You want local, elected school boards? Charter-based voting would do it

It’s a common gripe among critics of New Orleans school reform: Charter school governance is too clubby.

Self-selected and autonomous boards can’t be voted out by constituents, which some say limits community control of a charter school. And some who’ve called for a return of the city’s schools to elected governance have said that they want charters to be more accountable to the public they serve.

The implicit assumption has been that accountability hinges on the kind of citywide elections used to select members of the Orleans Parish School Board.

But what if voter control was achieved in another way? What if the city’s charter school boards were elected — not through a city-wide ballot, but by the parents and teachers a charter board serves?

Not only would that bring local control right down to the level of individual schools and charter management groups, proponents note, it would expand the roster of elected officials in charge of Orleans schools from the current seven members of the Orleans Parish School Board to the scores of men and women who serve on charter boards.

At least two states currently require that their charter school boards be elected by a school’s families and staff. Parents and educators elect charter board members in Minnesota, home of the nation’s first charter schools. Boards must be comprised of at least one parent, one of the school’s teachers, and at least one person not affiliated with the school. A charter board may be self-selected initially, but within three years all seats must be filled by election. Boards can set their own term limits.

In South Carolina, boards can be a hybrid of elected and selected members. At least half of a charter board’s members must be elected by a majority of the school’s families and staff. The other half must have a background in education or business, and these members may be appointed or selected by the incumbent board members. South Carolina state law sets two-year term limits.

Minnesota Association of Charter Schools associate director Dan DeBruyn said that Minnesota’s law, while amended several times over the years, has always required that charter boards be elected.

“I think in general, people would agree with having an elected board, just so that they have some say in the way that the institution was run. For Minnesota, I think it’s worked very well,” DeBruyn said.

A call for elected charter school boards is one among many suggestions in recent years for  reworking school governance in New Orleans. But the proposal, by former Orleans Parish School Board president Torin Sanders, did not specify how that goal was to be implemented. Sanders told The Lens that he didn’t think to recommend site-based elections, but he said he approves of the concept.

“Definitely, that kind of structure would go a long way into creating … a real sense of accountability for boards,” Sanders said.

Duplicating Minnesota’s policy in Louisiana, through law or in practice, would need buy-in from charter boards themselves. And some feel that what charters are doing now works just fine.

“I’m less inclined to say the answer is to move to elected boards,” Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools executive director Caroline Roemer Shirley said. “I think that brings politics to the table, and I’m not sure politics serves students very well all the time.”

Instead, boards should build parent and educator involvement into their current structure, she said.

A few boards make room for community involvement, though they aren’t elected. The four-school New Beginnings Network, for example, amended its bylaws in December to require that the board seat at least two parents of children who attend the group’s schools.

And the six-school Algiers Charter School Association selected board member Nicole Sheppard after she was recommended by a group of ACSA teachers, board member D’Juan Hernandez said.

Hernandez said he could see merits in both processes. He stressed that more charter leaders need to collectively craft ideas for future governance models, both for their schools and for what the parish school board should look like: “I believe parents and staff should have some say in [picking] the people who are representing their interest,” he said.

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About Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • Michael Stone

    I assume the goal of any governance structure is to ensure quality. It’s worth noting that Louisiana’s charters outperform Minnesota’s charters ( Which makes me wonder if MN is the model we should be looking at to solve this issue.

    Also, “Self-selected and autonomous boards can’t be voted out by constituents, which some say limits community control of a charter school.” But a parent has 40+ boards to choose from in New Orleans. It seems to me that this presents a much wider array of possible choices (and provides much more control) than voting for board members.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Michael Stone…I tried the link and it doesn’t work, so I’ll ask you the question; how do you know that Louisiana’s Charters outperform Minnesota’s? Is the performance of charters in these two states evaluated according to a common, and therefore directly comparable, set of criteria?

    It is in fact very hard to determine how charters in Louisiana are performing, since the system set up by the state DOE seems designed to obfuscate exactly that question. Elsewhere in the Lens, Jessica Wiliams has a story on this; when charter schools are rated “F” they are handed over to new management and then removed from the grading system for a few years, thereby skewing the (apparent) results for charters as a whole towards an inaccurately rosey picture.

