The Mixed Public Perceptions of The Experiment

The full report is here [PDF] and not very long….

key findings image 1

The first finding is pretty easy—even if you are dogmatically opposed to the privatization of public schools, if the choice is between a “failing” operator and a new one, you’d choose the new one if you made a choice at all, because who in his/her right mind wants a school to “fail” or to reward an operator for “failure”?

The “strong support” for “school choice,” however that is defined, is not exactly strong, 54% and 50%, and those numbers seem about right for an experiment that was not voted on, not debated or mulled over in public, and which has left no real alternatives since the majority of schools are charters and you will likely send your child to one regardless of its letter grade or charter management organization.

The third finding is not so surprising, and exposes the murky, ugly, fetid racial politics and “politics” of the local school privatization game. Public schools were far from ideal before 2005, many schools had been weakened through neglect and de facto segregation, some struggled to do the best they could, others had teachers and staff that were burned out or not trained enough or educated enough or supported enough for the jobs they had to do, and something did need to be done. The fact that something needed to be done does not and did not mean that privatization was the sole or best answer to problems that were not well-defined. Folks in the US like “change” and tend to think “change” or “new” is better than “old” or certain statuses quo. When the narrative is that the Bad Old System has been slain and replaced with White Knights in Shiny Armor, it’s easy to believe, especially the less contact you have with public schools and the students and families and public education, that “change” has of course meant “better.” [I do not agree that crisis or “crisis” or “failure” means that any drastic means are necessary and are the only things that will work. This approach has not been used on the US tax code, on NOLA property assessments, etc.] Even with all this Change, it is still true that NO “public” schools are still majority black [browse the Parents Guide to New Orleans Public Schools (PDF)], and The Change did not bring an influx of white, middle class families to the school system or eliminate all problems.

The “strong support for changes to the school board” is odd considering how few schools OPSB operates now compared to the past and RSD/BESE, and that it has cleaned up a bit over the years. Also, charter operators have had a few problems of their own and are not infallible. This “support” looks to me like an effect of the heavy-handed villainization of OPSB, the “public schools” and their teachers in support of The Change and Reform. Public institutions are prone to corruption, error, sometimes criminal behavior [private ones, too] which is why oversight is so critical. The foxes will raid the hen house if the door is open or if you let the foxes set up the security system without any oversight, supervision, or consequences. Before 2005, few people cared much about the schools; their kids didn’t go there or it was all they could do to get their school to work for their child or they had no kids and did/could not see how what happens to other people’s children had anything to do with them, globally or personally.

The final key finding is deceptively written, emphasizing that 37% as if it were 73%. It skips over the 63% who don’t think the schools are better or had mixed responses or just didn’t know. 37% is not a plurality.

public schools image 2 totalpublic schools image black white_1

public schools perception 2009 201352% believe the schools are about the same or were better before, and 11% don’t know [“uncertain”] so a plurality doesn’t agree that the schools “are better after Katrina.” You may like one number but the rest of the story may be more complex than what you want to see. At least I used to tell my students that….

It’s interesting how many white [and “other”] respondents believe the schools “are better after Katrina” considering how few of them are in the school system [over 90% of white students are concentrated in a handful of schools, I think 4, maybe 6]. This belief may be based more on what’s read in the paper, seen in the news, and promoted by privatization supporters and charter operators than seeing what “choice” actually means for some parents. This might be civic engagement or successful advertising and narrative promotion.

34% of black respondents believed the schools “were better before.” Is this about “choice,” boards, OPSB, RSD, individual schools, jobs?

public schools RSD v OPSB black whiteThe text is critical because the colors change in this graph from what’s used before—here, green is African American respondents and blue is “white and other.” Again, whites, who are drastically underrepresented in the public school system, believe that the public schools should not be returned to the OPSB and local control.

Of interest—an equal percentage of blacks and whites were “uncertain.”

OPSB confidence black whiteThis question also has a change-is-Better! subtext—the newly elected board can only inspire more “confidence” if it is believed that the “old,” and elected, board was thoroughly and irredeemably rotten, which is a narrative, simplified from an unpleasant but also complex distant and recent past. Whites seem to have more confidence in this “new.” But again, an equal percentage of black and white respondents were “uncertain.”

oversight charter schools total

66% chose a local option, a more significant percentage than 50%, 54%, 51% or 37%. Even with doubts about OPSB and a vicious narrative that is partly true and part demonization to serve other ends, respondents wanted some local connection to or control over the schools, chartered or not.

charter improves learning

This question is hampered by the fact that there has been, and there are no plans for, a method of school “Reform” or “improvement” that is not privatization, and privatization and charter schools have not been shown to be significantly better than traditional public schools. Locally, some schools had a bump in test scores, others were able to change the school culture, but you don’t have to privatize public schools to do either or to implement change that will “improve student learning,” including discussion as to what “improve” and “student learning” mean. Narrowing the student body, having an admissions process that is more than or different than the OneApp, requiring x or s from parents/guardians, high-stakes standardized tests and teaching to the test are all things that can increase test scores or make a school look “changed” or even “new,” public or charter. It doesn’t mean that what happens in the classroom has fundamentally changed or that what is happening in the classroom post-“Reform” is “change” or “better” or in the best interests of educating soon-to-be voting, working, parenting, active citizens in a democracy.

Yes, OPSB had its problems, and it is not the only institution, public or private, to have them, but City Hall also has systemic, a-productive, wasteful problems but the building hasn’t been torn down [yet] and everyone replaced with out-of-towners, and the mayor made an appointed role.

The report breezily refers to “the reforms that were implemented following Katrina” that were drastic, not discussed or voted or agreed upon by any significant percentage of the public, either voting or involved in the public schools, and was not presented as an a la carte but a single tool for every single problem, regardless of the problem, its causes or symptoms, and what others in K-12, universities  research, reporting learned and tried and saw and evaluated [10]. There are educational reform ideas out there. Putting public money and institutions into private hands is not an educational idea but a business idea, a free-market idea, a political axe to grind and prove on the backs of kids who are not those of the primary decision-makers, a group of decision-makers who see opposition from stakeholders as “proof” they are doing “the right thing for [their own] good” and come to the table with contempt for the stakeholders and a matching ignorance of the profession and field.

Support for The “Reform”? Not exactly. It’s muddled even when the Cowen Institute reports on it. Simple answers to complex problems do not bring clear skies.


Scott  S.  Cowen  Institute  for  Public  Education  Initiatives. K-12 Public Education through the Public’s Eye: Voters’ Perception of Public Education [research brief]. Tulane University, April 2013. Available in PDF at _k -12_public_education_through_the_publics_eye_0.pdf.

About G Bitch

A mad black woman in New Orleans.
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