Commentary: Despite Lapses in Oversight, Audit Finds Tremendous Gains in Charters

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Minor slip ups should not distract from commendable student progress

An audit of the state’s Recovery School District (RSD) 2010 fiscal year, issued by the Legislative Auditor’s Office, found impressive gains in the student performance of district schools, particularly charters. While the report did determine that the RSD needs to improve several aspects administrative oversight, the drastic improvements in student progress outweigh the negatives.

The tangible gains in student achievement are extremely heartening and are by far the most important finding of the audit. Between 2008 and 2010, the RSD’s performance score increased by nearly 18 percent, while the graduation rate leaped by 19.5 percent since 2009. Charters, which constitute the vast majority of RSD schools, demonstrated the greatest gains. Overall, 60 percent of RSD schools have improved to the point that they are no longer considered failing.

An editorial about the audit in the Times-Picayune also noted that it discredited a favorite accusation of charter opponents that the RSD receives a disproportionate and unfair share of state funding. In actuality, the RSD ranked 21st out of 57 districts in per pupil spending. These statistics point to a higher level of efficiency among charters than many of their traditional counterparts.

As noted by the audit, though, the RSD still has work ahead, notably in oversight. Turning in annual reports late is hardly scandalous, but concerns over evaluating the progress of younger students are valid. It is also imperative that the RSD be consistent in monitoring charter schools for adherence to the requirement mandated of all public schools, which the audit finds that it has not been.

Charters, and as a whole the RSD, are held to a higher standard of accountability than the failing, inert pre-Katrina system. Failing schools and offenders, as evidenced by the Abramson case, are shut down, something which never occurred prior to the RSD despite the abysmal state of public education. For this system to succeed, it needs to be self-correcting, and that requires consistent performance monitoring. However, the substantial, documented gains are the real story here and need not be overshadowed by administrative inconsistencies.

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