Expanded Takeover a Promising First Step, PAR Says
State takeover of all or most public schools in New Orleans now appears likely. Removing schools from local control may not be a panacea, but the governor’s proposal for expanding state takeover would clear the path for reform. However, it is essential that a comprehensive plan be developed to include specific management strategies and high standards for academic performance.
On its own, takeover is not a solution. It is only a first step toward improved education in New Orleans. State takeover and chartering some schools alter school governance, but do not guarantee better performance. Without a comprehensive plan, Orleans Parish schools may continue to suffer under haphazard governance administered by a new authority.
The governor’s proposal allows six months for the Recovery School District to develop a plan for operating the schools and submit it to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for approval. It is this plan, rather than the act of school takeover, that will most directly shape the education outcomes in New Orleans. While schools are reopening, this plan must be developed to address the following concerns:
- The plan must promote innovation. If New Orleans and Louisiana are to capitalize on this opportunity, leaders must embrace innovation in the delivery of education.
- The plan must establish administrative accountability. Only through strong fiscal and management standards can the state avoid the mistakes of the Orleans Parish School Board.
- The plan must set criteria for selecting charter organizations. Schools that are chartered must be handed over only to the most qualified organizations.
- The plan must encourage community involvement in the schools. While the current situation in New Orleans may temporarily prevent a strong role for communities in the schools, the plan must foster this involvement as neighborhoods emerge.
- The plan must include standards to determine the readiness of the local board to receive the schools and a strategy for sustaining successful reforms after the schools are returned.
Louisiana cannot afford to squander this opportunity. Leaders must find new ways to better serve the children of Orleans Parish. An opportunity for better education will provide an incentive for repopulation and economic development. Given New Orleans’ role in the state economy, Louisiana’s economic well-being depends on the outcome. The state must act to intervene in New Orleans, but the heavy lifting lies ahead. Reform remains incomplete until the concerns outlined above are addressed.