Kingsland News and a Quick Thought Experiment

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I read this morning that Neerav Kingsland is stepping down as CEO of New Schools for New Orleans and will be taking on a new role of helping to spread the Recovery School District model.  New Orleans’ loss is the nation’s gain- RSD is an incredibly exciting model which ought to be emulated widely.

The basic idea of the RSD is that school buildings are a crucial educational asset and that we ought to be getting them into the hands of people who will run quality based choice schools.  When done well, as in New Orleans, you are constantly chopping off the left end of the bell curve in terms of academic outcomes.  Charter operators get a certain agreed to period to operate, their outcomes are assessed, and if they don’t do well their charter is not renewed and the RSD puts out an RFP so other CMO can compete for the right to educate the students and use the school building.

Accountability is no illusion here- if you stink, you are gone baby gone.  I mean its not Kathy Visser accountability where parents can hire and fire their own teachers, tutors and therapists but in terms of accountability for providers it is probably the next best thing. The attraction of the RSD model is obvious, at least for the period where the RSD is run by people who are going to do the tough and emotionally draining work of shutting down low performing schools.

Now as a little thought experiment, ask yourself the following question: if the New Orleans RSD were using, say, Stanford 10 rather than the Louisiana state test to measure achievement and academic progress in order to perform their functions, would there be any less accountability in the system?

I don’t think so either.  And when you are dealing with private schools, national norm reference tests are already widely administered and have a much lighter touch on the curricular choices of schools.


7 Responses to Kingsland News and a Quick Thought Experiment

  1. My only worry with the RSD idea as a model for reform is that it depends on people as wonderful as Neerav making decisions about which schools should be closed and which new ones should be allowed to open.

    Eventually there will be a Pharaoh who knows not Joseph. Eventually the kinds of people who run traditional school districts and state departments of education will be in charge of RSDs. And when they are I think RSDs will look exactly like traditional school districts. Districts already have the power to close schools and open new ones in the same or different buildings. They don’t because doing so is politically and emotionally costly, not because they lack the power.

    So, the only real difference between an RSD and a traditional district is that RSDs tend to be founded by exceptional people with a clear mission to endure the costs and close schools. But how long is it before that mission fades, the exceptional people leave, and they look just like a regular district?

    I’m wary of any reform model that does little or nothing to change the organizational incentives (districts and RSDs have the same powers and the same incentives) and relies entirely on having exceptional people to ignore those incentives.

    • Peter Cook says:

      I don’t mean this in anyway to denigrate Neerav – he’s a friend and he’s done great work – but, to be clear, Neerav/NSNO doesn’t make any of the decisions about what schools should be closed and which ones should be opened in the RSD.

      NSNO of course has helped incubate schools and provides on-going to support to charters in the RSD, but when it comes to making those “politically and emotionally costly” choices about closing schools, it actually has been those “traditional state department of education” people that have been making those decisions – and that’s always been the case. The RSD existed before NSNO did – even before Hurricane Katrina – and came into being in the midst of what was still a traditionally public education policymaking environment.

      The RSD’s success is due to a confluence of factors, but in particular, much of it is due to the vision and dedication of people like Leslie Jacobs who carefully crafted and pushed policies that set a high-bar for charter authorization and performance and depoliticized the process to a significant extent. The result is that when LDOE makes recommendations to the state board of education to close RSD schools or grant RSD charters, the guidelines are clear and the decisions are based largely on objective measures rather than political passions.

      • matthewladner says:

        You are completely correct about the different roles played by the RSD and non-profit support groups- thanks for clarifying.

  2. matthewladner says:

    I agree that the day will come when an RSD fails to close bad schools, but that is not a reason why an existing district board should not see the light as you suggest and give it a try.

    • I entirely agree. And I agree that this is yet another demonstration of how nationally normed tests serve our purposes without that narrowing dangers of curriculum based state tests.

      But before people get too excited about RSDs, I just wanted to warn that they aren’t an enduring reform strategy like choice is.

      • matthewladner says:

        I think I know how you are going to answer this, and if you do, I agree with you. But perhaps you should write a post to address the subject: why aren’t RSDs an enduring reform strategy like choice?

      • That’s a good suggestion.

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