Category Archives: New Orleans

All Public Schools in New Orleans will be Charters in 2014-2015 School Year

Something significant happened with the closing of the 2013-2014 school year in New Orleans. The Orleans Parish School Board closed its remaining traditional public schools, for good. That means beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, all public schools operating in the city of New Orleans will be public charter schools. In scope, the change is not as grand as it initially sounds. There were only a handful of traditional public schools remaining in operation in New Orleans. Over 90% of children in New Orleans already attended charter schools, making public schooling in New Orleans the largest urban education reform experiment in the nation. But there is something incredibly significant about the fact that there will be no traditional public schools in a major American city next year. Charter schools had their beginnings in 1991 with the passage of the nation’s first charter school law in Minnesota, and the subsequent opening of the first charter schools in 1992. But I don’t believe school reformers in Minnesota  or the father of the charter school concept, Ray Budde, imagined that 13 years after the passage of Minnesota’s law, there would be a major American city where all public schools would be charter schools. Undoubtedly, the transformation of public schooling in New Orleans was sped along by the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina which destroyed the vast majority of the city’s schools. But even prior to Katrina, the New Orleans Public Schools were in complete disarray; by many accounts the city’s school system was academically, financially, and ethically bankrupt. The state had already been busy devising plans for a take-over of the city’s failing schools. In many ways, Katrina just provided the opportunity for massive reform. And that large-scale education reform begun in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and continued even to today has fundamentally transformed public schooling in New Orleans.

Problems do remain, however. Much work remains to be done in New Orleans. Many kinks in the system have yet to be worked out. But the numbers are clear; current academic performance for students attending public schools in New Orleans has far exceeded performance levels for the city’s public school students prior to Hurricane Katrina. And according to a recent report by the Times Picayune, 45% of New Orleans voters say the schools are improving. I don’t remember seeing such a large percentage of New Orleanians who believed schools were moving in the right direction.

Choice is very clearly now a central tenet of public education in New Orleans. Parents have many more public school options than they have ever had before. What must continue now is a redoubled effort to ensure that the options available to parents are in fact high quality charter school options. Charter authorizers in New Orleans must hold their schools accountable for academic performance. Performance accountability is central to the charter school concept. That means, first, maintaining the highest standards for granting charters to applicants. Second, schools that fail to perform at or above the agreed upon levels of academic performance must be improved immediately or closed down, with no exceptions. We cannot allow charter schools to become the traditional public schools of pre-Katrina New Orleans; schools that failed generations of New Orleans families with no accountability. Finally, that means giving high performing charter schools and charter networks in the city the opportunity to expand, and recruiting the highest performing charter operators from around the country to New Orleans.

Efforts to ensure that parents’ school choices are in fact high quality choices are already underway. There are many individuals and groups in the city that are engaged in that work. One of those groups has been New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO). NSNO has invested heavily in innovation in the New Orleans charter school sector and the expansion of charter school operators that have proven to be effective. That kind of work must continue with even greater intensity. New Orleans has the unique opportunity to be not just a grand experiment in urban education reform, but to become the model for large-scale urban education reform in America. The fate of New Orleans and its children are dependent on state and educational leaders’ resolve and commitment to get charter schooling right in New Orleans.

North Carolina Charter Schools, Teacher Credentialing, and the Future of Teacher Licensure

North Carolina Senate Bill 337 would, among other things,
remove the current statutory requirement that at least 75% of teachers in
elementary charter schools and 50% of teachers in charter high schools hold
teacher licenses. The controversial bill was passed in the Senate and now sits
with the House Education Committee. In addition to the eliminating teacher
licensing requirements, the bill would create a new state Charter School Board
with substantial statutory authority. I will discuss the implications of the creation
of such a board in a future post, but here I want to focus on the potential
elimination of teacher licensure requirements for charter school teachers in
the state.

If Senate Bill 337 is passed by the Republican-controlled North
Carolina House and signed by Republican Governor Pat McCrory, as I believe it
will be, the implications for teacher certification in the state are pretty
significant. If the bill passes, North Carolina wouldn’t be the first state to
remove certification requirements for teachers in public charter schools. In
Louisiana, a state that has blazed the trail in recent years for controversial
school choice policies, provisions of House Bill 976 (2012) eliminated certification
requirements for charter school teachers in the state. Prior to the passage of House
Bill 976, Louisiana law required that 75% of teachers in charter schools have
valid teaching certificates. The elimination of certification requirements for
charter school teachers in Louisiana has been pretty hotly debated—as I believe
it will be in North Carolina; with the change drawing the ire of teachers
unions and traditional public school district superintendents.

In Louisiana, this change has immediate implications for the
vast majority of teachers in the city of New Orleans. Approximately 75% of
public schools in New Orleans are charter schools and nearly 80% of the city’s
public school students attend charter schools. So eliminating requirements for
teacher certification in Louisiana could mean that over time, a majority of
teachers working in public schools in a major American city could be non-licensed teachers. Charter schools in
none of North Carolina’s cities serve nearly the percentage of students as
charter schools in New Orleans, so the immediate implications of the passage of
Senate Bill 337 are not quite as drastic. But eliminating licensure
requirements for charter school teachers in North Carolina and Louisiana
represents a national conversation (or debate) around what the most appropriate
credentials for public school teachers ought to be.

