John White: School choice ‘just half’ of the equation
If we believe every child can attain a career or a college degree, we must also believe that the adults closest to them -- parents and teachers, not bureaucrats -- should choose how children are educated.
State Education Superintendent John White
This simple idea -- that the adults who know and love our students should be empowered to make choices on their behalf -- is the core of Louisiana Believes, our state’s plan for continued improvement in our schools. Parents should be able to choose the right school for their children. Teachers should be empowered to choose the activities best for student learning. And principals should choose how best to use dollars and which teachers are best for our kids. If change is going to happen, it’s going to come from our homes and schools, not government agencies and regulators.
But empowerment is just half of the equation. On the other side is an equally important concept: accountability. To be clear, I mean accountability not in the sense of more rules and regulations from Baton Rouge and Washington. I mean accountability for outcomes and achievement. I mean accountability for producing results. Empowered people, close to children, accountable for results: That’s a formula for improvement.
One component of Louisiana Believes is the much-discussed Student Scholarship Program, which provides low- and moderate-income families dissatisfied with their current schools a choice of alternative options, many of which are private schools. It is part of our state’s plan to empower the adults closest to children.
And as the program expands statewide, it is important that the program and its schools be fully accountable for student achievement and for responsible use of the public dollar. That is why today the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will vote on a plan for academic and operations accountability for private schools running scholarship programs.
The proposed standards for academic accountability are simple and unbending. As with traditional and charter public school students, scholarship students take state tests. As in those schools, test results are reported publicly for each school.
Programs with 10 or more scholarship students per grade, or with 40 or more total students taking state tests, receive a performance score called a Scholarship Cohort Index (this, too, is similar to the public system, though no traditional elementary or high school in our state receives a score based on a number of students as small as 40).
A failing index score one year means the school will not take more scholarship students the following year, a more rigid standard than exists in the traditional system. And for scholarship schools, similar to the traditional and charter systems, after four years, if a school’s program has failed for the majority of that time, its participation is put on hold until the school demonstrates it’s back on track.
Perhaps most important, the proposal states that any participating school unable to demonstrate “basic academic competence” may be immediately declared ineligible to participate.
The business and operations rules proposed are equally strong. Among them are guidelines to ensure that schools grow their enrollments at a responsible pace, that tuitions likewise grow responsibly, and that schools use scholarship funds solely for the educational benefit of scholarship students.
This is a system whose standards match those of public schools and whose consequences are swifter. Keeping with the belief in both accountability and empowerment, the system exists not to tell teachers what to teach or to tell administrators how to run their schools. We need less of that in all of our schools, public and private alike. But the rules are important protections against the rare instance of potential harm to students or potential breach of the public trust. That’s why private school leaders worked with us on this proposal; they know accountability is vital to the Scholarship Program’s success.
There are more than 800,000 students in our state’s schools. The scholarship accountability plan BESE will consider today speaks to a small percentage of them, but it says something big about our beliefs as a state. That is, we believe in our educators and families, and we will empower them to do what’s right for kids. We also believe in our children, and anything short of full accountability for their success won’t pass the test.
John White’s op-ed first appeared in the July 24 edition of The Times-Picayune.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.