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School results beg for fundamental LA education change

The good news is Louisiana elementary and secondary schools continue to improve their performances, leading to better educated students and better served taxpayers. The bad news is the state at this point considers a school where as few as 39 percent of its students achieving at grade-level is a successful school.

Those were the big lessons pointed out by the release of the preliminary school accountability data for 2010-11. Reforms instituted 15 years ago continue to bear fruit, as indicated by scores then and now. Under the current standard defining adequate success, 12 years ago two in every five traditional schools (not alternative) would have been categorized as unsuccessful; for this past year, less than one in ten of all (including alternative schools) did not succeed.

But tempering any celebration for progress is the low standard, even if elevated from the past, defining adequacy.
To some degree, that gets addressed over the next year as the score for success, defined as 30 a dozen years ago, moves from 65 to 75. While this promises to render a more realistic definition of what truly constitutes “adequacy” in a school’s performance, it’s not that great, either, since a score of 100 is normed to mean 75 percent of students perform at or above grade level, so that a 75 translates to about half of students performing where they should be or better for the grade they are in.

Next year’s boost to a standard of every other student performing at or above grade level makes matters look much less optimistic as well. Assuming no change among all schools, with 155 meeting this year’s standard but not next year’s, the population of unacceptable schools will more than double, and none of these are alternative schools already not acceptable, which number 55, in essence therefore tripling the number of non-alternative schools.

One clue to combat this bleak outlook is to note that almost no charter schools made the current list, although more than a dozen are on the watch list for next year. They only make up about seven percent of all Louisiana schools but their proportion of currently failing schools is close to zero. That might signal to enlightened minds that the charter approach, removing restrictions on operation of schools in matters of methods, finance, and personnel, might be the way to go.

Instead, districts have been slow to embrace legislation passed last year that, at the margins, could allow them to operate more like charters. Even that has been put into abeyance with a lawsuit by established interests more desirous of keeping their existing power and privilege than in educating children. Other initiatives that could improve education such as reducing local school board meddling, expanding merit pay, regular teacher subject area competency testing, among others, that could improve matters continue to be resisted, as some of them have been for decades, by these forces.

While the results give a short-term snapshot of where Louisiana education stands, they also show for the long-term that it will never attain what children – and taxpayers footing the bill – deserve until the more fundamental changes get made to the government-monopolized, union-directed, politician-centered system of education indicative of Louisiana’s.

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