LA and the Recovery School District approach (SB1718): A P.T. Barnum Circus

I suspect P.T. Barnum would be proud of the showmanship eminating from Louisiana— an educational policy circus. The Recovery School District has been acclaimed as “a game changer for New Orleans” and very likely today be up for a vote in the Texas House in Senate Bill 1718— and perhaps soon in a Legislature near you.

Phineas Taylor Barnum (July 5, 1810 – April 7, 1891) was an American showman, businessman, scam artist and entertainer, remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the circus that became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (Wikipedia).

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What we know from Louisiana so far…

“The bigger the humbug, the better people will like it.” P.T. Barnum

Louisiana has trumpet their educational reforms across the nation. Secretary Duncan is also a fan. The Washington Post reported he stated:

I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.

Here is what is interesting about Louisiana that many people don’t know. They are desperately trying to control who accesses public information (data) to examine their “educational miracle.” I have been holding on to this story since 2012 because we have made friendly attempts to gain access to Louisiana data for 10 months. In fact, we have made requests to Louisiana on seven seperate occassions since August 2012. When this did not yield data, we made a public information request for an existing dataset already given to CREDO. Louisiana is required by law to respond to public records requests within 3 days, its been more than 90 days and Louisiana has not responded. It appears I will now have to file a complaint with the feds and the LA Attorney General.

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I am not the only person who Louisiana is dodging for public information about their educational system. I reblogged a post from Louisiana Voice a few days ago. DOE agrees to pay legal costs and late fees for not producing records in settlement of LouisianaVoice’s public records suit

The organization Research on Reforms in New Orleans is also suing the state for access to data to conduct academic research. Parties to the suit are Dr. Barbara Ferguson and Dr. Charles Hatfield.

I contacted CrazyCrawfish, a Louisiana based blogger to ask about the purported success of the Recovery School District and why Louisiana only provides data to particular researchers via public requests (incidentally, or perhaps not, none of whom are people of color). His response:

I’m actually trying to get info to dispel these constant misrepresentations.  The data coming out of RSD is fraudulent and the results are based on manipulating students into leaving and falsifying exit codes/reasons so the student stops getting counted in the denominator. [This sounds strangely similar to this and this] Karen Harper Royal can probably tell you more about that as she’s on the front line and has come across these students living in the street that supposedly transferred out-of-state.  This is a statewide issue, but especially an issue in RSD and charters who counsel out and expel students out every year from 9th grade thru 12th grade.  RSD schools and charters then essentially report their grad rates as the students who get diplomas that were enrolled in 12th grade, and those results are still crappy.  I have a post describing the data misrepresentation that happened on my watch,

But I need to graduate counts to show how off the reported grade rates are and LDOE refuses to provide them – for good reason.  Other recent RSD articles.  One I reblogged from Diane who pulled in from Mike Deshotels, and another one of my own calling for the dissolution of RSD.

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Today I also reblogged a post from Dr. Mercedes Schneider: New Orleans’ Recovery School District: The Lie Unveiled Her article provides extensive background on LA educational policy, data, and the RSD.

Both the current RSD website and the 2012 LDOE school-level spreadsheet include information on the very first RSD school, Pierre Capdau.

Pierre Capdau, the very first school to be assumed by RSD in 2004, remains a state-run, RSD-NO school.  After eight years, Pierre Capdau has a D for its 2012 letter grade. I have never heard any reformer boast of the “miracle” that is Pierre Capdau. It has not succeeded according to the reformer-determined definition of “success.” Pierre Capdau has never been “transformed” as a result of its state takeover.

That right there ought to give pause to those tempted by the veneer of a New Orleans Miracle.

There is much more:

Of the 60 state-run RSD schools (59 from the RSD website plus omitted Nelson) included on the DOE 2012 school-level data spreadsheet (both admin and public versions), none received an A as a school letter grade.

Of 60 state-run RSD schools, only 6 received a B in 2012. That’s 10%.

One RSD school, Gentilly Terrace, received a T, meaning no grade this year. A free pass.

According to Jindal’s and the State of Louisiana’s definition of a failing school, the remainder of the RSD schools given letter grades are failing.  That’s 90%.

In 2012, 5 state-run RSD schools received a C.

In 2012, 19 state-run RSD schools received a D.

In 2012, 29 state-run RSD schools received an F.

She summed up the RSD approach by stating:

 A lie packaged to only look appealing from afar.

In conclusion, the advertising handbill for the Louisiana circus might read like this:

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There’s a sucker born every minute P.T. Barnum

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  • TFA assigned me to the Baton Rouge Recovery School District where I unwittingly found myself in a circus. I quit this year and I do not regret the decision for a second. My main concerns were rampant administrative careerism, suspect parenting, worthless teacher evaluations, and empty TFA rhetoric.

    Principals and assistant principals routinely keep violent and disruptive children in school because they want to keep their suspension rates low. On paper it looks like they have a school under control, but the reality is much different. Administrators don’t care though. They only want to propel themselves into ever more cushy, higher paying jobs.

    Many of the parents aren’t much better. I can’t blame them however. Many of the parents graduated from the same schools their children attend. They live in the same terrible neighborhoods fostering morality and values not conducive to academic success. Some parents teach their children that it’s ok to fight in school. They tell them it’s ok to disrespect and disregard the teacher. Calling one of those parents about a child’s behavior is useless. In many cases, the parents are just as ignorant and ill-mannered as their children. In fact, some of the parents want their children to act out. That unscrupulous few want government checks for medication they only give the kids at night when they are with the parents (if they actually buy the medication at all). Trust me, a lot of those parents know their children are rotten. They don’t know what to do with them, so they keep them medicated and/or in front of the television. It only takes about five unruly children to destroy the learning environment. You can bet your life there are at least five in every TFA classroom.

