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End of Desegregation Offers Opportunity for EBR Schools, PAR Says

The East Baton Rouge (EBR) Parish School System is meeting the requirements of its final school desegregation plan but has a long way to go on its journey of improvement, the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) said in its report “East Baton Rouge Parish Schools: A New Beginning?“ released today.

The report is the first in a multi-year study undertaken by PAR to monitor the progress of the EBR school system following the 47-year-long desegregation court case that concluded in 2003 with the Final Settlement Agreement (FSA), which is to be implemented until the end of the 2006-07 school year. No other independent monitor, besides the court-appointed magnet program evaluator, has tracked the district’s compliance with the FSA; and no one has issued a comprehensive evaluation.

The first part of the report examines the system’s compliance with the requirements of the FSA. The second part of the report examines the system’s student demographics, school and district performance scores, student achievement, teacher quality and financial resources. The report draws comparisons between the system and two parishes with similar student demographics – Caddo and Jefferson – as well as the neighboring parishes of Ascension and Livingston. PAR’s analysis concludes that the school system has complied with the requirements of the FSA.

The report presents a list of 21 requirements spelled out in the FSA and indicates the system’s full compliance in 20 of these areas. The lone area of partial compliance, magnet school enrollment targets, does not constitute a breach of contract. However, the system has failed to meet the basic enrollment goals of the magnet school program, the centerpiece of the FSA. The system has not met the goal of a 55% black, 45% white racial mix in each of the magnet schools. And, while the district has reserved the appropriate number of seats required by the FSA (5,550), only 4,200 have been filled. Only one of the 13 magnet programs has attracted the necessary number of white students.

PAR found that the school system was not publishing separate student achievement data for its seven within-school magnet programs. A special analysis performed by the system at PAR’s request reveals that magnet students perform significantly better than the total student population in schools offering within-school magnet programs. Further, it appears that students in the within-school magnet programs perform similarly to students in Ascension and Livingston, on average.

“The district is meeting the requirements of the settlement agreement, but EBR is missing an opportunity to highlight the academic achievement of its magnet program and promote it as an alternative to private schools and the public schools in neighboring parishes,” said PAR President Jim Brandt.

The second part of the report presents an analysis of the system’s performance in comparison to its demographic and geographic peers. In comparison to Caddo and Jefferson, school districts with similar student demographics, EBR performs similarly or, in some instances, better on measures of district, school and student performance. However, EBR still ranks near the bottom of all Louisiana districts (52 of 66) for its overall performance and lags far behind its neighboring parishes, Ascension and Livingston.

EBR has shown some measurable improvement in several areas. A recent slight increase in student enrollment, for example, suggests that the outmigration of students from the school system may be slowing. High school achievement increased dramatically in the 2003-04 school year, while elementary school achievement improved greatly in the current school year after years of minimal or no growth. Additionally, two of EBR’s dedicated magnet schools ranked in the top 35 of 1,375 schools statewide.

Despite these improvements, several significant problem areas remain. EBR schools continue to perform lower than the state average, and growth at the elementary and middle school levels has slowed or, in some areas, declined over time. Although teacher quality has improved in the last two years, 16% of classes are still not being taught by a “highly qualified” teacher, and 11% of teachers have not earned certification.

“After nearly a half century of court-ordered desegregation, a continual decline in student enrollment and persistently low academic performance, restoring public confidence in the EBR school system presents an especially difficult challenge. However, the final end to the district’s desegregation case provides a new opportunity to rebuild public support in the system,” Brandt said. “PAR will continue to monitor the district’s progress in the second year of this study series during which we will compare school-level resources.”

For additional information or to obtain a copy of the report, write to PAR at P.O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776, call (225) 926-8414 or visit PAR’s Web site at www.la-par.org.

For a copy of the report in PDF format click here.

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