Reform Fairytales

The sheer audacity of John White’s Louisiana Department of Education never ceases to impress me. They are more than willing to make any argument that suits their purposes regardless of the facts or previous arguments they have made. They are not afraid to lie to the media, parents, and even judges believing that no one will ever question anything they claim, regardless of how ridiculous or contradictory.

Take this very recent case. St Helena has been under a desegregation order/suit for the past 50 years. The state decided to take over the middle school, the heart of the school district, in the 2010-2011 school year. The previous administration in St Helena allowed this to happen, believing they had little choice but to comply, and that the state and RSD (Recovery School System) might have a chance of improving their school system. St Helena is the poorest parish in the state, and since performance is most strongly correlated with poverty, they also are one of the lowest performing. Drastic, radical, and unproven education laws and policies are geared toward punishing and overwhelming poorer districts. Rather than providing supplemental support to help poor districts overcome the handicap of endemic poverty, the state and Reformers prefer to punish these districts and people for being poor. They use poor people to conduct their Reform experiments upon and make claims that often go unquestioned, but are rarely backed up by anything approaching facts, research or documentation.

The RSD school the state created from St Helena’s middle school is a prime example of the what happens when corporately funded bureaucrats impose their will upon those least able to defend themselves. Reformers prey on the weak, dividing and conquering school districts and dividing wedges between teachers, administrators and communities. They want us to fight among ourselves, while they take over and sell us off.

The RSD was initially sold as a temporary fix, a band aid to be applied and removed. What it has become is the source of infection and a creator of festering sores. It’s no coincidence that RSD, after 7 years, is the lowest performing district in the state. (The state claims they are the second lowest performing district, but they also exclude the lowest 10-20% of their schools from their district average for the first 2 years after they get taken over by RSD which can be perpetuated if they simply change operators every two years.)

In theory once a school is “recovered” it is supposed to be handed back to the school district. (I’m not aware of any schools being handed back to any school district under any circumstance. If any of you know of any, please let me know.) However the policy only assumed eventual success. There is nothing laid out in policy if the state’s policies turn out to be abyssal failures, such as in the case of most RSD schools, but particularly in St Helena Middle RSD, which may be the lowest performing school in one of the lowest performing states. An impressive achievement, but not one you’d expect LDOE and RSD to crow about, and true to form they don’t. Instead, they invent absurd arguments out of thin air, providing numbers and table without any historical context and making claims that turn out to be exactly opposite of reality.

In the latest pleading to federal Judge James Brady on July 17th 2013 in St Helena’s 50 year desegregation case RSD and LDOE make the following unsubstantiated claims.

517 BESE SUPPLEMENTAL BRIEF

DESEGREGATIVE EFFECT

To allow St. Helena to expand their elementary and high schools to serve grades 5-8 would likely result in a further segregative effect. Having two middle school populations will lead to further dilution or even total elimination of the minimal white student population at one or both of the middle schools.

Allowing two middle schools will promote segregation because now there will be two schools with children of the same age and will further dilute the already small white student population in the middle grades. This could result c in one school having very few or no white students. The projected enrollment of St. Helena Middle School for the 2013-14 school year is 312 students. The chart below shows the enrollment breakdown by grade and race at St. Helena Middle School as of January 15, 2013.

The only offered 2012 middle school numbers as proof. I decided to delve a little deeper. As you can see from my charts below the St Helena Middle school is causing not only a decrease in enrollment and public participation in the St Helena School system (a 16% decrease since they took over) but the white population in the middle school has decreased 39% since they took over, or about 2 and a half times faster than the overall population decline.)

St Helena Middle
   
 

St Helena

RSD

 
Year

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

% Decrease
White

25

31

25

23

19

39%

Total

348

374

356

344

313

16%

St Helena Elementary
   
 

St Helena

 
Year

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

% Increase
White

25

31

25

23

30-39

21%

Total

473

460

448

523

518

11%

In case someone tries to argue this may simply be a demographic change of the parish as a whole, take a look at the only feeder school for the middle school over the same period. St Helena Elementary has experienced as much as a 21% increase in white participation and a 11% increase in total population. Or in other words, more children are choosing to come enroll in the elementary school since 2009, and the increase in white enrollments is anywhere from flat to twice the rate of the overall increase.

RSD is creating a new white flight from public schools in St Helena, a direct and diametrically opposite conclusion from what RSD’s lawyers are trying to make. The existence of RSD is actually causing what RSD is claiming allowing St. Helena to expand their grade structures will cause.

It’s not clear to me why RSD would made the argument that more choices will lead to parents and students leaving the school system. Aren’t we told more choices are good for parents? Isn’t the argument for charter school, vouchers, course choice, and virtual schools that choice is imperative to allow parents and students an opportunity to avoid failing schools like RSD’s St Helena Middle School? It’s obvious from the localized decline in enrollment in the middle school that many parents are opting out of the public education system. Shouldn’t more choices allow parents to come back? If the RSD school is as good for St Helena parents and students, won’t the enrollments show that?

