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October 2012 Vol. 20. No. 2 Focus on A Portfolio of Schools

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Commentary: New Orleans offers lessons for Philadelphia’s ‘portfolio’

By by Katie McCabe on Oct 22, 2012 12:30 PM
Photo: Dale Mezzacappa

A classroom in the now-demolished Abramson High School in New Orleans in May 2006, eight months after Katrina hit. A charter school now operates on the site.

As the Philadelphia School District continues its shift toward portfolio management for its public schools, it makes sense to look at another city at the forefront of this movement: New Orleans, where I spent the summer of 2011 working for the Recovery School District (RSD).

The RSD is the state-led entity that took over 75 percent of the public schools in New Orleans in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina. Its implementation of the portfolio model has important lessons for Philadelphia in two main areas: how to have robust oversight of its diverse group of school operators, and how a well-funded education nonprofit can play a role in promoting this model.

Since it started, the RSD has made significant changes to the way it manages accountability and oversight of its charters. It has centralized enrollment and expulsions and required public “equity reports” for each charter. A well-staffed Portfolio and School Performance Office holds annual review sessions with each charter.

At the same time, a nonprofit called New Schools for New Orleans has become one of the most powerful philanthropic players in the city’s education landscape. With RSD, it obtained a large federal innovation grant to help turn around low-performing schools.

The Philadelphia School Partnership sees itself as playing a similar role here.

Mike Wang, the managing director of PSP, has reached out to Neerav Kingsland, chief strategy officer of New Schools for New Orleans, to share ideas.

But there are important differences between Philadelphia and New Orleans. In New Orleans, a natural disaster allowed charter proponents to reshape the city’s educational landscape. In Philadelphia, it was a man-made catastrophe – call it a combination of Hurricane Ackerman and Hurricane Corbett – that led to the appointment of a chief recovery officer and the Boston Consulting Group’s recommendation to fully embrace portfolio management.

And the RSD oversees 63 public schools, while Philadelphia oversees nearly five times as many. In Philadelphia, only 25 percent of schools are charters, compared to 75 percent in the RSD. And the RSD is committed to converting the remaining district-run schools to charters by 2014.

New Orleans is portfolio/network management at its most extreme.

Charter school accountability

New Orleans has a few things to teach Philadelphia about accountability and oversight. After some hard lessons – a lawsuit by Southern Poverty Law Center charging discrimination against special education students, a mismanagement scandal involving a charter run by the same Turkish network that runs one in Philadelphia – RSD made a major adjustment to how it manages accountability.

A “deputy superintendent of portfolio” now oversees a 10-person office. Four of these staff members are “on-the-ground” managers; each oversees a network of approximately 15 charters.

“I really believe in a network-type structure,” said Deputy Superintendent of Portfolio Adam Hawf. “I think the sweet spot is somewhere in the ballpark of 15 schools.”
Philadelphia, which oversees more than 80 charter schools, had only six people in its troubled charter office when its director resigned in July.

To improve the RSD’s ability to oversee charters, the district centralizes enrollment and expulsion records to ensure no students are being unfairly “pushed out.”

The office publishes the equity reports for each charter. In addition to compiling data on student enrollment, attendance and performance, these reports monitor schools’ records on special education and annual student turnover.

“It’s holding schools accountable [for something] that we didn’t previously hold them accountable for,” said Hawf.

His office is also developing a new annual quality review for charter operators to delve into issues beyond test scores and budgets.

Hawf said that charter operators responded to RSD’s past overemphasis on test scores by pushing out special education students.

“Schools will do what you incentivize them to do,” he said, “so you need to be careful that you don’t accidentally incentivize them to do inappropriate things.”

Role of philanthropy

New Orleans also offers lessons for the role of philanthropy in promoting and supporting portfolio models.

Soon after Katrina, New Schools for New Orleans was playing a key role in incubating new charter operators. Six years later, local and national foundations, including Gates and Broad, helped the organization partner with the RSD to win a five-year federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant. Under the grant, New Schools and the RSD work together to match low-performing schools with new operators in the New Orleans version of Philadelphia’s Renaissance initiative.

