The locally elected board that oversees New Orleans public schools may decide next week whether to overrule its own superintendent’s decision and allow two charter operators to remain in charge of schools that have received failing grades. When it comes to determining the future of the separately-run Mary D. Coghill and Joseph A. Craig Charter Schools, we urge the board to remember why the procedures for revoking charters were enacted in the first place.
Both Coghill, a K-8 school in Gentilly run by the Better Choice Foundation, and Craig, a Treme school run by the Friends of King Schools for students in pre-K4 through eighth grade, received F grades for their performance in the last academic year. That makes them ineligible for charter renewal, according to state standards. So Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. recommended last month that they either be closed or assigned to new operators.
Yet in the face of community protests and requests from school leaders, Board President John Brown said he would consider asking the board to reverse the data-driven recommendation at its Dec. 19 meeting. As the system strives toward higher standards for all students, we believe the board should enforce accountability, not undermine it.
That New Orleans wound up as an all-charter system is a result of endemic failure under boards that served before Hurricane Katrina. The 2005 storm was a watershed; with all schools closed and the city evacuated, the state seized upon a preexisting law that allowed it to take over failing schools. The majority of city schools wound up in the state Recovery School District and were converted to charter schools, with the right to continue operations contingent on certain performance metrics. The state-run schools finally returned to board control in 2018.
We support local governance but urge the current board not to retreat into some of its predecessors’ ways by letting political considerations trump tough but fair oversight.
The process of changing management or shifting students to new schools is not ideal, and we understand how upsetting the prospect can be. Removing school operators is inherently disruptive.
But the system has the option of disruption baked in for good reason. It offers the opportunity to correct the course when things aren’t working as they should. Schools can and do provide continuity and community, but their main purpose is to educate. That, above all, has to be the primary consideration.
One of the philosophical underpinnings of the current system is that it’s supposed to take the politics out of these decisions. There may be circumstances that warrant board intervention, but the bar should be extremely high. Sticking with operators that are not cutting it falls far short of that standard.