Friday, August 22, 2008

Evaluating the School Facilities Master Plan: 3rd Grade

Let's highlight a key passage from the RSD's press release that accompanied the master plan presentation from Monday. Unfortunately I cannot find an electronic copy of what was handed out in the press packets so you'll just have to believe my transcription.

The blueprint proposes a period between 2012 and 2016 when currently occupied buildings could be discontinued if the recommendations are implemented. Any buildings on landbanked property that are in excess of 51% damaged will be demolished. Any historic property or other important or valuable buildings will be repurposed, including the possibility that these properties may be sold to third parties and used for another purpose. Landbanked or repurposed schools could be made available to third parties to revive for a school, if permission is secured from the appropriate governing authority.

Now I think this was a very interesting thing to include.

Why would third parties want to revive a school in a town where, theoretically, our brand new '21st century schools' would be meeting our educational needs?

And why would third party operators be reviving landbanked schools and not the public school system itself?

At each presentation that Parsons-Concordia has given thus far, Mr. Bingler has been very careful to say that the master plan "was agnostic in terms of operator," meaning that determinations about the future of certain facilities did not take into account whether or not the building was operated by the RSD, the OPSB, or a charter.

Yet the RSD's own press release already is already floating this idea of a future of privatized education, but you have it specifically tied to the master plan's Phase II - which has no funding.

Who would those third party operators be and which communities would they serve?


A brief observation from Dr. Lance Hill of the Southern Institute for Education and Research:

Note the plan plans to demolish virtually all the open-admission public schools between St. Charles and the river: Banneker Elementary, Arthur Ashe Middle, McDonogh 7 Elementary, New Orleans Free School, and Bauduit Elementary.

The school facility demolition plan has nothing to do with flood protection. Note below that the plan is to demolish schools above sea level that have never flooded (uptown open-admission elementaries), while renovating selective admission schools like Franklin and Lusher that are below sea level and did flood. The criteria is clearly not elevation.

That's very interesting because "flood protection" is the refrain I constantly hear as a justification for withholding public dollars from certain neighborhoods in general terms.


From loyal reader and blogger Alli (emphasis a combination of hers and mine):

"...Agnostic in terms of operator" and "third party operators" sounds like it's in reference to this article from the NYT over the weekend:

The theorist who has had the most influence over Pastorek is Paul T. Hill, who runs a research group at the University of Washington called the Center on Reinventing Public Education. In September 2005, while much of New Orleans was still submerged, Hill published an article in Education Week that urged state and federal officials and philanthropic foundations to resist the temptation simply to send emergency aid to whatever programs seemed most in need. "The circumstances call for a coherent strategy, not just a round of do-gooding," he wrote. "Don't spend money rebuilding the old district structure."

In 2000, in a book titled "It Takes a City," Hill and two other researchers laid out a new architecture for urban school reform that they called the Diverse Providers Strategy. Under this model, local school boards wouldn't run a school system hierarchically, the way they usually did; instead, they would oversee a "portfolio" of schools, some run directly by the board and many run on contract by nonprofits, universities or private companies. Schools would receive money on a per-student basis, and principals could then use that money to staff their schools as they liked and pay for whatever instructional methods they chose. Each school would negotiate salaries and work rules directly with its teachers. The system's small central office would be responsible only for oversight, though it would have considerable power to hold principals accountable: schools that didn't produce results would be closed, and successful schools would be imitated and replicated.

It is this model that Pastorek and Vallas have adapted for New Orleans. Pastorek says that he wants the state's role to be that of a "harvester of high-quality schools" in the city — nurturing promising ones and weeding out failing ones. "If schools run into trouble, you support them," Pastorek said. "But if they're still failing after you support them, then you pull the plug and bring in a new provider or an experienced provider. Over a period of 5 or 6 years, 10 at the most, we'll have nothing but high-quality operators in our city."

Diverse Providers: Because New Orleans Has Never Had Any Problems With Contracts, Ever.

Wait, when has New Orleans ever had trouble with private contracting? What is Alli talking about?


Matthew said...

hey eli. i'm out of town. can you make sure to save the press packet for me to copy when i get back? that'd be awesome and so are you!

LatinTeacher said...


I have said from day one that New Orleans has a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again. It would be ignorant to try what we already know doesn't work. What we had in the past has lost New Orleans at least two generations. I am not immediately opposed to trying something new and, if it's successful, replicating it. I am, however, opposed to things as they used to be. I do not think charter schools are the only answer. I also do not think the OPSB has any clue and should immediately dissolved. From what I have heard, the schools in other areas of the state tend to do fair job of educating. With few exceptions, those in New Orleans have not.

