Baton Rouge should embrace nationally competitive charter schools

In June, the School Board turned down an opportunity to offer 4,400 students access to new nationally competitive schools in Baton Rouge. We’ve seen other parish officials embrace the arrival of Amazon, but the board did not roll out a similar welcome mat for these schools. Rather than using its authorization power for students, the board chose to limit competition in favor of its own planning.

Rather than focusing on the great school options before them, the board alluded to plans for future district-run schools meant to fill existing quality gaps and bemoaned the financial impact of families choosing charter schools. Board members seemed to be saying, “Take your great schools elsewhere, we don’t need them.” This prioritization of systems over students is a slippery slope.

With 11,000 students in EBR’s D- and F-rated schools, Baton Rouge is not in a position to turn down successful schools. This is despite decades of district improvement plans. The choices many EBR parents make about education demonstrate their skepticism of the district’s ability to provide a pathway to their children’s successful futures.

The board narrowly approved one smaller-than-proposed school and nearly unanimously rejected another, denying Discovery Schools the opportunity to serve Baton Rouge. The school’s success addressing the needs of diverse learners, demonstrated by its overwhelming popularity with families in Jefferson Parish, makes it an excellent option for Baton Rouge.

The role of the system is to provide students with a high-quality education. East Baton Rouge schools cannot yet offer a high-quality school option to every student. We join the school board members in their hope that the district’s comprehensive plan will yield dramatically improved results for students. But we do not believe turning down high-quality options should be part of their strategy.

ADONICA PELICHET DUGGAN

Baton Rouge Alliance for Students

Baton Rouge is not in a position to be turning down successful schools

At their most recent meeting, the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board had the opportunity to offer more than 6,000 students access to schools that are outperforming the state and even the nation on many education measures. Instead of rolling out the welcome mat for these schools, the way we see parish officials embracing the arrival of Amazon, the board’s conversation steered away from school quality to center instead on the district’s plans to meet the needs of families and the financial impact of charter schools on the system. Board members seemed to be saying “Take your great schools elsewhere, we don’t need them in Baton Rouge.” This predictable prioritization of systems over students is a dangerously slippery slope. Baton Rouge is not in a position to be turning down successful schools. At last count there were 11,000 students in EBR’s schools waiting for the district to implement plans for improvement.  Do parents across our community believe that this school system is already adequately providing a pathway to the future they want for their children?

The board ended up narrowly approving one great school and nearly unanimously rejecting another.  Denying Discovery Schools the opportunity to expand to Baton Rouge and serve the students and families of this community does not improve education in Baton Rouge. In Jefferson Parish, this school has more than 1,000 students on their waiting list. Itoutperforms 81 percent of Louisiana schools in serving students with special needs, 70 percent of Louisiana schools serving Black students and 60 percent of those serving English Language Learners. Its success addressing the needs of diverse learners would make them an excellent option forBaton Rouge students.

The role of the system is to serve students and families by providing a high quality education. Our school board and the district administration cannot yet offer the same level of quality as these exceptional schools to all the students that seek it. In this case, rather than using their power of authorization to expand access to great schools, the board sought to limit competition in favor of their own planning. 

The school board members who voted against these schools stated that they anticipated increases in student achievement driven by their coming strategic plan’s comprehensive strategy for school improvement. We, too, hope the district’s comprehensive plan will yield dramatically improved results for students. We also believe these schools should be one prong of such an improvement strategy. We look forward to the implementation of Superintendent Narcisse’s plan for improving the quality of education directly provided by the district, but standing in the way of opportunities for families should not be a part of the strategy.

Adonica Pelichet Duggan
CEO

There is still much work to be done to expand opportunities for the Baton Rouge students most in need

What has been publicly released about the district strategic planning process gives me a great deal of hope about the path to improving EBR Schools. Despite these positive signals, the nearly 15,000 students who remain in underperforming schools necessitate that the EBR school board urgently take advantage of every available opportunity to increase access to excellent schools. The district must respond to the positive trend of students moving from lower to higher quality schools by creating more of them.

Later this month, the EBR School Board will have the opportunity to approve applications for two successful non-profit schools that are seeking the chance to serve Baton Rouge students. The school board can leverage this opportunity to further expand the array of great schools now serving the diverse needs and priorities of Baton Rouge families, as authorizing high-quality non-profit schools is a critical prong of a comprehensive strategy to better deliver for Baton Rouge students. But there is no doubt that, as with all charter approvals, these too will meet with predictable opposition from those fixated on systems over students.  Parents and families deserve to have access to schools that best address their needs, and they don’t care who runs them. 

Both Great Hearts and Discovery Schools have demonstrated strong promise to serve the needs of Baton Rouge students. The success of Great Hearts students is hard to deny. The class of 2020 had an average ACT score of 28 and 97 percent of the graduates are college bound. Discovery Schools operates a highly sought-after K-12 health sciences school in Jefferson Parish in partnership with the Ochsner Health System. This school outperforms 77% of all Louisiana schools in serving economically-disadvantaged students. This is especially critical in Baton Rouge where nearly 80 percent of students are in this demographic. Discovery is seeking to expand their work into Baton Rouge and will leverage newly-built partnerships with the Baton Rouge Health District for students here in the capital city.

Detractors are pushing a false narrative that approving these schools is a complicated choice and are relying on excuses and technicalities. The reality is there’s a simple question that must be asked: Does the board believe the applicants’ successful records of serving students will expand opportunities for educational excellence in Baton Rouge? 

The opportunity gap for Baton Rouge students remains very real. Our city’s most in-demand schools continue to have waiting lists of more than 100 students each year. It is the board’s responsibility to ensure every Baton Rouge family has the ability to access a high-quality education in the school of their choice, and until this is the case, the board must continue to expand high-quality options.

Adonica Pelichet Duggan
CEO