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Research on Reform files lawsuit against La. DOE

13th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Travis M. Andrews
Contributing Writer

The post-Katrina education landscape in New Orleans may be a great experiment, but in many ways, it’s also a battleground.

The latest battle that has come out of this experiment pits the small local non-profit Research on Reforms, Inc. against the Louisiana Department of Education. Research on Reforms, Inc. is suing the LDOE for de-identified raw student data, which is information on public school students with the students’ names redacted and replaced with a number to protect anonymity. The non-profit uses this data to create analyses of various aspects of public schools, from drop-out rate to graduation rate.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the state of Louisiana took over 107 of the 127 public schools in New Orleans. Only 20 remained with the Orleans Parish School Board. The rest of them were made into charter schools, meaning they were overseen not by a centralized board like the OPSB but rather had their own school boards. These boards were overseen by the Dept. of Education.

This has launched much debate throughout the city and, in fact, the country. Dr. Barbara Fer­guson, a co-founder of Research on Re­forms, Inc. who filed the lawsuit alongside Charles Hat­field, points out that while there are many arguments concerning the charter experiment, not many people thought the pre-storm status quo was working. But that doesn’t mean the charter system is, either.

“We agree that the Orleans Parish School Board was a mess,” Ferguson said. “I was really delighted to think that this was what’s going to happen, but it’s not what’s really happened, we have found through our work.”

The charter system has drawn a number of opponents, such as parent advocate Karran Harper Royal, who has been quoted in this paper saying, “Even though charter schools on their face have been pushed as a way for parents and the community to really be involved, it’s not real.”

Research on Reforms, Inc., was founded after the storm to aggregate and analyze data to see how effective the new school system worked. For the ‘06-’07 year and the ’07-’08 year, it received the data it requested. But for the ’08-’09 year, it was met with numerous roadblocks, which have led to this lawsuit.

Even when the non-profit received what it requested, Hatfield said there were problems, especially with the Recovery School District.

“The schools that were left with Orleans Parish School Board were there, and the RSD has so many pieces [of information] missing,” said Hatfield.

Among those was a claim that one RSD high school boasted a 100 percent attendance rate.

“You don’t have 100 percent attendance at a high school, ever,” Hatfield said.

Ferguson said she simply hopes the lawsuit resolves with a judge compelling the LDOE to give Research on Reforms, Inc. the raw data. The data, after all, has been released to the Stanford Credo group, which did its own analysis.

Ferguson thinks the Department is worried about what her report might state.

“I think that nobody is supposed to say anything that is not supportive of this movement, and the minute one group says something, that has to be squa­shed,” Ferguson said.

The Louisiana Department of Education released a memorandum in lieu of offering The Louisiana Weekly a statement. The memorandum states the Department is under no legal obligation to release the data, and calls the plaintiffs’ case baseless.

“[T]here would be no legal standard to apply other than pure judicial fiat,” it reads. “These questions and the inability to answer them in any cogent manner illustrates yet again the baseless nature of the plaintiffs’ case.”

Hatfield just wants to see it resolved, he says, and offers a simple question: “Why does the state feel it can unilaterally decide who to give the data to and who not to give it to?”

It’s a question that’s been asked by many in his position, and one that still goes unanswered.

This article originally published in the May 13, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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