Opinion: New Orleans takeover is a model — of what not to do with Georgia schools

J. Celeste Lay is an associate professor of political science at Tulane University. She studies American politics and public policy. Her recent work focuses on the politics of education policy. She can be reached at jlay@tulane.edu

By J. Celeste Lay

As Georgians consider adopting a state-run district for “failing” schools, a variety of people have tried to convince voters that they should make this move toward a New Orleans market-based education model. According to those who were actively involved in the post-Katrina takeover of public schools in New Orleans, all is now well, in fact better than ever, in New Orleans schools.

Is the state takeover in New Orleans a workable model for Georgia? (AJC File Photo)

Is the state takeover in New Orleans a workable model for Georgia? (AJC File Photo)

Last week, the former superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana, Paul Vallas, touted its unmitigated success in The Atlanta Journal Constitution Get Schooled blog.

He wrote, “The RSD is better serving the education needs of underprivileged, minority children there than perhaps at any time in history. Parents now have unprecedented choices for their children’s education. Any child in New Orleans can apply to any RSD school and the schools must accept all students until all the seats are filled.”

New Orleans’s charter school experiment is built on the notion that the invisible hand of the free market, made manifest in “unprecedented” parental choice, will improve the quality of public schools through competition. Once the state takes over, public funds are then free to flow to private charter management organizations to run the schools. Parents will choose only the best schools for their children, forcing low-performing schools to get better or close. In New Orleans, however, the invisible hand appears to be attached to the arm of manipulation and deception.

In the same week as Vallas’ editorial, Tulane’s Education Research Alliance (of which I am not affiliated) published a study that undermines his claims about parental choice and the accessibility of charter schools in New Orleans. This study shows that only one-third of randomly selected principals responded to competition by making substantive changes to academics or operations. Instead, these principals admitted they focused on creating niche programs (57%), “glossifying” their schools through marketing campaigns (83%) and screening out undesirable students (33%). Several schools that were supposed to “accept all students” admitted to selectively admitting students. School leaders matter-of-factly stated they use multiple methods to target certain types of families.

This report is far from the only evidence of how and for whom the market works. The city and state boards of education recently settled with Southern Poverty Law Center in a suit alleging children with disabilities were underserved and illegally disciplined in charter schools.

Charters regularly ignored students’ IEPs and pushed disabled students into schools that could not serve their needs. Several charter schools have been linked to ethics scandals, including nepotism and embezzlement. Similarly, many charters have been involved in cheating scandals related to standardized test scores, something about which those in Atlanta are very familiar.

Like those working in the city’s public schools, advocates of a state-run school district that consists primarily of charter schools undoubtedly believe this will improve schools and help kids. However, voters should not ignore that many people profit handsomely in a system of privately-managed schools.

Like other businesses, schools operating within market models must also turn a profit. The principal at my nearby charter school makes over $300,000 per year, a 246 percent increase from her salary before the school was chartered. For-profit management companies charge schools 15-20 percent of school revenue. Taxpayer dollars go into hefty administrator salaries and corporate profits instead of reducing class sizes, upgrading facilities, or recruiting and maintaining high-quality teachers.

One could get around all of these problems, perhaps, if the students’ outcomes were significantly improved. However, the RSD-NO continues to post scores on state exams that are well below the state average.

The average ACT score of the RSD-NO’s class of 2014 was 15.7 – far lower than the minimum entrance requirements at LSU and other public universities. Reform advocates tout growth in these scores, but such growth is neither entirely linear nor significant.

Leslie Jacobs, a chief architect of the New Orleans reforms, responded to the Tulane report by calling for greater regulation to offset the “human nature of some to find ways to game the system.” Government regulation is, of course, antithetical to a free market in education and such “red tape” is often the basis on which reforms are built. Such calls are also disingenuous. The Louisiana Supreme Court recently ruled that the New Orleans Inspector General does not have jurisdiction over the Orleans Parish School Board despite the fact that its funding comes from city taxpayers.

