‘Blackboard Wars’ in New Orleans


Blackboard Wars, a six-part documentary on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network looks at the struggle to turn around New Orleans’ John McDonogh High School, which has been known for low performance, high dropout rates and violence. The Recovery School District consider closing the school, but instead gave control to Future is Now (FIN) Schools, a charter group run by Steve Barr, Green Dot‘s founder, who worked on the turnaround of Locke High in Los Angeles. Dr. Marvin Thompson took over as principal and  hired a new staff.

Some community members oppose turning “John Mc” over to “outsiders,” writes Dave Walker in a Times-Picayune review. Others complain the documentary too harsh.

The final minute of the premiere is a preview of the season to come. A student shooting. More fighting. More heat from community activists. Sobbing teachers. Future Is Now CEO Steve Barr saying, “Teachers are just getting their asses kicked.”

“I know what y’all are capable of,” Thompson says at a student assembly at the end of the premiere’s season-preview segment. “The question is, do you?”

The first episode aired Feb. 16 on OWN.

Yesterday, a teenager was shot at a bus stop near the school after a fight broke out between students.

 

Mississippi debates charters, race, jobs

If Mississippi allows charter schools, blacks fear losing jobs and clout, notes the Hechinger Report. Currently, the state’s charter law is “so restrictive that no charters have opened,” but that’s expected to change this year.  Republicans control the legislature, some Democrats will vote for a new charter bill and the governor “has made the issue one of his top priorities.” Most black legislators are skeptical.

Mississippi State Sen. (David) Jordan, a retired public-school science teacher, said he fears charters partly because they could bring more white out-of-state educators to Mississippi who won’t be able to relate to the children there. “Teachers who come in claim they can do a yeoman’s job,” he said. “But I don’t think someone can come from Illinois and do a better job with the kids of the Mississippi Delta than the teachers who are already here.”

Jordan also worries that charters could mean a loss of black power and leadership in rural communities where the black community fought long and hard to claim top positions in the schools.

In the Mississippi Delta, nearly 90 percent of children in public schools are black. “In rural counties, the school districts are the main employer,” said Mike Sayer, senior organizer at Southern Echo, a black leadership organization that opposes charters.

In New Orleans, several very successful charters were started by veteran black educators, says Kenneth Campbell, president of the pro-charter Black Alliance for Educational Options.

 New Orleans has also attracted national charter-school networks such as the Knowledge is Power Program and Future Is Now Schools; and most of the school leaders recruited by the charter “incubator” New Schools for New Orleans have come from out of town.

. . . Before Katrina, New Orleans had one of the highest percentages of black educators of any city in the country. But starting in 2007 that percentage began to drop steadily, to 63 percent during the 2007-08 school year, and 57 percent the next year, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Education.

Test scores are going up in New Orleans. Parents are more satisfied with the city’s public schools. But some “worry about the psychological effect on black children who come to equate both education and authority with whiteness,” wrote Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry.

If 57 percent of educators are black, why would black kids equate education and authority with whiteness?

Rebirth of New Orleans schools

REBIRTH: New Orleans, a Learning Matters documentary on the post-Katrina transformation of New Orleans’ schools, is looking for Kickstarter funding to pay for “sound mixing, color correction, animation, graphic design, line editing, and building a website for the film.”

In 2004, not even one-third of 8th graders in New Orleans could pass a state reading test.  In some schools, the number was lower – just 4 percent.

Since then New Orleans public schools have been transformed.  Test scores have risen steadily outpacing every other district in Louisiana.  Graduation rates are up, dropout rates are down.

. . . Today the city is 80% on its way to becoming the nation’s first all-charter school district, perhaps a future model for the nation.

Here’s more on the documentary from John Merrow.

In 7 districts, 30% of students are in charters

More urban students are choosing charter schools, according to a new National Alliance for Public Charter Schools report. In seven school districts, 30 percent of public school students are enrolled in charter schools; in 25 districts, 20 percent are in charters and at least 10 percent are attending charters in 110 districts.

New Orleans is the number one charter city: 76 percent of students enrolled in charter schools in 2011-12,, up from 70 percent the year before. Also in the 30+ percent range are Detroit, Washington D.C., Kansas City (Missouri), Flint, Gary, and St. Louis.

Nationwide, charter schools enroll more than two million students with an increase of  200,000 students in 2011-12.

Georgians voted to expand charter schools in the November election. Now Superintendent John Barge plans to “brand” public schools in marketing campaign titled “Georgia’s Future. Now!” reports Education Week.

“A lot of folks don’t know the good things going on because we historically don’t do a good job telling them about it,” Barge said.

