Whether you are an active participant in the fight to save public education, or a casual observer, you are probably aware that since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Louisiana school accountability system has been under scrutiny.
On Tuesday, December 6th, BESE held meetings to consider renewal or revocation of poor performing charter schools. The policy regarding charter school performance is really quite simple. Schools that don’t meet the State’s expectation of growth, during the course of their charter, are extended a probationary period to demonstrate that they can, in fact, improve performance. There were many schools to be considered for renewal with varying levels of performance; most of which, were renewed. Under scrutiny, and what became a heated discussion, was the recommendations for three schools that had already received a probationary period. Superintendent White’s recommendation, for two of the schools, was to not renew. The third school, LA Key Academy, was recommended for an extension in its probationary period. This was a recommendation from White that did not “follow the rules,” and this drew opposition from attendees, particularly the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and other education reform groups, including LABI, CABL and Stand For Children. Their concern was related to the apparent politically driven decision to make an exception for LA Key Academy. The charter school was founded by Dr. Laura Cassidy, wife of Senator Bill Cassidy. The reform groups’ opposition was insisting that the policy be followed in the strictest sense and applied across the board. This, in itself, is odd. These reform groups, along with Supt. White, rarely follow policy and always game the system to their advantage.
All of this discussion created a discord among BESE, who at some point appeared to be poised to object to the extension to the point that it was deemed necessary to have an LDOE attorney opine as to whether, or not, they are required to follow policy, or allowed to go against the superintendent’s recommendation. In the end, the decision was deferred to January. Before I get into why this all mattered so much to those involved, let me talk more about LA Key Academy.
LA Key Academy was founded by Dr. Laura Cassidy, and along with only six other charter schools, is designated as having a “special mission.” I have expressed in previous blogs that I believe that charters with “special missions” should be the only charters that exist; however, in Louisiana, we have an abundance of charters that merely replicate the public school setting. Regarding LA Key Academy, the school’s mission is to serve students who suffer extensively from dyslexia. In general, public school teachers have relatively little training in this condition, and students with this disability are often, if not always, underserved. Every person on staff at LA Key Academy is trained in the area of dyslexia, interventions to dyslexia and tools that improve coping skills for students with dyslexia.
After being told about the happenings at the BESE meeting, I tried, without success, to contact LA Key Academy to see if they could confirm my suspicions about the situation. Late last night, a parent with a child attending LA Key Academy initiated contact with me. In reflecting on the communications with the parent, and realizing what is really happening, I’ve decided that the meetings on Tuesday were a divine intervention.
I want to take this opportunity to talk about what is not being discussed in the public forum.
- Parents of children at LA Key Academy are overwhelmingly satisfied with the services provided by the school, and support a renewal.
- The supports and interventions being provided in the classroom setting have led to large amounts of progress for individual students.
- The supports and interventions being provided in the classroom setting are not extended to statewide assessments.
- Approximately 90% of the students at LA Key Academy were “Opted-Out” of the state assessment, by their parents.
Two years ago, at the same time that the legislative session was underway, a movement was taking place across the state to opt-out children out of taking the PARCC test. You may remember that Calcasieu parish had the largest number of opt-outs in the state. I recall a conversation with one of the people who led that movement, and she stated that while on the phone with someone at the State Capitol, she was asked if she would mind speaking to Dr. Cassidy. Once on the phone Cassidy began to ask about the opt-out movement, and what she needed to do. She stated that she wanted to opt-out her whole school.
Obviously, Dr. Cassidy understands the effect that the standardized assessment would have on the students her school serves. I don’t know how many students actually opted-out, that year, but as I stated above, approximately 90% did, this year. I tend to believe that there weren’t many the previous year, and Supt. White wasn’t expecting the large number. So, the question to ask is does LA Key’s SPS score reflect those opt-outs, or is this actual performance of the students who tested. I believe it reflects the opt-outs. The next question is why aren’t these facts being discussed publicly? I believe I have the answer.
LABI, CABL and Stand are reform groups that favor privatization. There has not been one ounce of proof that their agenda benefits children. They adhere to the belief that teachers are bad, test scores are the only measure of a school’s success, and the ability to quickly replace a staff, or close a school is the best way to improve performance. This is their motivation for adhering to the policy. On the other hand, White’s hands are tied. He can’t sanction the students or parents for exercising their right to opt-out. If he acknowledges that the SPS derived from the test scores is not representative of the REAL improvements that the school is making, then he essentially acknowledges that the accountability system is an invalid measurement of school performance. Furthermore, the admission of any of the above mentioned facts would essentially set a precedent for future considerations. Not good when you depend on this rigid accountability system to achieve your goal.
I fully support the renewal of LA Key’s charter for the good work that it does. This is a very real opportunity for us to press for an accountability system that truly measures how a school serves its students that include a reflection of parent student satisfaction and the individual successes of student despite the inability to master a standardized test.