    From Ms. Willam’s story;
    “Under its grading system, the state wipes the slate clean for failing schools under new management. And in 2013, the state changed its grading scale, which made it easier for some poorly-performing schools to receive higher grades.

    Abramson Elementary illustrates how these policies make it hard to assess whether students in the city’s worst students are being moved to better classrooms, or simply shuffled to other underperforming schools.

    Based on 2012 test scores, 77 percent of students who left Abramson now attend an F or T school. When you look at 2013 scores, it’s just 17 percent.”

  • Alan Maclachlan

    1) Be skeptical of anything coming from CREDO, as its methodology has for some time now been critiqued and found wanting by external observers;

    2) If Charter Boards in New Orleans were elected by parents the choice among boards Mr. Stone references would still exist, but each of those boards would then be primarily accountable to the parents of its students rather than to the corporate charter-holder–some of these located out of state–which now operate the schools.
    Given that choice among boards would be preserved while local accountability would be increased, what legitimate objection stands in the way of adopting such a structure?

  • Elizabeth Robeson

    Hi Michael, your assumption would be correct if the goals of the governance structure arise from a commitment to integrity and transparency. It’s a hoot that the Lens writer, ostensibly an “investigative” journalist, wouldn’t catch the irony she limns in the concerns of one Shirley Roehmer, a life-long political animal, eschewing the idea of elected charter boards as an insertion of politics into matters of public education. . . . Maybe I’m the only one who guffawed there? You just can’t find a better dog and pony show than the charter school scene of Louisiana. I mean, look at Collegiate Academies’ worn-out charade with ex-con, federal jailbird & disbarred attorney Betty Washington — who must get something akin to Eric Jones’s fine BMW, only not as glaring — for running interference and trying to act the role of the real deal in the community, when she is despised by the community! C’mon! Can’t ya’ll try a little harder? Or maybe hire some people who have a background in creative writing instead of number-crunching . . . they could probably write some new plot lines for next season. All this talk about letting governance grow out of parents and administrators coming together: another guffaw! If that were the case, Betty Washington wouldn’t be hauled out every time real parents try to communicate with Collegiate, for example. Another hoot! Except that the lives of children, year after year, are trashed as I sit spellbound in my front seat inside this theater of the absurd. Have you re-visited your Camus lately? (As in Alfred, as in Algerian, as in Nobel Laureate, as in critic of fascist narcissism and mind-control? ) He has so much to say to you! As does Dostoyevsky and Orwell. If folks like you, Michael, and Shirley Roehmer are really committed to reform (as opposed to running a massive public relations campaign that only corporate owned media could join in promoting so heartily), you might consider going back to school and studying the American system of government, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, etc. Based on my observations here in the Crescent City, it doesn’t seem that many native New Orleanians have had any schooling in that subject.

  • Elizabeth Robeson

    Hi Alan, as if I need to tell you: the reason that elected charter boards can’t be adopted is because there is no power-sharing inside a totalitarian organization. The concerns of parents are diametrically opposed to those of the operators: the former wants resources spent on quality teachers and instruction; the latter wants to spend as little on the children and maximize their own pocketbooks, reach (via expansion) and power.

  • Elizabeth Robeson

    Michael, please, if there is so much great “choice” in charter school boards, why are there virtually no middle-class white families in these RSD charter schools? I will email to you later my break-down of the 2013 Parents Guide, using its own data, to show you how many pseudo-choices are available once all the D, F, T and otherwise ungraded schools are removed from the master list of “choices.” There are very few seats available (given the overall population of students) in the handful of remaining B & C schools. To watch someone from my alma mater participate in the “reform” movement’s corruption of language and facts is disheartening to say the least. It speaks, sadly, to the dearth of the humanities inside our business schools (and many undergraduate degree programs as well): have you ever read Carl Jung’s essay, “The Plight of the Individual in Modern Society”? It speaks precisely to the dynamic in play inside this exchange of ours: the loss of regard for the individual inside a system that reveres statistical analysis. It’s a very good read since he touches on the importance of education as the critical antidote to the evolution of a state (think: corporate) imposed privileging of the statistical “norm” in its consolidation (and justification) of power. We are individuals, not averages.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    A good analysis, Elizabeth.

