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In part three of this series on school choice I am going to take a look at the all charter school district in New Orleans. Education reformers are touting this “experiment” as a possible solution to the problems found in districts with a large percentage of poor children and children of color. Superintendents from all over the country have visited New Orleans to see how the district functions post-Katrina. They are looking at this model in the hope that they can use it to turnaround their own districts. But is it the panacea that education reformers claim it is?
Before Hurricane Katrina hit, the schools in New Orleans Parish were already in serious trouble. The district had low test scores and very low high school graduation rates. To add to the problem, the New Orleans Parish School Board was bankrupt. Board members could not account for the disappearance of millions of dollars in federal money. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"]So in 2003 the state of Louisiana took over the school district and put a state agency, the Recovery School District (RSD), in charge. Click To TweetThe RSD closed low performing schools and turned them into charters while seeking to improve those that were struggling.
Hurricane Katrina Hits
Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than just homes and businesses. It demolished all but 16 schools of the 128 that existed before the storm Click To Tweet. In the midst of the storm, the RSD placed the 7000 or so unionized employees of the district, many of whom had been relocated during the storm, on leave. A few days after the storm ended all learned on the news that they had been dismissed. One of the most notable things about this decision was that the majority of the teachers dismissed were African American with more than 10 years of experience in the classroom.
When the city began to rebuild, Hurricane Katrina funds (about $2 billion) were used to build new school buildings. A few public schools remained in New Orleans but most of the remaining schools were transformed into charters run by independent groups. These groups were permitted to lease the new school buildings free of charge. Initially the charters were to be set up with the input of parents but before long most of them were turned over to private companies who did not have to account to parents or local citizens. During this transition there were still some neighborhood schools functioning so if students could not “win” a seat in the charter school lottery they had a local school to attend.
The Current Situation
As of September 2015, all schools in New Orleans are run by independent groups under either the Recovery School District (RSD) or the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). Those charters under RSD accept applicants using the OneApp system for admissions. Parents apply to have their students attend a school and the children are accepted through a computerized lottery. The schools under OPSB use their own application process.
In the spring of each year parents must choose a school for their child to attend. If they apply to RSD schools they can use OneApp to apply to a number of schools. If they choose to apply to OPSB schools they must follow the application process for a particular school. The one issue is that if a child is not accepted by any charter to which they apply there are no longer any neighborhood schools to fall back on.
Consequences of the All Charter District
Because there are no longer neighborhood schools, the length of the school day is extended due to the time added to ride a school bus to the charter. In the event of an illness, children may find themselves far from any relatives. If a family has more than one child in elementary school, for example, the children may not all be accepted to the same charter school.
The staffing of the schools in New Orleans has also presented a problem. What was once a district that had a large number of experienced, African American teachers, who grew up in New Orleans, now has mostly young white teachers from Teach for America. The criteria for having a charter renewed are that test scores keep improving. This has caused many schools to focus primarily on English and Math, which are the subjects tested. Most of the coursework in high school is focused on students being college bound. Many who know that this path is not for them have begun dropping out and seeking alternative programs to move into the world of work.
Is This the Panacea to Help Failing Schools?
According to education reformers it is. They tout the idea of innovative schools that try new things to help students learn. Some of what is coming to light 10 years into this “experiment” seriously questions that premise. Because charters are only renewed if test scores rise each year, many charters who started out as innovative learning environments are now copying the structure of those less innovative programs in order to keep their charters.
What are your views on an all charter school district as a form of school choice?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]