Wednesday, March 19, 2014

“The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina”

Joseph has already commented on one aspect of this Valerie Strauss article on Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, but a different passage caught my eye.
He appears to be presenting a vision of education in the United States where nearly all students are educated in collections of charter schools: “So what we have to do is to work with school districts to grow steadily, and the work ahead is really hard because we’re at 8% of students in California, whereas in New Orleans they’re at 90%, so we have a lot of catchup to do.”
As indicated by the Arne Duncan quote I used as a title, the notion of New Orleans as the educational ideal is strongly established in the reform movement. New Orleans has implemented the major tenets of the reform pedagogy to an extraordinary degree, particularly the rigid, metric-driven, no-excuses attitude. On this much, everyone can pretty much agree.

When we get to effects, however, the picture gets murkier. There has been some improvement in test scores but the 'reforms' coincided with increased spending which would be expected to boost scores. In addition, some of the increase can also be assigned to considerably increased pressure of students to take the tests seriously. Even putting all that aside, the improvements still don't look that impressive when compared to demographically similar schools in other states. Bruce Baker of Rutgers did the heavy lifting.

The bigger story for me, though, is in the details of the now dominant culture of New Orleans schools and in how parents and students have the new regime. It's apparent that quite a few people are extremely unhappy.

A previous post mentioned students from one New Orleans high school walking out in a mass protest.

This was not an isolated incident.
Sci Academy, the flagship of the Collegiate Academies charter group, is known for high test scores and stringent discipline policies, such as requiring students to walk between lines taped on the floor. School leaders say the two go hand-in-hand: You don't have to walk on the right side of the hallway in college, but the discipline will serve you well.

But students at the group's two new schools, George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy and George Washington Carver Preparatory Academy, walked out the week before Thanksgiving, angry about such rules. On Wednesday (Dec. 18), about 60 students attended a rally. A letter of demands written by some students said kids were being suspended "for every little thing."

Recent state data show there are grounds for that claim. The three Collegiate schools had the city's highest suspension rates in the 2012-13 academic year. A full 69 percent of Carver Collegiate's student body was sent home at least once. Carver Prep suspended 61 percent of its student body. Sci Academy sent home 58 percent, a 9-point increase from the year before.
Anyone with experience with K-12 education can tell you that mass suspension and expulsion may possibly be the simplest and most effective way of improving test scores and making classroom management easier (a particularly pressing issue if you have high teacher turnover and rely heavily on programs like TFA). The problem with the technique is that it takes its greatest toll on the most vulnerable students. To fully grasp the brutality of these methods, you have to look at specific examples, such as this one from a parents' advocate in New Orleans:
The case that still breaks my heart involved a 14-year-old who kept getting demerits because his uniform shirt was too small and came untucked basically every time he moved. His mother was a veteran, well-educated, and had sold real estate but got divorced and ended up losing her job, and became homeless. They were living with friends and really struggling. The school expelled the child because he’d had three suspensions—the last one for selling candy to try to raise enough money to buy a new shoes and a new uniform shirt. I felt that if the mother went and told her story that the school would understand and wouldn’t hold up the expulsion. She didn’t want the school to know how impoverished she was but I convinced her to do it, so she came and told all of these people what she was going through—about her struggles. I thought for sure the board would overturn the expulsion, not just because her story was so compelling, but because there wasn’t actually anything in the school’s discipline book about selling candy. But they upheld it and it broke my heart that this kid was being put out of school because he was poor.
I don't know if this student went to one of the specific schools discussed here, but I can tell you that this is all too often what the process looks like, which is why responsible administrators use it so reluctantly.

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