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New Orleans High School Records Are Finally Audited. There Are Holes.

January 24, 2020

Almost-all-charter New Orleans has had a free pass for years from any audit of their record keeping. That’s part of the cutting-edge nature of a portfolio district: Make each charter school its own island in a sea of choice; neglect to build into this non-system any mechanism for assuring that the school can verify that its students are actually completing state-mandated educational requirements, and then scurry to effect “now-we’ll-audit” damage control when a nationally-embarrassing mega-crisis results from neglecting to audit student records in the first place.

Such a crisis occured in June 2019 for the Class of 2019 at Kennedy High School, operated by New Beginnings Schools Foundation, when a grade-fixing scandal led to the discovery that 49 percent of seniors being found to lack necessary credits and/or exam scores to graduate.

Once the transcripts hit the fan, so to speak, New Orleans schools superintendent, Henderson Lewis, decided to audit student records for all New Orleans high schools.

On January 23, 2020, Nola.com published an article based upon the audit findings of the  records for 8 out of 25 New Orleans high schools. (Nola.com requested results for the other 17 schools but has not received a response from the district as of the writing.)

From the article:

The Orleans Parish school district’s first-ever audit of local public high schools’ record-keeping practices has revealed widespread problems that could impede graduation for students across the city if left unresolved. …

Some schools failed to keep students’ records up to date; others were missing standardized and course test scores. In some instances, there wasn’t proof of credits earned from classes. …

“This is the first attempt to standardize a city-wide approach to monitoring high school graduation processes in a decentralized system,” spokeswoman Dominique Ellis said in a statement attributed to the district. …

“This is the first attempt to standardize a city-wide approach to monitoring high school graduation processes in a decentralized system….”

Okay. First of all, admitting that this is the “first attempt” 14 year post-Katrina is a shame, not a reasonable excuse.

Secondly, this grading fiasco demonstrates that a “decentralized” system is a bad idea on its face because it now requires “standardized monitoring” as a means of clean-up.

Some more:

…Six of the eight schools were missing students’ standardized or end-of-course test scores, and five of eight didn’t have records showing all the credits students had earned so far. Several were also out of compliance with special education policies.

During several audits, including one at King, officials said they had problems getting students’ records when they transferred in from other schools.

In the Orleans district’s decentralized system, families can transfer students from one school to another when seats are available, and records don’t always follow students as seamlessly as they are supposed to. Different schools can also offer classes during different years, making credits harder to keep track of.

Wouldn’t it be more efficient, I don’t know, to shed decentralization in favor of the centralization that appears to be the solution to a lack of audits, or records not following students “seamlessly”?

Decentralized, portfolio-model New Orleans charter schools rests upon numerous charter management organizations (CMOs) drawing public money to provide little more than an extra layer of inefficient bureaucracy to a collection of schools.

Shed the CMOs; keep open enrollment, which still qualifies as “choice,” and let the New Orleans school board shift their role from that of portfolio-model, crisis clean-up fall guys to the single, oversight entity.

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Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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