New Orleans: Traditional public schools close

Akili Academy first-grader Kyron Bourgeois, 6, raises his hand in the class of Hannah Bunis on May 27, 2014 in New Orleans. Akili Academy in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans will be absorbing some students from the city's closing public schools.Akili Academy first-grader Kyron Bourgeois, 6, raises his hand. The New Orleans charter school will take some students from closing schools. (Edmund D. Fountain/For The Washington Post)

New Orleans schools won’t all be charters next year, but the post-Katrina state agency that controls most of the city’s public schools has closed its last traditional school, reports the Washington Post. Recovery School District students will use OneApp, a computerized lottery, to find a place in one of 58 charter schools. The city’s old school board, the Orleans Parish Board, also runs six schools and has chartered 14 more.

Critics of the all-charter New Orleans model say it is undemocratic, because leaders of charter schools are not accountable to voters. They also say the system is challenging for parents, who have to figure out logistics that were not an issue when their children walked to neighborhood schools. . . . Advocates say the all-charter model empowers parents. “We’ve reinvented how schools run,” said Neerav Kingsland of New Schools for New Orleans, which promotes and supports charter schools. . .  “If I am unhappy with service I’m getting in a school, I can pull my kid out and go to another school tomorrow. I don’t have to wait four years for an election cycle so I can vote for one member of a seven-member board that historically has been corrupt.”

Before the hurricane, New Orleans was one of the worst school districts in the nation. The Orleans Parish Board was “bankrupt and couldn’t account for about $71 million in federal money, reports the Post. After Katrina, the school board was left in control of a small number of magnet and selective-admissions schools. Activists complain the board’s admissions policies limit black enrollment, though a very high proportion of OPB — and RSD — students are black. The state’s Recovery School District seized 102 low-performing schools. The schools have improved significantly, “although it’s difficult to make direct comparisons” because many students never returned to New Orleans, reports the Post.

Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23?percent in 2007, according to the state.

“The difference between now and pre-Katrina is that we’re replacing schools that are not performing well,” (RSD Superintendent Patrick) Dobard said. “We don’t let children languish in chronically poor performing neighborhood schools.”

Magnet schools compete with charters

Magnet schools  are making a comeback as urban school districts compete with charter schools, reports the New York Times.

The number of children in Miami-Dade County attending magnet programs — which admit students from anywhere in the district and focus on themes like art, law or technology — has grown by 35 percent in the past four years. These children now account for about one in six students in the district.

. . . Magnets have “become kind of a go-to alternative as a way to incorporate some of the popular elements of choice while keeping the choice constrained more explicitly within the traditional district,” said Jeffrey R. Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University. “It’s a recognition on the part of districts that at least some of the enthusiasm and popularity of charters is a resistance to the notion of a one-size-fits-all school.”

Magnets are district schools with unionized teachers. But, like charters, they pose a threat to neighborhood public schools. Motivated students are more likely to choose an alternative. 

Unlike charters, magnet schools can set admissions requirements, reports the Times.

At Coral Reef Senior High School, a prestigious magnet that includes programs in the arts, engineering and an International Baccalaureate track, less than half of the 3,229 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and close to a fifth are white, compared with just 7.7 percent of the district. African-American students, who represent close to a quarter of the district, are only 13.5 percent of the student body at Coral Reef.

Magnet schools were created as a desegregation tool — with mixed success.

It’s not public if you can’t go

well-to-do Baton Rouge neighborhood wants to secede from the city school district, reports Margaret Newkirk on Bloomberg News. “Local control” would mean more money per student and fewer problem kids.

It’s a myth that public schools are public, writes Slate‘s Matthew Yglesias. It’s not public if you can’t go.

The way the word is used a school is “public” if it is owned by a government entity and thus part of the public sector. But a public school is by no means a school that’s open to the public in the sense that anyone can go there. Here in the District of Columbia anyone who wants to wander into a public park is free to do so (that’s what makes it public) but to send your kid to a good “public” elementary school in Ward 3 you have to live there. And thanks to exclusionary zoning, in practice if you want to live in Ward 3 you have to be rich.

