This week marked important moments for Baton Rouge schools. First, as the paper noted, cheers went up from the House gallery and hugs exchanged all around as SB 636 was defeated in the House. The bill was an attempt to transform the governance of the EBR school system by giving principals increased autonomy to make the best decisions for their schools, increasing accountability in the form of school-based performance contracts based on student learning outcomes, expanding choice of schools for students and families to attend, and capping the amount of money the central office could retain for general overhead (not capital repairs or retiree legacy costs; those were excluded) so that more money followed students to the schools of their choice instead of top down programs dictated by central planners.
Regardless of how you feel about the bill, one thing is certain: SB 636 represented the only comprehensive system-wide plan for change for the troubled school system in Baton Rouge that we’ve seen to date. Whether it was the best approach can be debated, but it was a plan.
Earlier in the week, the Department of Education released annual test scores for schools and districts. The scores in EBR remained flat, unfortunately, while scores in neighboring districts – Zachary, Central, Ascension, and Livingston rose.
As the state increases the rigor of standards and assessments to measure these higher expectations, no longer will a score of “basic” be good enough. Students will now be expected to score what is the equivalent of today’s “mastery” to earn credit.
On this higher measure, EBR also falls behind its peers – only 20 percent of its students scored at this mark, the vast majority being in its selective magnet programs. Its neighbors, with the exception of Baker, all surpassed EBR. Its peer districts, in terms of size and demographics – Caddo, Calcasieu, Jefferson, Lafayette, Orleans – also beat EBR on this higher measure.
Educators, students, families, and community members deserve to know the plan for improving all schools for all students. Two years ago, we launched New Schools for Baton Rouge to provide proven, high-performing school alternatives to under-performing schools in the city. Our mission led us to focus first on the area of greatest need – North Baton Rouge – where in the next four years, we aspire that every child currently attending a school rated “D” or “F” has the opportunity to attend instead schools led by organizations and educators with some of the best student achievement results in the country.
It’s time we had a plan for all the schools in Baton Rouge. If you were against SB 636, that’s a respectable position. But it’s time to offer an alternative because the status quo is not working. What’s the plan to ensure all schools in our city are excellent? That’s what we care about.