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Hear the Echoes # 5 - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hear the Echoes 5

Now it is selling schools!

                On the same day he was welcoming new school board members to the Governor’s Mansion on Capitol Lake, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he would offer business an opportunity to buy into charter schools and in return gain seats on the charter school boards and an allocation of as much as 50% of the student bodies to company worker’s children.

          The part-time governor, in an address to Louisiana business leaders, announced that he is pursuing legislation in the upcoming legislative session that will empower business to partner with new charter schools.

The idea came from Florida’s "charter schools-in-the-workplace” initiative. This legislation would enable businesses to provide a facility or land to a charter school—as well as partner with a school on career counseling, technical education, and mentoring—in exchange for a minority percentage of the school’s board seats and preferred enrollment for children of company employees. Governor Jindal made the announcement January 12, at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry’s (LABI) Annual Meeting.

Governor Jindal said, "This business-charter school partnership legislation will help feed the pipeline of qualified workers for Louisiana business while creating important career opportunities for students. Ensuring that every Louisiana student has a great education is the critical foundation to helping our children pursue the career of their dreams.”

A governor who is intent on prisons, who outsourced his own Office of Risk Management, and proposes to sell off state property, Jindal’s aim is to undercut or remove local influence over public education.

Paul Pastorek, Jindal’s education secretary, was interviewed this month in Denver.  In the interview he said "We have finally begun not to reform but to transform education in the United States.  Public education has been a monopoly for over 100 years and until we dismantle the monopoly, create a competitive environment and create a place where creativity and initiative thrive in the school building, we are never going to be successful.”

Both clearly ignore the fact that charter schools, magnet schools, theme schools, LA4 and many other creative ideas to improve student achievement originated by local school boards long before the current reform effort even began.

Clearly, the Jindal administration is set about gaining control over all schools.  The administration labors under a highly suspect conclusion that charter schools can be equated with a quality education.

Pastorek told newly elected local school board members "Let’s try something different because it might actually work.  Sometimes you have to take risks.”

"I’m going to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, we can turn around schools in three to five years,” Pastorek said at a gathering of about 80 new school board members in Baton Rouge.

He had previously testified to the legislature that a three to five year time frame was sufficient to turn around RSD schools.

Both Jindal and Pastorek seem to be ignoring facts.

Charter schools do not equate to a quality education.  In a study done by a very charter friendly Stanford University group, only 17% of charters do as well as (not better than) traditional public schools.

In Pastorek’s "something different” experiment with New Orleans children, the Tulane University Cowen Institute concluded that "Financial sustainability of the current system of schools is a concern of charter school leaders and school district administrators in the RSD.”

Spending for RSD schools exceeds state average spending by a significant factor, according to the Cowen researchers.  They calculated RSD per pupil spending to exceed $15,000.

The five year period of RSD takeover allowed by the state law is at hand with one school already completing five years, and four others in their final year.  These schools are still not achieving target levels.  Only 19 of 71 schools in the RSD were able to boast that half of their fourth grade students had reached basic.  Among high schools in Orleans, the RSD administered end-of-course tests in Algebra 1 to 1,385 students.  Only 33% were found not to need improvement.

Charter operators, surveyed recently by another Charter-friendly research group at the University of Washington Center on Reinventing Public Education, admitted to a looming problem with charters nation-wide.  Over 70% of charter school leaders expect to leave their schools within five years and few of those charters even have succession plans in place.

Far from providing all students with a quality education, the RSD has been charged in court with failing to deal with special needs children.  Only 6.8% of RSD students with disabilities exit with a high school diploma, while the state average is 19.4% of special needs students gaining a diploma. 

Selling football stadium or bowl game naming rights is one thing that citizens might accept.  Selling the schools that have an impact on the value of their subdivisions, and to whom they send their children and grandchildren is something else.

This administration is conducting an all out campaign to dismantle a system that was created in the Constitution of the State of Louisiana. 

School board members all across Louisiana must recognize that threat and impress upon their faculties, parents, and other stakeholders of the reality that exists; and convey their desire for local control to legislators.


Don Whittinghill

LSBA Consultant





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