    As I try to remind myself on a regular basis, idealistic movements which are co-opted by those who wish to exploit them for personal or political gain usually continue to attract individuals who buy into the originating ideal but who are then exploited themselves, usually through the creation of elaborate rationalizations or outright fantasies about what such movements have become. I think that that is what has been done to the Charter School movement in Louisiana, replete with manipulation of supporting data which is simultaneously slick but clumsy, as even moderately close analysis such as that provided by Ms. Williams easily reveals.

    I am old enough to remember the days when the first Charter Schools were created as a means of empowering local communities. At that time it was impossible to foresee that the freedom to innovate would eventually be seized as a means of extending corporatist hegemony at the expense of loss of the very same local parent-and-teacher control originally envisoned, and that that local control would then be systematically exterminated. I saw this change begin to take place immediately after Katrina, when the moment of catastrophic destruction of The Storm was cynically seized by practitioners of the “shock doctrine” as a means of achieving their goals,

    and have watched as the Charter Movement in Orleans Parish has grown into a nationally funded experiment in the Wal-Martization of K-12 education, openly trumpeted as a model for the future of K-12 education nationally. For me, the final, irrevocable proof that this has become the nature of the New Orleans’ Charter movement occurred in 2011-2012 when national corporate interests simultaneously bought control of the BESE Board and, more locally, eradicated not just the existence but the very name of Lord Beaconsfield Landry. It was clear then that Kira Orange-Jones, John white et al were not merely indifferent to local input and locally important historical memory but in fact viewed it as an obstacle to be removed; and this is why the proposal to elect local charter boards has drawn immediate fire from the very top ranks of local, corporatized, charter “reformers.” To return charters to locally elected boards would then threaten their capacity to control the stream of money which is their number one priority as many, many frustrated parents have found out, but too late.

    Still, it is important to remember that this is an ongoing process, and not a final outcome. I, for one, would like to see a bill introduced in the next legislative session which would require a simple majority of the board members of charter schools to be elected from the population of parents and teachers at that school, with the rest of the board composed of individuals with backgrounds in professional education, finance, business, technology or The Arts. Upon what honest basis could such a proposal be opposed? Local control of local schools is a bedrock component of American culture, and even legislative delegations from parishes such as St. Tammany, which has no charters, would probably support it. They, after all, have had their own bad experience with the overbearing and over reaching ways of Mr. Jindal and Mr. White, and the assertion that local schools should continue to be locally controlled is very, very hard to oppose without at least the implicit admission of ulterior motives.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Mr. Stone, do you in fact oppose election of at least a portion of charter boards from among the parents and teachers of that charter school?

    If that is your position, and given that election of at least part of every charter school’s board from among the parents and teachers of that school would not alter the continued existence of 40+ separate charter boards among which parents can (theoretically, at least) choose, please explain your opposition simply, directly, and here.

    Inquiring minds want to know!


  • Elizabeth Robeson

    I agree wholeheartedly. I am not familiar with the education policy dynamics inside the state legislature and hope that you are correct, viz., that legislation can rein in if not eradicate the blatant self-interest and control of charter management organizations, but then what is the incentive for the CMO to remain on the scene? This is a political battle; Jindal, BESE and NSNO are in no ways interested in charters leaving, though the anti-forces look to be bringing strange bedfellows together which always makes for potential explosives. I think we are in for a period of continued instability and expansion into areas of the state where white teachers and students will be forced to pay attention and produce another anti-charter contingent. One development that heartens me is the increasing difficulty of the charter movement’s reliance on its heretofore disingenuous statistical reports, most of them more aesthetic than factual, to wow the mostly unthinking public . . . while WWNO and the “investigative” Lens are outright boosters for the system as part of the city’s “renaissance” message. There are now enough people paying attention (and their numbers are growing) and able/willing to challenge these absurd pronouncements which pressures their authors and pushes them into a box from which there is no real exit, even as their hubris looks well-nigh inextinguishable . . . The erasure of heroic African American names from schools is heinous, but part and parcel of the on-going construction of a corporatized, defanged narrative of who we are as a people. If Americans had proper instruction in their own history, they would grasp quickly that we are not Horatio Alger characters, but the heirs of a contentious, violent and bloody people struggling for a seat at the national table. But lest we let those cats out of the bag, the corporate agenda aims to reduce American history to a list of disassociated names and facts, thus contributing to the creation of the bland mass mind required of people living in a hyper-consumerist and militaristic nation. Today looks a lot like the period after Reconstruction, named by its ex-Confederate victors as “Redemption,” when the fruits of Union victory were snatched in a way that suggests ALEC strategists have studied it!