Here is my question - if you had a chance to do things again that you knew didn't work, would you do them the same way?

This seems subversive, but I am taking a wait and see attitude for now.

Anonymous said...

latin teacher..have you read the plan?

G Bitch said...

Latin Teacher, if a person has astigmatism, the solution isn't to take out the eyes. That's what this "plan" and what has generally happened around schools here has been like. There was no attempt to find actual, real problems and apply actual, real solutions, short- or long-term. The solution offered to fix a broken system (but it's not completely broken; do not believe The Big Lie that nothing good is or has ever happened in any Orleans public school or that all Orleans teachers were crap) is to destroy it and replace it with, essentially, nothing.

And there are broken schools and school systems all over the state, not just in NO. Public education has never been much of a priority in this state. Just the name of the funding formula--the Minimum Foundation Program, meant to provide the minimum needed to educate students, our children--tells you where priorities lie.

And if OPSB is dissolved, there will be no public or community input into the schools. Period. At all. Ever again. It will end. Things like this do not get torn down then rebuilt, not here. (Pun intended.) And we will have vouchers, some charter schools, and a lot of very happy private schools with no real competition. I find that appalling.

What's happening here is shit, not progress, not reform, not A New Day. It will destroy this city and what recovery we've had. Period squared.

LatinTeacher said...

g-bitch et al.

So maybe the OPSD dissolution was a bit over the top, but something HAS to be done to fix what was broken (perceived or real).

New Jersey has great public schools. There are several reasons why - The teachers have an powerful union, a worthwhile retirement plan, and high salaries. They also have stringent qualifications, intense continuing education guidelines, and amazing support from the school districts and the state.

On the flip side, property taxes are high to pay for this. You have to pay to play.

This is a priority for the state of New Jersey. As a result, (I am not sure about the currentness of this) the state has the highest rate of graduates from high school and prepares more students for college.

I think that New Orleans has a chance to do something comparable if they could get the right people in place. Instead of being a perceived drain on the rest of the state, it would be truly awesome if it could lead the way in reform.

The problem is that most of the affluent in New Orleans send their children to private or Catholic schools and are not personally invested in the public education system any more. Schools are not a priority which you have succinctly stated.

I do not think I am disagreeing with what you have said and what I have read. I am just saying that trying something new is not necessarily bad.

E said...

I think the G-Bitch and Leigh Dingerson of the Center for Community Change touched on this today while speaking on the education panel today at Rising Tide III. The progressive charter is not bad by itself. Nobody argues that it has not been helpful to democratize school administration as a way of incubating the latest and greatest teaching strategies and learning systems. What is happening here is a balkanized school system that seeks to limit public accountability while outsourcing yet another public service.

Comparing the state of New Jersey's education system to that of New Orleans is comparing apples and spaceships. Different histories, greater challenges.

But overall I think we can all get on the same page here by enthusiastically agreeing that the old days of corrupt and ineffective OPSB management should never come back.

But also the present day corrupt and ineffective OPSB management should not be allowed to sign a document that binds this city to a 30-year public school deconstruction plan!

Five of seven OPSBS members have opted out of a reelection run which means this CRITICAL decision will be made by a group of people that are refusing to stand in front of voters.

They have now set a 30 day period on which to evaluate a document that is nearly 2000 pages. Parents are not being engaged. It is incumbent on parents to download the 1800 or whatever pages and read them till the computer screen delivers blindness? It is incumbent on parents without computers to go to libraries to spend as many hours as it takes to read an 1800 page planning document?

We have some reform-minded OPSB candidates now intending to replace these incumbents that are extremely skeptical of the master plan.

We can reform a public school district. We can democratize a public school system. But we can't do those things to a gutted school system that is no longer public.

Scott Harney said...

Cliff was dead-on Saturday and I think you've got it right as well

"Comparing the state of New Jersey's education system to that of New Orleans is comparing apples and spaceships. Different histories, greater challenges."

The problem with the "plan" is that it ignores all the history and context around the school system and the results of long-term and historic disinvestment. It takes advantage of that historic distrust about the public school system as well in favor of a theory of public education.

And I'm not saying we need to be ignoring "outside" ideas. To the contrary, we should be incorporating them into a real forward-looking plan that recognizes the historical context and directly confronts the challenges that context presents. This "plan" does not do that.