Richmond Times-Dispatch Fails To Note Flawed Origins Of VA Education Proposal

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The Richmond Times-Dispatch failed to note that Virginia's education proposal to improve failing public schools is modeled after a Louisiana program which experts found does not lead to higher academic achievement.

A January 31 article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch discussed a new education initiative which hopes to take over failing Virginia public schools and allow a statewide school panel to run the schools until they reach higher achievement levels. As the article notes, these schools would be modeled after the Recovery School District (RSD) in Louisiana.  From the Times-Dispatch:

In his most dramatic K-12 education initiative of this year, Gov. Bob McDonnell is proposing to create a statewide school division that would take over management of such schools.

The concept, roughly modeled after the Recovery School District in Louisiana, is a novel construct in Virginia and has the McDonnell administration at odds with education groups that have embraced other parts of the governor's public school agenda.

Supporters cast the so-called Opportunity Educational Institution as a way to remove obstacles that have led to chronically underperforming schools.

The article does note that there is opposition to the proposal on several fronts, including constitutional concerns about the law and whether local tax dollars would be diverted to an un-elected board rather than local school boards. However, the piece fails to note that the Recovery School District in Louisiana -- on which the Virginia program would be partially modeled -- has had mixed results, and any positive gains may have been the result of one time funding due to Hurricane Katrina.

The Louisiana Recovery School District was established in 2003 to provide parents with children in failing New Orleans public schools with other alternatives. After Hurricane Katrina, the RSD stepped in to take over most of New Orleans public schools, turning them into charter schools with the potential after 5 years of returning control to the public school board once they sufficiently improve. Despite teachers in some schools unanimously asking to return to the public school system, no school has been granted permission to do so.

The schools have also, so far, failed to meet the benchmarks of success established by the RSD. While supporters of the RSD program claim that the schools are making progress as charter schools, they have not performed much better than when they were public schools.

An article in the Times-Picayune from highlighted a report which found that the "district-run RSD schools are the worst performing in the city," in 2012. In addition, a Times-Picayune editorial noted that the RSD schools had the lowest percentage of students -- 11.3 percent -- score high enough on the college admissions test to earn a TOPS scholarship from Louisiana, compared to 38 percent of all students in New Orleans.

A fact sheet provided by the nonpartisan Council for a Better Louisiana shows that RSD schools are lagging well behind the rest of the state's schools. RSD schools still have a majority of students performing below Louisiana's basic grade level of skills and knowledge in reading and English and 59 percent of college freshman have had to take remedial courses after graduating from an RSD school. Meanwhile, RSD schools spend almost $12,519 per pupil compared to a state average of $10,622.

A scathing report by Research on Reforms, an organization dedicated to improving New Orleans Public Schools, found that the RSD relied spun data to make it seem that their schools were hitting their target goals. From Research on Reforms:

When the 2012 SPS/letter grades were released, the RSD-NO was quick to respond with the spin that 2012 results again supported the claim that that the LDOE's model for turning around failing schools had been extremely successful. They claimed that their schools had made incredible gains in New Orleans for 2012 in spite of the fact that the failing bar had been raised from 65 to 75. The RSD's District Performance Score (DPS) increased from an "F" (69.2) to slightly above the new "F" cutoff score of 75. Its new DPS was 76.7 which is equivalent to a "D". ROR's position is that a label of "D" hardly qualifies any school district to rejoice. While not indicating failure, it does indicate that a district is performing very poorly academically. 

Did the RSD-NO's DPS gain represent significant progress in 2012? When viewed in the context of the most important annual growth indicator of the LDOE, (i.e., the SPS Growth Target), it is not. Sixty-seven percent of the 60 RSD-NO schools failed to achieve their growth target for 2012. When viewed in this context, one would hardly consider the 7.5 point DPS growth of the RSD significant considering the performance of the majority of its schools. Also note that the RSD's public relations spinners have rarely, or never, addressed the significance of this extremely crucial school indicator when assessing gains or growth. 

A report by the National Education Policy Center, which was criticizing another report touting the school district's progress, highlighted what they called "historic and racially targeted neglect" which the supporters of the RSD never take into account when discussing circumstances behind failing New Orleans schools. In addition, another Research on Reforms report found that the RSD was neglecting non-charter schools under its control -- specifically Marshall Middle School -- regardless of the schools' success.

The Times-Dispatch has a duty to its readers to expose the flawed history of the RSD, given that Virginia's education plan, as the newspaper notes, is modeled after Louisiana's controversial program.

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