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Is it time for a New Education Reform - Friday, December 2, 2011

Hear the Echoes No. 36



Is it time for a New Education Reform




            A slate of Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members ran, with the support of forces loyal to Gov. Jindal, under the banner of education reform and change.


            Six of them advanced no new ideas as to how reform is defined or what they would do except to follow Gov. Jindal’s bold education reform plan.


            Since the election Gov. Jindal has brandished his new-found power over public education to proclaim that topic to be his first priority issue.  His first photo-op featured no real educators, but a vague promise to continue meeting with education stakeholders and teachers unions.  Nowhere does he acknowledge the role of locally elected school boards.


            Locally elected school boards take on one of the most burdensome tasks that any modern state must carry out.  Students are the currency of communities’ futures. 


            The education reform and change we’ve seen during the first 47 months of Gov. Jindal’s administration has been warmed over gruel that offers little that is new.


            Education Week, yesterday, featured an article from the pen of Kevin G. Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center.  It is worth a reading.


            Dr. Welner is professor at the University of Colorado in addition to his work with the policy center.  He charges that today’s public education reformers offer a product that smells of the "decaying fragrance of well-aged change.” 


            He outlines the evolution of public education reform that began in the wake of "A Nation at Risk” in 1980.  That "reform” offered site-based management, basic-skills testing, graduating exams, and the first of standards-based reforms.


            In the 1990s he reminds came the next step in the evolution with alternative teacher certification, federal promotion of standards-based reform, state-level development and expansion of standards-based, high stakes student testing, development and expansion of charter school polices; and the first version of education management organizations.


            How can we forget that the 2000s brought us No Child Left Behind, charter expansion, teacher incentive-pay policies, privatization, or "neo-vouchers”, Education Management Organizations, and charter management organizations.


            Then, he points out, Reform in 2011 brought Race to the Top, intensified expansion of charters, teacher incentive pay, high stakes testing, piling on more vouchers and tax credits, the explosion of charter management organizations and reliance on them for school turnarounds.


            Reviewing all of those iterations of reform should set one to a bout of head-scratching wonderment.  "What,” one might ask, "has changed?”


            One of Louisiana’s biggest "reformers”,  Leslie Jacobs, finds that children in New Orleans private schools via the Louisiana pilot scholarship program don’t do as well as even the bottom-dwelling RSD-Direct Run schools.


            The Charter school movement, for which New Orleans for some time seemed to be poster girl, is crumbling nationwide.  The Chicago Tribune reported, yesterday, that "More than two dozen schools in some of the city's most prominent and largest charter networks, including the United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), Chicago International Charter Schools, University of Chicago and LEARN, scored well short of district averages on key standardized tests.”


            Three days ago The Louisianaeducator author Mike Deshotels wrote "Charter Schools Self Destructing”.  In the article we learn that all five schools managed by Advance Baton Rouge charter management organization (affiliated with the BR Chamber of Commerce) will be taken back by the Recovery School District.  The causes "as we have reported before on this blog include administrative difficulties and a complete failure to improve academic performance.”


            Deshotels reminds that Advance is a participant in the Teacher Advancement Program initiative, and the question of how Advance’s passing over these schools will impact a $13.3 million grant?


            The failures of the "reform” program in Louisiana includes the state’s pulling the charter of Abrams Science and Technology Charter in New Orleans; the continued study of a sister charter Kenilworth S&T Charter in Baton Rouge, and the Sojourner Truth Academy in New Orleans being shut down and returned to the RSD was announced just two days ago. 


            But, folks, that isn’t the half of it.  New Orleans Free Academy relinquished its charter and is now closed.  Esperanza Charter too relinquished its charter and has been replaced by Choice Foundation.  Harriet Tubman Charter was not renewed by BESE and is now chartered by Crescent City Schools.  Langston Hughes charter board will soon decide whether to relinquish its charter, and allow BESE to reassign it to FirstLine.


            While Louisiana is thinking about expanding its enrollment caps on virtual charter schools, K-12, inc., the operator of the larger ones, took some licks in a new study of K-12, Inc. operations in Colorado.  The students of K-12, Inc. in Colorado compare dismally to students in regular Colorado public schools.  K-12’s Colorado Virtual Academy has an on-time graduation rate, among its 5,000 students, of only 12 %.  K-12’s Ohio Virtual Academy, with 9,000 students had a 30 % on-time graduation rate (less than half the state average).


            Making matters even worse for Louisiana tax payers is the recognition that the current BESE allowed the state to divert more than $8,000 in MFP funding from schools to K-12, Inc., for every student enrolled.  A parent can visit the K-12, Inc.’s web site and enroll a child for an average cost of about $4,600.


            When Paul Pastorek moved to take over schools with the RSD, he promised legislative committees they’d see positive results in about three years.  It is now about to be a half-dozen years and RSD schools are deeply entrenched at the bottom of the School Performance Score rank-order listing.  About 88% of the D and F grades belong to RSD operated schools.


            Needless to say, BESE has scant patience in giving locally elected school boards extra time to overcome the forces that contribute to low performing schools. 


            Perhaps a new administration’s priority elevation for public education will include listening to people who know education, who have been doing reform just like the new "reformers” for longer than Welner recalls, but have some positive results to show for it.


            LSBA, retired teachers and superintendents, working superintendents, principals, and teachers have formed a Coalition that offers more knowledge of how children learn and what it takes to improve schools than nouveaux riche millionaires, and city magazine publishers.


            If one is a betting person, don’t gamble that the re-elected governor will hear what they have to say.


Don Whittinghill



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