“At this school, 85 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced[-cost] lunch, 97 percent are minority, 15 percent are special-ed,” Jindal says. “And 80 percent pass the English graduate-exit exam, and 90 percent of their kids in math. To give you a sense of where they’re starting from, among this year’s freshmen, a majority were reading at the fourth-grade level or below.” In September, Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network awarded Sci Academy $1 million as one of six schools nationwide that are doing well despite the odds.
John C. White, former deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, is now the superintendent of the recovery school district. “There are other places that realize this is what’s working, and are now saying, we’re going to emulate that,” White says, walking through Sci Academy. “Tennessee now has created a set of reforms entirely modeled on Louisiana. Detroit now wants to enact reforms modeled on Louisiana. We’re struggling in our business for what works. It’s going to take enormous political courage to create something like that.”
“For too many years,” says Jindal, “we measured educational success by how many dollars we were spending. The reality is, if you’re not measuring effectiveness, you have no idea if you’re spending it well.” This fall, parents will receive report cards on which every school gets a letter grade of A through F. Jindal explains: “The teachers’ unions went to the [board of elementary and secondary education] and they said, ‘We think you should give letter grades based on if a school is trying to improve.’ Let’s say one of the worst schools in the state gets a little better, they should get an A grade. I said, ‘Where in life does that ever happen? My kids play competitive sports. I’ve never seen the score based upon whether they tried harder than last week.’ There are going to be a lot of surprised parents. Though things have gotten better, there will be more low grades than people are expecting. This will empower parents. They need to have choice, information, and an easy way to evaluate ‘How is my child’s school doing?’”
Teepell and others on the governor’s staff are quick to admit that if Jindal had bobbled any of the state’s high-profile crises, few of his reforms would matter. But when a time of testing came, Jindal shone.