New Schools for New Orleans also got federal money to develop a robust, test-score oriented evaluation to identify successful charter operators worthy of grants for turnaround or expansion.   

Right now, PSP has vague criteria for giving away its millions to schools. A federal grant might help it develop standards that are more transparent, uniform and rigorous while also including criteria that could help high-performing District-run schools replicate their success.

And finally, New Schools for New Orleans has not only funded the expansion of successful charter schools, but actively recruited new charter operators from outside the city. PSP’s first two rounds of grants have been limited to schools and operators with Philadelphia roots. It is not yet clear whether PSP plans to recruit new school providers to Philadelphia.

About the Author

Katie McCabe is a former Notebook intern now enrolled in a two-year teacher training program at a Boston charter school.

Comments (22)

Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on October 3, 2012 10:17 am

New Orleans will be fully Charter School by 2014.
Philadelphia will be fully Charter School by 2018.

Submitted by tom-104 on October 3, 2012 10:10 am

The Enrollment Practices
of New Orleans Charter Schools:
Intended and Unintended Consequences
from the New Orleans Tribune

"Over the years, opponents of charter schools and voucher programs have cited numerous concerns and the adverse consequences of such programs in offering a quality education for all children. One of the most feared concerns is that charter schools and voucher programs can be used to limit student access to particular schools based on race, class or ethnicity. Almost 60 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Brown vs. Board of Education that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional and ordered the integration of all public schools. Given the autonomy and lack of oversight of charter schools in New Orleans it appears that it is quite easy to ignore the ruling in the Brown Case. Have we gone back in time?"

