Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Sham: The Proposed Rules for Return of Takeover Schools

According to a recent news story in NOLA.com, the State Department of Education has prepared a set of recommendations to BESE on the disposition of takeover schools once the 5 year takeover term mandated by state law is completed. The basic recommendation is that those schools that have achieved a school performance score of at least 75 may be turned back to the local school system after two addional years while those scoring below the new state minimum SPS would stay under the control of the State Department of Education Recovery District. But there would also be a stipulation that would allow charter schools to remain independent if their private (non-elected) boards choose to keep them that way. It is pretty clear then that charter schools could remain independent and basically free of public oversight forever under this arrangement. Taxpayer money would continue to be handed over to a private organization without local public oversight. The administrators of these schools could pay themselves whatever salaries they choose (sort of like the city managers in the town of Bell, California) with our tax money. Also, this scheme would apply a different standard of accountability for state-operated takeover schools than was applied to local school systems who were required to surrender those schools to the state in the first place. If a school continued to perform under a score of 75 the state would keep control of it as long as it chose to. Its as though the State Superintendent and his staff are immune to accountability. And as usual, Charter schools seem to always be placed in a favored status whether they are performing well or not. Let's face it: the State Department of Education prefers almost any system to Parish run schools overseen by elected school board members.

On the other hand, if I were a local school board member, I would not be thrilled to get back a school that is still considered failing after 7 years of State Dept. tinkering. Here's why I would be leery of trying to recapture any state takeover schools in the New Orleans area. Local parents and education activists in New Orleans have noticed that a student sorting process occurs between charter schools and those that are directly run by the Recovery District. It seems that some of the charter schools such as the KIPP schools make it very clear to parents and students that they are primarily interested in recruiting highly motivated students that have a strong support system in the home. That's exactly what private and parochial schools have been doing successfully in Louisiana for many years. Its probably the most effective way to create a good school. Recruit good students and you have an advantage in creating a good school. Meanwhile all the leftover students are forced to attend schools with a much less motivated student body. Lance Hill, Executive Director of The Southern Institute for Education and Research who has studied the Recovery District in New Orleans, points out that some relatively good schools in the Recovery District have been created by also creating relatively poor schools alongside those. He has hypothesized that the few acceptable takeover schools can only exist if there are poor schools that serve as a dumping ground for the unmotivated, disengaged and even the special needs students. Statistics show that most charter schools in the New Orleans Recovery district have a significantly smaller percentage of students with disabilities that do non-charters. The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed a complaint to BESE about this possible violation of Special Education laws in the New Orleans area.

Charter school advocates have pronounced the New Orleans charters a major success even though it is clear they are playing by different rules than those required of regular public schools. As a nod to the above complaint, the new State Dept. rules would require them to increase their special needs students to at least 75% of the local average percentage.

With this posting I am warning taxpayers and educators of what I believe are improper changes to our system of public education:

  • The turnover of total control of some public schools to private organizations (charters) who can use our tax monies as their personal piggy banks that they can raid at will should not be allowed. Where are the “Tea Party” activists when we need them? No private organization should ever be granted the authority to run a public school without the oversight of locally elected school representatives.
  • The State Department of Education should not be allowed to get a free pass from the accountability system. Their so called failing schools should be subject to the same takeover rules as local school board operated schools. Many local school boards have shown that they are better at turning around low performing schools than the State Department of Education. They should be given another chance at taking back some low performing schools from the State Department if they choose to do so.
We can be sure that any rules that are being applied to the New Orleans Recovery District will eventually affect all public schools in the state.

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