    The worst aspect of it though is the push toward teacher accountability. Principals fire teachers year after year to give the appearance they are doing something. Teachers are unreasonably held accountable for student behavior and test scores, as if a teacher can force a student to pay attention, do their class work, do their homework and study. That reality doesn’t matter. Principals just issue more and more edicts for students to remain “engaged.” To do this, principals and learning coaches suggest nothing more than a stage show. New observation protocols require a certain teacher performance rather than actual learning. How can a teacher be “effective” when the majority of the students fail? Just “teach” the way they want you to. You will be deemed “effective.”

    TFA plays right along. They constantly tell stories about miracle working teachers. The rub is you never actually meet those miracle workers or see any evidence of their success. It’s just one unverifiable anecdote after the next. YOU are the problem if you can’t do the same.

    I did not believe those lies for one second, so I left. The careerism, suspect parenting, punitive “teacher accountability” protocols, and empty rhetoric led me to get out. I could no longer delay law school attendance to be a part of what is essentially a charade. Do yourself a favor and avoid Teach for America.


  • I love the hyperbole ; I have envisioned this before as a “moscow circus” and i would put mandarins in costume. The reference to Barnum is too closely aligned with the “music man” who is endeared in American myth…. I see a nefarious element to the “moscow circus” thanks for your posting; you help me to get out of the doldrums of considering what has happened to my chosen profession.


  • Pingback: PT Barnum and the Louisiana Circus | Diane Ravitch's blog

  • I try to remind people that William Bennett, Secretary of Education during President Ronald Reagan’s second term in office, opined that education is where to look for big dollars from the government, particularly with changing attitudes about the size of the Defense budget (remember that the fall of the Soviet Union, credited to Reagan, was preceded by an international relaxation of Cold War tensions during Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika of the 1980’s). Bennett recognized that the peace dividend would mean that those looking to contract with their government to make a living should look to education, not defense, in the future. Well, guess what?

    Of course, this is not to say that some industries hadn’t already hitched their wagons to the state (e.g., textbooks and standardized testing)–the CCSSO conference on large-scale assessment used to be simply a wine-and-dine between the testing companies and the states’ departments of education, but has had to raise its legitimacy value to cover for the continuing vendor-state courtship rituals. What I am saying is that there are serious NEW commercial interests, as well as ideological interests, busy trying to reconstruct the political economy of public schooling.


  • Dr. Heilig–here’s link to interactive maps I developed from the charter school data.
    If you look at New Orleans specifically, and click on any one of the markers, you’ll get the school scores BEFORE takeover, including the 2011 scores. I do have school performance scores statewide for most of the past decade in spreadsheets. Saved them before the state :lost” them in the Dept. of Ed website revamp.


  • Monty J. Thornburg

    A Blog post above suggests commenting on the victims of this failed policy. I can personally attest to a close relative “teacher” and her colleague’s being abused by this failed system. I’ll skip the details, but, I’ll say here that the governance issues with these experiments are great and rife with abuses.

    Many years ago, 1986, before charter schools emerged I completed a Master’s Thesis: “Education Vouchers: The issue of family choice in American Education” at the University of New Orleans, College of Urban and Public Affairs. I specifically avoided making the study just about New Orleans because of the non – synchronistic culture and history there. Some of my topics included: Capitalism and Family choice, Economic perspectives; Supreme Court Decisions and legal implications; Race, desegregation, and bureaucracy of urban school districts; Theories of public finance and taxation to pay for education; and some models tried at the time in America in addition to the attitudes of national education leaders on both the Right and the Left.

    One of my major professors, a very smart lady, suggested that I also worry about what Professor Vasquez H. has coined the “P.T. Barnum” effect. That is that an attitude shift might shift away from a public service model toward a “sales model” advertizing, public relations, spokes persons, a “privatized model” where schools seem to think they have “proprietary interests” etc. Her fear was that “vouchers” privatization would replace serious civic action. As this has now evolved with charter school experiments and voucher attempts, now, 25 years later, I’m seeing the wisdom of my Professor’s words, and concerns.


  • “Here is what is interesting about Louisiana that many people don’t know. They are desperately trying to control who accesses public information (data) to examine their “educational miracle.”

    Extraordinary efforts to control go beyond access to data. I just had “my day in court” yesterday regarding my Open Meetings lawsuit against BESE, LDOE and the chairman of the Superintendents Advisory Council who refused to accept public comment at a January meeting when Supt. John White was presenting his disastrous MFP (education funding) proposal that reduces funding for special education, gifted and talented.

    The Attorney General lawyer, LDOE lawyer and Lawyer for the chairman argued that SAC is not a public body subject to open meetings law because of a twisted interpretation of the use of proxies by the council. The judge was perfectly “willing” to accept that bogus claim. Not only did they win, but the public lost in that the four BESE councils no longer have to be noticed, open or subject to public input.


  • Reblogged this on Crazy Crawfish's Blog and commented:
    Great post about RSD and LDOE and great Photoshop work as well. Other States are trying to replicate RSD type arrangements across the United States. If you have been victimized by our RSD or know someone who has please post here or on Julian’s blog and share your experience. DOE wont let us have data to disprove their lies, but they can’t stop you or silence your voices. Now is the time to speak-out to prevent more children from.being victimized by this injustice.


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