This summer marks a milestone: the transition of oversight and management of New Orleans Public Schools from the Recovery School District (RSD) to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).
We have been leading up to this moment for two years, since the 2016 passage of Act 91 in the Louisiana State Legislature. Act 91 laid the groundwork for this historic transition. The law itself is the product of many years of work between the OPSB and the RSD to improve public schools in New Orleans.
In preparation for this summer’s transition, OPSB achieved an important milestone this week by finalizing its Charter School Accountability Framework.
The framework, which measures charter school effectiveness and quality, is the result of true collaboration. In order to develop this important document, OPSB engaged with school leaders, as well as education, community and advocacy groups. It also launched an Accountability Task Force in 2016, which NSNO served on. This task force brought together school leaders and local stakeholders to discuss, react, and iterate on different aspects of OPSB’s proposals.
Additionally, OPSB staff met with families, presented at school board meetings, connected one-on-one with stakeholders, hosted office hours, and was responsive to public questions and suggestions. Their process was transparent, inclusive, and involved sharing several drafts of the framework with the public. Each version improved upon the last.
The final framework will be a crucial guide for OPSB as they manage the portfolio of New Orleans’ public schools. Our city’s schools have made considerable academic progress, but nearly a third of students remain in schools rated “D” or “F” by the state. This new framework will help us on the road to improvement. It sets a high bar for performance while allowing flexibility to respond to portfolio needs down the road.
We want to highlight six key parts of OPSB’s Charter School Accountability Framework:
It places an emphasis on openness: more than ever before, the district and schools will be required to engage with parents about their school’s performance, through steps such as sharing improvement plans and hosting meetings on the school’s performance with families.
It awards significant progress: the plan specifically recognizes schools that stand out in helping catch students up who are behind. Growth, as measured by a school’s Progress Index, will be a key factor in annual oversight and renewal considerations.
It holds a high bar: “F” rated schools are not eligible for renewal. “D” rated schools are also not allowed more than an initial renewal unless the school demonstrates high growth (a Progress Index of 100 or in the top quartile as compared to other open-enrollment schools with same grade levels in the city).
It is nimble: in exceptional circumstances, the Superintendent may choose to recommend renewal for schools that otherwise would not meet the bar for performance. This is allowed only after a rigorous comprehensive review process (this exception allowed only once in the life of the school’s charter), or a demonstration that closing the school would mean sending the majority of the school’s students to even lower-performing schools.
It requires growth and equity from top schools, too: Only “A” rated schools that demonstrate high growth with economically disadvantaged students for three consecutive years are eligible for a 10-year renewal.
It follows best practices for alternative education: the plan aligns citywide charter renewal standards for alternative schools with statewide standards for these schools.
This framework is a positive step for public education—not just in New Orleans, but nationwide. Act 91 laid the foundation for OPSB to become the first locally elected school board to manage an all-charter school district. There is no roadmap from other states or cities, so codifying the principles that have been core to New Orleans’ progress is imperative to an effective transition.
While no policy framework is perfect, we believe this is a solid starting point for the unification of schools. We do, however, believe we should continue conversations with school leaders, in particular, on how those schools with a disproportionate number of low performing students can possibly have more student growth factored into determining if a school deserves a subsequent renewal while not meeting the absolute letter grade bar. We have this and many more complex issues to solve, but through open dialogue between all parties we will continue to modify and strengthen these policies for all of our schools.
One of NSNO’s four strategic priorities is to support effective education policy. Throughout the unification process and beyond, NSNO will monitor the policy landscape and collaborate with partner advocacy and policy groups to help OPSB develop policies that allow great schools to flourish.
We strive to see OPSB successfully implement Act 91 while upholding the citywide commitment to autonomy, accountability, and equity.
These principles must guide our collective work as we head into uncharted territory. As we move forward, we are hopeful: OPSB took a step in the right direction this week with passage of this revised accountability framework, and we look forward to seeing it take effect.