Last night I heard Governor Jindal speak about the education successes in his state, specifically in New Orleans where he said they were now 90% charters. He said it as if that was the accomplishment of a public directive, as if the public were clamoring for charter schools and they have been successful in getting 90% of their public schools converted. And the other 10% aren’t public schools. The last one of those closed a few weeks ago. (In New Orleans, traditional public schools close for good)  This is supposed to be a good thing because the parents now get to CHOOSE where their kids go to school and school can be tailored to the child. He went on to relate a story about meeting a mother whose child was in a private school in Louisiana, thanks in part to the state Scholarship program they have, what other states might call a voucher program. This young woman, who became a mother in her teens just like her own mother had, was working three jobs to send her child to that school. Jindal said that without the state Scholarship money she would not have been able to send her child there.  The story was meant to be poignant and hopeful at the same time, but I confess it left me scratching my head. How was this woman’s struggle a positive sign?

New Orleans parents faced a unique education crisis post Katrina. Their schools literally ceased to exist overnight. Some say it was a blessing because New Orleans public schools weren’t that great to start with. The state created the Recovery School District to run a number of schools that ranked below average according to state metrics.  RSD schools have made modest gains since Katrina, but most significantly, many of them have been turned over to independently managed charters. The last five remaining traditional public schools under RSD were converted to charters making it the first 100% charter district in the country.

What this has meant for local parents, instead of choice, is a lottery. The parents aren’t doing the choosing, a computer is.

Of the Recovery School District’s 600 employees, 510 will be out of a job by week’s end. All 33,000 students in the district must apply for a seat at one of the 58 public charter schools, relying on a computerized lottery to determine placement.(Washington Post)

Children are no longer automatically accepted at the school that is right in their neighborhood. Some say this is good because they are no longer ” stuck in their zip code.” But the reality means a lot less stability for students, especially very young ones who face long commutes and unknown classmates who don’t live in their neighborhood.  A Tulane University poll showed only 41% of parents supporting the closing of their traditional public schools in favor of charters. They recognize their loss of control. One parent told the Washington Post “They don’t answer to anyone,” said Sean Johnson, the dean of students at Banneker, whose father attended the school while growing up in the Black Pearl neighborhood. “The charters have money and want to make more money. They have their own boards, make their own rules, accept who they want and put out who they want to put out.”

The mother who was working three jobs to send her child to private school did not have access to a free public school in her neighborhood. She might not have had to work three jobs to cover the additional tuition. And while I understand that traditional marriage is becoming unheard of in the African American community, I couldn’t help but think that her life and that of her child would have been better served by having a husband who took responsibility for them and provided for them, rather than turning the state into a surrogate parent.

It was also unusual for Jindal to allude to the charters as a success, given the reports coming out of Louisiana, that their State Superintendent John White has been accused of cooking the books on the charter’s performance .  Several whistle blowers within the Louisiana Department of Education refused to go along with directive to “teak the scores” in the RSD and an investigation is now on-going. It may be difficult to get the truth because the Assessment Department which is responsible for producing these reports is highly staffed by non-U.S. citizens who are here on H-1B VISAs which are conditional they work for the Louisiana Department of Education. Crazy Crawfish reported that if these employees are terminated or quit, “they have to return to their home countries. Two weeks after the story broke two such employees did leave; one very suddenly and without warning. One employee returned to Canada. One went to China, without any notification or fanfare and came as a surprise to many in the department.”

John White is one of the Foundation for Excellent Education’s (Jeb Bush’s baby) Chiefs For Change. CFC members support FEE’s goals of: school choice, digital/virtual education, standardized tests as a metric for school accountability and teacher evaluations and on grading schools A-F based on test scores. FEE is also a big supporter of common core. They have to be if the state-to-state score comparisons are to have any validity. So, while Jindal just signed an executive order to get Common Core out of his state, his hand picked Superintendent is part of a group who supports it. An interesting dynamic to say the least.

Jindal is touted as an education expert and for now appears intent on standing on his record on education in his state. Expect a lot of people to be watching his experiment in 100% privatization of education, with choice and charters to see if this is the direction for the entire country to take.  I for one, will be waiting to see what the result of the investigation is. I also would like to see if the hopeful story of the young mother, who said she hopes to spare her own child from her fate by giving her this great private education, has a happy ending. I learned from our president not to place too much stock in just hope.



Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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