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Failing! Failing!? Don't Talk to me about Failing! - Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Listen UP!
 
Failing! Failing? Don’t Talk to Me About Failing!
 
Public school performance seems destined to be branded, forever and no matter the improvement, as failing.
 
Charter Schools are purported to be the answer to drive school improvement. But, the reality of charter school performance and their relation to high quality education can’t be found in formal educational research chronicles. The only positive reports seem to be linked to parties with vested interests in Charter Schools.
 
That there is a national initiative aimed at convincing the public that their public schools are failing, and that privately operated schools provide solutions to educating students who enter schools with poor preparation.
 
However, even the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools web site has difficulty defending charter achievement performance.
 
“Charter Achievement “
Are public charter schools working? Admittedly, the diversity of charter schools within and across states makes it tough to answer this question. Still, a recent meta-analysis produced by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools concluded that the “existence of high quality charter schools and high growth rates for charter schools, at least in many states and studies, suggests that chartering holds promise as an approach to getting better schools. What we have is an experiment worth continuing—and refining.” While test results are critical indicators of success, additional factors should also be considered when assessing the overall performance of public charter schools. One such factor is student, parent, and teacher satisfaction with public charter schools. In one of the most consistent findings about charters, survey after survey have shown high levels of satisfaction among students, parents, and teachers regarding their charter schools. “(http://www.publiccharters.org/issues).
 
Now, in Louisiana, when education policy makers sit in the Picard Conference Room to determine whether or not to take over a “failing public school”, there is no voice to plead that there are “additional factors” that should be considered when assessing the overall performance.
 
Last month we saw a public charter school’s (Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy of Global Studies) teachers rewarded with sizable cash grants for exceeding student achievement goals. The fact is, however, that the school’s official DOE student achievement index fell from 60 in 2007 to 59.8 in 2008 (BESE Board packet for January Meeting- Page 48, School Oversight Committee). The evaluation on the sole basis of LEAP scores would have meant no bonus to these teachers. However, the school was included in a second Department of Education Program (LATAPP) that requires a value added testing component as well as in room evaluation and that assessment revealed the actual performance was better than the goal set for the Academy.
 
Perhaps if one looked at the 10 public schools that Paul Pastorek insisted, last month, must be taken over by the State Recovery School District the same way that Dwight D. Eisenhower was evaluated there would have been no true justification for a state takeover.
 
In fact, DOE reports show that Lanier Elementary improved its index from 53.1 to 59.9, and Capitol Middle moved upward from 51.9 to 55.3. These are two of the schools the State Superintendent chose for RSD takeover. Compared to three Charter Schools operated in the RSD in New Orleans that was outstanding. N.O. Free Elementary, Medard Nelson Charter and Eisenhower experienced drops in their scores that averaged 2.6.
 
Only four of twenty three high schools in Orleans are scoring at pre-Hurricane Katrina levels under RSD operation. It should be noted that Louisiana is the only state in the country that allows charter schools to have student admission requirements and the New Orleans charters are not recognized for open admissions or for service for special needs students.
 
That is simply a part of the problem with RSD Charters. Millions of federal dollars (NCLB funds) were designated for disadvantaged students in open admissions charter schools, but many of the funds have been distributed to charter schools that do not provide equal access.(violation of federal law). Per student spending in the RSD amounts to $15,000, compared to a state average of $6,700. In spite of having more than twice the amount of dollars to spend, the gains in school performance are mixed.
 
The Eisenhower example is clearly one that casts into doubt the validity of using a single student test to evaluate the performance of a whole school, district, or state. If the National Alliance of Charter Schools plead that case, and Superintendent Pastorek uses that case to justify rewarding a school that would have been judged failing under his own state-administered system, there is clearly something very wrong going on in public education in Louisiana.
 
Pastorek made the case for the latest state takeover in a passionate outburst that claimed he would not stand by and allow these students to lose another year by allowing these schools to under-serve. However, even by the Charter Alliance proclamation that their schools are “…an experiment worth continuing—and refining” there is no guarantee that experiments will succeed. In fact, even the U.S. Department of Education has reported that they do not!
 
The Charter Alliance says that “Research and public debate on charter school academic performance are often compromised by methodological issues and misconceptions.” That might be a fitting response from traditional public schools as well as they suffer under a continuing assault from those who desire to privatize education in America.
 
Those privatization forces constantly claim that traditional public schools persist, without change, in doing that which has failed in the past. Non-partisan evaluation of school systems across the nation show that not to be the case.
 
It is time to bring the Legislature back to the reality of its creation.
 
Don Whittinghill LSBA Consultant