Joash mentioned this in a post last week when Bobby Jindal came to down to stump for the governor, but I think this needs a little bit more discussion. I was kind of surprised that it hadn’t come up in any of the comments either. Greg Bluestein and Maureen Downey covered it a bit more in depth.
The fact that the governor is talking about a Recovery School District is a big deal. We already knew that education was going to be the issue de jour for this cycle after the budget came out. Follow that with all of Jason Carter’s assertions on education, which Kyle Wingfield has enjoyed (here and here), and that’s the substantive issue to talk about. It’s also a whole lot easier to care about education than ethics. Kids are much cuter.
So what is a recovery school district anyway? Essentially it’s when the state sets up a new state wide school district to govern the worst performing schools. Generally the number that is thrown around is the bottom five percent. This is related to Race to the Top’s requirements for failing schools. However, it should not be seen as RTTT having an effect on an RSD, both of the best examples were in place well before RTTT. Rather, the causal effect is likely the other direction.
Speaking of the best examples, we see those in Louisiana and Tennessee. Louisiana’s was put in place just before Katrina, but the storm provided the needed impetus to really take advantage of what an RSD could do. Tennessee started a few years later but has enjoyed the benefits of seeing what works and what needs to be done differently.
In both states, the failing schools have been converted to charter schools, with charters being given through the RSD (Tennessee calls theirs an Achievement School District). This is done because clearly the previous leadership was not doing what it was supposed to do.
In Louisiana they have yet to renew a charter of a school that is not reaching goals related to attendance and achievement. They also have not renewed a charter of a for profit company, so any charge of profiteering off of children’s education is bologna. In the NOLA environment, the community nonprofits are the only ones that have been able to show success, and to be good stewards of the people’s tax money.
What kind of success has the RSD seen? Here’s ten years in New Orleans courtesy of New Schools New Orleans. What you can see is impressive growth in the RSD as opposed to normal schools state wide in Louisiana. NOLA is actually on track to have some of the best performing schools in the entire state.
What does this mean for Georgia? Well there are a lot of places that really need some help when it comes to school achievement. Likely Clayton, Fulton, and DeKalb counties are coming to mind in addition to the City of Atlanta. Though there are some schools in the Augusta, Columbus, and Savannah areas that need some help to.
Could this lead to better schools in Georgia? Absolutely. But we’d have to do it right, and we’d have to be committed to real change for the long haul. New Orleans didn’t see things change over night. Memphis took a managed growth approach, on account they didn’t have 117 schools close due to a hurricane. The lessons learned from Memphis and New Orleans should be applied.
You have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. Other states have some experience and we’re seeing good data once the commitment to a long term solution has been made. Lets start with five schools year one, raise that to ten schools for year two, maybe twenty year three. Growth in the RSD needs to be managed so that the whole reform doesn’t trip and fall on it’s face. If it isn’t managed, then there will be shortages of qualified teachers, school leaders, charter school governing boards, charter incubators, etc.
Georgia could definitely do this.