The majority of advocates for eliminating state licensure requirements
for charter school teachers see state-licensure as an unnecessary hurdle for other-wise
qualified aspiring content experts
who would like to teach. While the current policy changes pertain only to
teachers in charter schools, changes to licensure requirements for teachers in
traditional public schools will likely follow in some states. How could they not?
Whatever one’s feelings regarding the utility of charter school reforms, there
is no debating the fact that charter schools are in fact public schools; and
states will have a difficult time rationalizing the maintenance of one set of
credentialing requirements for chemistry teachers at Johnson Traditional High
School, but then waiving those credentialing requirements for Jackson Charter
High School right across the street. It just doesn’t make sense.

Teachers unions and traditional public school district
superintendents in Louisiana and North Carolina are currently making the
argument that different requirements for charter school teachers and traditional
public school teachers doesn’t make sense. They are right. But what I don’t
think they understand yet is that the resolution to these differences in
requirements for teachers will likely be the elimination of state licensure
requirements for all public school teachers in a state. It won’t happen
overnight and it won’t happen in all states, but mark my words, that’s where
this is heading.

The implications for teacher training, schools of teacher
education, and the teaching profession are huge! More to come…

Louisiana Supreme Court Finds Funding for School Voucher Program Unconstitutional-What Now?

Last week the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that
the funding mechanism for Louisiana’s new school voucher program was in fact
unconstitutional. Louisiana’s school voucher program gained national attention
in 2012 as it would have potentially become the largest state-funded voucher
program in the country, making over half the state’s public school students
eligible to receive state-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial
schools. Last week’s ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court did not find the
program itself to be unconstitutional, but that the funding mechanism for the
program violated the state constitution.

Brief History of the Voucher

In 2012, Louisiana’s state legislature passed a sweeping
education reform bill which had significant implications for public and private
school options available to families in the state. The new law instituted the
largest statewide school voucher program in the country. In defense of the
reforms, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education John White said Governor
Jindal’s interest was not in creating a voucher school system for the state,
but in creating “a system of choice and completion, one based on the decisions
and needs of families” (Cavanagh, 2012, p. 15). Under this reform, eligible
children include those who attend a school that received a grade of C, D, or F
on the state’s school grading system, and who live in a household with an
annual income up to 250% of the poverty line (currently $57,625 for a family of
four). Under the law, more than half of the state’s public school students
would be eligible to receive a state-funded scholarship which could be used to
pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools across the
state—including church-based schools that integrate biblical references into
the curriculum, and for individual courses offered by a menu of public and
private providers including online options. Education policy professor Chris
Lubienski called Louisiana’s inclusion of funding provisions for individual
course options a new dynamic in state education policy, reflective of choice
advocates position that parents should have greater control over “the portion
of the market they use” (Cavanagh, 2012, p. 17).

A group of plaintiffs, including most notably, the Louisiana
Federation of Teachers, brought suit against the Jindal administration on the
grounds that the law was in violation of the Louisiana state constitution. In
December 2012, a state judge sided with the plaintiffs, declaring the state’s
highly contested new voucher program unconstitutional. The court ruled that
Louisiana’s school funding formula, the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP), was
intended to be used exclusively for public schools. The governor appealed the
court’s ruling and expressed optimism that on appeal the decision would be
reversed; but as we saw last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the
funding method for the state’s voucher program was in fact unconstitutional.

Looking Forward

Whether you are a choice policy advocate or not, it is pretty
clear that Louisiana’s MFP was not intended to fund non-public schools through
a voucher program as proposed by the new law. Whether we believe the state’s
funding program ought to be able to fund such a program is a different story
altogether; but the plain reality here is that Louisiana’s MFP was not set up
to do it.

So where do Louisiana choice advocates go from here? Well,
the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling poses a pretty substantial hurdle for Louisiana
choice advocates. The state’s much smaller voucher program in New Orleans had
been paid for out of the state’s general fund, avoiding any potential issues
with the MFP. But I believe there is a low likelihood that the state will fund
a statewide voucher program out of the state’s general fund; at least not at
the scale that the program was initially intended to be. Potentially, a
massively scaled-down version of the program could be added to the state
budget, but getting it passed would be test of wills for the Governor and his
supporters in the legislature.

For now, there are questions surrounding both the dollars
that have been dispersed to public and parochial schools over the last year
under the law through the MFP, and the future of the voucher program. The
Louisiana Association of Educators has said that Governor Jindal should be
responsible for getting those funds back from private and parochial schools,
and they have vowed to go to court to force the governor to do so if he
refuses. Adding to the controversy, approximately 8,000 students have been
approved to receive state-funded vouchers under the program for the coming
school year. Where are those funds going to come from? I don’t know, but State
Superintendent John White has said that the program will continue. And even with
the court’s ruling, the program may legally continue. The court found the
funding mechanism and not the actual program to be unconstitutional. Louisiana’s
voucher program may continue; Governor Jindal just has to find a constitutional
way to pay for it.