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Caddo schools play politics despite charter success

As a pair of its schools have officially gone under state control as of last week, political pouting by Caddo Parish school administration is going to get just that little bit more difficult as a result of the recent releasing of standardized test scores that cast more doubt on the direction the district is heading.

The results showed that yet another Caddo school has fallen into the danger zone that culminated in two such schools being taken over by the state’s Recovery School District at the end of this month. Ridgewood Middle School became the 14th, or now about one-fifth of the total, of the district’s schools to be put on the warning list. If there was any silver lining to this, it was on the basis not of overall scores as the previous 13 had been nailed, but on sub-groups scores.

To date, the other schools that have spent too many years on the list have escaped state takeover because of individual operating agreements made with the state while others have been subsumed into the “Caddo Plan” which is an attempt to create themed schools, pump in some more money to them, and tinker with personnel. Unfortunately, the latter is unlikely to produce the kind of change needed to get these schools up to snuff because it does not change the system that produced low performances in the first place.

In order to accomplish this, the district needs to look at the dramatic improvements seen in Orleans Parish. Most of the schools there have been taken over by the state, but that’s not what has really caused some impressive progress. Rather, it has been that almost all of the schools left under the Orleans Parish School District, and many now in the RSD, have become charter schools.

By way of comparison (for the exact methodology, please refer to a previous posting) at the 4th grade level in the RSD charter school students outperformed their regular school peers by 28 percent, at the 8th grade level in the RSD by 41 percent and in the OPSD by 43 percent, and on the Graduate Exit Exam in the OPSD (excluding the magnet high school Benjamin Franklin) by 53 percent. Keep in mind that, overall, these schools draw from similar populations and the typical per student cost in a charter school there was substantially lower than in the regular schools.

In short, charter schools have done much better in the education mission using fewer resources, primarily because they can avoid some of the bureaucracy and regulations inherent to the remainder of the monopolistic one-size-fits-all public school system, especially in personnel matters without great union interference and political machinations that often accompany questions surrounding teachers and principals. It should be no accident this was the model chosen by the state for the two Caddo school taken over.

Yet not only did the Caddo Plan decisively turn its back on the charter school model for its own revamping, but district administrators, claim everybody save the district itself, seemed to go out of their way to impede the startups of the incipient Linwood Public Charter School and Linear Leadership Academy, requiring state intervention to facilitate the transition. This should not be unexpected since in the eyes of too many Caddo administrators and School Board members these are now “competitors” and casting their eyes south they know they are unlikely to win a battle of achievement against them if history (and theory) is any guide.

Which is a lamentable attitude because it puts politics ahead of children. If things play out as expected, in a few years noticeable improvement will have occurred at the two new charter schools and they will have significantly better performing students than in the academically unacceptable schools still in the grip of the CPSD, absent any significant change from the district’s current course. Only then with this evidence may the district finally decide to move from trying to make a better buggy whip to creating an automobile by moving genuinely and enthusiastically in the direction of charter schools.

Meanwhile, years will have been wasted and children will have missed a better chance to reach their potentials. The lesson already is there; no rational reason exists for the district not to embrace the charter concept for its worst performing schools at all levels, only reasons relating to the continued maintenance of power and privilege of existing special interests inside and outside of the district.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure where you are getting your data... but it is incredibly inaccurate. RSD Charters are outspending the regular public schools across the state by nearly 60%, according to figures finally released by Pastorek. As far as scores, nearly all serious researchers understand the importance of comparing similar students in charters to similar students in regular schools. In none of the highly regarded studies comparing charters do they come out as higher performing for similar students. There is also a potential liability for the state in that charters in NO have been allowed by Pastorek to illegally use entrance testing requirements, a direct violation of federal regulations governing federal funding and charter schools.