by Dr. Raynard Sanders
Some years ago, Rebirth Brass Band recorded “No it Ain’t My Fault”. It went on to become standard for New Orleans Brass Bands. That song comes to mind when reading Patrick Dobard’s, former New Orleans Recovery School District Superintendent, op-ed in The Advocate on Aug. 22,, titled, “ As we move beyond pandemic, we need a new commitment to better schools”.
Needless to say, an article from a former Recovery School District Superintendent asking for better schools is really puzzling in that the mission of the Recovery School District was to create good schools after Hurricane Katrina. Just as a quick refresher in November 2005, then Gov. Blanco declared that a state takeover would create a “new birth of excellence and opportunity” for the city’s schoolchildren. State officials promoted the takeover plan identified the mission of the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) as creating a “world-class” school system in which “every decision focuses on the best interests of the children.”
Just reading the title of Dobard’s op-ed “commitment to better schools”, leads one to think that Dobard either has amnesia or he thinks the citizens of New Orleans have amnesia.
The content of Dobard’s op-ed continues with more bewildering statements from an individual whose job ostensibly was to create world-class schools in New Orleans. The op-ed begins by stating that our children’s lives and learning are impacted every day by longstanding inequities. He goes on to say that fewer than two in 10 Black children in this state are meeting the state’s standards. Then he cites the importance of teachers in offsetting the impact of the inequities that children face. Dobard then says that we need to use data to fuel a more equitable division of resources to all our children. We need to help offset this inequity with strategic funding and training. The op-ed closes with plea to policymakers and stakeholders to move out of the pandemic by taking time to focus on public education and make decisions driven by reality and not rhetoric.
Dobard’s op-ed is truly confusing given his work and others in creating the school district he so harshly criticizes in his op-ed.
Let’s do another quick refresher.
In late November 2005, three months after Hurricane Katrina, the Louisiana Legislature passed ACT 35 which illegally removed the control and management of 107 public schools (by changing the criteria for taking over public schools which only applied to public schools in New Orleans) from the Orleans Parish School Board and gave control to the Louisiana Department of Education’s Recovery School District. In passing this legislation, shortly afterward 7,500 employees of the Orleans Parish School Board were fired, mostly African-Americans which permanently devasted New Orleans Black middle-class.
The legislation labeled this move as an experiment. The Recovery School District immediately began a movement to turn all the schools in New Orleans into charter schools. Needless to say, this radical change in public education had a devastating impact on students and parents in New Orleans. Despite the claims of charter school academic success by state and local education officials over the years, the charter schools in New Orleans have consistently scored lower than other school districts on state tests and have the lowest ACT, a national standardized test used for college admissions in the United States, in the state of Louisiana.
It should be noted that during Dobard’s tenure as superintendent, the Recovery School District public schools under his control were academic failures and performed worse than every other school district in the state of Louisiana in a number of critical areas.
One of the most interesting and perplexing things about Dobard’s op-ed is his sudden concern for equity when referring to students in public schools in New Orleans. In a report from the Institute on Race and Poverty, at the University of Minnesota Law School, the Recovery School District’s reorganization of the city’s schools created a separate but unequal tiered system of schools that steers a minority of students, including virtually all of the city’s white students, into a set of selective, higher-performing schools and another group, including most of the city’s students of color, into a group of lower-performing schools. The extremely rapid growth of charter schools has not improved this pattern. Segregation of students in the city and the metropolitan area is a cause for concern. Racial segregation and economic inequity undermine the life chances and educational opportunities of low-income students and students of color. School choice does not by itself empower students of color to escape this, especially when choice leads them to racially segregated, high-poverty schools. As superintendent Dobard never mentioned anything about inequity or addressed the tiered school system which exists today.
This baffling op-ed from Dobard is really laughable if we were not talking about our most important public service, public education.
However, I don’t think that Dobard has amnesia. On the contrary, I believe he and the other so-called education reformers hope that we are the ones that have fallen and bumped out heads leading us to forget about the failed and unaccountable public schools they have created in New Orleans under the guise of school reform. To NOW–some 16 years after public schools in Orleans Parish were pillaged and plundered–tell the people of Orleans Parish that “a new commitment” to better schools is needed is downright right diabolical and disrespectful, to be frank. If there had been a true commitment to better schools 16 years ago, our facilities, and most of all, our children would have never been turned over to disaster capitalists masquerading as education reformers who failed to produce the advancements they promised.
Dr. Raynard Sanders is an educational consultant, researcher, and a former principal and college administrator. He has also authored two books on the privatization of public schools, The Coup D’etat of the New Orleans Public Schools: Money, Power and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System and Twenty- First Century Jim Crow Schools: the Impact of Charter on Public Education. Dr. Sanders also hosts, The New Orleans Imperative, a weekly radio show that focuses on public education on Mondays on WHIV 102.3 FM at 1:00 P.M. CST.