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Amato quits long after Orleans Parish School District did

Orleans Parish School Superintendent Tony Amato dropped out to end a once-promising tenure to turn around the parish’s schools. “Promising,” because Amato had achieved great academic results at another declining urban school system, and because Amato himself had expressed such optimism when he took the job 26 months ago.

But one thing that Amato apparently had not understood was the problems in Orleans schools extend far beyond academic performance. Simply, he got overwhelmed by the financial and managerial aspects of the job at hand, which are part of the dysfunctional culture that has become inbred in the school system.

Some comparative statistics show just how miserable the Orleans system is:

  • On the state’s accountability tests in the areas of English, mathematics, science, and social studies, given in grades 4, 8, and 12, respectively, 23%, 22%, 29%, and 25% fewer Orleans students score in the top three categories (Advanced, Mastery, and Basic) than do students statewide, meaning that proportion more falls into the lowest two categories (Approaching Basic and Unsatisfactory) than do students statewide. (Spring, 2004)
  • On the Iowa Basic Test, in grades 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9, Orleans students’ percentile rankings are, respectively, 22%, 17%, 18%, 18% and 15% lower than the state average. (Spring, 2004)
  • In Orleans, 11% in high school drop out, compared to only 7% statewide. (2003-2004)
  • In terms of ranking schools, 8.6% of Orleans’ rank as five-, four-, or three-star schools compared to 23% statewide; 18% compared to 60.4% rank as two- or one-star schools, and 73.5% compared to 16.7% fall into the “academic warning” or “academically unacceptable” categories.(2003-2004)
  • In progress towards satisfactory school accountability, Orleans had 45.8% of its school show no progress compared to 35.1% in the state; 46.6% make incomplete progress compared to 41.7%, and only 7.6% met their growth progress compared to 23.2% statewide (and over three-quarters of Orleans high schools made no progress while none met their target). (Spring, 2003)
  • Such miserable performance occurs without any great lack of relative financial resources. Revenues per pupil are only $53 less than the statewide average (although expenditures per pupil are $335 less), and the average teacher salary there, at $37,133, is only $33 below the statewide average. (2003-2004)
  • In terms of Orleans’ fiscal impact on the state, with about 9.33% of the state’s students, it gets about 9.77% of state education dollars for public schools. It does differ significantly in proportion of federal dollars received, about 3 percent higher than the stat average. (2002-2003)
  • In student population terms, over the past five years Orleans enrollment has dropped a stunning 21% (while the state’s has declined 5%), while over the past three years Orleans’ population as a whole dropped 3.2%. This means the public school student population makes up only 14% of the parish’s total, whereas statewide it is 16% (although its number of employees has barely budged). (2003-04)
  • While over 97% of Orleans’ students are racial minorities, only about two-thirds of the parish residents are. But of the around 25,000 students in nonpublic schools (meaning 37 percent of all Orleans students are in nonpublic schools in the parish), almost half are racial minorities. The public school system here may well be the most segregated in America. (2002-2003)

    Worse, the statewide figures given here include Orleans. The achievement gaps would be even larger if it were excluded from the state average.

    We must also understand that the failure in Orleans has been system-wide in all phases. It’s not just been in education, but in the administration of education, reflective of a broken, irreparable culture whose impact damages the whole state. Even with a mostly-new school board to hire the new superintendent, it’s probably too late for any substantial change to come any time soon.

    In fact, even though within a couple of years many of Orleans’ schools may be taken over by the state, perhaps even more drastic action should occur given failures are both academic and administrative. Maybe it’s time for the state simply to take over the entire school district. As badly run as Louisiana state government can be, the Orlaans Parish School District has shown it can be done worse.
  • 1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    The state actually saves money thanks to the condition of the Orleans Parish schools. With over 25,000 students from Orleans Parish attending private schools, the state saves hundreds of millions of dollars it would otherwise have to spend educating these students. The same is true for Jefferson and other parishes where a significant percentage of students attend private schools.