After Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans, charter schools were seen as the salvation for a school system plagued with poor performance for decades. Today all schools in the Crescent City are charters.
However, as Times-Picayune reporter Della Hasselle points out in a recent article, the latest school grades leave much to be desired. You can read her entire report here.
Following are key excerpts of her lengthy piece.
“The release of the state’s closely watched school performance scores earlier this month offered an overall update on New Orleans schools that seemed benign enough: A slight increase in overall student performance meant another C grade for the district.
But a closer look reveals a startling fact. A whopping 35 of the 72 schools in the all-charter district scored a D or F, meaning nearly half of local public schools were considered failing, or close to it, in the school year ending in 2019. Since then, six of the 35 have closed.
While New Orleans has long been home to struggling schools, the data released this month are concerning. There was an increase of nearly 11% percentage points in the number of schools that received the state’s lowest grades from the 2017-18 school year to 2018-19.
This year also showed the highest percentage of failing schools in the past five years. The closest comparison was in the 2016-17 year, when nearly 41% of the city’s schools, including those then overseen by the Recovery School District, earned D’s or F’s.
“It makes me angry and hurt. Because these are the children of our city,” said Ashana Bigard, a parent of two children in Orleans Parish schools and a longtime critic of the post-Hurricane Katrina education reforms that rebuilt the district as a network of charter schools.
For a look as close to apples-to-apples as possible, comparisons don’t include alternative schools, which cater specifically to struggling students and now are held to different standards, or schools now located in New Orleans but run by the state.
But even conceding bright spots and exceptions, the state of New Orleans public education isn’t rosy — especially since low scores on standardized tests can mean school closures or takeovers by other charter organizations, a controversial byproduct of the district’s all-charter system.
But even as charter advocates and critics haggle over what the data mean, failing grades have again ignited controversy in New Orleans, because they could trigger another round of school closures or takeovers.
In a prepared statement, Lewis, (Henderson Lewis Jr. is school superintendent) who has run the district since 2015, said students particularly need help mastering standardized tests, which account for a large proportion of schools’ scores. Lewis has pushed for more funding to hire the best teachers.
“The K-8 letter grades reflect the decline in test scores we saw this spring. We have work to do,” Lewis said. “Across the district, we are focused on doing a better job implementing high-quality curriculum and on ways to improve teacher recruitment and retention.”
“The good news is nearly three out of four schools received a progress index score of A or B, we saw significant improvement in the graduation rate, and our high schools did a better job preparing students for college and careers,” Lewis said.
But Kathleen Padian, a former deputy superintendent for the district, said she’s wary of letting poor-performing schools stay open too long, and of relying too much on the student growth factor to measure schools’ progress.
“There should be some credit given to schools who are able to grow year to year. But there has to be a limit,” Padian said. “I think it’s shocking … if you have had a school for so many years and you can’t get past a D letter grade.”
While Bigard is also skeptical of how well most charter schools are functioning, she doesn’t think closing them all is necessarily the answer.
“We close their schools, scatter them, and have them (students) up at 5 a.m. in the morning to get them (on the bus) to another failing school,” Bigard said of the district’s students. “Our children need stability.”
Before Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that crippled the Orleans Parish school district, the city’s public schools were notoriously low-performing.
Although it’s difficult to extrapolate citywide trends, there are some patterns in the data.
Schools in both big and little charter organizations got D’s and F’s. Some organizations saw major changes. FirstLine Schools, which got D grades for four of its six schools, and Success Preparatory, which also earned a D, got new leaders. Others absorbed students relocated from elsewhere, and many adopted new curricula.
Four other F-rated schools had already closed by the time the grades came out.
And, while Lewis expressed disappointment that six still-open schools dropped to an F, he said the district had already implemented support to help them improve.
For all her disappointment, it’s an effort Bigard said she appreciated.
“What makes a school failing is children not getting what they need to get up to grade level,” she said. “This is not rocket science. You get those schools the support they need.”
Editor’s note: The situation strongly supports what research has shown for years. Bascially, there is little difference in performance of public schools and charters. Some are exceptional, some are terrible and the majority are somewhere in between. There is no magic in simply labeling a school as a charter.