I'm still unpacking some of the things I heard at the 5 Years Later panel regarding the current state of New Orleans public education.
The thing that bothered me most was that everyone on stage appeared to agree with OPSB Member Brett Bonin's statement (and I'm paraphrasing) that 'now New Orleans knows what a good school system looks like.'
That might make for good copy, but the truth was exposed later on when the moderator asked the panel 'what does a good school system look like?' The panelists responded with boilerplate statements regarding "student success" and "school success scores" and students who could engage in "critical thinking." The closest any panelist came was the RSD Deputy Superintendent, who said that a good school system could be identified by a student body with an average ACT score of 20. This was verified by others in attendance.
Pardon me for thinking that if you "know" what a good school system looks like, you can describe more details than that. I could do better than that with my layman's knowledge of basic good school systems. Let me throw some darts at it:
1. A city of 350,000+ people should have, at the very least, 35 SACS accredited public elementary, middle, and high schools. Accreditation should be the basic administrative standard for any public school, traditional or charter. This means that when external evaluators from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools show up at a given school, there are instituional mechanisms in place that are known best practices in the field of education. This goes for academic and administrative elements.
2. A city of 350,000+ people should have, at the very least, 1 public SACS accredited school system, which means there is a governing body of public schools also engaged in administrative best-practices and effective instituional mechanisms that are recognized nationally.
And before you think it cannot be done, the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish public schools, Plaquemines Parish public schools, and 15 other public school systems in the state of Louisiana maintain accreditation through SACS, as do hundreds, if not thousands, of other school systems across the South. Yes, it would be a process to get there, for New Orleans, but the biggest obstacle is a local culture that accepts nothing less than progress-prone priorities. Residents of this city deserve no less than residents of any other.
When it comes to "good schools" those two were easy, low hanging fruit. Which makes it more problematic when not one member of Tuesday's panel mentioned them. The elements of "good schools" only get more difficult from here.
3. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should be able to read and comprehend the local newspaper front to back. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should possess a vocabulary large enough to express their thoughts and opinions clearly to others, and to comprehend the thoughts and opinions of others. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should be able to use mathematic skills to solve everyday problems such as calculating cost of multiple items, balancing a checkbook, paying bills, and calculating percentages for tax and tip.
4. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should be knowledgeable regarding accepted history of the state and city in which they live as well as the United States of America; students should demonstrate a familiarity with historically important persons, historically important events and why those people and events were important. Students with an 8th grade education in a "good school system" should be able to apply the scientific method as a tool in testing theories about both the natural world and the social world; they should be able to identify relevant and valid data; and they should be knowledgeable about prevailing scientific theories explaining the natural and social worlds.
5. Students in a "good school system" will, by the 8th grade, have had the opportunity to engage in the following activities for at least a semester in length, if not more: play a musical instrument or sing; paint or draw a picture; type; use a computer to access information; participate in athletics or competitive sports; build something at school; take part in a theatrical performance; exchange ideas, thoughts and opinions through debate or verbal problem solving; be provided the opportunity to balance a budget, calculate interest/tax/tip, cook, sew, garden, take care of animals or practice some form of home economics; and finally participate in experiential learning outside of school through field trips.
6. A "good school system" will create effective mechanisms to provide robust access to all of the above to students who have demonstrated learning disabilities or exceptionalities.
7. A "good school system" will create effective mechanisms to provide robust access to all of the above to students who have demonstrated an inability to socialize into the school environment without disrupting the education of others, while working to minimize the limiting effect of such disruption.
8. A "good school system" will create effective mechanisms to properly identify and evaluate students with learning disabilities, exceptionalities, and disruptive socialization issues so they can be referred to the appropriate specialists required to provide the appropriate and necessary learning environment.
9. A "good school system" will create effective mechanisms to properly identify and evaluate students who are demonstrating difficulty in acheiving basic academic goals and develop audacious educational plans to work with these students to overcome these difficuluties.
10. A "good school system" will have the support of the community it serves both professionally and voluntarily; adequate funds to maintain a physical plant while retaining and developing human resources; and a governing board responsible for identifying and supplying needed resources within the means of funding provided.
Those are ten darts at the wall that I would use to describe a "good school system." This is just off the top of my head, but almost all are items I know I've discussed before. Of course, these are just the basics. The devil is in the details regarding how you acheive these goals.