The Lie Unveiled – Part III

Reprinted from Mercedes Schneider’s EduBlog

The final part of The New Orleans Tribune’s three-part presentation of Mercedes Schneider’s examination of the Recovery School system is devoted to an examination of school performance data.

Making schools difficult to pinpoint, track and trace is a reformer trademark.

As of February 21, 2013, on its website, the Recovery School District advertises 12 traditional schools and 58 charter schools in New Orleans, for a total of 70 schools. However, RSD only offers names and physical locations for 67 schools. Furthermore, three “schools,”

G.W. Carver College and two named G.W. Carver Prep, have the same physical address. On both school-level data sets, there is only one G.W. Carver, labeled simply as “G. W. Carver High School.” This means that either G.W. Carver is a set of splinter schools, or there is really only one G.W. Carver. Also, the RSD designation “N O Accel” appears to be ReNew Accel (City Park) and ReNew Accel (West Bank), though RSD offers only one physical address named “N O Accel.”

If the RSD counts G.W. Carver as three schools and N O Accel as two schools, this equals 70 schools.

One school, Nelson Elementary, was omitted from the RSD website but had 2012 data available on the DOE school-level spreadsheet. Therefore, it appears that RSD has a possible 71 schools.

The 2012 LDOE school-level spread sheets (both administrative and public versions) account for only 60 schools (including both ReNew schools). Thus, RSD has not offered information on the physical addresses for potentially three of its schools, and LDOE has not even included a hint of data on 9 of the 70 (not including Nelson, which RSD ”forgot” to include) supposed RSD schools (listed below).

If some of these “missing” schools are “shadow schools”, those where student test scores are added to other, “visible” schools in the district in order to boost scores at a given school, it isn’t working for RSD.

The following schools are listed as existing on the RSD website yet have no information available on the LDOE 2012 school-level spreadsheet: Two of the three “G.W. Carver” schools; Cohen College Prep; Craig, Crescent; Hughes; John McDonogh High (the recent focus of an Oprah Winfrey OWN documentary); Net.

But enough about what is nebulous and not listed. There is enough of substance in what is accounted for on 2012 LDOE school-level data to debunk the repeatedly-perpetrated myth of the RSD Miracle.

Let us begin from the beginning.

Both the current RSD website and the 2012 LDOE school-level spreadsheet include information on the very first RSD school, Pierre Capdau.

Pierre Capdau, the very first school to be assumed by RSD in 2004, remains a state-run, RSD-NO school. After eight years, Pierre Capdau has a D for its 2012 letter grade. I have never heard any reformer boast of the “miracle” that is Pierre Capdau. It has not succeeded according to the reformer-determined definition of “success.” Pierre Capdau has never been “transformed” as a result of its state takeover.

That right there ought to give pause to those tempted by the veneer of a “New Orleans Miracle.”

There is much more:

Of the 60 state-run RSD schools (59 from the RSD website plus omitted Nelson) included on the DOE 2012 school-level data spreadsheet (both administrative and public versions), none received an A as a school letter grade.

Of 60 state-run RSD schools, only 6 received a B in 2012. That’s 10 percent.

One RSD school, Gentilly Terrace, received a T, meaning no grade this year. A free pass.

According to Jindal’s and the State of Louisiana’s definition of a failing school, the remainder of the RSD schools given letter grades are failing. That’s 90 percent.

In 2012, five state-run RSD schools received a C. In 2012, 19 state-run RSD schools received a D. In 2012, 29 state-run RSD schools received an F.

Given that RSD is overwhelmingly comprised of charter schools (83 percent, based upon information available on the RSD website), I think it safe to write that Caroline Roemer Shirley’s unqualified praise of charter school success in New Orleans is unfounded.

When reality reflects poorly on a reformer with access to data, he/she could always try to, as John White often says, “tweak”:

On the district-level spreadsheet sent to administrators, White/LDOE created a nonsense district score whereby RSD-NO’s district score of D was “averaged” with Orleans (which had an A for a district score). This produced an amalgam of C.

Even though this post focuses on RSD, I would like to offer a word about Orleans Parish Schools. Of the 17 Orleans schools listed on the DOE school-level spreadsheet, five are labeled as magnet schools. Seven schools received an A; 5 received a B.

Orleans is skimming the better students. It’s that simple. A true litmus test of charter “success” is the presence of whole-district/region charter success. Anything else is a lie. Spotty “successful” schools among predominantly “unsuccessful” ones only betrays the division of academic “haves” and “have nots.” Orleans Parish Schools is an island in the midst of the sea of RSD-NO failure.

