Choice, Choice, Choice and Choice: 1

Schools Chart updated Sept. 2009

Schools Chart updated Sept. 2009, Cowen Institute

It’s not a surprise that there are stumbles along the new road of School Choice to our difficult and deceptively “improved” status quo.

While the New Orleans community has successfully created an unprecedented number of school choices, scores of families still struggle to take advantage of them. *

From the beginning, I felt and said the kind of shopping around, school visits and research School Choice here requires is directly in opposition to a large targeted population, its resources and needs. Just because there are computers at the public library doesn’t mean they are instantly and perfectly accessible when this or that particular parent can get there. And should you have to be computer literate to get your child into a decent–not good but decent—school? I still assert that as US citizens in a democracy the answer to that question has to be, cannot be anything but, No.

Yet one of the greatest challenges moving forward will be to ensure that the best schools do not simply go to the families with the connections, knowledge and time to navigate the complicated new landscape; that, in other words, parental wherewithal does not control destiny.

And even this intro article hints that this “new landscape” isn’t really all that new, that those with the most get the most and those with the least end up somewhere that’s more like limbo than school. From what I’ve personally seen anyway.

That paragraph should reappear at every section break and at the head of every article in the series. Because that is the challenge, the dilemma, the moral imperative. To improve a school system means to work on and work to eradicate injustices, biases, inequities, not to reproduce them and then throw up hands and say, We gave you the CHOICE!

“Right now, choice is more like a land run than an open house,” said Aesha Rasheed, director of the New Orleans Parent Organizing Network. “It’s each man for himself, desperately trying to get the best you can get your hands on.”

The best schools fill up quickly. And despite the creation of a streamlined application process, several schools still require different paperwork, accept applications at different times of the day, and make parents jump through different hoops to gain admission.

As a result, parents with flexible daytime schedules, access to the Internet, reliable transportation, and savvy still hold a distinct advantage.

Many educators, including Rasheed, note that creating equitable choice is a work in progress. Although more work remains to be done, the city has come a long way toward the more standard application form and deadline for its public schools. About 4,000 students submitted the “common application” by the deadline last spring, up significantly from the previous year. [emphasis added]

Out of how many students in the systems? Where are my damn interns?

Schools Governance Chart, Cowan Institute

Cowen Institute

And why did the streamlined application come LAST? No one really thought through the process of School Choice. Or just figured it was such a great idea it just had to work.

“We’ve gone so quickly from a system where parents opened their doors and just sent their children to the closest schools to one that requires an active decision by parents,” said Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools. “People get worked up that it’s not 100 percent working, but please remember that it’s only been four years.”

A radical change was made, things emptied out and renamed overnight without our consent or consultation, but now we, and our children, are told to be patient and wait while it rights itself. I ask why it was so important to throw parents and children, and teachers, into this kind of chaos to enact “change.” It’s a great idea to get parents “more involved with their children’s education” but Ms. Roemer Shirley misses a few things, and oozes, like many who speak in favor of the “reforms” and privatization here, contempt for parents and some lightly sketched idea about how bad 100% of the schools were before and how 100% of parents and people involved at whatever level just didn’t give a damn, those evil, lazy bastards. No one will argue the schools weren’t in serious trouble and were not serving children well, and making things worse in some cases, but the fact that there was poor performance and negligence [don’t deceive yourself into thinking the children ruined NOPS] and some crazy shit going on does not prove that parents didn’t care, parents weren’t trying, children were hopeless and needed to be put in new uniforms and desk row formations to get higher test scores [I almost wrote “to learn”—silly me]. I doubt if the heat on LAPCS and others involved in the privatization of the system is over the new status quo not being perfect; the unreasonableness in the 100% is meant to make any and all who ask questions or complain or analyze privatization look like absolutist, extremist fools who just need to sit the hell down. Roemer Shirley, and I do not think she is alone, associates neighborhood schools with a lack of love, concern and intelligence on the part of the parent. Is it okay in the suburbs to bring your children to the neighborhood school? And does she really think that the majority of parents in the previous system just let their kids out like a dog or cat to roam their way to school? There’s a meanness in her brief statements that shows contempt for parents, a contempt I’ve seen ooze out of other supporters of School Choice, often laced with defensiveness. Like this later comment of Roemer Shirley’s:

