Education Week - May 22, 2013 - (Page 6)
MAY 22, 2013
Debates Roil Over Control of Schools in Baton Rouge
Louisiana district resists more splintering
By Jaclyn Zubrzycki
Efforts to create a new school
district and reshuffle student assignments in East Baton Rouge
Parish, La., have set off a heated
conversation between state and
district officials about accountability and the future governance
of schools in that area.
A bill that would allow the creation of a new school district that
includes the southeastern part of
the city of Baton Rouge—home
to many of the 43,000-student
district’s white and more affluent
students—passed the state Senate and the state House of Representatives’ education committee
earlier this month.
The proposed Southeast Baton
Rouge Community School District, which is being promoted
by a group called Local Schools
for Local Children, would be the
fourth new district to be carved
out of East Baton Rouge Parish
since 2003, and the first within
city limits. The previously formed
districts in Zachary, Baker, and
Central City now serve many of
the white students in the parish
as well. And the Zachary district
has some of the state’s highest
Meanwhile, Bernard Taylor Jr.,
who is in his first year as the superintendent of the parish school
system, has proposed changes
aimed at improving its low student
performance—and also at preventing more schools from being taken
over by Louisiana’s state-run Recovery School District.
They include moving a 101-student gifted education program to
a lower-performing school nearby.
A group of students from the
lower-performing school would
be transferred to the school that
housed the gifted program, Mr.
Fending Off the State
The district’s board has also approved a “family of schools” plan
that would change student assignment in areas of the district,
restructure several failing schools
and close another, and move overage students to “superintendent’s
academies” that target their needs.
In an interview, Mr. Taylor
played up the academic and logistical rationales for the planned
moves, but was unabashed in saying that the changes were also
aimed at preventing schools from
being taken over by the Recovery
“Absolutely, I hope to avoid the
rsd taking over schools,” he said.
“I don’t know of any superintendent who wants to see them taken
over by an entity whose primary
focus is not just the students in
The state-run district, which
already oversees eight schools
in East Baton Rouge Parish, was
created in 2003 with the aim
of improving persistently lowperforming schools in the state,
often by turning them over to
charter operators. Schools that
have failed to meet state student-achievement benchmarks
for four consecutive years are
eligible for takeover.
Twenty schools in the East
Baton Rouge Parish district were
classified as failing last year.
Louisiana schools Superintendent John White, who previously
led the state-run district, described
the planned moves in Baton Rouge
as “cynical” and “craven.” In an
interview, he said that the parish
district’s plans were aimed at improving test scores rather than the
quality of education.
“It’s a cover-up,” he said. “They’ve
put forward a plan that moves kids
around to try to cover up failures. ...
It just makes a complete mockery
of the pillars of education.”
A Fraught History
and new districts in the Baton
Rouge area have frequently been
fraught with racial implications.
The East Baton Rouge Parish
district was the subject of a desegregation lawsuit that lasted
from 1956 until 2003, with federal
oversight of the district’s desegregation plan ending in 2007.
While students are no longer
bused to maintain racial balance
in schools, some students from
poorer areas of the parish still
travel to schools in better-off communities—sometimes to attend
special programs, sometimes to
address space concerns, district
Many students who would have
attended schools now run by the
state district opted to remain in
the East Baton Rouge Parish system instead, which has also led
to crosstown busing, said Tarvald
Smith, the vice chairman of the
district’s school board.
District spokeswoman Susan
Nelson said some proponents of
the proposed new district are unhappy that students opting out
of rsd schools from less affluent
northern neighborhoods are being
sent to schools in the southeastern
part of the city of Baton Rouge.
State Sen. Mack “Bodi” White,
who wrote the bill that would create
the new district, said the proposal
stems from decades of mismanagement by the existing school board.
“It’s hard to recruit companies
and corporations to this parish if
they know their kids have to go to
the [East Baton Rouge] system,”
said Sen. White, a Republican.
“Half of the kids go to private or
A group called One Community
One School District is opposing
the creation of a new district, saying that the East Baton Rouge
Parish system is already struggling with legacy costs related
to the creation of the previous
three districts, and that the demographic changes caused by the
breakaway district would hurt
students and the district.
The proposed district means, for
instance, that the current school
They’ve put forward a plan that
moves kids around to try to cover up
Louisiana Schools Superintendent
system would go from having 86
percent of students eligible to receive free and reduced-price lunch
to 90 percent, while 67 percent of
students in the new district would
qualify for subsidized lunches.
Fifty-seven percent of the new
district’s students would be black,
compared with 86 percent of the
remaining district. The state legislature’s black caucus has stated its
intention to vote against the bill.
Meanwhile, Mr. White, the state
chief, said the state would consider making changes to its ac-
If approved, the Southeast Baton Rouge
Community School District would be
the fourth new district to be carved out
of the East Baton Rouge Parish district
since 2003. The state-run Recovery
School District also runs eight schools
in the parish school district.
Zachary School District
Baton Rouge Area Chamber
East Baton Rouge
Parish School District
taking into account growth in student scores on standardized tests,
rather than their achievement levels—to deter districts from moving programs to improve a school’s
Chris Meyer, a former deputy
superintendent in the rsd who is
now the executive director of New
Schools for Baton Rouge, a nonprofit group founded last year to
bring high-quality charter operators to the district, said the staterun district had a rocky start in
the city: Seven of the first schools
it took over were entrusted as
charters to local organizations
that, while well-intentioned, did
not have much experience run-
Those charter holders later returned their schools to the staterun district, and each school is now
considered to be failing by the state.
“The rsd is a four-letter word
here when it runs schools directly,” Mr. Meyer said.
Patrick Dobard, the superintendent of the rsd, said that the
difficulties of the previous charter
operators did not mean the state
district should change its strategy.
“We don’t want to give up on
bringing in empowering, higherquality teachers and leaders just
because the first group we tried
weren’t of the ilk we need,” he
And he is skeptical of Mr.
Taylor’s plan to move students
around. “I don’t see from a pedagogical standpoint how that’ll
make a difference for the kids in
the chronically low-performing
schools,” Mr. Dobard said.
But Mr. Taylor said he is concerned about the future of the
parish schools if the state is able
to take over more schools while
yet another section of the district breaks off to become its own
“The disaster-in-waiting is, if
you keep carving something up
piece by piece by piece, the educationally savvy, regardless of where
they sit, will be just fine. ... Those
who are not educationally savvy,
we’ll probably wind up serving,”
he said, “and we’ll have less resources to serve them.”
State Superintendent White
said the parish district’s long record of having low-performing
schools has not helped its case.
“If they’re so concerned about
the state taking over their
schools,” he said, “there’s an easy
way to do that—that’s to improve.
We’re not interested in running
schools, we’re interested in them
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 22, 2013
Education Week - May 22, 2013
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Debates Roil Over Control of Schools in Baton Rouge
Study: Teenagers’ Brains Are Wired for Peer Approval
Analysis Calls for Dual-Language Pre-K for Young ELLs
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States Tighten Disclosure of Teacher Evaluations
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A Spec. Ed. Twist on Common-Core Testing
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CYNTHIA G. BROWN: The ‘How’ of Equitable School Funding
JIM CHILDRESS: Designing Learning Spaces for A New Age of Discovery
JEANNE ZAINO: Teaching the Metric System: A Cautionary Tale for the Common Core
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LISA HANSEL: The Common Core Needs a Common Curriculum
Education Week - May 22, 2013