SADOW: Don’t Let These People Anywhere Near Education Policy!

A segment of those against education reform in Louisiana flowered fully this week in protests they pitched at the Recovery School District’s office in New Orleans, reminding the state of the necessity of keeping them away from influencing educating and of the desperate need of reform.

The demonstrations, comprised of truant students, parents, teachers, and alumni of two high schools, one whose charter operator was being changed and the other that soon will get merged into another, followed on previous days’ refusals of some students to attend classes at both. They “demanded” the undoing of certain personnel changes and cancellation of the merger.

The main controversy came regarding the merger of L.B. Landry High with O. Perry Walker. Personnel, including one popular coach/academic counselor, were let go at the former because of much lower enrollments. District resources realignment had led to changing enrollment patterns away from the school, as it emphasized getting students into higher-performing schools, and population losses as a result of the hurricane disasters of 2005 have created an overbuilt infrastructure. The coach in question, who was offered the chance to stay on as an unpaid assistant, had presided over an alumni group that wanted to take over the Landry charter rather than see the merge, so opponents speculated this caused his removal from a paid position.

And all of this hollering and fussing came about over a school with a 2010-11 School Performance Score of 46.7, where only 25.7 percent of students perform at or above grade level. Not only is this far short of passing under state guidelines and even farther away from the state average, it’s one of the lowest scores in the state, period. Meanwhile, the school with which it will merge, Walker, with its 95.5 with 78 percent of students performing at or above grade level score was well above the state average, even though its student population is almost identical in terms of the (high) percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch programs and in proportion of students with disabilities.

The SPS scores at Landry have not significantly changed over the past few years. Clearly, something in the very culture at Landry has been wrong for years if a similar student population can perform so much better at another institution, and why so many students, when offered the chance to bail out of it, did. With such a dismal record, its problems don’t occur at the margins, they are deeply embedded and ingrained and no amount of trimming is going to solve for them.

A student remark revealed one sign of the poisonous culture, a comment about the firing of the coach where the student vouched for the coach’s ability by testifying in the past year under his guidance the football team’s collective grade point average increased from 1.1 to 3.2. Such an admission leads one to wonder how a team was fielded last year, since the state organization that runs Louisiana high school athletics had mandated a 1.5 average, now raised to 2.0.

It also leads one to wonder about the academic honesty of the school as a whole. Few high school students suddenly go from a D to B average in one year no matter how hard they try and the presumably massive amount of extra work teachers must put in. It’s impossible to deprogram that quickly that large of a cohort out of a culture of inattention and laziness to achieve that well if standards are not lowered by those in charge. If that really happened on the level, we’ve got another Coach Carter here.

Oh, and the other high school around which protests occurred, Walter L. Cohen, scored a dazzling 28.8 SPS, with only 17.2 percent of its students at or above grade level – and that was with significant growth in achievement over the previous year. With this level of performance, why the RSD didn’t yank the previous operator here sooner is the mystery.

If anything, the protesters should have been venting their spleen about how these cesspools of ill-education have shortchanged the children at great taxpayer cost but, more importantly, as the expense of the students themselves. They little more than warehoused them instead of educating them. Only pulling out their roots, as the RSD effectively proposes, will lead to any chance for improvement.

Instead, we get blather about how the Landry identity can’t be allowed to go away. Besides the obvious question of why anyone would take any pride in this kind of sub-mediocre identity in the first place, such individuals need to understand it’s time to grow up. It rather would indicate one hasn’t done much with one’s life or moved much beyond high school to get so upset over dismantling one’s alma mater that clearly has not done what it was supposed to do. There should be many other things in life to which one invests time and resources.

These attitudes illustrate in part what Louisiana education reform is up against. They’re part of the mosaic that resists beneficial change simply because it is change, because of some over-emphasized loyalty, or protection of a job, or supporting a special interest, or even attack on an ideology that defines ones psyche. They will drag out conspiracy theories and magnify any criticism of reform to preserve their personal and/or professional cocoons. In the meantime, the last thing on their mind is the welfare of children, who deserve a learning system that allows them to reach their full potential in life. Reformers cannot let these distractions interfere with coming through for these children.

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