OPINION: Newell: Pandemic or no, it's time to put falling charter schools in the hot seat

Failing school
Failing school Photo credit Getty Images

You may have seen a few stories out lately about New Orleans’ charter schools, and whether or not they’ll be renewed. About a third of them have a D or an F grade. Remember, we allegedly went to charters because the mainline public school system was lacking, unable to deliver the quality of education we thought we should be getting. In many ways, it seems like we are not doing much better.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out this year, considering that as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, schools aren’t even getting grades for 2020. This very well could be what many have fearfully talked about as a “lost year.” Lost in so many different ways - so many different missed connections. It’s frightening to think about. Education is the most important thing that we ought to be focused on, so why do we have charter schools plagued by controversy after controversy, every year?

School is a business now, you run it like a business - but we’ve lost sight of what it is we are trying to accomplish. We have none of the internal controls necessary to reveal what’s happening when we are missing the target, failing our mission, failing our kids. But we just keep doing it over and over again, hoping to achieve a different result. That’s the definition of insanity!
 
This year there were two schools up for renewal - ReNEW Schaumburg Elementary and  Lawrence D. Crocker College Prep would have qualified for automatic revocation or closure under previous New Orleans public school rules, because they both have F grades. So what now, they get a free pass because of the coronavirus, moving along, continuing to fail to educate our kids? That’s not how this should work!

Somebody needs to step in and solve these issues. There needs to be a basic template of some sort, something that can show us how to get a basic return on our investment, get some consistency among these schools. But it doesn’t seem to be happening. We’re still seeing the fallout of the inability to actually give grades and administer tests in schools with kids trying to get into college. This is a tragedy! Why aren't we focusing on this more?

Is it too much to ask that we not have a single school with a D or F grade? C is average! Nothing to boast about but obviously far better than what we have now. It is a significant challenge - it’s a lot harder to move from an F to a C than it is from a C to a B, or B to an A. In order to achieve the average or anything better, it means the culture within your organization has some stability, a strong foundation. It means you’re achieving some success. But when you’re a D or an F, the averages aren’t working out for you.

We have to dig deep, look ourselves critically in the mirror. Our elected leaders should be putting pressure on these schools every day of the week to make sure they move the needle on quality education in this city. We know what the price will be if we fail. We see it in generational poverty, we see it in our crime rate, we see it in our social ills like mental illness - and all along this timeline.The last thing we want to do is elongate that timeline, dealing with the failures of our educational system each and every day.

We were promised that every one of these charter schools were going to be difference makers. But many of them are falling well short of excellence. We need to shine a bright light on those that can’t even reach the average.

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