As the emphasis in Louisiana education continues migrating to no child left behind from no government employee left behind, reformers continue to get good news about their efforts – which is bad news to entrenched interests in the education establishment.
Recent data show public education in New Orleans, once considered a statewide if not national basket case, since reform began in the later 1990s not only has improved for lower-performing groups more quickly than in the rest of the state, but that the improvement has accelerated since institution of post-Hurricane Katrina reforms marked by increasing reliance on charter schools. These results adhere to field research that shows in Orleans charter schools outperforming traditional schools.
While this news no doubt comes reassuringly to the families whose children are receiving this education, it bodes ill for critics invested in the current command-and-control, government monopoly system of education. Some who have tried, unsuccessfully, to disparage the research demonstrating greater efficiency from the charter model in Orleans, while others who have questioned the completeness of the data find their arguments weakened by the comprehensiveness of data in the latest release.
With the data against those who argue for adequacy of the current system that places little emphasis on school and teacher accountability,
these forces, which are composed of several members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, most elected school board members, district superintendants and others in administrative capacities, teacher unions, and advocates of big government including many state legislators, often must concede their results but then try cleverly to turn them to the favor of their interests. Most of the time, their counterargument is couched in terms of funding, claiming that Orleans schools, whether in the district or operated through the state’s Recovery School District, receive more generous sums as a result of increased state interest, in part because of the desire to spur recovery from Katrina. Therefore, they assert, more spending on schools, in order to overcome educating problems stemming from students’ family backgrounds and attitudes, is the answer, which, if accepted, not only can blunt efforts against their positions or power and privilege, but also can bring them more monetary resources.
Historically, this attempt has ignored evidence from local private schools, mostly religious, which, according to research at a national level, for Catholic and other Christian schools shows modestly lower expenditures per student (with generally much lower tuition) than traditional public schools and with higher achievement from students. Similar hypotheses work here: schools with more accountability dictates and fewer regulations in administrative operation should more efficiently marshal resources to produce higher-achieving students that schools that don’t operate this way, with the emphasis for charter schools on the latter. Amount of state aid, then, is just one input and perhaps not the most important factor in quality education, whereas defenders of the traditional order say money is by far the primary factor in the process.
Recent anecdotal data suggests the inapplicability of this establishment’s belief. Reviewing the 2009-10 expenditure data by district and charter schools, and relating this to schools in Orleans Parish, both the parish district and state schools are among the higher receivers of state aid, with the RSD ranking tenth and OPSD fifth. But there are a number of exceptions in other districts. For example, also both in the top ten in per pupil current expenditures are Madison and Tensas, which have among the worst performing average scores for schools both in current achievement and, for Tensas, growth in that. Meanwhile, one of the lowest spenders, Livingston, has among the highest achievement scores, along with relatively good growth, while Iberia is among the top ten in improvement and in the top third in achievement, all while spending among the least.
More specifically regarding charters, on average statewide they spent below the average for all traditional schools. While more systematic analysis would confirm it, this surface investigation indicates that, obviously, money spent makes a difference, and logically so. But it remains only one of many factors driving outcomes and likely is less important than the processes that control expenditures – the position of reformers.
Hopefully, during fall elections for BESE those reformers running for reelection as well as challengers against the defenders of a system that has not even been able to bring as much as mediocrity will use this latest information, as well as articulate the sentiments expressed by Daria Hall of the interest group Education Trust: “We know that far too many low-income students come to school behind already. Then we turn around and blame the students and blame the families – blame anything but what is going on inside our schools. And that’s a pattern that we have to stop.”
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 10:50