthropic dollars followed from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others. New Orleans’ 7,000 public school teachers were summarily laid off.
Naomi Klein described the rush to charterize public schools in New Orleans as the defining metaphor for her 2007 best seller The Shock Doctrine: “In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid was brought back online, the auctioning off of New Orleans’ school system took place with military speed and precision… I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, ‘disaster capitalism.’”
Data have been shared by the Recovery School District and its supporters to demonstrate that the charters have significantly raised achievement since Hurricane Katrina, but critics point out that the students posting scores today are an entirely different group of children. Many of New Orleans’ poorest families, unable to replace their homes that had been destroyed, did not return to the city. A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of students with special needs who could not find in the city’s charters the services guaranteed to them under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
In the new video, Barbara Ferguson confirms what retired Louisiana educator Mike Deshotels recently reported in his blog: “The Louisiana Department of Education has just released the results of the state accountability testing called LEAP and ILEAP for the Spring of 2014… The latest state testing results in this official LDOE report now rank the New Orleans Recovery District at the 17th percentile among all Louisiana public school districts in student performance. By the state’s own calculations this means that 83 percent of the state’s school districts provide their students a better opportunity for learning than do the schools in New Orleans that were taken over and converted into charter schools.”
The New Orleans Equity Roundtable’s new video explains exactly what happened in the weeks and months immediately following the hurricane. This blog will share the rest of the videos as they are released.