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 22, 2012 7:21 pm
Wrong. Philly will be about 50% by 2018. Charters don't want to be bothered by the knuckleheads unless they can be chartered separately in a quasi prison environment. It's all about making money. New Orleans has begun to fight back in a fairly big way, at least compared with Philly which isn't saying much.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 22, 2012 3:16 pm
This is written as if the Phila. School Partnership already has the power to run the School District and decide which schools will survive and which will die. So much for transparency and openness. Public schools need to be run by the public and for the public! Where is the public in the Phila. School Partnership????
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 22, 2012 7:57 pm
Yes and we have let it happen right in front of our eyes without any real resistance. Why??
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 22, 2012 10:11 pm
While the Philadelphia School Partnership has been steamrollering public education in the court of public opinion, Jerry Jordan calls secret members-members only meetings expecting his minions to trek to N. Broad St (but far far away from 440 and the SRC) just to find out what's on his mind. Very old school leadership, no wonder we're getting our clocks cleaned..
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 22, 2012 10:33 pm
And that's why I and others have questioned Jordan's motives and/or goals. The level of silence is stunning and reasonable persons have to ask why, especially in light of the Chicago Teacher's Union recent success through strong mobilization and PR. Hopefully, I have this all wrong but I don't know what else to think.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 6:25 am
uh -- mobilization and a membership meeting? Are you able to connect the dots or just unwilling? Stand up tonight at the meeting "Joe" and express yourself--if you even show up BTW: How many times have you 1) shown up at a membership meeting 2) shown up at a rally 3) contacted your legislator 4) wrote a letter to the newspapers 5) made yourself available to be interviewed on TV . . .or is just trolling in these silly blogs the extent of YOUR commitment. Union leadership is only as strong as the members who are willing to stand up and be counted publicly
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 23, 2012 7:18 am
Hey, don't shoot the messenger. I've spoken WITH Jordan more than once and thought I knew him semi personally at least to a degree. Going on TV would play right into the anti union agenda, my friend. Sharing on this "silly blog" is called free speech.. In any case, attacking me because I disagree with the current "reaction" by the PFT, is not productive. Explain where I'm wrong.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 2:49 pm
1. Membership meetings are rare. When they occur, they are scripted, without concern for the views of the members. 2.This notebook reader has shown up at every rally, but never felt the union did the work of educating or getting the membership fired up about anything. 3. This reader has contacted legislators regularly. 4.This reader has written letters and been published in the newspaper. 5. This reader has been visible and on the news. And this reader agrees with Joe 100%. Strong leadership is needed. Strong leadership is an essential element in battling privatization. Thanks Joe for stating this.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 23, 2012 4:37 pm
Thank You for your support. It is appreciated. Anyone who considers the evidence and still doesn't question the PFT's motives, is simply not looking hard enough. Just compare us with Chicago FT and tell me you don't see a leadership difference. You can't and that's my point.
Submitted by Eileen Duffey (not verified) on October 23, 2012 6:00 am
Anonymity, that's why. Reveal yourself Joe. Anonymity has its limitations.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 22, 2012 7:51 pm
Ms. McCabe--If you really believe that Charters are being monitored and scrutinized in any meaningful way, I have a bridge to sell you.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 22, 2012 8:13 pm
Amazing isn't it. Vallas was run out of Philadelphia and then hightailed it down to New Orleans. However, Vallas was a protege of Ackerman's and Ackerman was eventually run out. Now, the Philadelphia School District is using the New Orleans School System, the very same practices established by Vallas, as a template to transform the schools here in Philadelphia. It just goes to show you no idea is new or really revolutionary. Had Vallas had just a few more years he would have implemented the same practices here as he did in New Orleans.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 22, 2012 8:46 pm
And the Notebook is a not so silent partner.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on October 22, 2012 9:45 pm
For the true picture of what has happened to New Orleans since 80% of the public schools have been turned into charters, view this talk by Karran Harper Royal given at the Save Our Schools conference in Washington DC on August 4th. Ms. Royal is a New Orleans parent and one of the leaders of Parents Across America. (She also discusses the role of Paul Vallas in privatizing New Orleans public schools.)
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 22, 2012 10:46 pm
Thank you, Ken, for providing this link. I was a little astounded by the apparent naivete an/or cheerleading tone of this article. The things I read from actual on-the-ground people (parents, etc...) in New Orleans are NOT saying that this portfolio system is working. I am reading and hearing lots of complaints that the charters in NOLA are not serving all equally.
Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 22, 2012 10:06 pm
Just wondering, WHICH "two year teacher training program" at which charter school is Ms. McCabe enrolled in? Full disclosure seems important here.
Submitted by Ken Derstine on October 22, 2012 11:26 pm
Interesting quote from this article: "But there are important differences between Philadelphia and New Orleans. In New Orleans, a natural disaster allowed charter proponents to reshape the city’s educational landscape. In Philadelphia, it was a man-made catastrophe – call it a combination of Hurricane Ackerman and Hurricane Corbett – that led to the appointment of a chief recovery officer and the Boston Consulting Group’s recommendation to fully embrace portfolio management." So can there be any question that the starving of Philadelphia's public schools has been deliberate to promote a privatization agenda? Check out this recent article in The Nation. Is corporate reform really "for the children"? "Why Do Some of America's Wealthiest Individuals Have Fingers in Louisiana's Education System?"
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 23, 2012 1:48 am
Thanks for sharing this article. This is the last paragraph: "The initial results of education reform in Louisiana carry significant parallels to education reform initiatives around the country: in Philadelphia, the city-contracted Boston Consulting Group has effectively recommended the elimination of teacher tenure; Congress and President Obama recently agreed to a deal to expand the District of Columbia’s voucher program; the state of Indiana just doubled the size of their voucher program, and in Chicago, Rahm Emanuel is attempting to shutter more than eighty public schools and replace them with charters. As other experiments in wholesale privatization have indicated, the likely result of this is an acceleration of wealth and power into the hands of the 1 percent, while violence and political exclusion characterize the lives of everyone else. The same forces that have initiated this process in Louisiana are hard at work implementing their agenda elsewhere, and they have nearly unlimited resources at their disposal. There comes a time, however, when enough is enough."
Submitted by Samuel Reed III on October 23, 2012 7:37 pm


It's called Disaster Capitalism. Sadly poverty pays for some folks. This scholarly article provides insights on how private interests capitalized on the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina.  Create the disaster the capital will follow.

Submitted by Anonymous on November 7, 2014 6:53 am

This looks very sad. I do not know whether it is in this condition or not. I think the biggest problem in the world is the negligence towards such establishments. How can you forget the student who made fantastic career from that place?

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