Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Education Without Representation

Voters in New Orleans have little voice in how our public schools are run, and it is about to get even worse.

In 2004 we elected seven officials to serve on the Orleans Parish School board. The parish is divided into seven districts, so I voted for one of the seven members that oversaw 117 schools, the largest school district in the state. While I did not vote for her, Una Anderson represents me on that board. In November of 2005, the governor and the Louisiana legislature turned over control of 102 of these schools to the Recovery School District, run by appointed persons, none of whom are elected. Now the Orleans Parish School Board governs five schools, and oversees 12 charters.

On the state level, schools are governed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). There are 11 members of BESE, 8 of whom are elected by district, and 3 of whom are appointed. All of New Orleans is represented by one representative from the state's district 2. So New Orleans has one vote on an 11 member panel for matters pertaining to most of our schools. Our representative is currently Louella Givens, who is up for reelection October 20th. She often is the one voice of opposition on the board. The vice-president of BESE is Leslie Jacobs, one of the strongest advocates of charter schools, and the primary advocate of the state takeover of New Orleans schools. Jacobs is supporting Ernest Marcelle, Givens' only opponent, because Givens has often voted against the charter school movement. Marcelle, like Jacobs, is in favor of school vouchers. For them, charter schools are the next best thing in this "education as business" model. Like me, Givens is against chartering schools without community support. If my entire Mid-City neighborhood was against chartering schools, or if every person in New Orleans was against charters, we would have a voting voice only for the few schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board.

But now my school board representative Una Anderson is running for a seat on the Louisiana House of Representatives (95th district). Anderson advocates charter schools, even though she is on the Orleans Parish School Board. Her primary platform is to "raise the statewide cap on charter schools and establish a new local governance structure for Orleans Parish schools." I've heard from many people, including the appointed State Superintendant of Public Schools, Paul Pastorek, that the Orleans Parish School Board as it now exists will be short lived. There is talk of a system with an appointed school board rather than an elected one. And our soon to be next governor, Bobby Jindal, also advocates for vouchers and charter schools.

So it might be a good time to invest in for-profit education companies, because New Orleans is open for business.


Anonymous said...

That's great news! We won't have to stand for stuff that doesn't work.

I know it is utopian to let the majority rule, but this majority had helped run schools into the ground.

Better to save some of the children than none of them.

Look at the success of Behrman Charter. I'd rather a chance of success than known failures.

Michael Homan said...

How about the business model for public health. Fan of that too, Anonymous. Some charters do well, but then look at Einstein. And "chance of success", plenty of cities have functioning elected school boards and great public schools.

Anonymous said...

Pastorek and Anderson were on the board they despise, with Jacobs. Immediately after Katrina Black people openly called them out for trying to replace the school board with New Schools New Orleans, and they swore no, no, that's not what they're doing. Now these hints are dropped all the time. Elder Black educators whom I respect say that this is payback for things they have wanted to do all along, (and were prevented by OPSB) including selling off certain properties for condos, controlling contracts like food service with corporate vendors, destroying the union, maintaining confusion and lack of accountability and thereby the welfare state where we 'need' them because we 'can't do it for ourselves'...

Anonymous said...

I just can't understand people wanting to go back to a known failure.

Your Utopian view is great, but it won't be achieved.

The people backing the previous board were the majority and there's no reason to think that thieves like Ellenesse B.S. wouldn't be in charge again.

Yes, there are some Einsteins, but before, they were ALL Einsteins. At least now some of them are a success. Believe me, Behrman's success is probably a product of caring, involved parents culling their kids into the same school.

The biggest problem is NOT the schools, but the home lives of these kids. It's almost impossible to remove kids from really heinous home lives, much less removing them from parents who just ignore their needs.

It's an awful concept, I know, but if you're in a boat and several kids are scattered about in the water, all soon to drown, do you save none because you can't save them all?

Saying you want to go back to local rule on the schools is like saying you want to go back to the segregationist 60s or the state under Mike Foster or the city under Sydney Barthelemy.

Let's not go back to the KNOWN failures. Let's learn from the Behrmans, the Lushers, the MLK Techs and let's take that knowledge to the other schools.

Anonymous said...

What does LA's senator, city councilman, and governor and Federal senator's say??? Go to the top if your unhappy. I'd be unhappy too.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in a number of cities in my adult life. I have NEVER seen so many private school, and such horrid public schools.

It seems to me that there is a serious disconnect, and that it's based on old wounds still festering since the civil rights movement, as well as those who will gladly take advantage of those wounds to feed their greed. It seems at times, that Blacks want segregated schools, assuming that if whites attend its automatically "priviledged", while whites and middle class blacks would rather eat kraft dinners for the rest of their lives than send their kid to a public school with rotten teachers and unchecked bad behavior of students.

As a life-long democrat, I can't believe I've evolved to advocating tax vouchers. The criminal activities of the Orleans Parish Schools have left my jaw agap. Millions paid to dead, long resigned or fired employees that is unrecoverable, schools without air conditioning, and millions paid to contractors for work that was never done? What am I supposed to think?

New Orleans refuses to invest in its young people, and then wonders why crime is so high among this group. It's so sad.

That's why Katrina was a godsend in it's own way. The RSD is not perfect, however, it is starting to see some success, and under the old system, we would have never seen that.

Thanks for this opportunity to post.