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Legislature must facilitate charter-like school standards

Elementary and secondary test scores are out in Louisiana, providing more evidence that an approach leaning on charter schools is creating success and raises questions as to why some legislators want to hamper something that works.

Overall, the state averages on the fourth grade LEAP, eighth grade LEAP, and high school GEE (soon to be replaced by end-of-course tests) showed minor fluctuations in a slightly positive direction. At the individual level, some interesting results popped that bear further investigation as to finding superior methods or launching corrective efforts – such as what did the City of Bogalusa do to improve its LEAP result so much, or why did Catahoula have such significant drops, and what’s up with the stunning declines in St. Helena (a loss of 10 percent passing for eighth graders, but an incredible drop from 64 percent pass rate among fourth graders last year to just 1 percent this year).

But the larger picture presented charter school impact as its biggest story. Most of the state’s charter schools are in Orleans Parish, either in its district (three-quarters of the dozen schools) or the Recovery District (a little over half of 70). The former produced small LEAP losses but maintained itself as one of the highest-averaging districts in the state, and with the latter (where the extraordinarily troubled schools were placed) having both levels at 50 percent or better pass and placed among the larger improvement gains in the state. For the RSD, charter school students passed at a rate 50 percent higher than in traditional schools, while for the OPSD the pad was 13 percent more passage charter school students to traditional school students.

This confirms trends from last year and points to adopting charter-like standards, which give greater administrative latitude, as the key to these successes among student groupings that showed little of this without this additional discretion by schools. Yet as the legislative session gets closer to the end, bills that would facilitate charter-like operations are not the slam dunks that this data would suggest they should be.

HB 1368 by state Rep. Jane Smith which would apply these standards to all schools by their request has made its way through the House but still faces uncertain Senate tests. Further, SB 492 by state Sen. Ben Nevers would put a chilling effect on governance of charter schools by requiring members of their boards (all must have one) to file ethics disclosures, and has only House passage left to be sent to the governor. Fortunately, other threatening bills to curtail charter school autonomy seem unlikely to go anywhere.

The recent results demonstrate the charter model needs expansion and not discouragement. Passage of Smith’s bill and denying Nevers’ would allow the state to build upon the model that so far has been a major component to the slow but steady improvement in Louisiana education.

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