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The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public Schools

Money, Power, and the Illegal Takeover of a Public School System

by Raynard Sanders (Author)
Monographs XX, 300 Pages
Series: Education and Struggle, Volume 14

Summary

The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public Schools explores and criticizes the contemporary educational reforms of the New Orleans public school system. The New Orleans education reforms implemented after Hurricane Katrina, using the corporate model approach, have been an academic failure with charter operators making millions of dollars while reestablishing a segregated school system based on race and class—all in the name of school reform. Despite the claims of unprecedented academic success the educational reforms have been a dismal failure academically and operationally, and have resurrected equity and access issues. Equally as disturbing the reforms firmly have re-established a tiered public school system that segregates students by race and class. The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public Schools puts the corporate education reform movement in its proper context, which is to create a new twenty-first century model for turning around urban public school districts in the United States. This book reveals what really happened pre- and post-Hurricane Katrina that contributed to the state takeover of public schools in New Orleans. This story is told through the eyes of parents, students, activists, political leaders, and Orleans Parish School Board members and employees who have been largely ignored. It also includes an analysis of the author’s personal experience of almost forty years in New Orleans public schools as a teacher, principal, and college professor.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Advance Praise for The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public Schools
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Reference
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One: The Coup D’état
  • Take the Money First
  • Hurricane Katrina Opens the Door
  • Louisiana Education Superintendent Orchestrates the Coup
  • National Groups Seize the Opportunity in New Orleans
  • Democracy Gets Thrown Under the Bus
  • Act 35—Illegal State Takeover of Public Schools in New Orleans Codified into Louisiana Law
  • Notes
  • Chapter Two: Privatizing Public Education: New Orleans the Perfect Place
  • New Orleans Education Reformed Model
  • History Tells Us How We Got Here
  • Charter School Model Hijacked
  • Louisiana’s Historic Lack of Commitment to Public Education
  • Failed Coups of Public School in New Orleans
  • Public Education in New Orleans Pre-Hurricane Katrina
  • Notes
  • Chapter Three: Intended and Unintended Consequences: The Assault on the Children and Citizens of New Orleans
  • The Forgotten 7,500 Fired Employees
  • The Illusion of School Choice
  • New Orleans Public Schools Fall to a New Low
  • New Orleans School Reforms—Chronic Academic Failure
  • RSD—Unprecedented Academic Success?
  • Services to Special Needs Children Denied
  • Notes
  • Chapter Four: School Communities Disenfranchised and Destroyed
  • The Post-Katrina Saga of Thurgood Marshall Middle School
  • Carver Senior High School
  • Charter Operator Denies Cohen Students Access to Their Library and Gymnasium
  • John McDonogh High School
  • Notes
  • Chapter Five: The New Orleans Public School Gold Rush
  • New Orleans Public Schools Land of Opportunity
  • Reformers Redefine School Success
  • Fiscal Impropriety Becomes the Norm
  • Unprecedented Corruption
  • Oversight and Accountability Nonexistent
  • Unaccounted FEMA Funds for School Reconstruction Program
  • Media and Government Watchdog Groups Ignore Education Reform Corruption
  • Notes
  • Chapter Six: Old Lessons Learned in New Orleans
  • The New Orleans Education Reformers Untold Story
  • Beyond School Reform
  • The Old New Orleans Lesson Learned
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Appendix A: Picard Letter to the Department of Education
  • Appendix B: Act No. 35
  • Appendix C: Charter School Grant Program Amounts Allocated to Charter Schools
  • Appendix D: Louisiana’s 7th Grade Cohort Graduation Rate
  • Conclusions Based on Louisiana’s 7th Grade Cohort Graduation Rate
  • Other Related Observations
  • Appendix E: Reasons for Judgement, Eddy Oliver versus Orleans Parish School Board
  • Appendix F: Carver Civil Rights Complaint
  • Appendix G: Civil Rights Complaint on School Closings
  • Appendix H: Data Sharing Agreement
  • Appendix I: Act No. 91
  • Index
  • Series index

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Foreword

On the corner of Press and Royal Streets in New Orleans, where the Press Street Railroad Yards used to be, there’s a plaque. It marks the place of Homer Plessy’s arrest for refusing to vacate his seat in a whites-only railcar in 1892. Plessy protested Louisiana’s Separate Car Act of 1890 as part of a civil rights campaign by the Citizens’ Committee, a group organized by Afro-Creoles to challenge racial segregation. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the landmark Supreme Court case that followed in 1896, “separate but equal” became legal doctrine (Medley, 2012).

In We as Freemen, New Orleans historian Keith Medley (2012) traces the biographies and efforts of Plessy and fellow activists. Notably, Plessy was not simply a shoemaker. He was vice president of the Justice, Protective, Educational, and Social Club, which demanded changes in New Orleans public schools. In fact, the club published a statement entitled, “To All Who May Be Concerned,” publicizing that black schools were few in number with deficient accommodations. In turn, activists proclaimed, “We will promote education by all limiting means in our power,” including a “library” as well as “good teachers, a full term and all the necessary articles for the maintenance of schools” (Medley, p. 32).