“We’re requiring more on the part of parents,” said Roemer Shirley of the state charter school association, “but that also means that individual schools and the (districts) need to do a better job informing parents that you can’t just show up on the first day.” [emphasis added]

Such contempt—Can you believe, Charla, that there are These People who think They can just Show Up to a School and put Their Children in it, how APPALling, how GAUCHE. Ms. Roemer Shirley, it’s SCHOOL. A school should be able to educate whoever walks in the door. That’s the point of having a public system, resources shared, pooled, allocated where needed, best practices shared and disseminated, everyone taken care of as best as is possible.

I also say if you are elbow deep in changing education and school systems, should you be so contemptuous of those you serve and whose lives you alter and, in small or not-so-small ways, direct and therefore determine?

The defensiveness is understandable. When you rip my clothes off you will have to tolerate some verbal and physical abuse while you take 3 days to make underwear, much less the rest of what I need. That could make everyone involved touchy. If you take out the floor of the house, you should give the residents something to stand on or a motel room until there’s a walkway at least. And hand out hard hats. And steel-toed boots.

But I digress….

And after all this parents-need-to-make-an-active-choice, the next 3 paragraphs note the heavy door-to-door and in-neighborhood recruiting some schools do to fill their desks. Which is needed. It’s unreasonable to say that only kids with the right kind of parent can go to a decent or good school.

Virtually no one disagrees that parents should work hard on behalf of their children, setting aside substantial time for a school search if necessary. On the plus side, such requirements could very well spur increased parent engagement citywide.

“We want schools to press parents to be more responsible, engaged and involved,” said Recovery School District Superintendent Paul Vallas.

But there’s a fine line in some cases between promoting parent engagement and setting up unnecessary hurdles before a student is admitted. To a school, requiring families to interview before granting admission helps ensure that the parents and students understand expectations. To a parent, it can come off as a screening mechanism, particularly if not fully explained.

Also, some parents have significantly more time and resources to devote to the search than others. For one family dropping off an application during a work day might mean a quick errand in the car. For another family, it could mean a long bus ride, a missed work shift, lost income and late bill payments.

Carr has a light touch here. I’m not sure how an interview can’t be seen as a screening. A one-on-one interview—when you go for a job interview, isn’t it also a screening mechanism? A parent meeting can answer questions about and emphasize important aspects of a program through handouts, lecture, discussion, role-playing, videos, etc. And again, Carr brings in, to her credit, and I look forward to this as I finally get to this series, the reality of the parents we have and the world in which we actually live. You don’t have to be a resident of Iberville to have resource or time issues. We collectively must, not ‘be able to’ but, DO better.

Moreover, every city, including New Orleans, has some parents who are addicted to drugs, mentally or intellectually incapacitated, or who simply don’t care. Should their children — who could reap the greatest benefit from a strong school — be relegated to the weakest schools, victims of their parent’s incompetence?

“If we are about equitable choice, then we don’t want to create a Darwinian system where only the people who can figure out how to get through the maze get into the best schools,” Rasheed said.

Which is the system we had before, where those with the most resources and time got their kids into the betters schools. I’m not seeing a great deal of difference or more-than-superficial change yet. Part of why not is that, as Henry Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education said,

“…(Choice) doesn’t solve the problem of families who are just behind the eight ball.

“You are dealing with people who are worried about putting food on the table and whether they are going to have to move in the middle of the night. … They are not sitting down at the breakfast table every morning and saying, ‘Oh, let me read through the parent handbook and figure out where to send my child to school.’ “

Which brings us back to the sad formula, and not new, that if your parents aren’t up to a particular standard, you are screwed. And that’s antithetical to the idea of public education.

Most people are just worried about their own kid or yet-to-be kid. I know mine will be fine regardless because she has me and Mister. I worry about those kids who do not have. And that shouldn’t be dismissed or seen as irrelevant to the issue of our public schools and kids. It’s not sprinkles; it’s the cake.

