New Orleans Performance rankings for schools conducted by the Louisiana Department of Education indicate that most New Orleans schools have tanked between 2014 and 2017 with 65% of them scoring more poorly in that period. Schools in Orleans parish overall now only rate a “C” grade. About 40% of the city’s schools received either a D or an F grade. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans school system has been the site of the largest and most extensive charter school experiment in the country, so this is a bright yellow flashing caution light, if not a solid red stop sign.
Part of the problem, according to educators and the online news site, The Lens, lies in the tougher standards being implemented since Louisiana adopted Common Core standards in 2010 and introduced as a test in 2015 that reflected the new standards. Part of the failure, as conceded by charter operations like one of the larger New Orleans groups, Firstline Schools, lies right at the feet of charters compared to central, public school districts. Firstline’s CEO was quoted in The Advocate saying, “The resources to develop a comprehensive curriculum that aligns with those (new standards) exceeds the capacity of a single charter or group. It’s interesting that one of the things that helped the schools – autonomy – can work against us if we’re not also open to adopting things that are more standardized when helpful.” Needless to say, this goes to the heart of the charter school movement’s key arguments for their existence and their superiority over public school systems.
And, worse it turns out that all of this reflects the fact that the state has been grading on a curve to protect against the criticism of lower performance. As Marta Jewson reports, “For the last four years, school letter grades have been assigned on a curve to ensure the statewide distribution didn’t get worse than it was in 2013.” Without the curve school board members note that more than half of the schools would have been D or F’s.
The school performance grades are used by the state to assure charter accountability, but this has broken down as well. Charter contracts are only evaluated three years after their first initiated and then “again after the fourth year.” Worse, critics and other observers note that the same schools are staying at the bottom of the list, and too often it means that when the reckoning comes due, one charter is simply switched for another, and the clock is allowed to run out on the students yet again with substandard schools and curriculum.
No matter which side of the argument you have been on, this has to trigger a demand for immediate accountability and direct responsibility for school performance by the public, not a con game shuffle of kids from failing charter to failing charter.