The Second Line Blog

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TOPS Priority, But What Gets Cut?

TOPS is likely to be fully funded for the next fiscal year, which would be a delight to student recipients.  However,  this leaves many wondering where the overall budget will be cut to make room for a fully-funded program.

“You can’t do this without having deep cuts elsewhere. They’ve got to tell us where the cuts are going to come.”

Read more here 

Are we listening to student voices when it comes to success in education?

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Over the past few weeks, education circles have received more volume of information with a greater complexity than they probably were prepared for. The question yet to be answered is are people in the circles listening? For example, are school board members engaging the families they were elected to represent in education issues? More importantly, are any of us listening to the children of this education movement? We’re 12 years post-Hurricane Katrina and our students are still crying out for help in New Orleans. How do we help them? Is the Superintendent of the Orleans Parish Public Schools listening? Has he read the responses to the surveys that the school system has used to elicit feedback from parents and community members?

If he hasn’t, he should. Time is running out for our children.

Last year the NAACP passed a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools. Because of that moratorium, a committee was formed to travel the country hosting town hall meetings to hear from community members – those for and against charters – about charter schools in their city or state.


They came to New Orleans on April 5th.

And what started out as a basic business meeting with presenters from both sides offering testimony for and against charter schools, quickly turned into a display of raw emotion from community members, specifically students, about the harsh realities of their current education situations.

Students from McDonough 35 High School, a current OPSB traditional public school, emotionally gave their accounts of being drastically unprepared for the EOC (End Of Course) test. Having had teachers changed several times throughout the year in the same class left many of the students feeling unsupported and misguided. The students told stories about how they were working from worksheets instead of textbooks; watching movies instead of engaging in dialogue, and wondering who would be their teacher from one day to the next.

They were scared. It was clear by the determined yet shaky voices and the emotional tears that they shed while at the podium.

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And while the students from McDonough 35 used their opportunity at the hearing to talk about a traditional public school in New Orleans, a group of young men called Black Men Rising, spoke as former students of a charter school also in New Orleans. They talked about how they felt like they were in prison because they were forced to walk in straight lines in the hallways and how although they had a regimented school day, they found themselves not prepared for college life. One young man talked about not knowing what to do when he arrived at college and that he expected the professor and school personnel to guide him along and that he has a rude awakening shortly after getting to college. His charter school simply did not prepare him for college.

And speaking of college, did you see the open letter high school senior Karriem Bennet penned to Governor Jon Bel Edwards after receiving a state scholarship award totaling $2? Astounding! And while Ms. Bennett and many of her fellow students have worked hard to prepare for a higher education, what’s currently at stake is lawmakers proposing to raise the minimum academic requirements to receive financial assistance through the state’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) program, which provides state scholarships to Louisiana residents who attend one of the Louisiana public colleges and universities.

I believe TOPS funding is essential and a priority for our students to go to and finish college. And while we all want our children to do well in school and be college-ready, my fear is not all of them will be. And raising the standards will deter even more of our students from even attempting to go to college.

After contemplating these significant events involving our children in our city, I have concluded that we don’t seem to be listening and hearing what our children are saying and expressing to us. In a state where mental health appears to have been abandoned. In a city where more than 90% of black children are more likely to be arrested than receive a proper education and a significant percentage of our children live in poverty, I ask the questions are we engaging these students about what is ailing them and more importantly are we looking at them as an intricate part of the solution to our educational woes? Real reform can only come when we allow the children of the movement to become a part of their own liberation.

We need to seriously consider changing our tune and rethinking our stance on supporting the valuable voice of our amazing young people. There is a youth-shift that is blazing trails in our fine city. Responsible, accountable and dedicated young people are lending their voice, sweat equity and time and I believe they will be the key to our success as we move forward in this state.

Still a Ways to Go

Bill Quigley, law professor and contributor to the Huffington Post, details the NAACP’s moratorium on New Orleans’ charter schools until ongoing issues have been addressed to better the school environment for all charter students.  Among problems with accountability and transparency, many students also voiced their opinions about being educated in the charter schools.