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Elizabeth–as a side-note to your comment that “the corporate agenda aims to reduce American history to a list of disassociated names and facts, thus contributing to the creation of the bland mass mind required of people living in a hyper-consumerist and militaristic nation;”
    Are you aware that, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, all of American history prior to 1877 was officially removed from the American History curriculum as mandated by the LDOE? That’s right–unit one deals with certain types of academic skill-building, and unit two begins with Westward Expansion from 1877 on. The high school curriculum has been scrubbed completely clean of America’s Puritan-and-Planter roots; there is no Ben Franklin, no Patriot Movement or Boston Tea Party, no Washington or Jefferson, no social reform movements of the 1830’s, no Andrew Jackson or Trail of Tears, no Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony or Fredrick Douglass, no crisis of the 1850’s, no secession, no Abraham Lincoln, no Civil War, no Emancipation Proclamation or Reconstruction. Gone, all of it, along with everything else which took place pre-1877.
    The official rationalization given is that (some of) these topics are covered in 7th grade social studies, and others are briefly treated in (about literally one page) of the Civics curriculum. But the 12 year old mind isn’t capable of grasping complex issues in the way that older students are, and what of those who arrive in Louisiana post 7th grade? What possible academically sound motivation could perpetrate such an evisceration of two-thirds of our nation’s history, especially its most contentious parts? And, what other, social and economic agenda might benefit from the creation of a population of adults who are so intentionally ahistorical?
    We appear to be living in Orwellian times in this state, in which a primary objective seems to be the production of a population who, though they may be technically proficient in the STEM subject matters, will simultaneously be made docile through a lack of knowledge of The Past.
    Not surprisingly, as part of the LDOE’s efforts to veil its true intentions from the public by altering its website so as to be nearly impenetrable to the pubic, the high school social studies curriculum has been buried so deeply as to be almost impossible to find. However, expecting that this would eventually take place, I saved that public document in pdf form before they hid it. If Jessica Williams or soomeone else from The Lens would care to see it, I will email it to them. Just give me a shout-out on this page and a physical or email address to send it to, and I will do that.

  • Elizabeth Robeson

    Alan, please send that PDF to me asap via LinkedIn if you are a member. No, I am not aware of the bleaching (no pun intended) of the American history curriculum in Louisiana public schools. But I want to know more. This is one scary state. I couldn’t agree more with your analogy of Orwell. I’ve been on a tour of dystopian novels and essays, hence my revisiting Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel, among others. Context is everything in terms of gaining true insight. What better place or time to study the rise of totalitarianism than right here and now.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Elizabeth, I’m not on LinkedIn. You may reach me at the following email address (note that it is case sensitive)

  • nickelndime

    “Charter Boards” -Well, well, well, Alan and Elizabeth! The depth and scope of your knowledge is awesome. Well done. Such foresight! Such hindsight! Such intelligence! Such focus!…HELLO, you 2! You should be publishing. Are you doing that already? Louisiana IS a “scary” place. To feel safe and secure in this state (well, that ayn’t gonna happen), and indeed in this country at this point, would require that one be either delusional and/or a billionaire with the ability to leave quickly (“fugitives with means”). Which also might help explain the push for foreign language acquistion (French, but not Spanish; Chinese…) at some of these BESE-authorized (Type 2) charter schools (packed bags, foreign bank accounts). I am not maligning the learning of foreign languages, but the hidden agendas scare the hell out of me. Louisiana will indeed make its mark (an “F”) in history (unless it gets erased – ha!) for the ruination of the “charter school” movement in this country and behaving badly (again and again and again) when given one opportunity after another to do something rightous and altruistic – for a change.