Now, onto the next ridiculous hypocritical argument:

MIDDLE SCHOOL POULATION INADEQUATE TO SUPPORT TWO SCHOOLS

A. ECONOMIES OF SCALE

Allowing St. Helena to expand their elementary and high schools to serve 5th through 8th grade students would likely result in doing harm to the education of the students at both middle schools. Having two middle school populations for such a small number of students will result in a lack of economy of scale and wasted resources. Further, making this change so close to the beginning of the school year provides inadequate time to make all of the major, necessary changes to readjust the programs for both systems in time for the beginning of the school year. This will negatively affect the education of these middle school students.

St. Helena has enough students in the elementary and high schools to somewhat achieve a level of economy of scale to make smaller middle school grades work. However, the RSD does not have that advantage. Reducing the student population at the RSD middle school would put the RSD middle school at a severe financial disadvantage, which would hinder the RSD from providing the best education possible for the middle school students.

For 2013-2014, there are a number of fixed costs that will remain at St. Helena Middle School, regardless of the size of the student population. These include costs such as maintenance and custodial ($105,154) utilities ($51,459), and supplies that have already been ordered ($31,200). If the student population decreases, there will be less MFP funds available to cover these fixed costs, which will result in a disproportionate amount of funds to cover instructional costs at the school.

Really? After all the quotes we hear from John White about “adult issues”

but “too often,” says White, “adults let adult issues get in the way of being the safety net around that child.”

“Because of those adult issues,” White said, “we just kicked them out.

In order to achieve this, adults will have to change, and leaders will have to lead that change. – See more at: http://www.broadcenter.org/academy/network/profile/john-white#sthash.5WZuvbHB.dpuf

They are actually using the economies of scale argument after taking over a third of St Helena without any such consideration? Really? The state funds RSD, St Helena is one of the poorest parishes in the state. Do these guys actually read what they write?

B. CHANGES IN GOVERNANCE

Making a change in governance at this point in the school year negatively affects parents and students. St. Helena Middle School begins on August 6th, which is 14 school days away (as of July 17th).

If a change in governance or grade reconfiguration change occurs, both schools will have to implement new, last-minute enrollment procedures. RSD 6th, 7th, and 8th graders have already enrolled at St. Helena Middle School by submitting their “intent to return forms.”

i. The RSD still has not officially enrolled the 5th grade students at St. Helena Middle School, because Superintendent Joseph has refused to turn over the 4th grade roster information to the RSD.

However, it is worth noting that the RSD gave St. Helena 8th grade roster information in early May so that St. Helena could have the necessary information to enroll these students in 9th grade at St. Helena High School.

A change in governance or grade reconfiguration change would also necessitate last minute personnel changes. St. Helena Middle School currently has a staff of twenty-five people. If the middle school is returned to St. Helena or St. Helena is allowed to serve middle school students, the RSD will need to terminate teachers. Teachers are scheduled to start work on August 1, 2013. Given the timeline, the RSD will likely have to pay the staff at least one paycheck before termination, which will result in the RSD losing a substantial amount of money.

A change in governance or grade reconfiguration change would also require the RSD to amend or cancel a number of contracts with vendors and service providers. The RSD has entered into several service contracts for the upcoming school year including maintenance and custodial contract, a food service contract, and pest and waste disposal service agreements. We are also in an agreement with Southeast Community Health Center to provide physical and mental health services for the students at St. Helena Middle School.

Sports, clubs, and extracurricular activities have already been established for the school year, and students are looking forward to participating in these teams and clubs. If St. Helena began serving middle school grades, these teams and clubs would lose members and the school might not have enough enrollment or resources to maintain these programs.

A grade reconfiguration change would also require the RSD to substantially revise its budget based on decreased enrollment.

Also, in order to formalize and fully implement a change in governance or grade reconfiguration change, St. Helena and the RSD would have to complete a number of procedures required by the Louisiana Department of Education’s finance and accountability offices that have already been completed for all other school systems in the state.

Holy crap this is a lot of BS. I think RSD’s lawyers get paid for the pound for producing this garbage. More “adult issues”, clubs might be affected; new budgets would have to be made? Really?

One of my favorite parts is the whole dropping this on them at the last minute assertion. St Helena has been fighting to open these schools since last year. This is not something they just strung on the state a few days ago. And when has timing or legal issues ever stopped RSD or the state from implementing an unconstitutional voucher program, and unconstitutional MFP (for 3 years running) an unconstitutional teacher evaluation system, and unconstitutional Course Choice program, and those are just a few things off the top of my head over the past two years. Incidentally, while St Helena has been fighting to add some grades to their existing schools for the past 2 years, the state simply went ahead and implemented their programs which have since been ruled many times over unconstitutional.

There is more, much more absurdity being argued here. It will take me a while to complete the shoveling but I think it’s an important task to undertake; not just for St Helena but for all of us.

St Helena has fallen into RSDs grasp, and is trying to fight back, and we all need to do what we can to help them escape the state, the RSD. When you see these types of lies, this raging hypocrsiy do any of you feel safe in your higher performing districts? You shouldn’t. Reformers, charter operators, and RSD will be coming for all of your community schools soon enough. The state has control of the data, and the messaging. When they decide it’s time to make new inroads into new parishes for their corporate puppet masters, none of you, none of us and none of our children will be safe.

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