In Louisiana, one in five public schools are rated D or F, the lowest rungs in the state accountability system, or has a high-school graduation rate lower than 67 percent.
Fortunately, with a grant and technical assistance from state government, more local school systems are targeting these persistently struggling schools.
It's an approach that is mandated by the new federal education law, ESSA, that seeks to encourage new strategies for schools that aren't making the grade. But the state Department of Education takes the lead, reviewing specific plans for the different systems in Louisiana.
The grant money is allocated by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and will ultimately impact schools in rural parishes as well as urban systems.
Among the latest grantees are a set of schools in Jefferson Parish, the largest local system in the state and one where new Superintendent Cade Brumley — who formerly worked in north Louisiana — is borrowing an idea from Caddo Parish schools.
As Caddo did earlier, Jefferson's Transformation Network will deploy a number of strategies to use its state grants, Brumley said, "because each (struggling) school is not always struggling for the same reasons."
He told editors and reporters of The New Orleans Advocate that the system is using its grant money to help the network's schools to collaborate on strategies that work, and learn from each other.
We welcome that approach, and we also agree with Brumley that problems of poverty and social dysfunction underlie many of the struggling schools. "In schools across America there is a direct correlation between socio-economic status and academic achievement," he said.
There is, and in many places in Louisiana, the legacies of poverty over a couple of generations can seem an insurmountable obstacle. The good news is that many schools are seeking to beat the odds, including innovative charter schools in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as well as other places. Charters are publicly funded schools run by independent local boards.
Governance, though, is only part of the challenge, and it's important the traditional public schools embrace the new energy that the state's School Redesign Grant program seeks to encourage.
Kunjan Narechania, the state's assistant superintendent for school improvement, seeks to see systems "establishing innovative models to make structural changes to support improvement on a larger scale." Those grants include East Baton Rouge and Lafayette schools in the new round of redesign grants.
That is needed everywhere in Louisiana, although the strategies will be different in more rural communities. However we get there, we need to get there.