. . . if you proposed randomly assigning students to schools to produce integrated instructional environments, you’d have an epic battle on your hands.

In D.C. at least, charter schools—unlike “public” schools—have to admit (or not admit) students on an equal basis regardless of which neighborhood they live in.

That points to a weird ideological divide, writes Jonathan Chait in New York.

Neighborhood schools are open to children who live close by and restricted to everybody else. Charter schools are open to all children in the city, and their slots are allocated by lottery.

. . . . Moderate liberals and conservatives want to expand and empower the public schools that admit everybody by random lottery. The lefties want to preserve geographic-based restrictions.

A major reason for this is obviously that charter schools are more aggressive about creating accountability standards to promote good teachers and coach up or replace bad ones.

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch, who’s become an opponent of charter schools, “doesn’t favor all public schools — she likes the ones that exclude kids from outside neighborhood boundaries, because they’re also the ones where it’s hardest to fire teachers,” writes Chait. “She opposes the ones that can’t exclude children whose parents lack the wealth to buy property in-boundary.”

School choice is (real estate) market based

“Private public schools” are “open to anyone who can afford expensive real estate,” writes Matt Yglesias in Slate.

Michael Petrilli estimates that 2,800 public schools “serve virtually no poor students.”  Yglesias thinks there are many more schools with a “smattering” of low-income students.

You often hear for good or for ill some proposal or set of proposals described as a “market-based” reform to the education system. But the fact is that a market-based school choice scheme is at the very core of American public education, it’s called the real estate market.

There isn’t enough room in “good” schools to take everyone who wants to come, responds Theodore Ross in The Atlantic.

In what he calls a “zoning-free Yglesiastopia,” no weight would be given to local residency in school enrollment. Yglesiastopia must be a place with infinite resources, one in which the good schools are large enough for all, and where no allocation process whatsoever—financial, racial, ethnic, linguistic, or residential—need be implemented. Let students flock to the quality schools and the problems in our educational system will disappear. Hail Yglesiastopia!

Ross lives in New York City and sends his son to first grade at the “zoned” public school a block away. “A forbidding grey-brick hulk . . . it is safe and clean and cheery enough inside.”

Happily, the school zone from which it draws most of its population is diverse, with a student body almost evenly split between white and Hispanic students, and sizable numbers of African- and Asian-American kids, too. . . . Sixty-nine percent of the student body is eligible for the free lunch program.

It is considered a good school, which means it’s hard for children outside the zone to get in.

Parents blame parents for bad schools

Most Americans support school accountability, but also want to hold parents accountable too, concludes Will It Be on the Test? by the Kettering Foundation and Public Agenda. Based on focus groups held around the country, the report compares the views of parents and reform leaders.

Many see the accountability movement as “profoundly incomplete because it provides so few answers to problems they see as pivotal—too many irresponsible parents, too many unmotivated students, too little support from the community, and messages from society that undermine learning and education.

Only 29 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in public schools, according to Gallup polls. That’s “a new low in public school confidence,” Gallup reports. In the early 1970s, 58 percent were confident of public school quality.

Just 2 percent of parents thought that the drive to raise standards in public schools should “be stopped and things should go back to the way they were.”

. . . surveys show continuing support for the basic goals of the accountability movement—that American children can and should learn at higher levels, that students from all backgrounds should have the chance to succeed, and that principals and teachers should be well trained and energetic in helping students learn. In fact, more than half of the parents (56 percent) say that enacting proposals to measure teacher effectiveness based on student performance should be a top priority for education reform.

In some cases, parents identify areas they believe need more attention (parent involvement and student behavior, for example). In others, they point to reforms that seem to them to be getting out of hand (testing, the drive to close poorly performing schools).

Most parents value neighborhood schools, even if they’re not performing well, and want to seem them improved,  not closed, the report found.

Closing bad schools — a civil rights issue?

Closing or reorganizing low-performing urban schools discriminates against black and Hispanic students whose schools are most likely to be targeted, charge community activists in the Journey for Justice Movement.

Closing neighborhood schools is “a violation of our human rights,” said Jitu Brown, an organizer from the South Side of Chicago, in a meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday.

