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Louisiana School Board Association

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Hear the Echoes # 3 - Monday, January 3, 2011

Hear the Echoes 3


After five years of State Rule


When the Legislature created the state Recovery School District, the intent was clearly that the RSD would be an interim education entity and not permanent.  Discussions resolved that a five year cycle was necessary to institute innovation and turn around the low performing schools to be taken over.


That was then.  Now, Paul Pastorek and RSD leadership seem to be intent on perpetuation of the RSD.  The transition plan proposed by the superintendent and OKed by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would continue charter schools as independent local education agencies or as charters answerable to BESE.


Legislators who supported creation of the RSD should reevaluate the reality of their creation.


First, charters as operated by the RSD are a rare breed and unlike most charters in other locations.  There have been suggestions that admission policy in many of them violate the equal opportunity provisions of No Child Left Behind law.


After operating for at least three years the record of performance speaks for itself.


The DOE districts-at=a-glance reports that RSD-First Line Schools, Inc., in 2007-08 spent $14,647 per student on an enrollment of 701 students.  None of its classes were taught by highly qualified teachers, and 35.5% of students were given out-of-school suspensions.   The state average suspension rate was 12.1%


Milestone Sabis Academy of New Orleans in 2009-10 enrolled 396 students with a per pupil expenditure of $10,842.  None of its classes were taught by highly qualified teachers, and the out-of-school suspension rate exceeded the state average of 12.1% by 3.6%. 


The DOE-run RSD schools enrolled 11,872 students in 2009-10.  In 2007-08 its 45.3% of classes taught by highly qualified teachers was 37.5% lower than the state average, while spending was $11,907, and out of school suspensions were 24.5%


The much-vaunted RSD-Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) NO Orleans schools boasted a student body, in 2009-10, enrollment of 1,296.  It spent , in 2007-08, $10,604, and none of its classes were taught by highly qualified teachers.  One of its two schools’ was in decline while the other showed no-growth in 2009.


Then there is the RSD-Algiers Charter Schools Association.  With 3,902 students enrolled the association spent an average of $10,264 per student.  No classrooms were taught by highly qualified teachers.  One of the six schools saw its 2009 district accountability report in decline, three had minimal academic growth and two were recognized for academic growth.


Unfortunately, the state district at-a-glance reports do not present 2008-09 or 2009-10 updated analyses.  However, it is clear that expenditures in these DOE authorized and run schools are in excess of 10% greater per pupil than the state average.  A footnote declares that the per-pupil expenditures exclude one-time hurricane related spending. 


The report does present a table that reveals that RSD-LDOE run schools were woefully behind the goal of an SPS score of 100 by 2009.  Two of the RSD-LDE schools were reported in decline, one had no growth, 12 had minimal academic growth and two had recognized academic growth.


The Tulane Cowen Institute analysis reveals that "all RSD-operated high schools remain academically unacceptable and the lowest performing schools in the city.  Five of these schools –Carver, Clark, Cohen, McDonogh, and Reed – have been open since at least 2007 but continue to have performance scores below 35.  Only one met its growth target.


This year the department reported that four more state schools, none of them RSD, achieved national Blue Ribbon School status.  The four Louisiana schools were part of a 304 contingent so named nation-wide.  Louisiana public and private schools have achieved this status 132 times since the program began in 1982. 


According to 2010 State, District and School Performance Score reports more Louisiana schools and districts are making the grade.  The number of schools earning an SPS of 100 or higher grew from 361 in 2009 to 423 in 2010.


The RSD experiment in New Orleans is particularly troubling at the high school level where less than 40% of students passed standardized tests needed to graduate.  According to charter-friendly Cowen Institute of Tulane University, a small number of "schools with selective admissions policies were both high performing and enrolled significantly fewer minority and low income students, creating a sharp divide between those schools and the ones that most students attend.”


One might, upon reading these reports, conclude that there is something screwy with the much touted failure of Louisiana public schooling. 


One might also question why the DOE is publicly advertising for charter school operators to take over more traditional RSD schools when the non-RSD traditionally operated schools are out-performing the state managed schools.  While charters were originally meant to be designed to test new models of teaching that might be transported to other public schools, the RSD charters seem to most often differ only in that they offer choice of enrollment, not choice of new teaching methods. 


What has happened in New Orleans is the evolution of a big-spending, multi-tiered system in which the poorer students are filtered through the selective enrollment schools into lower performing traditional schools.


What has happened is development of a system that has been sued in federal court for failing to provide special needs children with access to an excellent education.


What has happened is that excess spending on the RSD-operated schools has brought down annual Quality Counts scores for equity in financing public schools from a B+ in 2008 to a D+

What has happened is that the RSD operating budget for 2010 allocates $9.4 million for administration and only 62% for instruction services.  The RSD superintendent’s office alone costs $1.4 million to operate.


What has happened is that oversight, the kind practiced by local school boards across the state, is sorely missed so far as the RSD is concerned.


Don Whittinghill

LSBA consultant