BEHIND THE CURTAIN OF THE LOUISIANA CHARTER SCHOOL EXPERIMENT
Tuesday, Jul. 21, 2009 at 12:35 AM
Who's profiting from NOLA charter schools?
The Recovery School District has announced intentions to convert four “still failing” New Orleans public schools to “transition” charter schools: Drew, Wicker, Gregory, and Carver Elementaries. These traditional NOPS schools will be phased out by not accepting new students, while a new charter school will open in the same building, starting with lower grades and adding grades each year. (1) This creates two classes of students, teachers, staff, and types of governance on each campus. Additionally, multiple non-charter NOPS/RSD public school communities are saying that they have been recently told by RSD that they are now closing, consolidating, or relocating again. The Thurgood Marshall community, a prominent traditional Orleans Parish public school now operated by RSD, has just been told that Marshall is being closed entirely to turn the historic building over to a charter that has some of the lowest scores in the district. (2) Returning students, teachers, and staff have been told they may re-apply to the new schools but no one is given any assurance that they will be accepted and therefore have a place for this fall. None of these changes were discussed with the public in the multi-million dollar School Facilities Master Plan that was forced through by State Department of Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek and rush-approved by the outgoing Orleans Parish School Board in December 2008, only 5 months ago. (3)
There is no such thing as an all-charter district anywhere else in the country. This experiment has gone too far. There is not adequate oversight or quality controls in place. Many New Orleans communities do not know what is going on in charter and RSD schools in our own areas. RSD has been systematically keeping its non-charter schools unstable by continuous personnel and campus changes, “dumping” students, shorting supplies, unethical management and cronyism, fiscal mismanagement, and heavy-handed discipline that expects every New Orleans child to quickly become a college-bound factory model student. Families are left to fend for ourselves with no more neighborhood schools, and an ‘if you don’t like it you can leave’ attitude from the charter boards, far from the accountability the charters are supposed to deliver. Teaching conditions are very difficult with amateur charter boards, no oversight, and no job security whatsoever. It is known in the community that both RSD and charter schools will fire you if you so much as attend a meeting that questions them, or challenge the managers in any way. In the way it has been implemented in New Orleans, the idea of “charter based reform” is meaningless because educators, students, and families have no security in a feedback loop that could create changes in our education system that would meaningfully better our lives. (4)
Top level New Orleans charter school proponents act as though a whole generation of our students and educators are disposable. Only in Louisiana are public charter schools allowed to have academic admission requirements. Researchers say this is a violation of state and federal laws. (5) Pursuit of ever-higher test scores is all consuming and our creative traditions are at risk. Reports of charter and RSD expulsions are widespread throughout our community for children and families who don’t fit the ideal model. Our children affected by Katrina and so many other challenges have not experienced the period of stability and nurturing they require to become stable and positive young adults. (6) Charter schools are not attending to the health of our society as a whole because they are all competing against each other for resources. A design for an all-charter New Orleans public school district is a ruthless endgame that will continue to enrich and maintain a few in power while devastating our young people of color and keep blood spilling in our streets until we stop it.
People are asking for information: How are our public schools being given by Pastorek to new, non-community-based organizations with no financial history, and how are these governing boards all being privately selected by one well-connected non-profit? Students, families, teachers, and staff at the changing schools were told only after the decisions were made and have had no voice in this process. (7) This is happening despite Louisiana law which requires a vote of approval
by two-thirds of the faculty and staff, and the majority of the parents or guardians of pupils enrolled in the school for conversion of a pre-existing public school to a Type 5 charter. (8) How is the law being circumvented? Who is behind this?
This past March, Leslie Jacobs, a former member of both the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), was featured on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition.” The popular news show called Jacobs a “reformer” and “booster for the education revolution.” Similarly, last December, Jacobs was featured in New Orleans Magazine. In that article, the 49-year-old insurance executive was described as a “bulldog,” who for decades has tirelessly fought for our city’s public schools. (9) In the New Orleans community, she is also remembered as a member of the racially divisive NOPS board of the 1980s-90s, whose family made some of its fortune by selling insurance to the district. Jacobs was very active behind the scenes in pre-Katrina destabilizing power struggles at NOPS, and she heavily influenced the enactments of school takeover and charter school “reform” laws. Currently, Jacobs is Executive Director of “Educate Now,” a new non-profit she created with her husband, Scott Jacobs. Their website calls Ms. Jacobs the driving force behind the creation of the Recovery School District (RSD) and the “architect of Louisiana’s accountability reform.” Educate Now’s mission is to make the charter ‘reforms’ permanent. (10) In 2008, Leslie Jacobs “spearheaded the ‘504ward’ movement to engage the young movers and shakers who are arriving in New Orleans with dual aspirations of sparking social change and advancing their careers.” This Spring, ‘504ward’ held a $100,000 competition for ideas to retain the new demographic group attracted by the “opportunities” created by the Katrina disaster. (11)
In 2006, while Jacobs was still a member of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, its Recovery School District connected with an organization named “New Schools for New Orleans” (NSNO) to be RSD’s primary non-profit partner in New Orleans. (12) NSNO is housed in the Cowen Center at Tulane University, and they decide who gets grants for local public charter schools. NSNO’s non-profit web has also monopolized teacher and principal recruitment, training, and placement, and the provisions of all necessary services to charter schools. In the past three and a half years, they have controlled at least $17 million of federal, state, and private foundation dollars designated for these purposes, processed at least 300 teachers, and have direct control of eight charters, including the four new highly questionable ones just announced for the RSD conversions. (13) Leslie Jacob’s brother and multi-million dollar business partner, Steven Rosenthal, is the treasurer of NSNO’s non-profit board. (14)
Who else is behind the curtain?
