Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Hypocrisy of Accountability

“Free Mr. Clark! Free Mr. Clark!” Blackboard Wars was originally cast as a show that would display a Lean on Me-like turnaround for a dangerous, failing academic institution in New Orleans, Louisiana. That it wasn’t, however! A cultural icon never emerged. John McDonogh Senior High School, the charter high school operated by the Future Is Now, which gained fame as the focus of Oprah Winfrey’s Blackboard Wars, is closing. The news story (found here) reported several reasons for the school’s closure. Most of all, the story emphasizes the academic woes of the school. Apparently, the school turned in a dismal school performance score, a score that placed the school’s performance as the worst in the state of Louisiana – even lower than the scores of alternative schools.
            Charter schools arrived in New Orleans in a different package than they arrived in some other cities. Charter schools were hardly about community engagement in the New Orleans area although some charter schools have made efforts at engaging the community. In fact, it appears that charters are only granted for schools in the New Orleans area when those charters are supported by large-scale charter management organizations (seemingly the opposite of local community control). Charter schools in New Orleans, the now epicenter of the charter movement, are about school accountability. Traditional public schools were routinely closed to make room for charter schools that would ultimately turn in better academic performance than the traditional public schools.
            There is something hypocritical about the accountability movement, which is disguised in the charter school movement. While traditional public schools in New Orleans are shuttered for a lack of performance, charter schools are hardly shuttered for similar reasons. In a recent conversation with a Louisiana Department of Education worker, the worker attempted to assert that many New Orleans area charter schools had been closed for failure to meet the academic promises of the schools’ charters. This assertion is little more than a fib. Of all the charter schools that have been shuttered in the New Orleans area, I can’t remember one charter school that was closed solely because of academic performance. Most, if not all, closed charter schools have been closed due to financial woes. The Future Is Now-operated charter school at John McDonogh is yet another example of an academically failing charter school that is closing because of financial woes more than academic failures. It is notable that the school ran financial deficits of more than a million dollars for two years straight, which is probably the state’s reason for closure more than the school’s academic problems.

            The truth of the matter is something had to happen in New Orleans Public Schools. As a graduate of the fledgling school district, I was aware that people were laughing at the school district and not with the school district. Although I don’t agree with the extreme accountability – based nearly completely on test scores – I understand the desperation of parents in New Orleans. Schools had to become accountable for failing generations of students. My problem is the double standard. Why are some schools closed for failure to meet standards of adequate academic progress, but other schools are only closed when they fail to meet adequate academic progress and a host of other problems plague the school? This is nothing short of hypocrisy, and parents in New Orleans deserve better! They deserve true and evenly distributed accountability that holds all schools responsible for failing to satisfactorily educate students.

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