Thursday, February 11, 2010

BESE Pressured by Charter Advocates

The campaign to convert Louisiana public schools to charter schools run by various private groups continues to intensify. A most recent example is an editorial in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report by editor Rolfe McCollister Jr titled Is BESE a puppet for school boards? The editorial attacks some BESE members for their reluctance to approve type II Charter schools that were not recommended for approval by local school systems. McCollister whose daughter works for one of the organizations now running a group of charter schools in the Baton Rouge area is hardly an unbiased commentator on the charter issue. But neither is the State Superintendent of Education and even the U S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or Governor Jindal for that matter. Much of the Race to the Top project is based on conversion of public schools to charters.

The word is going around among the pro business elite and even church groups and African American activist groups such as 100 Black Men, that charter schools are the answer to turning around low performing schools. Some of these groups are being courted by professional “for profit” charter groups like the Edison Schools to serve as “front” organizations for the takeover of schools. And Louisiana, with its many low performing schools, is seen by these special interests as the perfect proving grounds for the charter movement.

One might ask: “What does it matter who turns around a low performing school? The only important thing is that students get a better education. Since local school systems have "botched" the job of improving the performance of their students, don’t they deserve to have those failing schools taken over?”

The answer is obvious: We should be willing to do whatever it takes to improve Louisiana schools even if it means giving up control to charter groups. However, just because charter schools are the latest fad in education does not make them effective. BESE has the responsibility to study carefully the actual results produced by charter schools and other Recovery District schools and base their decisions on facts, not political pressure by either school boards or charter school advocates.

That’s what this link to An Analysis of Recent Recovery District School Performance does. It provides the facts based on data collected by the Department of Education Accountability system and an analysis of Charter Schools in the Baton Rouge area by an independent evaluation company. This report was sent to BESE several months ago and should be considered when decisions are made on future charter proposals. I urge all persons interested in improving education in Louisiana to download and print this report. Feel free to make it available to other educators, interested citizens and to the news media in your area.

There is no question that many of our public schools can and should be improved. This report shows that more progress is being made in this effort by our locally run school systems with their democratically elected school boards than by these private charter groups or by the State run Recovery District.

The problem is the facts are being ignored or distorted by a small number of special interests who use their influence with the media to promote their agenda. Public school professionals can only blame themselves if this misinformation is not corrected.