The effort . . . includes old-fashioned outreach: printed literature, knickknacks with a logo, a speaker’s bureau of teachers to address community groups. If enough private money is raised, it also will feature a Web TV comedy series — with hopes of the show being broadcast on Georgia Public Television — titled “Modern Teacher.” Styled after the television series “Modern Family,” it depicts life in a Georgia school.

Competition is healthy, but I doubt knickknacks will be effective with Georgians. The comedy series is a creative idea, but these things require very good writing.

Urban middle class tries public schools

In some cities, white middle-class parents are integrating public schools instead of moving to the suburbs, reports USA Today. They’re pushing for programs that serve their children’s needs, such as a ballet class at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School.

“Many of them express a deep attachment to the city,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Annette Lareau. “They see the suburbs as sterile, as boring. They also see the suburbs as not a realistic preparation for their children for life.”

Public schools integrated by race, income and class are popping up in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco, according to USA Today.

“True educational equity can only occur in socioeconomically diverse classrooms,” said Josh Densen, a former KIPP teacher in Harlem who’s now working to open an integrated charter school in post-Katrina New Orleans.  The city has several KIPP schools, but a model designed for disadvantaged students who lack basic skills isn’t a good fit for his daughter, Densen believes.

Brooklyn Prospect started four years ago with a sixth grade class and is adding a grade each year to become a middle-high school. It now occupies a former Catholic school building — with a convent on the fourth floor for eight nuns. The rigorous International Baccalaureate program attracts educationally ambitious parents. Students are admitted by lottery — with a preference for low-income students to keep the school diverse. Forty percent of students qualify for a free lunch, according to USA Today. Nearly half the students are white and Asian; the rest are Hispanic and black.

According to Inside Schools:

Advanced students may do “seeker” projects, taking on more in-depth assignments. Students who need extra help go to small group tutorials to “reinforce skills and close the skills gap,”  while others are in study hall . . . Teachers stay after school or come in early for study sessions or test review.

Ninth graders are separated into two English classes: literature (for stronger students) and composition (for struggling readers and writers).

Diversity won’t work without challenging work for high achievers and extra help for stragglers.

To take the-glass-is-nearly-empty view, suburban schools are resegregating, write Erica Frankenberg, a Penn State education professor, and Gary Orfield, co-director of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

Do parents need a trigger — or choices?

Won’t Back Down — Hollywood’s parent (and teacher) trigger movie, premieres today. A documentary it’s not, but its emotional appeal is likely to move the debate. Think of Erin Brockovich for school reform.

Can parents do a better job of running their children’s schools? Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, is sympathetic but concerned, he writes on Title I-derland.

Specifically, I worry that Parent Trigger laws will be better at destroying bad schools than creating excellent schools. The crux of it is this: Parent Trigger laws combine two actions – (1) parent empowerment and (2) parent influence over management – when only the first action is necessary for real change. Moreover, involving parents in management may end up decreasing student achievement.

. . . The power to change doctors is an important power – the power to influence hospital management is less useful. I don’t know how to run a hospital, and I don’t wish to have the responsibility of guiding hospital management strategy bestowed upon me.

(In November, I’ll vote on the management of the local hospital district. I’ll have to figure out which way to go by then.)

New Orleans has lots of choices for parents, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation, but it’s not typical:  Most parents have few or no affordable alternatives to the neighborhood school.

Biddle thinks parents will do a better job than school districts. I think parents who win a trigger vote (and the subsequent lawsuits) will hire a management team — probably from a charter network — and fire them if they don’t perform well.

Born on the Bayou: Learning from New Orleans

In Born on the Bayou – A New Model for American Education, David Osborne (Reinventing Government) looks at how New Orleans restructured its schools after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

On New Orleans schools

Learning Matters has released a documentary on New Orleans schools after Katrina.

New Orleans is catching up

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans public schools were the worst in the state. Now scores for blacks, low-income students and special-ed students are improving more rapidly than scores statewide. The city’s black students have made the greatest gains and  now outperform blacks elsewhere in Louisiana.

That’s a milestone, writes the Times-Picayune. Only four years ago, the city’s students were well behind the state average.  The trend “began after the state takeover of most New Orleans public schools and the seismic shift to mostly independent charter schools.”

Charter students in Washington D.C. are making gains as well.

CREDO: New Orleans charters raise scores

Most New Orleans charter schools are improving student performance at a faster rate than traditional schools, according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). The study matched charter students to “virtual twins” in race, socioeconomic background and previous test scores at district-run schools.

New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit, commissioned the study to help decide which charter organizations will get some of the $28 million in federal grant money for new school start-ups.

Of 44 independent charter schools, 23 were improving at a significantly faster rate in reading, math or both than other New Orleans schools. Twelve charters were doing about the same. Nine showed slower progress; three of those have turned in their charters.