Home > Uncategorized > Denver and New Orleans School Boards: Overseers of Charters, NOT Schools or Students

Denver and New Orleans School Boards: Overseers of Charters, NOT Schools or Students

Two cities, Denver and New Orleans, are headed in the same direction and the Washington Post and USNews and World Report each see them headed in the direction all urban districts will be moving.

Emma Brown’s Washington Post article on New Orleans Public Schools describes legislation being considered in the Louisiana legislature that would give control of the city’s schools back to the school board with the understanding that the school board would coordinate the effort of charter schools there. In effect, the School Board would serve as a quality control agency, ensuring that the charters issued are being executed in accordance with the standards set forth. Here’s how the legislation is described:

Many charter-school advocates describe it as an inevitable next step in the city’s bold education experiment, and one that could serve as a road map for other cities grappling with how to manage and coordinate a large number of charter schools.

“If they can get that right, it will be really important for New Orleans and for the country,” said Neerav Kingsland, who worked for New Schools for New Orleans from 2006 to 2014, when it started dozens of new charter schools. “You can’t avoid democracy forever, nor should you.”

Proponents of the bill, including many charter-school advocates, are calling it a “reunification” of New Orleans schools, putting the locally elected Orleans Parish School Board back in charge of the city’s schools but leaving actual control of individual operations in the hands of school leaders. They say it is an important step in closing the wounds left by the state takeover without sacrificing the autonomies that they say have been essential for driving academic progress.

The whole model looks to me like what we’ve done with the military, where many logistical functions have been outsourced but the generals are still in control and they, in turn, report to elected officials. And the arrangement begs this question: will someone be able to run for the school board on the platform of closing for-profit schools and restoring their direct oversight to the school board itself? If that is NOT possible, how is this move a restoration democracy?

The USNews and World Report champions the new model espoused by the elected Board in Denver, whose governance model— like the one proposed in New Orleans— is moving toward the oversight of CHARTERS not the SCHOOLS themselves. David Osborne, who penned the article, writes:

With an elected board, Denver Public Schools has embraced charter schools and created “innovation schools,” which it treats somewhat like charters. Since 2005 it has closed or replaced 48 schools and opened more than 70, the majority of them charters. In 2010, it signed a Collaboration Compact with charter leaders committing to equitable funding and a common enrollment system for charters and traditional schools, plus replication of the most effective schools, whether charter or traditional.

Of Denver Public School’s 223 schools today, 55 are charters, which educate 18.3 percent of its students, and 38 are innovation schools, which educate 19.3 percent. Last year the board of education voted for a major expansion of successful charter schools. And last month it took the next step, creating an innovation zone with an independent, nonprofit board. Beginning with four innovation schools but able to expand, the zone could for the first time give innovation schools the full autonomy charters enjoy.

For years, Denver’s reforms stirred controversy. When the board closed or replaced failing schools, protests erupted and board meetings dragged into the wee hours. During most of Superintendent Tom Boasberg’s first five years, he had only a 4-3 majority on the board. But the strategy has produced steady results, and voters have responded by electing a 7-0 majority for reform.

Both Ms. Brown and Mr. Osborne base their support for this new governance structure on the assumption that the charters combined with choice are making a difference in the overall performance of schools and providing a better opportunity for children raised in poverty. Unfortunately, the facts do not support that assertion. As noted in yesterday’s post, choice has not improved the opportunities for those born in less affluent neighborhoods and any Google search will reveal that the performance of charters in New Orleans and Denver are at best a mixed. So who are the winners and losers here?

The winners are those who operate for profit charters, for they, like the logistical providers in the military, can operate with loose oversight and fewer regulations than their government funded counterparts. The losers are the children raised in poverty, whose root needs are not being met and whose parent’s voices are muffled. If this is the wave of the future, expect an even wider economic divide and less democracy.

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