Education reform in New Orleans ought to be a model for others. The city’s experience, however, provides more of a model of what not to do than anything else.

 

Reader Comments 0

34 comments
Michael Deshotels
Michael Deshotels

Dr Lay is offering Georgia citizens good advice. She lives and works in the middle of the New Orleans community where this experiment in privatization was launched without consulting the citizens and parents to be affected. Please take the time also to read my latest post on The Louisiana Educator that gives solid comparsions between the new all charter system and the traditional public schools in Louisiana. Go to: http://louisianaeducator.blogspot.com/2015/05/new-orleans-rsd-compared-to-traditional.html

neworleans72
neworleans72

@Michael Deshotels Your "research" is flawed-- you cannot compare the entire city of New Orleans before the storm to 60% of it now. Compare pre-Katrina public school students to 2014 public school students. 39% at basic levels in 2005 to 69% in 2013. Do we stop there? No. But to say that we should throw out the entire system because the massive improvements haven't turned the worst district in the state into the top is crazy. 


Like Professor Lay, I also live and work in the New Orleans community. I'm not a Tulane professor who just moved to town four years ago, but I have lived in New Orleans and worked in public schools for 20 years. I have seen the reforms from inside the classroom, and actually work with families, 92% of whom say they are happy with their child's school in this all-charter landscape. If you're so interested in asking citizens what they think, in 2014 60% agree with the state takeover and 60% believe that schools are better than pre-Katrina. 


Finally, your pro-union rhetoric is embarrassing. You have basically isolated the previously failing schools, looked at their data now and said "they're still so low!"  Get a grip. Families are served better. Teachers make more money and are happier in schools that run better. Principals have more autonomy and families have choice. You know who is not served by this system? Unions. 

nolaedtruth.com
nolaedtruth.com

@neworleans72 @Michael Deshotels

this is who is really served and  not served:                                                                                            2013-14 audit largely clean for Orleans Parish School Board

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/12/2013-14_audit_largely_clean_fo.html

Auditor: RSD had $735,000 in missing property, a 50 percent decrease

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2013/12/auditor_rsd_had_735000_in_lost.html

Zurik: Millions in state property 'Lost and NOT Found' 

http://www.fox8live.com/story/27976094/zurik-millions-in-state-property-lost-and-not-found

John McDonogh High School official explains $1 million audit discrepancy

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/01/john_mcdonogh_high_school_offi.html

Recovery School District missing school property

http://www.ktbs.com/story/27635773/recovery-school-district-missing-school-property

KIPP New Orleans charter school employee embezzled $70,000, audit says

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/02/kipp_new_orleans_employee_embe.html

$26,000 theft at New Orleans high school remains unsolved

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2015/04/charter_school_theft_new_orlea.html

Recovery School District can't find $7 million in property, audit says

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/12/recovery_school_district_cant.html

New Orleans school building plan $330 million in the hole      

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/06/new_orleans_school_building_pl_1.html

State report confirms financial shortfall in New Orleans school rebuilding plan

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/07/state_report_confirms_financia.html

Kennedy High School alumni call for its rebuilding: High school closed after Katrina, torn down in 2011

http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/11965283-171/kennedy-high-school-alumni-call

Louisiana's Class of 2014 ACT Scores Are in this Post

https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/louisianas-class-of-2014-act-scores-are-in-this-post/

KIPP New Orleans Schools spent $120,000 on training in Las Vegas

http://thelensnola.org/2013/11/26/kipp-new-orleans-schools-spent-120000-on-training-in-las-vegas/

RSD parents find there are few options to move children out of failing schools

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2013/03/post_187.html

Carver students walkout:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/964153-protest-letter-to-collegiate-academies.html

http://csgjusticecenter.org/youth/media-clips/civil-rights-complaint-targets-new-orleans-charter-group-collegiate-academies/

Alums, activists ask why high school is left in squalor with millions earmarked for it set aside

http://www.louisianaweekly.com/alums-activists-ask-why-high-school-is-left-in-squalor-with-millions-earmarked-for-it-set-aside/

Recovery School District, Inspector General end $1.2 million construction oversight contract

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2013/06/recovery_school_district_inspe.html

neworleans72
neworleans72

This ignores the massive improvements that the RSD has had in the ten years since Katrina. In 2005, 39% of the city's children could pass tests at basic levels. In 2013, it was 69%. Yes, the RSD is still not where it needs to be, but to get to an A you have to go through all the other letters. To ignore a huge increase in performance like this is problematic. 


