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Take Your Excuses Elsewhere Charter Schools USA Tries To Evade Accountability For Failing School

When the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) made the difficult decision to close Baton Rouge Charter Academy in Mid-City (BRCA) last month, that was supposed to be the final word on the matter. But apparently Jon Hage, CEO of Charter Schools USA, the organization which runs BRCA, didn’t get the memo.

Charter Schools USA CEO Jon Hage

Charles Lussier over at The Advocate recently reported that Hage has been scrambling to find a way to keep BRCA open. Shortly after BESE voted to close the school, Hage flew to Louisiana to persuade East Baton Rouge Superintendent Warren Drake to grant BRCA a new charter after its current contract with the state ends in May.

In an interview with The Advocate, Warren said he was opposed to the idea, although Lussier noted that the East Baton Rouge School Board “could overrule him and grant the school a charter anyway.” Moreover, Colleen Reynolds, a spokesperson for Charter Schools USA, made clear that the organization has not given up its fight to keep BRCA open, saying in a statement, “We will not give up on our students. We stand with them.”

EBR Supt. Warren Drake says Hage wants EBR to grant BRCA a new charter.

An Undeniable Failure

Unfortunately for Jon Hage and Charter Schools USA, all the platitudes in the world can’t hide the fact that their efforts at Baton Rouge Charter Academy have been a failure. The school has received an “F” letter grade in each of the last three years and BRCA leaders were well aware that they would probably lose their charter as a result. State education officials establish clear performance expectations for charters and have shuttered several schools that have failed to raise student achievement.

Baton Rouge Charter Academy’s 2016 School Report Card

That’s why Hage’s attempt to evade accountability by switching authorizers is so troubling. This practice, which is known as “authorizer shopping,” has been used by unsavory operators in states like Ohio and Michigan, which have become the poster children for charter school dysfunction.

But we don’t play those games down here. Our state’s commitment to high standards and rigorous oversight is the reason why Louisiana’s charters have generally outperformed their traditional public school counterparts. It also explains why so many charter advocates, including groups like the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and New Schools for New Orleans, urged BESE members to follow the recommendations of the state Department of Education to close failing charters like BRCA.

Plus, Hage’s argument for seeking a new charter from East Baton Rouge is that BRCA needs more time to improve, but a look at the performance of Charter Schools USA’s other schools across Louisiana doesn’t instill confidence that more time will make a difference.

For example, BRCA’s two closest sister schools, South Baton Rouge Charter Academy and Iberville Charter Academy, have grades of “D” and “F”, respectively. In fact, out of the nine schools operated by Charter Schools USA in the state, only one – Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Youngsville – has an “A” rating, although it also happens to serve a disproportionally white and affluent student population. Given the challenges they face, Jon Hage and Charter Schools USA would be better served by focusing their energies on improving their remaining schools lest they too end up on the chopping block.

In the meantime, officials in East Baton Rouge shouldn’t give Hage’s proposal the time of day. Instead of accepting responsibility for Baton Rouge Charter Academy’s poor performance, he has made excuses and is trying to undermine BESE’s authority. This unfortunate episode should also serve as a warning to other districts that Charter Schools USA doesn’t want to play by the rules and therefore shouldn’t be trusted.

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

35 Comments

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  1. I really wish the standards were tougher… we should not have schools still operating when they have been a D for more than 6 years. It’s appalling that some have not scored higher than a D for their entire 10 year existence

  2. Amen Peter C. Cook. Michigan is a total nightmare for students and families… Nothing to be modeled after for sure! Schools shopping for authorizers than still failing students due to no accountability — and ultimately they then close with little to no regard to how they’ve impacted a student’s ability to attend a higher quality school and lifelong learning experience.

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