  • nickelndime

    Just when you think you know who the players are in this city (corporate predators entering into “education”? Maybe they will eat each other.), FORBES lists the movers and shakers in education (the under- 30s in the top 30). OMGAWD. Have a look at this:
    Elliot Sanchez, who started mSchool, a company that rapidly sets up classrooms, called “micro-schools” in community centers, expanding educational options for children as traditional schools move more slowly to improve, won the 4.0 Education Challenge run by the 4.0 Schools education incubator at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week in March. (Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune)
    The New Orleans-based 4.0 Schools incubator for new initiatives in education is taking applications for its summer training and start-up accelerator programs. The group, which started in late 2010, also is making a foray into New York. In offering its program in New York, Matt Candler, founder of 4.0 Schools, said the group is exploring opportunities to expand nationally. Candler and others have said the prevalence of independently run charter schools in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina makes the city an ideal location for innovation and experimentation in education. Candler said the percentage of students in charter schools in New York is much smaller, but the sheer number of charter schools there also creates interest in entrepreneurial approaches to running schools.
    The Warehouse District incubator has held events in San Francisco, but the upcoming New York sessions will serve as pilots for the possibility of a permanent 4.0 Schools presence in New York, Candler said.
    “The 4.0 Schools pilot in New York is an attempt to run our program up there and see if it sticks,” Candler said.

  • nickelndime

    Well here we go again:
    4.0 Schools is a Registered 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization
    643 Magazine Street Suite 206 New Orleans, LA 70130
    Copyright 2013 4.0 Schools All Rights Reserved

    OMAGAWD! Kenneth “Ken” Campbell (he looks sick) is on the BOD! Remember him from Paul Pastorek. This is “scary.” They are talking about Nelson Mandella.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Crickets….I’ll check back regularly to see whether or not Mr. Stone has both the integrity and the intestinal fortitude to respond, although I suspect that all we’ll ever hear from him here again will be…crickets.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    I have found these U.S. History content standards on the LDOE website itself; here is the link to the document;

  • nickelndime

    Crickets is right. Chirp, Chirp. Reminds me of Ryan Gosling in da movie (please excuse, when I gets excited, I revert to ‘hood language), “The Ides of March.” Where is the integrity? Where is the higher motive? Whare (dats wat I M talkin’ bout) is the higher ground? OMAGAWD! I 4got, we is below sea level. I has fallen off of ma chair again.

  • Lee Barrios

    The problems(and need) for charters would take care of themselves if charters, purportedly being public schools and publicly funded, had to follow the same rules and received the same services equitably as traditional schools. State takeover was touted as a temporary fix and charters should be returned to locally elected board governance. Parents should also have the real choice of sending their children to neighborhood schools with fully certified and legitimately qualified teachers. School district top down management has to end giving instructional authority to teachers via collaboration within their school and between district administration, school board and parents. As public education grew and neighborhood schools lost their ability to communicate with the stakeholders, schools lost sight of their need to facilitate learning and to address the individual needs of every child.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    Here’s another reason to require that Charter schools be required to be locally based rather than controlled by national (or international) corporate entities, and also to require that their Boards be locally elected; the Charter movement in this country has provided a doorway for cults to expand their reach using YOUR taxpayer dollars. Thanks to D.S. for the heads-up on this creepy-but-little-known aspect of the Charter School movement.

  • Alan Maclachlan

    And–here’s a story which appeared in The Advocate about an FBI raid on a Gulen School in Baton Rouge. I think that most people of good will would agree that schools of any kind should exist primarily for the purpose of effectively educating students; and not as fronts for business kickbacks and immigration fraud, while reportedly tolerating attempted bribery and sexual misconduct.

    Note also that the LDOE shut down Abramson only AFTER a Federal Investigation of misuse of special education dollars–i.e., Federal funding–found other abuses as well. If not for the Feds, would the state and local Charter Movement leaders have done anything about these other violations? Up to the time that the Feds acted, they had not done so.

    Again–local control of local schools by local citizens is a valuable component of traditional American culture for many reasons. The Charter Movement as it has developed in Louisiana and other states not only undermines that tradition by disempowering local communities, it simultaneously opens the door for abuses of the most grotesque kind which should have no place in the sphere of K-12 education.

    Here’s the link to the story in The Advocate;

  • Alan Maclachlan