And I’m not seeing and haven’t been seeing how this School Choice is changing what happens in classrooms.

“The solution is that every school is a good school,” said Jay Altman, chief executive officer of FirstLine Schools, which runs Arthur Ashe and Green charter schools. “That is the end game to all this.”

And that happens because of parents who can scramble and hustle and cross town 4 times to get their kids in x school? Huh? Am I missing something here? Does he not know that it’s money, resources, teacher training and support and education that makes a good school? NO had choice before—people who could chose to send their kids to anything-but-a-public school, or to a hard-to-get-into handful of public schools, or to move to the north shore–which gave us the schools we now are trying to reform via School Choice. What a finale.

Next: the article from the 9th and a child with possible autism.


*I link to the online version but am reading and commenting on the print version, which may have slight variations.

Selecting a school can be a real test for New Orleans parents.” Sarah Carr. (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, 11/8/2009.

pics cropped from “School Chart Update Sept. 24, 2009” [PDF],  Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives

About G Bitch

A mad black woman in New Orleans.
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6 Responses to Choice, Choice, Choice and Choice: 1

  1. Choice means having more than 9 real options for public school in a city of about 350K people.

    Total Public Schools According to local authorities: 88 Schools

    Total Public Schools Accredited by SACS: 9

    Those 9 Schools: Ben Franklin HS, Eisenhower, Edna Karr, Edward Hynes, Lusher, McDonogh 35, McMain, OP Walker, Warren Easton

    The only RSD-affiliated school with accreditation? Eisenhower – an Algeirs Charter School Association affiliate.

    For purposes of comparison, the Archdiocese of New Orleans has 24 accredited schools. Jefferson Parish Public Schools have 22 accredited public schools listed just for Metairie and Kenner.

    Anyone sense a pattern here?

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  3. brendan says:

    Moreover, every city, including New Orleans, has some parents who are…mentally or intellectually incapacitated…

    Way to show your ableism. Non-neurotypical parents or parents fighting depression or ptsd need not apply. they probably shouldn’t have bred in the first place. why don’t we go back to sterilizing ’em against their will, ms roemer shirley? would that make your life easier?

    i got lucky getting my girls into audubon. mostly because i drove across the river every day to get them into an affordable montessori preschool. i also had the help of my ex-wife to get me through the admissions process. if i had to do it now, alone, i’m afraid my kids wouldn’t be so lucky, as i struggle with a pretty severe anxiety disorder and ptsd as well as being a wheelchair user. as it is, i get no end to the guilt-tripping and grief about my not ‘taking an active part’ in my children’s education. i do that, but what i cannot do is the required 25 hrs of volunteering every semester. and i’m raising 2 kids on disability, so i can’t afford the ‘annual giving’ drive where a free, public school milks money out of the parents.

    ms roemer shirley’s attitude is basically: middle class parents only, please. and don’t ask too many questions, just do as we say.

    they need to make the process (and their school buildings!) accessible to *all* parents.

  4. G Bitch says:

    Brendan, you are so right about Roemer Shirley’s attitude, and it is an attitude shared by too many people in positions of influence and authority. I am happy you got your girls in a good school. It shouldn’t be hard to get your child in a decent school; no school system should or should be allowed to write off kids who have parents with issues or problems [and it’s not just physical, psychological or intellectual issues–what about the parents who are too damn selfish or self-absorbed to care?]; school should work for kids whether their parents can or will spend x number of hours a year or week or whatever “volunteering” or can write a check every month [and it is like that–every month, there’s something]. If it’s not available to all, then where’s the reform? How is it better than before? Answer: it’s NOT.

    And a school that charges for “materials” or asks for deposits or donations or outright cash should not call itself “public.”

    A letter needs to be written on your behalf, and the behalf of other parents like you, to that principal. I am sure they are not trying to be exclusive but they need to know that some policies are unfair and impact parents and children in ways they are not taking into account. I wish you all the best. Thanks for dropping by.

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Comments welcomed. Really.