Later, in 1891, the Citizens’ Committee formed to protest the constitutionality of railcar segregation and issued “An Appeal,” writing: ← xi | xii →

In 1892, Plessy would be at the center of the Committee’s test case, taking his seat in a whites-only car on the East Louisiana Railroad to be arrested and charged. Resistance was “imperative.” Legal action would proceed on violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Although Plessy v. Ferguson may have been lost in court, making way for Jim Crow, all was not “lost.” The legacy of Homer Plessy and the Citizens’ Committee—antiracist struggle and organizing, the demand for equity in education and public services, black self-determination and dignity, and speaking truth to power—remained a fundamental part of community memory in New Orleans and inspired future generations in the ongoing fight against white supremacy. Raynard Sanders and his book, The Coup D’état of New Orleans Public Schools, are squarely situated in this tradition of resistance, truth-telling, and the unequivocal demand for racial justice.

As with Plessy, Sanders’ efforts are rooted in experiential knowledge and community organizing in New Orleans. Yes, Sanders holds a doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, but, in my view, that’s not the most notable aspect of his life history or the fount of his authority to write on urban school reform. Equally (and perhaps more) important, he was born and raised in New Orleans; reared by a mother who taught him that he had (and should demand) every right bestowed upon New Orleans’ white citizens; attended and graduated from the city’s public schools; and ultimately served as a high school principal in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. Sanders understands issues from the inside out. He cares deeply for young people and the wider good of the community and is a highly respected public education advocate, community development organizer, radio host, author, speaker, historian, and grassroots intellectual in the city’s African-American community. Long before writing The Coup D’état, Sanders developed and hosted “The New Orleans Imperative,” a weekly radio program at WBOK, where he focused on the takeover and mass chartering of New Orleans Public Schools after Katrina. It was there that he first publicly exposed the unlawful actions of the state-run Recovery School District and the gross inequities of the city’s charter schools. In The Coup D’état, he draws on some of the compelling interviews he did over the years, providing firsthand testimony of the destructive effects of charter school reform. I am certain that readers of his book will find themselves as incensed as those who called his radio show to share their concerns, frustrations, and grievances.

As the title of the book suggests, the takeover of New Orleans Public Schools by the state-run Recovery School District was swift and violent, strategic and ← xii | xiii → purposeful, and undeniably antidemocratic. In Chapter I, Sanders documents the shocking and manipulative actions of state policymakers and their collaborators in the wake of Katrina. Again, like Plessy, Sanders challenges efforts to undermine African-American education and raises serious concerns over equal protection, discrimination, and more. The fraudulent and racially targeted foundation of charter schools in New Orleans should be a wake-up call for anyone who believes that such reform is about student achievement and community advancement. Rather, as Sanders argues: “Despite the stated claim of improving public education for thousands of children suffering in historically failing public schools, the seizure of power from the local school board is more about the control of resources and the re-segregation of schools.” With Katrina, he writes, “New Orleans had suddenly become the perfect city for the school profiteers to finally make their dream come true.” In the process, charter expansion would create “a new low” for public education in Louisiana.

In Chapter II, Sanders charts the history of conservative economic thinking behind the marketization of public education and also carefully situates the takeover in a history of racism. Not only would Milton Friedman’s dream of privately operated public schools take shape in New Orleans, the “experiment” on the city’s public school children is comparable, asserts Sanders, to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment in which untreated syphilis was studied in African-American men in Alabama from 1932 to 1972. In the case of New Orleans education reform, an unproven market model has been imposed on an entire generation of black youth to the detriment of their immediate and long-term health. Public schools are seen as a “final frontier” of untapped profit by entrepreneurs and financial speculators. Sanders reminds us that the president of the Orleans Parish School Board in 1923 said he was “unwilling to do anything that would affect the white man’s supremacy.” This commitment unfortunately continues today, only now under the guise of “school improvement” by a segment of mostly white charter operators who exercise inordinate power over schools attended by black students.