Helen Moore, an organizer from Detroit, said the current reform movement is tantamount to racism. “We are now reverting back to slavery,” she said. “All the things that are happening are by design, by design, by design. They don’t want our children to have an education, but we’ll fight to the death.”

The Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating civil rights complaints against Philadelphia, Detroit and Newark. Closure plans in New York, Chicago and Washington also have been challenged. However, 27 investigations in the last few years found no bias in school closures. Duncan’s spokesman, Daren Briscoe, said the Education Department doesn’t have the power to order a moratorium on school closings. (Finally, there’s something the feds think is out of their jurisdiction!)

Why would anyone fight to the death for schools with low test scores, high dropout rates — and empty classrooms?

Urban schools aren’t just a place for education, says Sarah Garland, author of Divided We Fail on the end of school segregation in Louisville, Kentucky. “For most people their high school is part of who they are and who the community is.”

Too much choice? Or not enough?

School choice is a failure because it doesn’t guarantee access to a high-quality, neighborhood middle school in her majority-black Washington, D.C. neighborhood, complains Natalie Hopkinson in a New York Times op-ed.  The district closed the local middle school for poor performance and low enrollment, complains Hopkinson, the founding editor of a black e-zine,  The Root. She doesn’t like the new K-8 nearby — low test scores, no algebra or foreign languages — and her son has to compete with other students for admission to a high-performing charter, magnet or private school outside the neighborhood.

If the old school had remained open, surely Hopkinson would have rejected it. Choice may not guarantee her son a place in an excellent and conveniently located school, but it’s created more options than kids from that neighborhood had before.

Hopkinson envies the “shiny new middle school” in an affluent part of town, notes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. But that’s not a product of  “Zip Code Education,” not school choice.

Furthermore, D.C. was losing public school students and closing schools for years before the first charter school was created, Biddle writes. Middle-class parents of all colors moved to the suburbs — more Zip Code Education — for better schools.

Hopkinson lives in Northwest D.C.  Students are zoned into low-performing middle schools, but they now have choices, Biddle writes.

Instead, you can enroll him in Howard University Middle School, one of the Center City Public Charter School branches — a former Catholic school converted into a charter just a few years ago — a Community Academy charter school, or  even one of KIPP’s charter schools. All of those choices are just minutes away from the Shaw metro . . .

As a middle-class parent, Hopkinson is choosing between district-run neighborhood and magnet schools, charters and private schools for her own children, but wants to restrict choice for others, complains Edspresso, which adds that she’s wrong about charter school performance.

In fact, DC’s charter schools make more and faster gains for all children, retain their students longer, and are boasting higher graduation rates. Those that don’t work do close — at a rate of 15% percent, a practice that still rarely happens in traditional public schools, even in this city where she believes officials are school closure crazy.

Washington D.C. didn’t offer good schools in working-class neighborhoods before parents had charter options and private-school vouchers. There was little incentive to create the kind of schools parents wanted. Few parents could afford private school tuition and they couldn’t all move to the suburbs.  If Hopkinson wants better schools and fewer wait lists and lotteries, she should support more choice, not less.

Life’s a carnival

Bellringers is hosting the theme-free Education Buzz Carnival. (She was going to do a homecoming theme but was sidetracked by her school’s homecoming madness.)

At Scheiss Weekly, Mamacita writes about how to tell good parents from bad parents.

With the demise of neighborhood schools, students can’t participate in school functions these days unless a parent can drive them back to school, she writes.

A child whose parents are unable or unwilling to drive him/her to school in the evening will not be able to participate in the things that make school fun, such as choir, plays, programs, sports, band, etc. I am still sickened by the father who refused to drive his son to the ratio station’s big spelling bee playoff because he wanted to watch a ball game and, dammit, he’d worked all day and was tired.  His son had to forfeit because he had a lazy father.

Some parents can’t serve as chauffeurs. Others can’t be bothered.

Those parents who chose TV and personal relaxation over their child should be dragged out into the streets and shot, and their children given to GOOD parents.

That’s Mamacita: Firm but fair.