You can't just look at the RSD scores. You have to compare apples to apples, which would be comparing 2005 whole city data to 2014 whole city data. 100% more New Orleans students have enrolled in college (675 in 2005 to 1360 in 2014). And that with fewer overall students in the class of 2014 and a poorer population. So no excuses here-- you can't say it's just smarter, more middle class kids in the district now. Not true. Also New Orleans is now 4th in the nation at graduating black male students on time. The national average  and state average is 59%. This is unbelievably low, yes. But isn't credit due for beating a low average? One of the non-selective charter high schools that started in 2007 beat the state average for college enrollment by almost 20 percentage points. Cohen sent 78% of its graduates to college. I think that is significant. 


And about that ACT. In 2005, all seniors were not required to take the ACT-- only ones who were college-bound (which as we've said is half of what it is today). In 2005 the city ACT score was 17. Now it is 18.5. Okay-- not huge, but certainly linear and, given that EVERY high school junior and senior take it now, as opposed to the ones who chose to take it in 2005, the increase is muted. 


The RSD has massively improved, but to say it's still low is silly. "Reforms are amazing but sill not excellent" should not deter others from trying reforms. 


All of these problems ran rampant before the charter school movement came to Louisiana. The difference now is that we have systems in place to close failing schools, detect corruption and bribery, and punish nepotism. The only reason Ms. Lay knows about these things in in the current system is that the state or other authorizing agency has shut down charter schools for these things. In the previous system, rampant corruption, theft, and nepotism went unchecked. In many big districts, this is the case. There are far fewer cases of this happening in the current system and, when they do happen, they are detected. 


In addition, the special education services for students in pre-Katrina New Orleans were abysmal. As an educator, I'm glad we have new supports and accountability in place to make sure schools are serving students well. This shouldn't be an indictment-- and her claim that schools "regularly ignored students' IEPS" makes it sound like this was happening in every school. This is disingenuous. 


Also disingenuous is the report that she cites about school choice. She (and the report) neglect to mention that the instance of these kinds of efforts have ended with the common OneApp. There are five schools in the city who refuse to be a part of it, probably because they want to continue their shady practices. The other 75 schools are happy to be a part of a district that serves all. 


There are no for-profit management companies in New Orleans. And no charter school has to turn a profit-- we have to make and meet our budget. There's a difference. No taxpayer dollars go into "corporate profits." I'm not even sure what that means. It is completely presumptuous for Ms. Lay to assert that schools do not use the very meager $8,000 we get to educate each child for anything but educating children. You may believe the salaries for teachers and administrators are too high, but this is not corporate greed. Teachers are being paid more in this system than they ever have been, and I think this is a good thing. 


The biggest lessons from New Orleans are about the process. We should have had a centralized enrollment application from the beginning-- that would have been more fair and easier for parents. In a system that was so corrupt before, some of the same players from the old corrupt system are now in leadership-- they need a clearer message from the start that the old ways won't work. Regulations have to have teeth-- accountability is important and consequences for breaking the rules need to be severe enough to serve as a deterrent. 


