REFORMATION, CHANGE AND PROGRESS
May 16, 2016
Philip J White
Retired New Orleans Public School Educator
Last week was very interesting in the New Orleans educational experiment movement. Louisiana Governor John Bell Edwards signed legislation returning the Recovery School District (RSD) Schools to the Orleans Parish School Board during the next three years. It’s highly debatable if the return of the RSD schools to the Orleans Parish School Board is progress, a sign of continued reformation or even substantially changes the status quo. What’s not debatable is the national attention the return of the New Orleans public schools is receiving.
In a front page article in the May 10, 2016 edition of “The New York Times”, a reporter discussed the national implications of returning the RSD schools to the locally elected Orleans Parish School Board. In an obviously pro charter slant, the Times reporter quoted the usual positions taken by the charter school advocates championing the “gains” made by the charter school movement.
If one reads between the lines of the legislation returning the schools to the Orleans Parish School Board, the real message is an admission of mission accomplished and mission failure. The mission accomplished is that the Louisiana Legislature, which sanctioned the takeover of schools almost eleven years ago, is dominated by the same group who advocated the charter movement in the first place. Leslie Jacobs, the mother of school reform and charter schools, financially and politically supported Orleans Parish School Board candidates who enabled her agenda a decade ago and continues today. One of the major reasons for the takeover was to control the billions of dollars of federal funds allocated to Louisiana for recovery after the storm. Mission Accomplished.
New Orleans has been a majority African American city for decades. Much of the business, political, social, and educational establishment is still dominated by a small segment of the white community. This group of influential people also includes a number of African Americans and other people of color. Although not necessarily a formal group or even elected officials, they comprise the New Orleans power elite. The New Orleans power elite function as though it is their manifest destiny to dominate every aspect of city life; especially anything connected to the expenditure of public funds.
Many believe New Orleans and its majority African American citizens were the target of the Louisiana Legislature in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many of the schools that were taken over by the RSD immediately after Hurricane Katrina were substantially improved and demonstrated substantial progress immediately prior to the storm; however, the Louisiana Legislature took advantage of a displaced community and changed the criteria for school takeovers. After almost eleven years of RSD control of schools, the discerning segment of the educational community should probably ask the question, “If charter schools are so successful in improving school performances, why haven’t the suburban school districts surrounding New Orleans fully embraced the charter movement”. Mission Failure.
Also, would a discerning educational community allow for uniquely New Orleans policy positions such as One App? One App is a uniquely New Orleans concept. The New Orleans “educational experts” devised a plan for school attendance, but exempted the top performing schools. This One App system perpetuates the New Orleans power elite’s historical traditions of entitlement and privilege. The power elite have always been extremely comfortable making rules that apply to the masses, but simultaneously create exemptions to the rules just for the elites.
Again, the discerning segment of the educational community should ask the question, “If One App is so successful at creating fairness and equity, why haven’t the suburban school districts surrounding New Orleans adapted the One App policy? Mission Failure.
Is there any greater example of chutzpah and sheer arrogance as comments by members of the New Orleans power elite rationalizing why charter school administrators deserve the salaries they receive from the public kitty? Most working class people in New Orleans are underpaid, especially public servants such as teachers, police officers, and firemen. Members of the New Orleans service industry are woefully underpaid compared to their counterparts in other cities. The one segment of the public funded New Orleans workforce that is not undercompensated is the charter school administrators. In fact, in a city, with supposed limited public resources, some of the highest paid public school leaders in the United States of America are in New Orleans. Is this the same city that a segment of the community professed moral outrage when a previous superintendent responsible for the entire school district negotiated a retirement package of $50,000 per year? There were those who claimed that the former superintendent’s retirement was taking money from the poor children of New Orleans. Mission Failure.
One of the more opportunistic political moves executed in this country’s history was the mass firings of the New Orleans Public School employees immediately after Hurricane Katrina. While other local communities attempted to recover quickly, New Orleans fired its entire public school workforce. The vast majority of that workforce was African American and lived in New Orleans proper. The mass firings were quickly followed by the discriminatory Road Home Program. This one two punch inflicted major damage to the New Orleans black low income community and the New Orleans black middle class.
After the breach of the levees following Hurricane Katrina, teachers and others filed a class action law suit claiming their rights were violated. New Orleans Civil District Judge Ethel Julian ruled in their favor. That decision was later upheld by the Appellate Court, but overturned by the Louisiana Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court has decided not to hear the case as of this date.
As an example of what one person can accomplish, former New Orleans Public School administrator Dr. Mable Phillips started a petition on Change.org asking US Attorney General Loretta Lynch to investigate the mass firing of the NOPS employees after Hurricane Katrina. Regardless of the outcome of the petition, a major feature of the petition is that it provides a singular forum for those fired NOPS employees and others to express, in their own authentic voices, their opinions about being fired. In the comment section of the petition, in their own words, in their own names and their own locations, are individual observations that are not filtered or edited. Those comments were made without pseudonyms or other attempts to hide the identity of the people signing the petition. For more detailed information regarding the mass firings refer to http://www.nopsejustice.com.
Simple logic strongly suggests that the mass firings have created a huge reservoir of ill will, mistrust and animosity. In other words, can there ever be one New Orleans when so many people have been disenfranchised and disrespected? Is this a Mission Accomplished, Mission Failure even a Mission Impossible?
Most successful school communities support only one district with public funds. Successful school districts don’t compete against themselves. Successful school districts support neighborhood schools with strong parental involvement and financial support. Business leaders, political leaders and community leaders support only one school district in thriving communities. Business leaders of thriving communities advertise their school districts as a major selling point in attracting business. In most thriving school communities, most business and community leaders send their children to the same public schools in their communities. Most thriving and enlightened communities would not allow candidates to run for school board seats unless the candidate’s children attended the community’s public schools.
One takeaway that the Orleans Parish School Board should receive as the RSD returns the schools is the power of an effective propaganda machine. The one effective characteristic of the RSD has been its skill at selling ice and snow to Eskimos. While the RSD was able to sweep its scandals and problems under the rug while in control of schools, the power elite can now comfortably revert to its default position of blaming the victims when problems arise.
New Orleans has to honestly address what does One New Orleans mean? The city can never reach its full potential if it means only one voice can speak for One New Orleans. Two halves can’t make a whole if one half has nearly all of the assets, resources and power and the other half has all of the community’s problems and only a small amount of its assets and resources. A true One New Orleans can’t continue to have 53% of its African American male population unemployed. A true One New Orleans can’t continue to be the Incarceration Capitol of the entire world. A true One New Orleans must grow its economic capacity to provide a livable wage for most of its citizens. A true One New Orleans can’t brag about building a premier juvenile justice facility directly across the street from a premier high school.
A true One New Orleans must recognize the talents of its native born and bred and provide a framework to maximize those talents in New Orleans, instead of allowing those talented young people to leave New Orleans for greener pastures.
To paraphrase that popular American philosopher Snoopp; is New Orleans ready to make that change?