Set Up to Fail

A former teacher says an acclaimed college-prep charter school in New Orleans is setting students up for failure…

By Jake Guth
sci1There’s an old adage that if something seems too good to be true, then it likely is. Sci Academy, one of New Orleans’ top-rated charter schools, exemplifies that adage. As a success story/victim of New Orleans Public Schools, depending on which way you want to view it, I approached my job interview at Sci Academy with a big grain of salt. The Craigslist ad for a coach described an academically-driven school that was attempting to start an athletics program.

I still remember how blown away I was by my first visit to the school—how it was unlike any *public* school I’d ever seen: the polite kids I interacted with, the noticeable absence of discipline problems. The red flags should have gone up right away. Like the fact that I had no experience coaching. Or that I was given the keys to a room that was used as the school storage closet and told to clear it for a weight room. Or that there was no budget and the equipment was all donated, meaning that the helmets were well past the three-year certification usage limit and many of the pads were moldy. None of it mattered. I was 24 years old, a minority from New Orleans, and I’d landed what seemed like a dream job. Continue reading →

How Schools in New Orleans Are Trying to Grow Children Like Monsanto Grows Corn

A teacher in New Orleans sees some startling similarities between the education of the city’s children and the way that commodity crops are grown on industrial farms…

By Stefin Pasternak
The way we educate our children in many schools in New Orleans these days shares some startling similarities with how industrial farms raise commodity crops. Industrial farms prefer the complete uniformity of straight, orderly rows of a single crop rather than the organic relationships of different organisms that support one another in a true ecosystem.  Many of our schools prefer to educate children under the veil of a culture of straight, silent lines, seeking to produce identical outcomes rather than cultivating the organic interactions and freedoms that breed healthy children and communities.1

Industrial farms prefer to control as many variables in the growing process as possible instead of encouraging a diversity of variables to yield different growing environments.  Many schools try to control as many variables in the teaching process as possible instead of encouraging a diverse array of teaching styles and critical thought.

Industrial farms prefer to genetically engineer crops for yield at the expense of taste and nutrition, leaving us with a surplus of tasteless, nutrition-less food-like plants.  Many of our schools prefer to educate kids who score basic or above on a battery of dozens of standardized tests, but who cannot fend for themselves in the real world, rather than kids who lead happy, healthy lives and build healthy communities.

And as is well understood these days, industrial agriculture does all this to the complete and total devastation of our ecology and climate.  So what of the schools who raise kids this way? Continue reading →

Students in New Orleans Speak Out

Students in New Orleans speak out, and ask some hard questions…

IMG_1120 Early Friday morning students arrived at their schools only to find that it was no regular morning. Pasted on the walls all around the schools were large black & white posters. But these were not your typical posters. These posters had facts, questions, and statistics regarding New Orleans public charter schools and their inhabitants — former students, teachers, principals, and CEOs. Some posters had questions on them that referenced the firing of over 7,000 teachers post-Katrina: *The black math teacher from 2004 who lived in your neighborhood, where are they?* And some questioned the salaries of school principals and administrators compared to the quality of the schools they run: *Your principal makes $100,000 a year, but why is your school only a ‘D’ school?* These are only a few of the many posters that were found at several high schools across the New Orleans area, including Lake Area, Sci Academy, Warren Easton, and Landry Walker. Continue reading →

Big Easy, Hot Mess

Why New Orleanians are turning against the city’s education reform experiment…

Blue_House,_N._Robertson_St._4500_Blk,_New_Orleans_LAHere is all you need to know about the New Orleans schools before Hurricane Katrina hit, ten years ago this summer: they were awful. The schools were awful, the school board was awful, the central office was awful—all of them were awful. At a recent conference held to tout the progress made by the schools here since Katrina, Scott Cowen, an early proponent of the all-charter-school model that exists here now, described New Orleans’ pre-storm schools as mired in *unprecedented dysfunction.* In other words, they were awful. Continue reading →

Black Leaders (and Teachers) Matter

Andre Perry says education reform in New Orleans has failed the most important test…

Scholar, writer and education activist Andre Perry.

Scholar, writer and education activist Andre Perry.

EduShyster: You were involved in the education reform experiment in New Orleans from its inception. But you’ve become increasingly critical of the direction reform has taken. Why?

Andre Perry: The goal of education has to be build the capacity of local residents. It has to be—and I’m talking about from top to bottom. Our goal is not to improve a school in spite of the community. Our goal is to improve a community using schools. And it’s not just to give students the skills to get a job—that’s one small part. It’s to make sure they have sustainable communities to live in. You’re not going to fire your way to improving community. You have to do the hard work of building capacity and training people and becoming a member of the community. That’s how you do it. That wasn’t happening and it’s not happening. In addition, and this is where I am clearly biased, New Orleans is 60% Black. If we don’t have Black leaders in the mix, we’re just reinforcing a power structure that helped cause the situation we were in. Continue reading →