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Current education course will reward LA and its children

Louisiana is jumping into the fray for some helpful federal money for elementary and secondary education – no thanks to entrenched special interests which would rather protect their own interests than see improvement in education, and to others who have the wrong idea about quality education.

This week, the state invites public comment on its plan for the “Race to the Top” program which could provide as much as $250 million for intervention mostly in troubled schools, and some for underperforming schools. Part of the proposal calls for the potential expanded use of a successful tool used in the past, charter schools.

Of course, this irks the primary protectors of the current below-mediocre system, teachers’ unions, as the charter school concept allows for greater administrative freedom that makes it more difficult for inferior teachers not only to get continual pay raises, as has been the recent norm, but even to keep their jobs. Turning a school into a chartered one doesn’t always immediately bring results because better tools have to be used effectively and do not automatically improve matters, but the state’s track record with them has proven they do bring improvement beyond what the traditional model does.

This means representatives of unions, whose job is to siphon as much taxpayer money as possible to as many members that do as little work as possible, have to resort to disingenuous argumentation to try to criticize this strategy. Thus, you get one flack saying that charter schools generally fared worse than traditional public schools in the state’s most recent accountability report card, as a tactic to try to discourage use of them in the plan and in any other situation.

But this slyly tries to deflect from the truth. It is true that, when comparing all charter schools to all traditional schools, that traditional school scores on the state’s accountability system exceed those of charter schools.’ However, the reason why practically every charter school exists is because they were abysmal-performers taken over by the state for that reason then switched to charter status. When comparing progress of charter schools to traditional schools of the same kind, in fact (in New Orleans since most of the state’s charter schools are there) you see much greater improvement with the charter schools. No matter how much special interests try to deny or obfuscate it, charter schools have worked better than traditional schools in improving the worst-performing schools.

Yet putting greed ahead of children’s learning isn’t the only threat to the success of the proposal. With its recently-implemented “career” diploma that lowers rigor in the classroom, concerned observers wonder whether the state’s new “dummy diploma” will be used as a strike against the application, signaling the state lacks seriousness in its accountability efforts and favors making politicians look good by pumping up graduation rates at the expense of actual learning. This can be avoided by having the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its next meeting by requiring graduates under this diploma meet the same Graduate Exit Exam standards currently in place.

If BESE does this right thing and also ignores the background noise from defenders of the past struggling system, with its current accountability program Louisiana stands a great chance of getting rewarded for its progress and the steadfastness behind it. This will make many children in the state the biggest winners of all.

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