SADOW: Education Reformers Have Facts On Their Side

Count on opponents of education reform from last year in Louisiana making a run at the restoration of their power and privilege. Those wishing to protect those policy advances should pay attention to the data that ratifies their position and be ready to respond.

Regardless of whether this legislation is overturned by the courts on technicalities, as may happen in the next few months, several bills in this year’s session have been filed to dilute reform measures’ impacts and will be pushed. And if reform laws are overturned, parts of or even all of the measures may face votes again, where opponents will advance any argument, no matter how ludicrous or fact-impaired, in order to serve the special interests that have benefitted from the unreformed, underperforming system and now are threatened by reform.

But the poverty of their assertions will become more obvious as a result of data about the Recovery School District’s New Orleans charter schools in a National Journal piece. It reviews metrics since the hurricane disasters of 2005 and a couple of passages in particular are instructive:

Before Katrina, the passing rate on state tests was 35 percent; now it’s 60 percent. The graduation rate has climbed from 55 percent to over 75 percent, surpassing the national average. Before the storm, three-fifths of the city’s students attended a failing school; now fewer [sic] than one-fifth do, even as standards got tougher. And parents are 40 percent more likely to send their kids to a school other than the one closest to their home…. At this rate, within five years New Orleans will become the first major city in the country to exceed its state’s average scores….

Teachers offer another paradox. Their quality has improved in the aggregate. But they’re not an experienced group, and they’re often not part of the community they teach…. Teach for America instructors are now only about one-fourth of the city’s teacher corps, but they still outnumber veteran local educators of the kind laid off after the storm.

(The “paradox” remark is telling, in failing to understand cause-and-effect and thereby labeling it paradoxical. To experience an excellent explanation of this tendency, read here.)

To summarize: with open enrollment, far fewer restrictions on how to operate, including the increased ability for individual schools to jettison low performers based upon evaluation instruments largely based on testing outcomes and for the district to penalize, if not evict, low performing school operators, and with staffs significantly populated by untenured junior educators of whom many are molded outside of the traditional professional ranks, the district is taking a system where 85 percent of students qualify for free meals – exactly the environment where union goons, educrats, and politicians whose ideology is vested in the protection of these interests say it’s impossible to make improvements without huge infusions of money into the unreformed bureaucratic structure they control – are getting what the article terms “amazing” results precisely because of changes permitting these policies to flourish.

Which is why those losing their power and privilege under the new statewide reforms for public elementary and secondary traditional schools hate them so, because the reforms simulate the same environment that has brought success to the RSD-NO. These new rules also value teacher performance, compensation, and advancement significantly on the basis of demonstrated student achievement and make seniority a minor consideration; allow for greater latitude in rewarding and punishing on the basis of these evaluations; and the scholarship voucher program allows for a kind of open enrollment fostering competition that forces better performance.

One way or another, these opponents this session will come after reform measures because they know if they can’t strangle that baby in the cradle, it will grow to demonstrate success. They need to snuff it out before a record can be established. Supporters inside and outside of the Legislature must be ready for this, by citing the evidence in the article and from more academic venues (such as the CREDO studies) demonstrating success based upon the principles of reform. The lives of children and hopes of families depend upon their resolve.

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