But to indict the whole thing as an "experiment" and only focus on the bumpy process is to deny the amazing work, the significant results, and the lessons learned that can help others. I'm not saying you should do it exactly as we did-- there were problems that deterred us from our mission. But the outcomes can't be denied.  If your city can get similar outcomes by freeing leaders from the red tape and corruption of the district, and if autonomy in exchange for excellent results can work, than by all means probe further to find out how charter school systems can support kids and families. 


nolaedtruth.com
nolaedtruth.com

@neworleans72 the biggest lie ever.... your numbers are wrong... you should stop lying to people..... please just STOP..... @neworlean72 <----- do not believe that person


view this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OLZ0x5He_E&t=34&authuser=0 

read this http://dianeravitch.net/2015/05/07/new-orleans-collusion-conflicts-of-interest-money-and-power/

and this http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2015/04/charter_school_theft_new_orlea.html#incart_m-rpt-2


dont believe the hype!!!!

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

We already have a state run reform model in place. It is the 26 State Charter Commission controlled schools. 16 of the 26 are performing at a lower level than their district schools. The salaries of administrators are hidden as are the costs of charter school management companies. THIS IS THE MODEL. It may not really be about  the children. It perhaps is about control of the $$$$$$. 


A look at some pictures can save 1000,s of words. Of  7 State Charter School commissioners , it seems 2 are black. Of 19 Board of Regents members, 1 is black. Of  23 State Board members of the Technical College System of GA, O are black. Lets see, of the 49 people who control education in GA at the state level, 3 are black. That's about 6%. GA total population is about 30% black. Is it possible that millions in local tax money going to many black students, teachers and administrator's in "failing" schools makes some people upset enough to say that state educational leaders of GA (94% white) need to takeover the local tax money of the "failing" schools and give it to our chosen people to administer?

Starik
Starik

Another example: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/roswell-pd-fleeing-burglar-shoots-at-victim-hits-p/nkjdM/

How do you educate kids like this one? At one point he was, most likely, a cute little kid. If a heart transplant - a major event in somebody's life - didn't get him to behave, how could the schools fix the problem? If the New Orleans model will provide the other kids with some hope by excluding kids like this one from their classrooms it's at least a little step forward for the kids who want to learn in whatever school he attended, if he was still attending.

bu2
bu2

APS is an example of what not to do-emphasize adults over children.


11 of 12 found guilty today.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

As I stated in a previous blog post about the RSD, my main issue is this:   why weren't these op-ed "pros" and "cons" unveiled BEFORE the bill was brought before the General Assembly?  Seems like these policy debates should have occurred before our duly elected representatives voted on it, no?

EdUktr
EdUktr

Gee, Maureen. Still not willing to concede defeat on this? The reality is that inner-city parents will no longer tolerate third-rate schools.

No matter what Democrat leaders and union bosses think. 

Astropig
Astropig

@EdUktr 

Well, Ed, the battle is by no means won. The governor and reform minded adults that care about education still have to lay our case before the voters and they have the final say in November 2016.The heavy lifting has been done in the legislature (thank you,legislature!), but victory will only come when the voters have their say. I'm optimistic! We're facing the same team that opposed the charter amendment,and they are truly the JV of Georgia politics.

EdUktr
EdUktr

@Astropig @EdUktr

Any "reforms" educrats come up in the interim will succeed no better than the last half-century of failed schemes. 

Just an educated guess.

historydawg
historydawg

@EdUktr @Astropig Again, the last half-century has been determined by corporate reform, the same failed forms you folks support. You can't create the system and campaign against it--just so opportunities go to some kids and not others. It is illogical and grotesque. Reading a history book might give you some facts, even the ideology has been blinding in your remarks. As long as teachers are for the kids, they will oppose these top-down, corporate takeovers.

dg417s
dg417s

@Astropig @historydawg @EdUktr No, the General Assembly is trying to give the schools to an unaccountable oligarchical system.  I personally still believe in "We the people" having the power, but frankly, the Charter School System is full of the governor's cronies and so will the OSD if it passes.  I can't vote them out.  That should be my right as a citizen to vote out people.  I'm not saying they will do a bad job, but if they are, I as a taxpaying citizen have no recourse.  That is not right in America.

class80olddog
class80olddog

" Leslie Jacobs, a chief architect of the New Orleans reforms, responded to the Tulane report by calling for greater regulation to offset the “human nature of some to find ways to game the system.”"


