Selected readings on US charter schools
Louisiana would raise the standards for state-authorized charter schools to stay in business, under rules that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted in committee Thursday. But charters serving students who are over age, have been expelled or have dropped out might have a better shot at staying open.
Current policy has new charter schools facing renewal or closure at the end of their first five years. Generally they need at least a D grade to renew, but under certain circumstances they can be renewed for three years even if they are failing. The same standards apply for subsequent renewals.
The key change in the new policy is what happens at those subsequent renewals. As of December 2015, schools would need a C grade or higher to be renewed, or show five points of growth per year in their school performance score.
“Louisiana wins a lot of plaudits” for holding charters accountable, state Education Superintendent John White told the board. But a D isn’t enough, he said. “We really are now in a position to say it’s time to do better (and) define a minimum standard of quality that is beyond simply not failing.”
The rules apply only to state-authorized charters, not to locally authorized schools such as Lusher in New Orleans and Young Audiences in Gretna.
Several New Orleans charter leaders spoke in support of making reauthorization tougher. “We shouldn’t settle for mediocrity,” said Col. Bill Davis, commandant of the New Orleans Military/Maritime Academy in Algiers. If charters don’t move above a D, “we stagnate and die and all these children’s lives are put at risk.”
“I think we should go even further,” requiring a B or A for later renewals, said Kate Mehok, chief executive of Crescent City Schools.
Alternative charter schools
The rules can be different, however, for charters that serve students who have been expelled from conventional schools, held back a year or dropped out. Administrators of these schools say even the current renewal standards are unfair to them. Half of a high school’s letter grade comes from whether students graduate in four years.
That means “every year we receive an F,” said Millie Harris, director of the Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy, which serves over-age students.
That might still be the case going forward: Under the new policies, alternative charters would continue to receive letter grades using the same calculations as any other school. But they could choose to be evaluated for renewal on a different set of criteria.
Currently, six charters would be eligible: Crescent Leadership Academy, ReNEW Accelerated High School and The NET Charter in New Orleans; Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy in Harvey and Metairie; Louisiana Key Academy in Baton Rouge, which serves children with dyslexia; and The MAX Charter in Thibodaux.
If they choose to use the new, alternative renewal option, they will be evaluated on five components. Three are the same for every alternative charter and would award full points for:
• At least 75 percent of a school’s students passing end-of-course tests
• At least 75 percent earning at least six credits.
• At least 85 percent staying enrolled.
Each school would then propose two additional criteria related to its mission.
Elizabeth Ostberg, principal of The NET Charter, testified in support Thursday, saying, “This framework holds us to the promises that we make.”
For the extra two criteria, her school plans to measure student mathematics and literacy growth on the national STAR test and whether students meet the graduation date they set when they enter The NET.
The Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy is still working out its criteria but has requested math and literacy as well as career readiness. ReNEW Accelerated High School will use scores on the MAP and ACT tests.
The alternative policy does not apply to alternative schools run by local school systems, which could conceivably be taken over by the state Recovery School District if they fail for five years running. However, White indicated, upon a suggestion from BESE member Carolyn Hill, that he might consider having the policy apply to voucher schools as well.
White also said the state could reexamine the school letter grade system to make sure it rewards all schools for helping students improve from very low academic levels.
Source: The Times Picayune – by Danielle Dreilinger