Bill Quigley, associate director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University at New Orleans, reports on a hearing held by the NAACP where students and parents in the New Orleans charter school system expressed their anger at the segregated and unequal education provided to black students.
As he puts it, everything that is wrong with the New Orleans charter schools was on full display.
“We really wanted to share what happens in our schools” writes 18 year old Big Sister Love Rush in an article on the challenges the students face. “How the few permanent teachers we have work so hard for us, how so many classes are ran by short term substitutes, how food runs out at meal times, and how we worry if our school’s reputation is good enough to support us in getting into the college or careers we want. We shared how we face two hour commutes to and from school, are forced to experiment with digital learning with systems like Odyssey, are punished for having the wrong color sweater, or how we worry about being able to attend a school that will give us the education we need.”
In summary, the NAACP heard that they charter system remains highly segregated by race and economic status. Students have significantly longer commutes to and from school. The percentage of African American teachers has declined dramatically leaving less experienced teachers who are less likely to be accredited and less likely to remain in the system. The costs of administration have gone up while resources for teaching have declined. Several special select schools have their own admission process which results in racially and economically different student bodies. The top administrator of one K-12 system of three schools is paid over a quarter of a million dollars. Students with disabilities have been ill served. Fraud and mismanagement, which certainly predated the conversion to charter schools, continue to occur. Thousands of students are in below average schools. Students and parents feel disempowered and ignored by the system.
The changeover from public schools to charter schools began with the mass firing of every teacher and the elimination of their union. The experienced teachers were replaced by Teach for America. The proportion of black teachers in the classroom fell from 3/4 to 1/2.
New Orleans now spends more on administration and less on teaching than they did before Katrina. One charter school executive, who oversees one K-12 school on three campuses, was paid $262,000 in 2014. At least 62 other charter execs made more than $100,000. This compares with the salary of $138,915 for the superintendent of all the public schools in Baton Rouge.
Admissions have been dramatically changed. In the new system, there is no longer any right to attend the neighborhood school. 86% no longer attend the school closest to their homes. Siblings do not automatically go to the same school, and no one is guaranteed a spot at their local school. Many families are frustrated by the admission process.
Seven select high performing schools do not use the system wide application process, called ONE APP. The “lotteries” run by these super select schools are not transparent but complex screening devices. The most selective, highest performing, and well-funded charter schools have many more white children attending them than the system as a whole as a result of special non-transparent admission processes. This is so well known that a local newspaper article headlined its article about some of the schools as “How 3 top New Orleans public schools keep students out.”
This special admission process has significant racial impact. Most white students in public schools attend selective public schools that administer special tests that students must pass to be enrolled. Tulane University reported the charter system in New Orleans remains highly segregated in much the same way as before Katrina. This seems to be reflective in schools across the country where the charter school movement has been charged with re-segregating public schools. One select New Orleans charter school, Lusher, reported its student body was 53% white, 21% economically disadvantaged and 4% special education in comparison to the overall system which is 7% white, 85% economically disadvantaged and 11% special education.
Another result of eliminating neighborhood schools is New Orleans students now have nearly double the commute and the system is paying $30 million to bus students compared to $18 million before Katrina. Dr. Raynard Sanders notes the elimination of neighborhood schools can be observed in the early morning hours. “We now have thousands of children beginning their school day travel at 6:15 and ending at 5:15 PM, with many students spending hours or more traveling to and from school. This insane strategy puts kids in harms way daily as students cross major thoroughfares in the early morning hours, which resulted in one five year old’s death to date. Despite numerous complaints from parents stating they want neighborhood schools state education officials have ignored their cries and continue this dangerous daily student migration.”
What was unusual about this hearing was that it featured the voices of students and parents, not experts and foundation executives.
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