Reformers like John White and former BESE member Leslie Jacobs will attempt to conceal the unsuccessful reality by combining it with the “skimmed” success. In Jacobs’ case, she wrote an op/ed claiming that the “achievement gap” was “closed” in 2011, based upon data from the U.S. Department of Education on cohort graduation rates. In my response to Jacobs, I highlight the truth based upon the reality of the USDOE graduation data. Rather than rewrite my findings, I will simply copy them below. They provide reinforcement for the truth of RSD failure:

As to Jacobs’ shining moment, her ultimate point of the article, that “in New Orleans, 76.5 percent of our students graduated on time”:

First, one must consider the unclear term, “New Orleans.” This is the name of a city, not a school district. There is Orleans Parish Public Schools (those operating under the authority of the elected Orleans Parish School Board), and its 2010-11 graduation rate was 93.5 percent. This begs the question: Why focus on 76.5 percent as the evidence of “New Orleans success” instead of Orleans Parish Public Schools’ 93.5 percent? Furthermore, the OPSB received an “A” on its 2012 district report card. Why not highlight the achievements of OPSB?

The answer: The success of the OPSB schools only serves to underscore the failure of the state-run counterpart, RSD-NO.

Back to that 76.5 percent of “our students graduating on time”:

LDOE does not report a district percentage for RSD-NO 2010-11 graduation rate. How Jacobs arrived at 76.5 percent is a mystery to me. Perhaps she took the overall 2,051 graduates “in New Orleans” and divided by the number of 2010-11 students classified as seniors “in New Orleans.” Doing so would certainly paint a fairer picture than does the detailed account posted on the LDOE website for RSD-NO (I also included 2012 school letter grades and scores where available): RSD-NO 2010-11 Graduation Rates (percentage) and 2011-12 School Letter Grades/Scores.

Thurgood Marshall Early College High School – 87.8 percent – C – 97.9
Abramson Science and Technology Charter School – 82.1 percent*
O. P. Walker Senior High School – 74.6 percent – B – 108.9
Algiers Technology Academy – 67.9 percent – D – 85.5
Joseph S. Clark Senior High School – no score – T** – 55.8
Walter L. Cohen High School – 53.6 percent – F – 45.5
John McDonogh Senior High School – 45.6 percent
Rabouin Career Magnet High School – no score
Sarah Towles Reed Senior High School – 49.6 percent – F – 47.6
Schwarz Alternative School – no score
G. W. Carver High School – 55.7 percent – F – 46.4
Excel Academy – no score
Hope Academy – no score
New Orleans Career Academy – no score
Sophie B. Wright Institute of Academic Excellence – no score – D – 78.9
Abramson’s school code (300003) is currently assigned to a school named Lake Area New Tech. The 2012 school grade and score for Lake Area New Tech is F 59.4.

I think it is fair to say that Ms. Jacobs’ enthusiasm at the “closing of the achievement gap” is undeniably premature. When one observes that actual graduation rates for the RSD-NO schools that have been assigned such a number, there is quite a gap. Three of the eight schools with scores are above the state 2010-11 graduation rate average of 70.9 percent; however, the remaining five are below the state average, with half, four of the eight, woefully below average.

What these results do show is the effective academic segregation of a school district. [Emphasis added.]

This evidence does not support Jacobs’ assertion of a “game changer for the city.”

It is worthy to note that three of the schools with low graduation rates highlighted above, Carver, Cohen, and Reed, have students actively speaking out nationally regarding the need for “fairness and justice in public schools across New Orleans.” Such desperation in its student body does not become a “miracle school district.” However, this behavior can be expected from students tired of being pawns in a chess game that says “miracle” but is sham.

A Closing Word

The school- and district-level data presented in this post unequivocally demonstrates that the state-run RSD is hardly a miracle. It should be an embarrassment to any reformer insisting otherwise. And it should come as no wonder why RSD doesn’t even mention school letter grades on its website.

The history of the state-run RSD in New Orleans is one of opportunism, deceit, information twisting and concealing in order to promote a slick, financially-motivated agenda. It is certainly not “for the children.”

It is very easy for corporate reform to stand in front of the media and proclaim a New Orleans miracle. Bobby Jindal is doing it. So are John White, Wendy Kopp, Leslie Jacobs, and a host of others. No matter how oft-repeated the term “New Orleans miracle” has become, it is a lie.

Mercedes Schneider, Ph.D., is a veteran educator and native of St. Bernard Parish. She earned her doctoral degree in applied statistics and research methods, with a counselor education concentration from the University of Northern Colorado. Before returning to the New Orleans metropolitan area, she was a faculty member in the Department of Educational Psychology, Teachers College at Ball State University in Indiana.

Writer’s Note:

This discussion is based on several data files, including two 2012 district performance score/letter grade spreadsheets originating with LDOE, one made available to the public and a second sent to superintendents and BESE members. I also have two 2012 school performance score/letter grade spreadsheets—one public; the other, sent to administrators and BESE.

The data sets sent to administrators and BESE are much clearer in their labeling of data. The manner in which RSD schools are labeled in data sets made available to the public make it very difficult to determine which are RSD-NO and which are RSD-LA. However, the school-level data sent to administrators and BESE have these schools obviously differentiated.

I also have access to USDOE graduation cohort information (2007-11) for all participating schools in all parishes in Louisiana.
I have used the information available from these data files to audit and expound upon school information from the RSD website.

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