“We really wanted to share what happens in our schools. How the few permanent teachers we have work so hard for us, how so many classes are ran by short term substitutes, how food runs out at meal times, and how we worry if our school’s reputation is good enough to support us in getting into the college or careers we want. We shared how we face two hour commutes to and from school, are forced to experiment with digital learning with systems like Odyssey, are punished for having the wrong color sweater, or how we worry about being able to attend a school that will give us the education we need.”

read more here

You Don’t Have to Stay or Repay

State Senator Jay Luneau proposed SB 110, which would require recipients of the TOPS award to remain in Louisiana for a few years after graduation or be faced with the penalty of repaying.  While SB 110 would keep talent in Louisiana, it did not go over well with many of Luneau’s colleagues.

“We’re the ones who caused the problem in the first place by not having a business climate that creates jobs that these kids can go into.”

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Feeling Abandoned

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Maybe I’m just a parent who should stay in my lane and leave the business of education to the well-experienced professionals who do this for a living and make the best decisions they can for the benefit of the entire education system of New Orleans and particularly OPSB. Because obviously we don’t have all the details and we should trust the elected officials of the school board and the Superintendent that they appointed and his dedicated team. They do have our best interest at heart and in mind right. We should allow them to do their job without wondering, questioning or pushing back against any decisions they make.

Yeah, right and be that as it may, I still feel that it is essential to share some thoughts about recent actions by our school superintendent Henderson Lewis and an advisory committee on the most recent school on the chopping block, Mahalia Jackson Elementary School. To question is the American way. To inquire about a subject and demand representation is the Democratic way. So here I am.

As a parent, it’s hard not to have questions and concerns when it comes to the actions of our elected officials and the Superintendent that they appointed and who currently makes sweeping decisions that affect so many families. The Mahalia Jackson Elementary school closure is just one in a series of actions that has parents confused and frustrated.

If Mahalia Jackson Elementary was on the verge of closing then why did the charter organization that the school board supported to take over the remaining schools use Mahalia Jackson Elementary in its application in bidding for their takeover of district schools? Surely with the close relationship between the two organizations, the ExCEED network had to have an inside track on what was potentially going to happen with the school. Or was it only after the independent evaluator questioned some financial numbers that the ExCEED network was using in their bid about rental income from other organizations that utilize the campus as well? Numbers that they evaluator saw as risky business dealings. An evaluation that ultimately leads to the evaluator making the claim that ExCEED wasn’t established enough to run a group of schools.

It seems odd that only days after the independent evaluator submitted its decision about ExCEED network that the decision to limit the school’s enrollment to only siblings of current students was made. It also seems suspect that the district would limit enrollment and make decisions to close the school with two more rounds of One App to go.

This decision was made in March and relayed to parents last week. I cringe at the thought of any closing that is announced after the One App deadline. It makes decision making and planning harder for parents and yet elected officials and OPSB administration staff will claim that their number one responsibility is to provide a quality education landscape for families.

I’m not seeing that here.

Having gone through a school transition already and hearing school officials name my daughter’s school’s for potential closure, it’s getting hard not to see the writing on the wall.    When I heard that they suggested a closure of Mahalia Jackson Elementary, I had to literally stop in my tracks.  I laughed. They can’t be talking about that beautiful campus that adorns Jackson Ave and sits in the heart of central city. They can’t be talking about the very school where I have attended OPSB parent engagement and parent liaisons meetings. They can’t be talking about that refurbished campus that houses other community organizations and a library.

It didn’t make any sense. But then my mind started turning and experience kicked in. The school board representative for the district, Ben Kleban, acknowledged that the campus could be used for future schools and that they will work with the community organizations in the building. Well, why didn’t you say that in the first place? We have literally gone through a dog and pony show and been made to feel like they are keeping us in the loop about Mahalia Jackson Elementary only to have the decision about closure sprung on us at the final hour. And then, twenty-four hours later, we hear the first mention about how they may use the building to house another school. It is clear that school officials at OPSB have no problem abandoning families and students when they have alternate agendas for the buildings they occupy.

Do us all a favor next time school board members and Superintendent Henderson Lewis. Don’t play with families and students’ education while you secretly use our buildings as chess pieces in some game. We can’t trust you when you do that.

Please do better.

Not Quite 100%

Four district-led schools will remain in the district for now but may become charter schools in the near future.  While Exceed charter group looked to take over the remaining schools, it has since withdrawn its application.

