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Saturday, October 15, 2011

SYSK: The one way charter schools prove effective

Prior to Katrina, New Orleans’ schools were considered to be among the worst in the nation–64 percent were deemed academically unacceptable by the state of Louisana, and the graduation rate was about 50 percent. The devastation and displacement of thousands of students in the wake of the disaster created an opportunity for reformers and policymakers, who quickly replaced schools that had been destroyed with a new network of charter schools. The district was rechristened the “Recovery School District,” and dollars flowed in, both from the Federal government and private sources. Recent college graduates, eager to make a difference, also came in droves to teach in the “new” New Orleans public schools. Results? Initially, very promising–test scores posted by New Orleans have risen dramatically in the five years since the storm. A decade from now, will New Orleans be one of the nation’s highest-achieving school systems? That kind of sustained improvement will depend on sustained effort and sustained investment.

Arne Duncan said that Katrina was the best thing that could have happened to the New Orleans schools. What he meant was that disasters are fantastic ways to rally popular support for otherwise unpopular ideas, in this case, a massive scheme to convert the entire district to charter schools and destroy the unions. 71% of New Orleans children are now attending charter schools, the highest rate in the nation. All employees, including teachers and custodians, were fired and forced to reapply, and all union contracts were canceled. Many of the unionized teachers were replaced by Teach For America interns.

It would be tempting to attribute New Orleans’ improved test scores to these charter schools, but it would be inaccurate. First, large numbers of New Orleans residents still have not returned. Many of these were low income from the Lower Ninth Ward, where only 3,600 residents have returned (out of the 19,000 who lived there prior to Katrina). Overall, New Orleans has become much more affluent. For example, there are 66% fewer poor African American women living in New Orleans today than a decade ago. Rents have gone up by 39%. And, as we all know, it’s the class, not the school, that matters most in terms of academic achievement

From the Blog Modern School, by Michael Dunn

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