Karran Harper Royal, a Founding Member of Parents Across America, works as an Education Advocate in New Orleans. She is the Assistant Director of  Pyramid Community Parent Resource Center and the former Training Coordinator for the New Orleans Parent Organizing Network.  Her work at Pyramid involves providing one on one support to parents of children with disabilities and conducting workshops to help parents understand their rights under federal special education law.   In addition to working with Pyramid and New Orleans Parent Organizing Network, Mrs. Harper Royal is a contributor to Research on Reforms and provides a parent voice to the work at Southern Poverty Law Center. She is married with two sons, one of whom is a public school student in New Orleans   She blogs at Education Talk New Orleans.

To follow is an article she wrote on her blog titled:

“The Myth of Choice in New Orleans”

Recently, the Times Picayune published a story that said “most charter schools outperform traditional schools.” The traditional public schools cited in the article include the low performing schools that were taken over by our state and placed in the Recovery School District (RSD). The Recovery School District was supposed to improve the schools and give them back to our local board; however, it seems that the only method that the RSD is utilizing to improve the schools is  to maintain the schools failure so that the schools will qualify to become charter schools.  The RSD has not improved any of its direct operated schools enough to qualify for return to the local board, and it’s imperative to question the validity of the RSD. One has to ask, “was this by design?” Has the RSD deliberately trapped the lowest performing students in schools under their jurisdiction so that the charter schools would have more access to the higher performing students in New Orleans?

The unreleased analysis  commissioned by New Schools for New Orleans would have us believe that the charters are so much better, that they out perform the Recovery School District direct operated schools. The scariest part of all of this is that New Orleans is being viewed as a model for educational reform by the rest of the country.  In this reform we tout our “All choice” District as the opportunity for all of the children our local school board failed prior to the takeover, to choose better schools.  We state that children have their choice of over 70 schools to attend in New Orleans; however, this assertion is mere propaganda.  In truth, students only have the choice to apply to over 70 schools; many students end up in lotteries for the higher performing schools.  Students not selected in the lottery don’t have a choice; they have to attend schools where available seats remain.  Therefore,  the schools that  many students are left  choose from,  are the lower performing Recovery School District Schools. Thousands of students have found themselves trapped in RSD’s failing schools.  Trapping these lowest performing students in RSD schools ensures that there will be schools to convert to charters because these schools will definitely be identified as persistently failing.  Trapping students in failing schools should not be replicated as an academic improvement strategy.

Through the Recovery School District, the Louisiana  Department of Education has actually trapped students in it’s RSD direct operated schools by failing to ensure that parents were notified of the opportunity for low-income, low performing students to be placed at the front of the line in the school choice movement.  I recently discovered that for at least the last 3 years and perhaps longer, the RSD has not given its student’s access to real CHOICE as prescribed in the No Child Left Behind Act.   Top Officials within the Recovery School District told the U.S. Department of Education that the system of open enrollment in New Orleans gives all students CHOICE.  The Feds told the RSD that they still had to offer choice in accordance with No Child Left Behind and they had to make it very clear to parents that the system of open enrollment was not the same as Choice under the No Child Left Behind Act.  Despite  posting information about school Choice on their website, many parents  whose children attend  RSD traditional schools  have never seen the letter that was supposed to be sent home to alert them of their right to school CHOICE.  The RSD was supposed to notify 4779 students of their right to choice prior to the start of the current school year, and they claimed to have notified parents of their right to school choice.  However, I have found only 1 parent who actually received a Choice letter. In fact, the Recovery School District directed that parent to one of the failing high schools instead of one of their higher performing charter schools.  Additionally, according to a report to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, of the 4779 students eligible for real Choice in the RSD, only 15 applied for Choice and only 6 actually transferred to a higher performing school utilizing Choice under NCLB.  Most of those high performing charter schools in the recent Times Picayune story were not offered as options for the lowest performing students in New Orleans eligible for Choice under NCLB.

There is a cruel hoax being perpetrated upon the most academically needy students in New Orleans.  The Louisiana Charter School Law was meant to provide opportunities to At-Risk students by creating innovative schools.  In New Orleans, the most At-Risk students have been shut out of what some are calling a great education reform miracle. Recently Sen. Mary Landrieu called for New Orleans schools to serve as a model for education reform across the country.  New Orleans schools are not a model that should be replicated across this country, unless we want to replicate trapping students in failing schools so that charter schools can have the appearance of being successful.  Our children deserve real Choices and real opportunities to quality education reform.