 “New Orleans is unique, with the highest proportion of charter schools in the country. When and if the district sheds its last traditional responsibilities, it will set a national education landmark.”

read more here

Pain, Anger, and Confusion at the NAACP Hearing on Quality Education in New Orleans

The NAACP’s nation-touring ‘education task force‘ recently held their penultimate (6th of 7) hearing on quality education in New Orleans. The hearing, which took place on April 6th in the City Council Chambers, ended up serving as a venting session for a community that is clearly hurting and seemed ready to pounce on the historic civil rights organization’s education panel.

Alice Huffman on the Education Task Force

Following the NAACP’s highly divisive call for a moratorium on charter schools, the education task force was assembled to tour the country and “take a deep look at the issues facing public schools, as well as the pros and cons of charter schools”. Alice Huffman, chair of the task force, noted that following the final stop in New York, the national body would be reviewing all the information gathered and putting forth a document they hope will guide policy around charter schools.

Like previous stops in New Haven, Memphis, Orlando, Los Angeles, and Detroit, the city of New Orleans would provide a unique landscape for the education panel to survey, provided they were willing to analyze the history, data and facts objectively. No doubt NOLA was picked because of its one-of-a-kind system in which the entire district is nearly all charter.

The Crescent City hearing followed a similar arc as the others, with a majority of the time spent alternating between testimony of “experts” making their case for and against the NAACP’s moratorium. The “for” speakers (meaning anti-charter) included state rep Joseph Bouie, Loyola University law professor Bill Quigly, Attorney Willie Zanders, Walter Umrani of the ‘New Orleans Peacekeepers, and Adrienne Dixon who was listed as speaking for the American Federation of Teachers, but clarified that was a mistake, as she was speaking on her own behalf (oops!).

Those against the motion included charter schools leaders Niloy Gangopadhyay of Success Preparatory Academy, Jamar McKneely of Inspire Schools, and Kate Mehok of Crescent City Schools. Orleans Parish School Board member John Brown was listed as a speaker, but didn’t end up giving testimony.

The presentation portion of the hearing would go more or less the same as at all the other stops, with the “for” speakers warning of the dangers of privatization, decrying what they see as the nefarious practices of charters, and answering the same questions about “creaming”, discipline, and segregation that the task members have asked at each stop.

Like in the other cities, local charter school leaders highlighted their track records of success, and asked the board to not throw the baby out with the bath water, seeing the moratorium as generalizing, reactionary and unnecessary when some charters are finding such a high level of success with marginalized students.

But, the most important and emotional point of the forum would come when a group of students took over the floor, and in turn the meeting. The young speakers spoke passionately about the lack of resources, support, and in some cases, teachers at their school. They highlighted shoddy school conditions and the self-doubt they feel from their educators’ lack of belief in their abilities. They spoke out against arbitrary cutoffs for measuring their success and decried counselors and leaders who aren’t putting them in situations to succeed.

This stakeholder takeover of the forum, something that has been missing from some of the other stops, showcased the pain and frustration of the community. It also caused confusion, as it seemed many community members had come to air grievances with the local chapter of the NAACP, rather than the national body the task force represented.

 

Questioned on how she could support charter schools, by the students and heavily anti-charter audience, task force head Alice Huffman was irate. “I wrote the resolution calling for this moratorium”. Lost in the justifiable anger of the students and parents, were a few things. The task force was in fact calling out charter schools, and has lost most of its pretense of holding unbiased, objective hearings (“I would close them all if I could” -Alice Huffman) and the horror story shared by the students was that of a TRADITIONAL district school, one of the only five remaining in NOLA. Unfortunately, it’s not clear if the task force left understanding the distinction.

You can follow us @EdCitizen (and the hashtag #NAACPHearing) on Twitter for more coverage of the quality education hearing.

2.00 Dollar Dream

Karriem A. Bennett with the Hechinger Report, posted a young scholars letter addressed to Louisiana Rep. Nancy Landry after receiving her two dollar scholarship award from TOPS.

My name is Karriem Bennett, and I am a graduating senior of the class of 2017. I am also a registered voter. I was one that was counting on TOPS to assist me with the high cost of tuition. I worked hard all through high school, met the required ACT score, surpassed the required GPA, while working part-time jobs and dedicating over 900 hours to community service. I was awarded $2.00 for TOPS, a dollar a semester. I was devastated when I saw my financial award letter. I feel betrayed by the State of Louisiana.

read more here