In Chapters III, IV, and V, Sanders exposes the narrative of charter school success in New Orleans for what it is—an outright fabrication. As readers will learn, veteran teachers, a substantial segment of the city’s black middle class, were fired by the thousands, while new recruits with little to no knowledge of community culture or history, much less classroom experience, replaced them through Teach for America. Charter operators and unelected charter boards took over the schools without community input to “restore governance to white people and eliminate the participation of the majority minority” in New Orleans. What is more, access and equity issues persist. With neighborhood schools destroyed by citywide charters, “children stand on designated corners as early as 5:45 AM each morning waiting ← xiii | xiv → for a school bus that takes them across town usually to a D or F rated school.” And that’s not the worst of it. Case by case, Sanders documents the displacement, takeover, and ultimate closure of several historic public schools in New Orleans and the disenfranchisement experienced by teachers, students, and community members. Consider, for example, Thurgood Marshall Middle School, which lost its building to two charter schools, was moved to a site with no telephone and portable trailers, and was assigned a faculty consisting of 100 percent first year teachers. Consider John McDonogh High School, where Sanders was principal in the 1990s. After Katrina, it was ultimately handed over to the Future Is Now (FIN) charter operator, which subjected vulnerable students to public exposure by agreeing to film a sensational documentary for the Oprah Winfrey Network. FIN, receiving an undisclosed amount of compensation from the production company that chronicled its alleged effort to turn around the school, delivered a score of 9.3 on the state’s 150-point school performance rating system. Sanders leaves no doubt—what has transpired under the auspices of “school choice” and “autonomy” is indefensible.

Perhaps most striking, The Coup D’état sheds light on financial abuses and fraud by charter operators; six-figure salaries taken without a second thought by charter school CEOs and principals, who simultaneously run schools without social workers or books; failure of the Recovery School District to hold charter schools accountable, evidenced by the state’s own auditor reports; and the footloose manner in which nearly $2 billion (that’s billion, not million) in school rebuilding monies has been spent by master planners with little regard for community concerns, much less consideration of minority contractors or basic construction standards. (Despite lucrative building contracts, Sanders reports stair railings dislodging from the walls of brand new schools!) Meanwhile, the mainstream media, which closely attended to any and every wrongdoing of the pre-Katrina, largely African-American Orleans Parish School Board, now turns a blind eye to the state’s inept oversight process as well as charter operators’ incompetency and corruption. This is a story that urban communities across the nation need to hear, especially those being urged to follow the so-called New Orleans model of school reform.

Sanders underscores a tragic irony: “It’s strange how the charter school boards in New Orleans brag about using the business model but are blind to not getting the bang for their buck. Possibly it is because they are really not interested in academic achievement.” This critical book—a synthesis of more than ten years of activism, research, and protracted struggle—reveals “New Orleans as the biggest fraud in the history of public education.” Egregious forms of data suppression and manipulation are documented by Sanders, who lays bare the attempt to contrive a record of charter school achievement in the face of widespread failure. In Chapter VI, Sanders warns that charter school expansion has been guided by “unbelievable principles” ← xiv | xv → and treated like a magic bullet capable of resolving deeply rooted, systemic disinvestment in black education. While charter operators have circulated a “Hollywood narrative” of their success, his book draws a clear line between fact and fiction.

The Coup D’état is a chilling work. It makes a critical—indeed, an invaluable—contribution to the fight for equitable education. With contextual grounding and insight, it picks apart the master narrative of charter school reform as a civil rights project and instead reveals a set of policies and practices aimed at restoring race relations that prevailed under Plessy. While reading The Coup D’état, I was reminded of the pamphlet published on education inequity by Plessy and fellow activists, entitled “All Who May Be Concerned.” The Coup D’état is a contemporary version for all who may be concerned about the state of public education in black and brown communities.

As an antiracist ally, education activist, and researcher in New Orleans, I have known Sanders for quite some time. He is a person of immense integrity and wisdom, and I have seen him engage in direct action on the issues at the heart of this book. Some approaches have been public and some have been covert, resembling the behind-the-scenes organizing tactics of the Citizens’ Committee. I know he’ll blush and consider it to be a colossal overstatement, but I often think of Homer Plessy when I think of Raynard Sanders. Freedom fighters in the midst of struggle do not always consider the historical significance of their activism; they are rightly focused on trying to alter present injustices. Nonetheless, Sanders’ book and his tireless efforts surely place him in the honorable lineage of black resistance in New Orleans. He knows that it is “the imperative duty of oppressed citizens to seek redress” and stand up to those who assault their rights and disrespect their humanity. Sanders has traveled to Mississippi to Wisconsin to California and back to alert communities that the seizure of public schools by charter operators is about cash and control, not our children. It is my hope that this book will travel just as widely and receive the attention it is due. The Coup D’état is not about New Orleans alone, but about the future of youth across this nation. Ultimately, as well, it is about whether or not we want democracy for some or democracy for all.

Details

Pages
XX, 300
ISBN (PDF)
9781433137457
ISBN (ePUB)
9781433137464
ISBN (MOBI)
9781433137471
ISBN (Hardcover)
9781433137440
Language
English
Publication date
2018 (May)
Published
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 300 pp., 1 table

Biographical notes

Raynard Sanders (Author)

Raynard Sanders has over forty years' experience in education in numerous capacities. Most recently he co-authored Twenty-First-Century Jim Crow Schools: The Impact of Charters on Public Education. Dr. Sanders received his Bachelor of Arts from Dillard University, his Masters of Educational Administration from Southern University, and his Doctorate of Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.

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Title: The Coup D’état of the New Orleans Public Schools