EBR Charter Renewals
Supt. Narcisse and EBR School Board Members,
I’m writing as you take up the renewals for five locally authorized charter schools tomorrow. The Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools (LAPCS) fully believes that great charters start with quality authorizing that is rooted in policies that fairly define and measure outcomes for students. While nonrenewals are not something we celebrate, we absolutely believe that holding schools accountable is a critical part of the work. Thus we have advocated, including this year, for a handful of schools not to have the opportunity to continue to serve students.
For almost 2 decades EBR made these high-stakes decisions with no policy to guide them or the charter schools in their portfolio on performance expectations. LAPCS worked directly with members of the school board and the administration to create a policy that would ensure that decisions would be made based on data and not politics. Unfortunately, LAPCS did not support the final version of EBR’s renewal because it cut out critical academic measures, such as academic growth, which is included in all other charter authorizers’ renewal frameworks.
We believe there is more work that needs to be done on the policy that includes additional academic measurements so that high-stakes decision-making is fair and equitable and not a harsh policy that can be easily weaponized or politicized. That said, LAPCS urges the school board to consider the epic impact COVID has had on learning in schools across the country. In 2022, for the first time since the NAEP tests began tracking student achievement, scores of 9-year-olds fell by the largest margin in more than 30 years (New York Times, Sept. 1, 2022, “The Pandemic Erased Two Decades of Progress in Math and Reading”). Furthermore, the Pandemic has exacerbated other challenges schools face including staff shortages, high truancy rates, mental health challenges, and higher rates of violence. Research indicates that students on average have experienced greater learning loss than we saw following other catastrophic events like Hurricane Katrina.
With incomplete performance data and research that proves the impact of COVID, good authorizer policy should not ignore the unique challenges schools and educators have faced coping with an unprecedented pandemic. LAPCS urges Superintendent Narcisse and the school board to support the work of their charter schools and the families they serve by, at a minimum, renewing the schools before them this week with a 3-year conditioned renewal as Louisiana Charter School Law permits.
In 2022, LDOE used conditional renewals when weighing the complexity of the post-pandemic environment against established policy. The reasons cited for this decision recognized that the goal of a five-year authorization term is to allow charter schools time to fully implement their model and make adjustments to show growth. This length of this term also provides for four years of academic data to be used during the renewal review process. Given that the LDOE had a two-year gap in data, trends are impossible to determine for first-term schools. As you may recall, there was no state testing in 2020 due to COVID and LDOE sought and received a waiver for high-stakes accountability only producing hold-harmless simulated school performance scores for 2021.
LAPCS is committed to excellent school options for all of Louisiana’s students. We have supported decisions to close charter schools on many occasions and will continue to do so when warranted. However, we believe no school should be unfairly punished for performance when there are years of no data. Our recommendation is that the conditional renewals for EBR-approved charter schools require strong collaboration on a school improvement plan to address any shortcomings and allow students and families an opportunity to continue to learn at the school of their choosing.
In closing, I encourage EBR to establish a charter support office that is properly staffed with the expertise and collaborative spirit to better oversee and work with your charter schools. As stated earlier, good charter schools begin with good authorizing.
Thank you for your consideration. I’m available if anyone would like to discuss the history of the EBR policy, Louisiana Charter School Law, or leading practices related to charter school renewals.
Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools