Thoughts on the Recovery School District, transparency and deadlines

According to the all-encompassing Bulletin 111 (see, which appears to be the Keeper of the Rules in all important dealings of the Louisiana Department of Education, “No later than October 1 each year, the recovery school district should make a report to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.”  Bulletin 111 continues to specify the contents of such report.  Being the curious sort that I am, I placed a request for public records with the Department of Education on October 17, 2013.  I finally received a copy on November 6, 2013.  That’s not a very impressive turnaround time for something that could have (and should have) been provided immediately upon request from any member of the public.  It is now apparently available, for the moment, at$file/RSD_COW_3-2_RSD_School_Annual_Report.pdf for consideration by BESE at an upcoming meeting.

So at least the recovery school district (I figure that, since Bulletin 111 didn’t bother to capitalize the name I won’t either) has complied with this particular requirement, although perhaps not by the stated deadline.  But I guess they’re just so busy figuring out how to destroy public education that they can’t be bothered with little details like deadlines and public record laws.

On to the contents of the report:  The second paragraph states, “Guided by the values of parental choice, school autonomy, and high standards of accountability, the RSD relentlessly pursues turnaround strategies to ensure that all students in chronically underperforming schools will graduate high school on-time and be college and career ready.”  Even by the standards of public-relations hype, this is way over the top.  “Parental choice”?  Not if you’re in St. Helena parish and have a middle school student.  “High standards of accountability”?  I’d hate to see a low standard.  I’ve commented previously on some of the major flaws in the state’s school performance scoring and grading schemes.  “Pursue turnaround strategies”?  The RSD appears to have exactly one strategy:  Dump everything and start over.  If it works, they claim how great they are.  When it doesn’t, they repeat.  And repeat.  And the kids get churned from school to school.  “Students . . . graduate high school on-time and be college and career ready.”  That would suggest the sort of longitudinal study that would be legitimate for a school system to perform (not to dump off onto some out-of-state corporate sleaze) but there’s no evidence to suggest any such study is being conducted.  It would be one way to assure that an effort is being made to keep students from slipping through the cracks.  It’s not like there aren’t a lot of employees in the RSD central offices.  Maybe they could do something useful.

The report notes that the RSD has control of 74 schools:  62 in Orleans Parish, eight in East Baton Rouge Parish, two in Caddo Parish and one each in St. Helena Parish and Point Coupee Parish.  They conveniently ignore the damage done to the remaining educational systems in each of the parishes that is caused by the existence of the RSD and its misuse of physical and financial resources.

There has not been a recovery of public education in New Orleans, as far as I can tell from my vantage point 70 miles or so up the interstate.  There has been, between the Orleans Parish School Board and the RSD, a rather thorough desctruction of the notion of a SYSTEM of publicly-supported schools working together to offer a free and appropriate education to every student who doesn’t explicitly choose the alternatives of private schools or home study.  The new anti-system is a hodgepodge of private entities opaquely funded with a generous amount of public funding and what appears to be very little real coordination.

I know that the RSD has actively interfered with local interests in St. Helena Parish who wish an orderly progression of study from elementary school through to graduation.  This fight has been well-documented in the local media.  I suspect that the RSD’s existence has added to the expense and difficulty of educating the most vulnerable students in Caddo and Point Coupee Parishes also.

They have absolutely contributed great expense to the East Baton Rouge Parish School System by insisting on occupying buildings to which they are unable to attract students.  The people of Baton Rouge have exercised their choice, and in overwhelming numbers it is to keep their students in locally-controlled schools.  With great fanfare the RSD has announced that they’ve now found out-of-state private operators to run one high school and two elementary schools, and two to take over two middle schools and convert them to elementary/middle combinations.  They also announced that they plan to leave two huge schools in the middle of North Baton Rouge vacant for at least a year.  And they seem to think they can get away with such flagrant misuse of the public’s property and trust.  I hope they’re wrong.  If anyone thinks I’m being harsh, drive down Monarch Street and check out the condition of the running track.  That’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Crestworth Middle was left unfit for occupancy by an earlier charter operator, under the watchful (?) eyes of the RSD.

So let’s concentrate on New Orleans, where the RSD had had at least eight years to create a totally transformed Utopian system of wonderschools where no child is left behind and everyone is to graduate on time.  The ONLY statistics provided in the report were based on the state’s school performance scoring system, which appears to have been contructed to be as favorable as possible to the RSD.  Yet, out of 58 schools, each with their own ability to weed out undesirable students, exactly ZERO earned an A grade on the state’s grading scale.  The range of school performance scores for RSD schools in Orleans Parish was 2.0 – 96.9, with four of the schools somehow scoring fewer than 10 points.  The range for RSD schools outside Orleans was even lower: 21.3 – 75.2.  The report happily mentions the number of B and C schools, apparently forgetting the idea that (with regard to vouchers at least) a C school is a failure in the state’s eyes.

It’s time for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to face the reality that imposing the “recovery” school district on Louisiana school districts has done more harm than good, pull the plug on the experiment, and start the recovery from the “recovery”.  Any politician who harps on his soapbox about the evils of federal intervention in Louisiana’s education would be a hypocrite to think the state has a better idea of of how to run local schools than local citizens.

The state should return to role of helping local efforts to have an effective and efficient system of schools that serve the needs of students along the full spectrum of needs and abilities.  The state should quickly discontinue the practice of robbing from the local schools to support out-of-state interests.

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