Some Remarks, a Speaker and a Panel

Apr 29, 2008 by

I got there 30 minutes late so I cannot tell you anything about Scott Cowen’s opening remarks or Paul Pastorek’s keynote address. I can tell you that nothing is clearer about the future of schools to me. Like many meetings, many hopes were voiced, many opinions told and held, and questions not answered and I can’t say that I have any new understanding of what’s happening. Here are some of my scattered notes, direct words in quotation marks, others paraphrased, my comments in italics:

  • The earlier you hold a school meeting, the whiter the audience seems to be. This audience was about 80+% white. Not a complaint but an observation, an interesting one for a school system that is overwhelmingly black. And, Karen pointed out, the meeting was on a college campus with limited parking and no way of knowing where exactly to go unless you are familiar with the Tulane, or any, college campus.
  • Barbara MacPhee, former principal of NO Science and Math HS: in the past, kids were not first, teachers were not developed, we now have “gap kids” (those who are 1+ years below grade level), we had an “adults problem” not a student/child problem. She got lots of applause for that one.
  • about accountability–Matt Candler, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans: “open a great school where a failed school has been.” So what’s the difference between a struggling school and a developing school? Who decides? How?
  • Tony Recasner, principal of Green Charter School: if schools are better but still economically and racially segregated, we’ve still failed. Amen.
  • Charlotte Matthew, principal of Ben Franklin Elementary: find what’s working in schools and communicate that to other schools, teachers, etc.; do a better job of dividing the education funding that there is and coordinate resources. Great idea. But we have to realize that not all good ideas work with all kids and that we have some populations, not just at the bottom but in the middle and the top, who need attention, best practices, and facilities.
  • Flozell Daniels, chair, Urban League of NO: we as a community need to understand what “quality education” means and have community-wide expectations, need to define “success” and “achievement,” and have the discussion on “how much does it take to educate a child in NO?” and need fiscal reform to sustain the potential changes. We also need to define “accountability.” Who’s accountable for what and when and what are the consequences? And does that “accountablitly” come with support, financial, professional and otherwise?
  • The panel consensus seemed to be that the biggest worry or fear is returning all the schools to the Orleans Parish School Board. That got lots of applause. Remember the demographics of the crowd. And as Karen pointed out, there is a blanket condemnation of everything and everyone associated with Orleans schools. That fosters a lot of tension and hostility. And more racial misunderstanding. And dismisses and washes away the good that was being done, the ones who were working hard. I’ve complained before and will again about the distinctly racial tenor of condemnations of Orleans parish schools, children and, especially, teachers. And not from people whose kids went to any public school.
  • When Charlotte Matthew said that NOPS got its first clean audit this year, as a sign that NOPS/OPSB is making changes, there was a lot of grumbling and some polite applause.
  • Matt Candler: the shift or change to charter schools is about governance, not student achievement; if you have enough good schools, the city will change; historically, people have bought their way out of the public schools in NO and if middle class people “don’t make bets with their children” by enrolling them in the public schools, the reforms will fail and “for far too long we have been okay” with crappy public schools being about “other people’s kids.” That was the most pointed statement on the socioeconomic and racial problems that made the old system what it was, exacerbated the weaknesses and that make the majority of public schools now still in need of a lot of help.
  • Did you know the state department of education never had a research division or researchers? You do now. And now there are 2–either 2 research groups or 2 researchers, I didn’t hear the whole answer. Now that the experiment has gone on for 2 years, there will be research.
  • What’s the solution for segregation here in our schools? Tony Recasner said high-quality schools. And hoped that would be enough.

I’ve read the report. I am not encouraged. More on that soon. There has been progress but it is hard to measure and, for the RSD, the bar was abysmally low to begin with.

Also see Liprap’s first impressions.
G Bitch



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