Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Linkage to G-Bitch's notes on The State of Public Education in New Orleans meeting and panel discussion is here.

Like I said, I was late, too, to the meeting, so I too missed Cowen and Pastorek making their opening remarks. I missed the excuses made for Recovery School District superintendent Paul Vallas' absence from the meeting (turned out those excuses were pretty empty - t'anks, Jeffrey). I perused some of the literature handed out to attendees, which included the Cowan Institute's report on the state of the city's public schools and a short schedule of events for the night and plunked myself down towards the front.

So we've got the following people involved in this whole scheme to transform the public schools from being "someone else's schools", as Matt Candler of New Schools for New Orleans put it.:

The Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives
Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans
Urban League of New Orleans
Business Council of Greater New Orleans and the River Region (which is apparently a letter-writing arm of the Citizens for 1 Greater N.O.)

First off, I'm glad all these people are coming together in the name of our children. I'm glad, as panelist and former New Orleans Science & Math High School principal Barbara MacPhee said, these folks recognized that "we had an adult problem" all these years before the storm.

Problem is, we have a different version of an adult problem these days. These organizations have come together to embark on what is supposed to be "the beginning of a more candid dialogue about the schools", but where were most of the representatives from those same schools they were talking about? Where were the parents? Ben Franklin Elementary principal Charlotte Matthew told Paul Pastorek a "coordination of resources" needs to get going between the schools in the three different systems operating here. It might have been nice to encourage more representatives from each school in the system to come and help get that coordination started - perhaps a later start time to the meeting might have done the trick.

There was much more agreement last night on the fact that the adults couldn't go back to the way things had been. The Orleans Parish School Board must not be allowed to be in charge of all the public schools again. Nobody is fully agreed on the particulars of how to move forward, however, aside from hiring and keeping quality teachers, setting up accountability structures for both teachers and parents, and eliminating de facto economic and racial segregation. Pastorek himself said the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has only recently embarked upon research into what is making schools across the state work (supposedly, two "research enterprises" are embarking upon this task. Wish 'em luck, 'cause they'll need it) and he claims that there are 21 schools in the state that have a high-minority, high-poverty student body that are also high performing schools. Paul, man, what makes those schools work? Isn't there enough data that your people can start sharing what works with the people in this area, or are we still too broken to really benefit yet?

I'm confused.

Some questions of note from the audience:

How can area museums, the zoo and aquarium, and other organizations with educational programs outside of the school environment better support the teachers? Their participation in educational workshops offered by, for example, the D-Day Museum, has been low. How can they increase it?

How can parents be encouraged to participate?

If the parents aren't participating, how can they be held accountable?

Can Head Start-type programs be integrated into the schools?

From a 2nd Grade student at Green Charter School: How much money have you been saving over the years?

Will Act 175 be fully implemented into the schools?

One important statement from an attendee that was passed over by the panel:
I can tell you, Frederick Douglass (High School) isn't like what the panel is talking about.

Answers to the above questions will be posted by me later, unless everybody answers them for me in the comments.

Hey, they are adult problems, after all.


Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

How can area museums, the zoo and aquarium, and other organizations with educational programs outside of the school environment better support the teachers? Their participation in educational workshops offered by, for example, the D-Day Museum, has been low. How can they increase it?

The area museums et al are doing their jobs. But field trips have to be set up by someone. Usually teachers handle this end of things, but with so much else on the plate (state mandated) it is difficult to do.

Also add into that the fact that this system has completely failed to enact any real serious discipline policy, and you have situations where schools won't take groups of students off campus because of exponentially increased liability to both museum and student and teacher and system.

How can parents be encouraged to participate?

If we depend on parents we may never fix the system. Parents who are already involved are not the problem. But, we have a core group of parents who don't even come pick up their students' report cards, update emergency contact information or show up at all. Not only are we supposed to call parents to let them know they have not picked up their child's report card we are also supposed to call to let them know if their child is in danger of failing their class and grade. Schools can, literally, only do so much nannying. If you want to know why people don't want to teach, there you go.

If the parents aren't participating, how can they be held accountable?

I would say family court, but that system, like the education system it supports, is overwhelmed at the point of attack. Boarding schools. Military schools. Kids who are a constant problem by age 8 with no parental involvement = wards of the state.

Can Head Start-type programs be integrated into the schools?

Probably, but I wouldn't do it without a plan in place to deal with discipline and special education issues seriously.

Leigh C. said...

Coozan, I WISH those were the answers given. I wish anything that even approached those answers was given last night. There was a great deal of self-congratulation amongst some of those folks on the stage. Fine, there has been some slight improvement. Any concrete ideas on where to go from there?

Oh, if only I'd been able to ask some questions...

Anonymous said...

Ladies and Gentlemen, the state of public education in New Orleans is not good, to put it mildly.
One of you used the expression "self-congratulatory." People at the top are NOT on the "front lines" in the classroom in schools that do not enjoy selective enrollment. You will lose good teachers because good teachers need something with which to work; they need a sound and consistently enforced discipline program; where there is no discipline, there is no education. In many NOLA schools there is little in the way of discipline. If you have not worked as a teacher in an RSD high school classroom (and I have heard the same of some of the middle schools), you have no idea of just how bad the problem is.
There are those who believe that putting technology in the classrooms and in the students' hands will solve the problem, will improve education, will increase test scores. Using technology to enhance education can be a good thing, but it is limited in scope. Know that students are bending laptops to their use despite the supposed installed "blocks." Students are sitting in the cafeteria, are walking the halls, and are sitting in class listening to gangsta' rap and the like, watching movies (including porn), and playing games on those laptops. Most of them are not doing the installed lessons because they cannot read or understand them. Worse, they are not inclined to work at being able to improve their reading or understanding because they have no reason to which they can relate.
Are parents part of the problem? Of course they are; some of those parents have no real education, so they do not see its value. A large number of them are kids themselves. Many are single parents who are at work and/or are not home for other reasons to raise their children. There are also parents who do not instill the values in their children that would require their young people to respect themselves and others particularly their teachers.
I cannot tell you what all the solutions to the problem may be, but I can tell you that there is no real reason for self-congratulation. A state board that agrees with NCLB which insists that all children are entitled to and must receive exactly the same education and educational opportunities as everyone else is not being realistic. A state board that insists that all GLEs be implemented in the classroom regardless of the real reading level on which students find themselves is not realistic. The students in many New Orleans classrooms suffer and extreme lack of foundation on which to build.
Students do not come to school, and many arrive tardy (not 5 minutes tardy, seriously tardy; it merits study. To make teachers and schools responsible for students who are consistently tardy and absent is ludicrous.
Yes, the goals are lofty, and that is good, but lofty goals in conjunction with placing students and teachers in untenable positions is perpetuation a lie. Good intentions are not enough.
One last comment: teachers are not afforded the respect they deserve from the people above, so how can anyone expect the students to respect their teachers? People in government and people in school boards tout what sounds like a "party line" -- hold teachers accountable. I say, hold parents accountable; hold students accountable; hold the central office on the local level accountable; hold the La DOE accountable. Tell the truth. Without the truth, nothing will change for the good, and New Orleans will continue to suffer the results of poor education. There are horror stories out there, and there are way too many of them. Thank you for your attention.