Mercedes K. Schneider, Ph.D., has been teaching full time for 19 years. She attended Louisiana State and graduated with a B.S. in secondary education, English and German (1991). Dr. Schneider taught for two years in Louisiana, then moved to Georgia, where she taught German (1993-94) and English (1994-98). While teaching, Mercedes Schneider earned her M.Ed. in guidance and counseling from West Georgia (1998).
In August 2002, she graduated from Northern Colorado with a Ph.D. in applied statistics and research methods. Dr. Schneider then taught graduate-level statistics and research courses at Ball State University (Muncie, IN), except for one undergraduate course: Tests and Measurement. In this course, Dr. Schneider addressed issues related to No Child Left Behind and taught students “how bad an idea it was to attempt to measure teacher performance using student standardized test scores.” In July 2007, Dr. Schneider returned to Louisiana to teach high school English in St. Tammany Parish. Since January 2013, she has been blogging about education reform issues at deutsch29.wordpress.com and also for @thechalkface and Huffington Post. Dr. Schneider has a book, A Chronicle of Echoes addressing key individuals and organizations promoting corporate reform with Information Age Publishing that recently been released.
Corporate reform is fond of euphemisms, of catchy names to disguise the truth of what amounts to the deliberate defunding of American public education in favor of the widespread, under-regulated corporate raiding of public dollars in exchange for “top-down-controlled,” often-substandard education “options.”
This is what self-styled education reformers call “school choice.”
Today, one of the most common ways for “choice” to manifest itself in a school system is via charter schools and vouchers. In this post, I will briefly focus on the unfolding of these two concepts in Louisiana.
New Orleans Charters
Though originally conceived by Albert Shanker to be teacher-initiated schools working in concert with public schools and designed to assist needy student subpopulations, the modern charter is often a privately-managed entity run by a charter nonprofit– but with profits very much in mind.
The single most important determinant of charter “success” is the standardized test score.
In 2003, the state of Louisiana attempted to take over the Orleans Parish public schools (OPSB). The resulting state-run district is called the Recovery School District (RSD). Prior to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state was only able to assume control of a few schools.
Following Katrina in 2005, in an effort to capitalize on community disruption via an unprecedented natural disaster, the Louisiana legislature passed Act 35, which enabled an almost complete takeover of the Orleans Parish public schools (OPSB) by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). In order to accomplish this takeover, the state raised the school performance score threshold from a 60 to “just below average,” which happened to be 87.4.
This gave LDOE control of 96 schools in 2006.
The parents of New Orleans students had no say in the matter.
Approximately 90% of the state-takeover, RSD schools in New Orleans were privately-run charters in 2013-14. In 2014-15, RSD expects to be comprised of 100% privately-run charters.
Louisiana charters are allowed three years to achieve the lowest passing school performance score of D. Even if they do not succeed, the state is still able to excuse the charter and allow the private entity running the charter to continue.
The popular press paints the 100% privatized RSD as a “success.” The article fails to mention the manipulation of the school performance score cutoff expressly set to engineer the takeover of 96 schools, and it does not mention that in 2003, the cutoff score of 60 simply didn’t yield the number of schools those favoring takeover hoped to assume:
The Recovery School District was created in Louisiana in 2003 to transform persistently failing schools. It started small in New Orleans, taking and chartering only five of the many eligible schools. However, Hurricane Katrina triggered a massive takeover: All but 17 of the city’s schools were handed over to the state. And while the initial goal was to create charters, the system found itself having to open and run schools to meet demand. At its peak, the Recovery School District ran 34 schools directly.
Finally, the article above fails to mention that parents have no choice in the matter.
In 2003, when the RSD was first created, it was billed as a “turnaround” district. This would lead the public to believe that state-run schools– at least some– might return to local control.
In 2010, BESE approved a plan advanced by then-State Superintendent Paul Pastorek– one that would allow those privately-run charters to escape return to local control.
To this day, no Louisiana charter has converted back to a traditionally-run, community public school.
For New Orleans parents, all is “open enrollment”; however, there are not enough “cream” schools available for all New Orleans students; parents know this when they participate in the Walton-Foundation-funded school application process.
Parents are not allowed to assume the traditional default of their children attending a neighborhood school.
Parents are forced to participate in “choice” as determined by the state.
Eight years following Hurricane Katrina, and the overwhelming majority of RSD schools– mostly charter schools– are branded a “failure” by the state’s own inflated school letter grade criteria.
This leads us to a brief discussion of “school choice” in the form of Louisiana vouchers.
The Failed “Choice” of Louisiana Vouchers
In 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the use of public school funding for vouchers to private schools. Since then, Louisiana State Superintendent has had to “find” money to fund vouchers.
(This is the same superintendent that told the House Appropriations Committee on April 8, 2014, that this year’s education budget is $55 million short, with $20 million nebulously described as a “cash flow issue.”)
Even though the pro-voucher Alliance for School Choice has orchestrated a number of mailouts promoting the “Louisiana Scholarship Program” (the Louisiana voucher euphemism– I have received these mailouts)– even offering a chance at a $500 back-to-school shopping spree to entice parents to enlist– the Louisiana voucher program is not popular.
In 2o14, Louisiana had over 727,000 public school students.
In 2012, the state estimated that 380,000 students would be eligible for vouchers.
According to LDOE, for the 2013-14 school year, only 12,000 students applied for vouchers, and only 6,700 accepted a voucher.
Looks like Louisiana parents are “choosing” the public school system over the private school exit.
The national push for so-called “school choice” is a thinly-disguised effort to systematically defund the American public school system. Privately-managed charters take public money from existing public schools– with the ultimate aim to completely overtake the traditional public school system.
Parents have little to no control over this charter takeover.
Parents do have more control over vouchers, and in Louisiana, parents are choosing not to use them.
What parents are not allowed to choose is a public school system completely devoid of privatization.
Until such a choice becomes reality, the term “school choice” is a misnomer.