That would never happen in traditional public schools - just ask APS.

nolaedtruth.com
nolaedtruth.com

@class80olddog the OSD will spread like a cancer to all districts across GA and will find its way into a commuinty near you..... you cannot say you were not told..... continue to listen to the likes of Leslie Jacobs... be careful what you ask for you just may get it...

class80olddog
class80olddog

"For-profit management companies charge schools 15-20 percent of school revenue. "


And did I not hear that DeKalb county administration percentage is 38%, which was more than the Feds allowed, so they had to ask for another variance?


But there are people who post here that claim that any PROFIT from education is BAD (I guess we should not be buying books from book companies).

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog 

Facts and figures mean nothing to the theologians that worship at the altar of statism.The struggle now for reformers should center around getting the requisite popular mandate to implement the OSD.It's doable,if for no other reason than the eduacracy is offering no other alternative than more social engineering -"fix poverty first!"- that has failed for over five decades. Time for a fresh approach.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@class80olddog


First, I would love to know where the 38% figure for Dekalb comes from, do you have official sources? Secondly, I would also say that so much more money is spent on administration because of the size and weight of the regulation/testing/curriculum directors and more that now have to exist because of NCLB and the introduction of other onerous policies. Ultimately, the skimming by for[-profit management companies means that the money goes to pay shareholders and top management plump salaries; not to the teachers or the classroom. A for-profit enterprise will do what it can to wring out every cent to ensure that those at the top get a slice o' the pie!! 

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @class80olddog


Where has the "fix poverty first" really been tried in the truest sense? From what I see every action taken to undermine any programs to help the needy are being cut while they are vilified for being leeches.

Astropig
Astropig

@sneakpeakintoeducation @Astropig @class80olddog 

You really have no idea how many "anti-poverty" programs exist at the Federal,state and local level do you?

Not to even mention the outreach of churches,fraternal organizations,social networks and plain old caring individuals.It should be obvious that after uncounted millennia of trying to eliminate poverty,we haven't succeeded.We have,however managed to redefine it pretty well.But that's about it.


Time for a fresh, "real world" approach.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Astropig @sneakpeakintoeducation @class80olddog


And you have no idea of the real effects that poverty bring for the child entering the classroom. Yes, there are programs but many of them are difficult to qualify for and, as I said, they are being cut left, right and center. You talk of charity, that is all well and good but that takes us back to the Victorian era where you had to go cap in hand and beg for alms. That's where you want to go with the needy? Charities should not be relied on for services but is a bonus when it's there.


If we had a minimum wage set at a fair level, that would be a start. If we had access to health care services for the children that fall through the cracks because of our governor took the partisan stand to not expand medicare, if we provided quality health care solutions for parents, etc.... 


Time for the "real world approach"; you support instituting a system that has been shown to fail at almost every level for the children but  succeed for the profiteers getting a share of the public school money. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Astropig @class80olddog "the eduacracy is offering no other alternative than more social engineering -"fix poverty first!"- that has failed for over five decades."


Sorry - I HAD to repost this!


Minimize poverty?  No, we only say that poverty and bad educational outcomes are correlated, but we all know that correlation does not prove causation.  Being poor does not cause you to have bad educational outcomes - I am living proof of that.  What we have been trying to get across is that it is the CAUSES of poverty that cause bad educational outcomes.  If a person is "poor" because they have decided to be a single bread-winner family (with stay-at-home mom) and have a lot of kids, but care about their education and the mom is involved and read to the kids every night and provides homework help and ensures their kids attend school - these kids will have good educational outcomes, despite their "poverty".


