Education

Commentary: LEAP Results Bolster Case for Charters; Will Legislature Follow Suit?

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While State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek is forced to put a positive spin on the minute improvement on statewide test scores this year, there is a silver lining in the form of astonishing charter school success.

A small percentage drop in state-wide LEAP scores, accompanied by a single percentage point improvement when all three tests (LEAP, iLEAP, and GEE) are averaged, is hardly a triumph, especially when English scores declined despite a $13 million investment in literacy programs. Furthermore, test results in St. Helena exhibit all the makings of a scandal, and are already an embarrassment. One percent of St. Helena passed the LEAP test this year, down just so slightly from 64% last year.

In contrast, test results from Louisiana charter schools indicate the necessary direction for the future of Louisiana public education. Within both the Orleans Parish School District and the Recovery School District, the average LEAP scores of charter schools trounced those of traditional state public schools. In the troubled RSD, charter students had a 50% higher pass rate than students in traditional public schools. Less drastic, but still impressive, the pass rate of OPSD charter students was 13% higer than their colleagues in standard public schools. This is another ringing endorsement for charter schools and a strike against the homogeneous and ingrained methods in public schools.

In the Louisiana State Legislature, two bills in particular are poised to build on the success of the charter school model and expand it to general public education. HB 1033, introduced by Rep. Frank Hoffman (R- District15), recently cleared the Senate floor and now awaits Governor Jindal. HB 1033 would essentially revamp the teacher evaluation process, judging teachers on effectiveness and not on seniority. Though dropouts in Louisiana’s public schools are endemic, and progress is generally lacking, 99% of tenured teachers continue to receive the “satisfactory” evaluation necessary to retain tenure.

Under this bill, teachers would be evaluated every year, rather than every three, and 50% of their evaluations would be based on objective, quantifiable academic progress, while the other half would be based upon traditional methods of oversight. Teachers marked as ineffective would be able to undergo professional training to hone their teaching skills, while teachers designated as ineffective for three consecutive years would be terminated. HB1033, when passed, will foster unprecedented accountability within Louisiana’s public schools.

Another essential bill is HB 1368, authored by Rep. Jane Smith (R-District 8). Smith’s bill would enable latitude in educational methods in public schools which request it. Under HB 1368, local school boards can apply to BESE for waivers from typical rules and regulations regarding public schools, such as classroom size, curriculum, funding, personnel, student support, and instructional time. The school district must demonstrate to BESE how the waiver will increase the quality of education and improve student achievement.

If implemented, HB 1368 has the ability to grant public schools the freedoms and flexibility which have enabled charter school’s in Louisiana to attain such visible success. It is necessary to incorporate unique and innovative classroom methods, as it is extremely difficult to effectively institute top-down standards and rote techniques on schools representing different demographics and different needs.

Hopefully, the passage of HB 1033 will facilitate the path into law for this necessary piece of legislation. The advantages offered by charter schools in Louisiana are clear in a comparison of this year’s test scores. Please contact your local legislator and help ensure that these advantages are available to every student.

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