Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Poll reveals how Orleanians feel about ‘school system’ in New Orleans

30th June 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Kari Dequine Harden
Contributing Writer

Nine years into the country’s largest experiment in the privatization of public education, a recent poll suggests that in the minds of likely voters, the Recovery School District’s takeover of New Orleans schools has been less than miraculous.

Only four percent of the participants polled rated the public schools in New Orleans as “good.”

Forty-five percent said that schools were improving, 25 percent said that schools were neither improving nor getting worse, and 18 percent said schools are actually getting worse.

The poll, conducted by Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, surveyed 602 “likely voters” in May with 34 questions by telephone.

Fifty-seven percent of those polled disagree that the high schools are preparing students for the job market. Fifty-one percent disagree that high schools are are doing a good job preparing students for college.

Ninety-one percent of likely voters agreed that the schools should do “a better job of helping students receive career and technical training.”

In the landscape dominated by private businesses running on public funds, the survey found that 85 percent of people agreed that the unelected charter boards members should receive mandatory training about how public bodies must operate.

As Superintendent John White and Gov. Bobby Jindal battle it out over Common Core, 75 percent agreed that students in Louisiana should be measured by the same benchmarks and tests as students in other states.

Forty-five percent of respondents said they would recommend that their friends or family send their children to public school in New Orleans, while 44 percent said they would not.

Asked about the much-touted element of school “choice,” 53 percent of likely voters said that allowing parents to choose their schools has a positive impact on the quality of education in New Orleans. Twenty percent said it has a negative impact.

Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed agreed that all schools should participate in the common application process.

But despite the overwhelming sentiment for all students to have access to all schools, 11 public schools still refuse to participate in the common application, including some selective admissions schools that keep their scores high as a result of cherry picking their kids.

While the Cowen Institute poll suggests very mixed feelings, another report released in the same week by Research on Reforms shows that the state’s data on schools in New Orleans is also far from definitive.

While the RSD and John White are determined to make the data show improvement at any cost, research is increasingly calling into question the numbers and the so-called success.

The Research on Reforms, Inc. report, titled “Closing Schools, Opening Schools and Changing School Codes: Instability In the New Orleans Recovery School District,”details how the state’s grading system – especially over the past five years—leads to more questions than answers.

According to the report:

“During the last five years, 2010 through 2014, the RSD closed 25 schools, opened 23 new schools, and changed the codes of 21 schools in New Orleans. The question is whether these actions represent the challenges of the newly created Recovery School District, or if they are a deliberate attempt to thwart research on its progress.”

As schools closed, the scores of both the students and the schools were often omitted entirely from the data. And by changing the identifying code numbers, schools, even if they had been open for many years, did not always have to report any performance score.

“Eliminating the scores of so many students by closing schools makes it difficult to determine whether the RSD has improved or not improved,” the report concludes.

The report also points out that in recent years the state has been less willing to provide hard data. When the data isn’t politically expedient, the state simply stops providing it. According to the report:  “The Louisiana Department of Education provided raw data to Research on Reforms, Inc. to conduct longitudinal studies on the progress of the RSD during its first few years. However, when the RSD began to close schools and change school codes, the Department denied the requests for the data. Instead, the Department began to select certain entities to whom it released the data. Thus, Research on Reforms, Inc. sued the Department under the Louisiana Public Records Act. That lawsuit is still pending. “

So, as New Orleans sets the stage for the nation’s first urban all-charter district next fall, the evidence, research, analysis and public opinion polls at this time seem to be able to show either extreme and everything in between—both a successful model (though one that still needs work) for the future of public education, or an abysmal failure driven by profiteers and out of touch policy makers.

This article originally published in the June 30, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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