- The company that Paul Pastorek hired to do the School Facilities Master Plan is Concordia.
- The owner of Concordia is Steven Bingler. (15) Steven Bingler’s wife is Linda Usdin. (16) Linda Udsin is Tom Usdin’s sister (17), and Sarah Usdin is Tom Usdin’s wife. (18)
- Sarah Usdin is therefore Steven Bingler’s sister-in-law, and she is also the President/Director of New Schools New Orleans. (19)
- RSD is now attempting to phase out NOPS school Francis Gregory Elementary and install
Pride College Prep in its campus. (1) This charter was incorporated by New Schools New
Orleans staff in August 2008 (20) and Scott Jacobs is Chairman of its governing board. (21)
This is not the model America wants to copy. Despite massive failures and incestuous corruption, charter schools have been given the keys to our kingdom. What we want to know today is this: How much is enough? When will it stop? What will it take for people to see what is going on and take action?
RSD Announces Charter Matches at Four Transformation School Sites LA Dept. Education Press Release 3/26/09
Center for Action Research on Reforms – The Post-Katrina Saga of Thurgood Marshall
(3) http://www.sfmpop.org/ School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish website
Louisiana Revised Statute 17:3972. Intent and purpose
Center for Action Research on Reforms – Equal Access Denied
YouTube video – Cohen Fight
Recovery School District to close 4 schools, shift pupils The Times-Picayune 3/6/09
(8) http://www.legis.state.la.us/lss/lss.asp?doc=80974 Louisiana Revised Statutes Title 17
PART III. Chartering Process, Revision, and Renewal: RS 17:3983
Leslie Jacobs Interview
(10) http://www.educatenow.net/ Educate Now! Website
“Sharing Witness” article by Sarah Usdin July 5, 2007
(13) http://newschoolsforneworleans.org/ NSNO website
Secretary of State Corporations Database Charter/Organization ID: 36161239N: New Schools for New Orleans, Inc.
(15)http://www.concordia.com/home/article/17/Steven_B_Bingler%2C_AIA%2C_REFP%2C_NCARB%2C_Founder Concordia Website
(16)http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:IXHdAn0D6zAJ:http://www.readonebook.org/files/FACES_OF_KATRINA%255B1%255D.doc+%22steven+bingler%22+%22linda+usdin%22&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us FACES OF KATRINA: A Discussion Guide for the 2007 One Book/ One
Community Summer Selection, Breach Of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death
of a Great American City by Jed Horne
Entry # 000124: Obituary of Cecile Weil Usdin
Jewish Federation of New Orleans Annual Report 2006-2007
(19) http://newschoolsforneworleans.org/aboutus_ourteam.php NSNO website – About us
Secretary of State Corporations Database – Charter/Organization ID: 36818172N –
Pride College Preparatory Academy
(21) http://www.nolaparentsguide.org/ New Orleans Parents’ Guide to public schools, page 52.
LOUISIANA REVISED STATUTES: TITLE 17: EDUCATION
CHAPTER 42: CHARTER SCHOOL DEMONSTRATION PROGRAMS LAW
17:3972. Intent and purpose
A. It is the intention of the legislature in enacting this Chapter to authorize experimentation by city and parish school boards by authorizing the creation of innovative kinds of independent public schools for pupils. Further, it is the intention of the legislature to provide a framework for such experimentation by the creation of such schools, a means for all persons with valid ideas and motivation to participate in the experiment, and a mechanism by which experiment results can be analyzed, the positive results repeated or replicated, if appropriate, and the negative results identified and eliminated. Finally, it is the intention of the legislature that the best interests of at-risk pupils shall be the overriding consideration in implementing the provisions of this Chapter.
B.(1) The purposes of this Chapter shall be to provide opportunities for educators and others interested in educating pupils to form, operate, or be employed within a charter school with each such school designed to accomplish one or more of the following objectives:
(a) Improve pupil learning and, in general, the public school system.
(b) Increase learning opportunities and access to quality education for pupils.
(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods and a variety of governance, management, and administrative structures.
(d) Require appropriate assessment and measurement of academic learning results.
(e) Account better and more thoroughly for educational results.
(f) Create new professional opportunities for teachers and other school employees, including the opportunity to be responsible for the learning program at the school site.
(2) It is not a purpose of this Chapter to permit establishment of a charter school to be used as the means of keeping open an existing public school that otherwise would be closed. Such a circumstance, however, shall not preclude approval of a proposed charter that otherwise fulfills a purpose of this Chapter and for which the proposal clearly demonstrates that the educational program proposed to be offered will improve the achievement levels of the students enrolled in that school.
PART III. CHARTERING PROCESS, REVISION, AND RENEWAL: 17:3983 Chartering process by type; eligibility; limitations; faculty approval; parental approval
C. (1)(a) Approval by the faculty and staff who are certified by the state board of a preexisting school proposed to be converted to a charter school requires a favorable vote of two-thirds of the members of such faculty and staff, voting together each with one vote, at the preexisting school at an election held for such purpose. The number needed for approval shall be determined by the number of eligible employees assigned to such school on October first preceding the election. The election shall be held by secret ballot.
(b) Such an election may be repeated in any school for approval of the same or a different charter proposal; however, such an election may occur no more often than once in any school year.
Approval by the parents or guardians of pupils attending a preexisting school proposed to be converted to a charter school requires a favorable vote of the majority of the parents or guardians of pupils enrolled in the school at the time of the election who are voting, provided the number of votes cast equals at least fifty percent of the number of pupils. There shall be one vote for each pupil enrolled in the school which may be cast by one parent or guardian for each pupil.
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