Last night I received a call from a very distress parent who was concerned about her child’s voucher school and it’s ability to provide a quality education for her 9 year old child. Sadly this child has already attended 3 different private schools and one charter school. This mother was surprised to find out that voucher school, which is a religious based school was one of the absolute worse scoring schools in the voucher program. She told me that when this school and others were promoted to her, they did not say anything about how students at this school had scored previously on state tests. This particular school is also on probation and may actually not be in the program if their test scores don’t improve significantly. In addition to these problems, the school is refusing to implement an Individualized Education Program (IEP) from the child’s previous school. I hated to tell her that as a private religious based school her child did not have a right to the same kind of special education services the child had in his previous public school. Services are limited to what the school has decided it would provide.

This parent has decided to seek another “choice.” When she told me the name of the next private religious based school she had chosen. I had to inform her of some of the experiences of other parents that I knew about who also had chosen that same school. The only thing I could do at this point was to give her a list of questions to ask the school so she could get a feel for the school’s ability to serve her child properly.

This parent was dismayed that in all of the promotion about the various school options in the voucher program, she did not have access about previous performance. No one told her that this school was on probation. This is a major problem with the voucher program.

I told the mother a little about the kinds of services that were possible within the public school system for a child with a disability. I advised her that a public school was her child’s best option to get the services he would need to be successful, based on what I know about the public and private schools available in New Orleans. As we explored other possible choice in the public school system, the mother told me about her experience in visiting a particular charter school. She was very much turned off when she asked to take a look around the school and the school was reluctant to show her around. She had a bad feeling because of this experience and did not list this school as one of her choices of public schools. I asked her if she knew that most of the Recovery School District (RSD) charters were rated D or F, she did not. She was shocked to find that 79% of the RSD charters are rated D or F. The RSD direct run schools were not even in the conversation with 100% of the direct run RSD schools being rated D or F. Our conversation moved “choices” within the Orleans Parish Public School system of schools and it’s charter schools. As it turns out, those were the only options of public schools that this parent felt comfortable exploring further. She realizes that her child needs stability and those schools have been very stable in the last 7 years since “reform” came to New Orleans.

Parental “choice” seems to be Louisiana’s major tool in reforming public education. Parents need adequate information in order to make informed choices. Even with this information, how does “choice” actually improve the quality of schools? Is it really school choice to continuously move children around in search of a better school option? Is this school reform? At what point do we get to reforming schools in our communities so parents don’t have to constantly move children around? When will the Louisiana Department of Education provide parents with adequate information to make an informed choice? When will schools open up their doors so that parents can really see how their schools operate rather than give them the usual PR propaganda? The good news is that this parent is now armed with information and will continue to seek a seat in one of the few quality schools within the Orleans Parish school system.