By Kari Harden | Originally Published at A print edition of The Louisiana Weekly, a New Orleans-based civil rights newspaper that began publishing in 1925. December 1, 2014 | Photographic Credit; Chris Granger / The Times-Picayune
A new report exploring the correlation between high-risk neighborhoods and educational opportunities determined that there is considerable work required in ensuring that the city’s most vulnerable children have access to a positive and high-quality school environment.
The report released last week was part of a national health-centered initiative, and titled “PLACE MATTERS for Education in Orleans Parish: A Community Health Equity Report on Educational Policies.”
With education identified as one of the World Health Organization’s 12 “social determinants of health,” the report presented detailed data in an effort to determine how well public education is serving the neighborhoods and students most at risk for lives dominated by violence and incarceration.
Closely examining demographics, crime rates, school performance scores, and school suspension and expulsion rates, the report concludes that despite the national narrative of New Orleans as a model for reform, “children in the most high-risk neighborhoods are fairing no better under a school choice model.”
Key findings in the report show that the lowest-performing schools are overwhelming located in the highest risk neighborhoods, and that despite the much lauded notion of choice, “families in high risk communities are busing their children in search of better educational opportunities and their children are often ending up in low performing schools in other high risk communities.”
The report found that for the 2011-2012 school year, more than 50 percent of students living in the highest-risk neighborhoods attended an F-rated school.
In addition, the open enrollment/school choice model “may be an unintended risk contributor to turf violence among youth in the city, especially for those students who are traveling into neighborhoods where there is long-standing animosity between neighborhoods or wards.”
Rev. Patrick Keen, the leader of the Orleans Parish PLACE MATTERS team, asks: “Considering the millions that are being spent on busing our youth, wouldn’t it make greater sense to invest more in poor performing schools in high risk communities? Why not provide these schools with additional resources needed to ensure that students’ holistic needs are addressed so that they are ready to obtain a quality education? Excessive busing, including busing very young children from dawn to dusk, is another unintended consequence of the open-enrollment process. However, busing children to other low performing schools does not contribute anything towards their development and only enriches the transportation providers.”
Another key finding in the report highlights concerns related to the Recovery School District’s (RSD) disturbingly high out of school suspension rates, and the lack of transparency and accountability in reporting suspensions and expulsions.
Based on what is voluntarily self-reported by the approximately 40 mini-districts under the RSD’s oversight, the out of school suspension rate for the 2011-2012 school year was 26.6 percent – nearly three times the state rate of 9.2 percent.
Ranking highest for the 2012-2013 school year were the three schools operated by Collegiate Academies. Carver Collegiate suspended 69 percent of their students at least once, with 61 percent for Carver Prep and 58 percent for Sci Academy.
And the racial disparities nationwide are well documented – according to a recent ACLU report, African-American students are suspended at three times the rate of white students, despite making up just one-sixth of the total public school population.
The ACLU report also found that students with disabilities were three-times more likely to receive an out of school suspension.
Students who are constantly kicked out of school for minor infractions often become at best disengaged from school, and at worst the victims of violence in their communities, the report details.
Students who feel supported by their schools, in contrast, have much better social and academic outcomes.
According to the report, the schools with the most at-risk kids were often under-resourced and had a staff that was ill-equipped to serve those students. As a result, the staff “may take extreme and punitive actions against students they view as having disruptive behavior that does not conform to their cultural milieu.”
And while some schools report astonishingly high out of school suspension rates, other schools report suspiciously low rates, while others don’t report at all. There is a significant lack of transparency in the available discipline data, according to the report, with the identified need for more information to be provided on the length of suspensions, and where the students spend their time if they are serving a suspension.
The report raised suspicion about the reporting of low expulsion rates, which may not account for drop outs, transfers, and undocumented push-outs.
Concluding with detailed recommendations for policy makers, the report suggests more community-based partnerships and an increase in early intervention for the most at-risk youth, such as creating programs to ensure that kids who are suspended out of school are being kept academically engaged.
The report recommends the creation and distribution of a “clearly-defined code of conduct, to which schools are held accountable, that creates safe and positive school climates.” Regarding suspension and expulsion data, the report urges mandatory data reporting for schools and the inclusion of discipline data as a factor in the school performance score.
“The report highlights the consistent and increasing need for a collective conversation around education reform in New Orleans,” Dr. Charles Corprew III, a psychology professor at Loyola University, said in the news release accompanying the report. “You can’t talk about reform if those who need it the most are still experiencing Pre-Katrina realities.”
Kari Harden is a freelance Writer and Contributing Author to The Louisiana Weekly, a New Orleans-based civil rights newspaper that began publishing in 1925.