August 11, 2012
If private schools take public funding, shouldn’t the schools play by the same rules as public schools? Seems like the obvious answer is “yes,” but not according to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
By a 9-2 vote, the board has put into place accountability rules for the nonpublic schools that will benefit from tuition money taken from the main state aid program for public schools. The rules, devised by Education Superintendent John White — with apparently some political prompting behind the scenes — are a first cut at the problem, which is the nature of the playing field between private and public.
Gov. Bobby Jindal and his BESE backers want to tilt the playing field toward the privates, with the taxpayers’ money, in the name of school choice. They ignore the practical matter of who’s paying the bill: It’s not just parents who should be concerned with student performance when the taxpayer is paying for the tuition.
In private education as we’ve known it in Louisiana, paid for by parents and school donors, that’s not an issue.
In the new White rules, private-school accountability is accepted by BESE, to a point. Does it go far enough?
The good news is, as White says, that every voucher student will take the same tests — now LEAP, although those may change in a few years — as do students in public schools. Unlike those in traditional schools or public charter schools, the tests are not high-stakes — the private schools get to decide who is promoted.
The reporting regime for voucher tests is built along the same limited guidelines as the 2008 program of limited vouchers in New Orleans. Schools with more than a few voucher students, greater than 10 in a testing grade, or 40 students overall, will get a variant on the school performance score that public schools get, but somewhat different.
Reporting will be limited on schools with only a few voucher students. White promises, however, that the department will intervene should students’ test results be sub-par in those schools with only a few voucher students.
While it’s not the same thing exactly as a school performance score, the voucher “school index” is close enough that schools doing very poorly with their new voucher students will get publicly called out. Even with the very limited accountability in New Orleans in the smaller pilot there, some parochial elementary schools did so poorly on LEAP tests that church leaders were embarrassed, and made changes at those schools.
The bad news: not many schools will be assessed for a while. White estimated that about one in four of the voucher schools will qualify for the voucher index, in large part because many schools are taking students beginning in the kindergarten or first-grade. Under today’s LEAP rules, it’s a few years before those schools administer the tests.
White predicted that ultimately more than eight out of 10 voucher students will be in schools with voucher index scores.
So given time, it’s likely that private schools with heavy enrollments of voucher-funded children will be subject to something of an accountability testing regime.
Further, White promised that curriculum standards under existing law for nonpublic schools would be part of the state’s effort to ensure that voucher students are getting a good education. We wonder if that will have an impact on some of the schools that use, to put it politely, untraditional materials and learning methods. A school with few teachers and other resources, warehousing kids in front of DVD players, would be an embarrassment — not least to BESE members, most of whom are elected.
We suggest the Education Department carry out a searching review of every voucher school to prevent educational malpractice on the taxpayers’ dime.
Is the Education Department, heavily influenced by a governor who is politically committed to the voucher program, going to be a tough referee on the playing field? It must be, or school “choice” will become a problem for those officials who, unlike Jindal, will face state voters again in a few years.