On the other hand, if the poverty is caused by a teenage mom with no father present, who doesn't care about her children's education - these kids will have poor educational outcomes.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@class80olddog 

Legally, a for-profit corporation is one that returns the profit to its stockholders and/or Board of Directors, rather than ploughing it back into the business.  For schools, that would mean that the profit goes to the management company and not to the school, faculty, or students.

historydawg
historydawg

@Astropig @class80olddog Your proposals are not fresh; they are the status quo. They are the reasons for the tests, the trials, the labels placed on schools. NO teacher thinks the status quo is good or best practice, but the solutions you propose are the same ones that have driven schools into test prep and irrelevant learning.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@historydawg @Astropig @class80olddog


The status quo you talk about is that of failed reforms. We are tired of them being implemented when they have been shown to provide no or little benefit to the students but benefit big business like the testing companies and hedge fund managers. Teachers don't mind accountability and welcome it, but in order for it to mean something it has to be research-based and valid-unlike the tests we have now.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@OriginalProf @class80olddog  Not being an expert, but I believe I heard that current law does not allow a for-profit organization to START a charter school.  They can be contracted to MANAGE a school, but all charters have to be non-profit.  (Can someone with more knowledge please confirm?)


I understand profits and non-profits , OriginalProf, I helped start a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.  The common misconception is that a non-profit group cannot make a profit - it can, but the profits have to be allocated back to its non-profit purpose - they cannot accrue to the benefit of other people.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @class80olddog 

Well run for profit businesses plow a lot of money back into the business.That's just good business sense.With interest rates near zero these days, that's about the ONLY strategy that makes sense. Banking the money (at 0%) is a sure way to lose its purchasing power.A business that returns 10-12% is a much better investment.

nolaedtruth.com
nolaedtruth.com

@Astropig @sneakpeakintoeducation @class80olddog

here is some examples of outcomes from a "real world" approach

2013-14 audit largely clean for Orleans Parish School Board 

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/12/2013-14_audit_largely_clean_fo.html

Auditor: RSD had $735,000 in missing property, a 50 percent decrease

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2013/12/auditor_rsd_had_735000_in_lost.html

Zurik: Millions in state property 'Lost and NOT Found' 

http://www.fox8live.com/story/27976094/zurik-millions-in-state-property-lost-and-not-found


John McDonogh High School official explains $1 million audit discrepancy

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/01/john_mcdonogh_high_school_offi.html

Recovery School District missing school property

http://www.ktbs.com/story/27635773/recovery-school-district-missing-school-property


KIPP New Orleans charter school employee embezzled $70,000, audit says

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/02/kipp_new_orleans_employee_embe.html

$26,000 theft at New Orleans high school remains unsolved

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2015/04/charter_school_theft_new_orlea.html


Recovery School District can't find $7 million in property, audit says

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/12/recovery_school_district_cant.html

New Orleans school building plan $330 million in the hole      

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/06/new_orleans_school_building_pl_1.html

State report confirms financial shortfall in New Orleans school rebuilding plan

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/07/state_report_confirms_financia.html

Kennedy High School alumni call for its rebuilding: High school closed after Katrina, torn down in 2011

http://www.theneworleansadvocate.com/news/11965283-171/kennedy-high-school-alumni-call

Louisiana's Class of 2014 ACT Scores Are in this Post

https://deutsch29.wordpress.com/2015/01/31/louisianas-class-of-2014-act-scores-are-in-this-post/


KIPP New Orleans Schools spent $120,000 on training in Las Vegas

http://thelensnola.org/2013/11/26/kipp-new-orleans-schools-spent-120000-on-training-in-las-vegas/


RSD parents find there are few options to move children out of failing schools

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2013/03/post_187.html


Carver students walkout:

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/964153-protest-letter-to-collegiate-academies.html

http://csgjusticecenter.org/youth/media-clips/civil-rights-complaint-targets-new-orleans-charter-group-collegiate-academies/


Alums, activists ask why high school is left in squalor with millions earmarked for it set aside

http://www.louisianaweekly.com/alums-activists-ask-why-high-school-is-left-in-squalor-with-millions-earmarked-for-it-set-aside/


Recovery School District, Inspector General end $1.2 million construction oversight contract

http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2013/06/recovery_school_district_inspe.html