If, after almost 17 years of public education “reform” in New Orleans, the result is 50 percent of OPSB charters with a “C” school performance rating and another 30 percent rated “D” and “F”, it’s finally time to end the sham and return schools to real local control

School Performance data recently released by the stateIt’s that time of the year again.

No, not the holiday season.

Not the end of the year.

It’s School Performance Score time, which does make now an appropriate occasion for reflection.

So let’s talk.

Here at The New Orleans Tribune, we are wondering if folk will ever get tired of bemoaning another year of a failed school reform? 

Things are as bad as they have ever been. Yet, we are still saddled with a state legislature and leaders that refuse to end this farce. 

And by “bad”, we mean abysmal. Still, everyone around seems resigned to the notion that this  hodge-podge collection of independently operated charter outfits is just the way it is and will always be in Orleans Parish ever since the hostile takeover of public education in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – never mind that this reform as never worked and has never once yielded the magical results promised when our schools were pillaged and plundered.

Mediocre Will Not Do

Of the 62 charter schools that are under the loose jurisdiction of the Orleans Parish School System (aka NOLA Public Schools), 31 – exactly half – are  “C” schools based on the most recent school performance data released by the state earlier this month. 

Mediocre is not good enough – not after what we have been through . . . are still going through.

Veteran teachers and staff were fired without cause.

Neighborhood schools vanished, and our children bussed from one part of city clear across town in the name of some fake “school choice” model, which we all know is nothing more than a mirage, where the top performing schools get to pick and choose students. The rest is little more than a lottery, for sure.

A free, quality public education is not supposed to a gamble!

We have given up too much. No, too much has been stolen – stolen from our city, our families and children, our schools – to accept mediocre.

After Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans Public School System was robbed of its students, buildings and resources and turned over to the Recovery School District, which then turned those students, facilities and money over to charter management operators. Then when the RSD was tired of being responsible for its mess, the schools were returned to the control of the local governing body – the Orleans Parish School System – well, sort of.

With boards comprised of unelected individuals still given authority over  campuses, their operations and their budgets, taxpayers have had their ability to demand accountability and transparency snatched from them as well.

And maybe we wouldn’t be as bothered by this shakedown of local education by corporate raiders if all 62 of the public charter schools operating under the Orleans Parish School Board were “A” and “B” rated campuses. But that is not the case.

Instead, the grand prize for the upheaval that has taken place during the nearly 17 years of this failed experiment, is 31 “C”s, 14 “D”s, 5 “F”s and two unrated schools in transition after changing hands from one operator to another. That’s right, folk. If the fact that 50 percent of the schools are hovering somewhere around to fair to middling was not bad enough, add to it that more than 30 percent of our schools are failing.

Put another way, the vast majority of public school students in New Orleans are attending campuses that are, at best, barely adequate or, at worst, failing.

Only 10 campuses earned an “A” or “B” rating, and for the most part they were schools that were already performing well prior to the takeover of public education.

Trickery is not Transformation

Wait, there’s more. Anytime we discuss public education in New Orleans and the seizure of our schools, we must remind how the laws that govern the determination of whether a school could be seized by the RSD were manipulated to facilitate the takeover after Hurricane Katrina.

Previously, a school needed to have a performance score below 60 to be considered for takeover. But with New Orleanians strewn across the country, so-called leaders decided that public education and the public money that comes with it was ripe for the picking. They couldn’t accomplish it fair and square, so they cheated.

With the stroke of a pen, the minimum school performance score required for a campus to escape being labeled failing and at risk of takeover was raised from 60 to 87.4. And that is how our schools were stolen. Let’s never forget that!

Of course, in the ensuing years since the takeover, state schools officials and the legislature have tinkered with the numbers again. They have since lowered minimum SPS that triggers failure, a neat trick that now helps mask the utter failure of the takeover and reform.

But don’t be fooled, and don’t take our word for it. Look at the chart of Orleans Parish Public Schools performance scores for yourself. When you do, you will see that of the 62 schools now under the OPSB or NOLA Public Schools, only five have an SPS score that would not have been considered failing when schools were taken over after Katrina.

If that is not the very definition of a scam, we don’t know what is.

Any declaration that schools are performing any better now than they did before they were embezzled is an outright, bold faced lie  – a false narrative bolstered by trickery, rather than transformation.

Bottom line: This reform has been a bust, and it’s been long enough. The people of New Orleans deserve to have true local control of public education returned them immediately. The future of our children and the entire city depends on it.

Unfortunately, we suspect that this will not happen any time soon. Sometimes, we feel as if we remain a lone voice in the wind on this matter. 

But right is right; and we remain committed to demanding true local control of public education at every turn, so much so that we will continue to urge our readers and followers to vote “NO” on any local school millage – new or renewal – until it happens. We see our votes on local school taxes as possibly the only leverage we have in this battle. Maybe a reduction in revenue will chase some of the charter operators out of town, and the OPSB will have no choice but to operate traditional public schools in our city.

Then again, we have been saying the same things for almost 17 years:

  • The reform was a vile lie!
  • Our schools are failing!
  • Return them to us, now!

We imagine we will be saying them once more . . .  in November of 2024.