If it was silly of critics of the East Baton Rouge schools to call an investigation into student grade records the same as Watergate, what do we call it? RecordGate it’s probably not, and when outgoing Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr. seeks a new job somewhere next year, he’ll probably point to this as evidence of what he calls too much Louisiana politics.
The bottom line, though, is that one of the largest school systems in the state continues to struggle to get into the 21st century in some ways, and it ought to be a priority for Taylor’s successor to make the schools work better on the administrative front.
The controversy that was initially overblown was about whether a student, or a few students, had graduated without the required credits. Some weeks passed in a review that held up about 2,000 graduates of the class of 2014 getting their diplomas.
Legislative Auditor Darryl Purpera, in a report on the fracas, noted that the system had made changes in response to the concerns raised in the press and by the state Department of Education. Still, Purpera’s report said the system should rely more on students’ electronic records rather than paper records that had to be pored over to validate the accuracy of grades reported to the state.
A review by Postlethwaite and Netterville, requested by the School Board, found no evidence of fraud on the part of school staff but also noted the problems with record-keeping.
That this was overblown in the heated political atmosphere surrounding the system was unfortunate; with a petition drive to create a new “St. George” city and school district, the advocates of pulling out from the larger parish system made too much of this.
At the same time, disarray in small matters has a way of giving openings to the system’s critics. The larger issue, and not a small one in terms of trouble and expense, is getting public schools in the system into the modern era of electronic record-keeping. And testing, and instruction.
All of the above costs money and time, which is about the same thing. All are part of the standard of higher efficiency that the system needs to compete in a world in which new charter schools are ready to offer new glitz and glitter. Every system in the state, in fact, is seeing significant pressure from charter operators, from Jefferson to Lafayette and in parishes around Baton Rouge, to meet the ante of the new kids on the educational block.
Improvement, then, is not just a matter of fixing this problem, but becoming more obviously competitive in the public’s eye with new charters.