June 18, 2012
In a recent column, Charles Lussier compared student academic improvement in Jefferson and East Baton Rouge parish school districts with that of the Recovery School District. He noted that the RSD made significant academic gains in the past few years, but this year’s three-point growth was the same as that made by EBR and Jefferson.
For this one year he is correct. But that should in no way lead readers to infer that improvement in EBR and Jefferson is anything similar to the growth that has been occurring in the RSD. Over the past five years, the RSD has by far been the fastest-improving district in the state, more than doubling the growth seen in either EBR or Jefferson.
He also pointed out that despite the improvements over the last five years, the RSD New Orleans still lags behind urban school districts of similar size. That is also correct, but it leaves out some important information. The RSD consists only of schools that have been taken over from local districts that failed year-after-year to educate children to any minimum acceptable levels. In other words, every single school entered the RSD as a chronic failure.
EBR and Jefferson, however, are traditional systems that include a full range of schools: magnet, gifted and talented, language-immersion, as well as average and below-average schools. That is hardly a basis for comparison with the RSD.
Finally, the column neglects to provide a true perspective on the phenomenal gains made in the RSD-New Orleans. Prior to Katrina and the RSD takeover of most of its schools, Orleans had arguably the worst school system in the nation, with 78 schools that today would be labeled an ‘F.’ Since then, the RSD-New Orleans has significantly increased student proficiency, decreased dropouts and reduced the number of failing schools from 78 to 21.
We suggest parents, taxpayers, and anyone interested in Baton Rouge’s future place a sharper focus on the facts facing the EBR school system today: 53 ‘D’ and ‘F’ schools, 5,333 dropouts between 2007-2011, and a third of its college freshmen taking remedial courses. There are some very good schools in EBR, but many children are still struggling academically and need more help.
That’s why it’s encouraging to see the RSD working to create a new “Achievement Zone” in north Baton Rouge. Its goal is to turn around some of EBR’s lowest-performing schools using a model similar to what the RSD has done in New Orleans with high-quality charter schools. If anything close to the New Orleans successes can be replicated here in Baton Rouge, we will soon be wondering what took us so long.
education policy specialist
Council for A Better Louisiana