The growth of charter schools continue while public education regroups to avoid extinction

Discussion of education reform in New Orleans

In New Orleans, the elementary and secondary education system has been very different since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Many changes have taken place including the sudden layoff of 7,500 educators, and a new educational platform that allows a state-governed district to control the city’s public education system. With this new system, management has changed from publicly elected school boards to independent, some for-profit, charter management organizations. After twelve years of the changes, another change awaits which will mandate a “unified” school district. This will take effect in July 2018.

Will Public Schools Become Extinct?

Before Hurricane Katrina, there were more than 120 public schools, yet at last count,  the city now has 83. All but six are charter, so within twelve years, much has taken place.

On Aug. 8, 2017 during a special town hall forum examining “Education Reforms Since Katrina”, the New Orleans Association of Black Journalist presented a balanced forum and opened public discussion. The four segments included:

  1. America’s Education Reform Landscape – The Bigger Picture
  2. Voices From Ground Zero: The NOLA Education Landscape
  3. Voices of the People: Parent & Professional Perspectives
  4. Voices of the Youth: Students Speak Up

The first conversation was moderated by CBS-TV News Correspondent and former New Orleans journalist Michelle Miller-Morial, and Dr. Adrienne Dixson, the Associate Professor of Critical Race Theory and Education in the Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

After the first segment, New Orleans journalist and former TV news anchor Norman Robinson took over for three consecutive panels, chatting with OPSB Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr., parents, educators and most importantly, the students.

Who is most affected by charter movement?

Residential communities, especially African Americans neighborhoods, are where the vast majority of the public schools that have been closed. Hundreds of years of tradition, where locally-employed teachers taught their communities, were put to rest. George Washington Carver Charter School Association put in a bid, to charter themselves, but denied three times.

Educators have even admittedly succumb to the pressures of competing for the “right” students. A report by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, found that a technique called “creaming” is used to screen-out the unwanted children. Though this is not technically allowed under Recovery School District’s open-admissions policy, there was also a school that stopped advertising open spots because they preferred  to remain under-enrolled than to attracts students who would hurt test scores.  So with that in mind, is test scores even a balanced way to look at progress? Furthermore, where do the students go who are turned away, and who protects their rights?

Progress Since the Charter Takeover

New Orleans is currently the largest school district in the United States to transform the majority of its public schools to charter management. The few public schools that are left in New Orleans are failing. Although supporters of the charter-takeover have their reasons for wanting them there, there are still many major issues to combat. Plus, Louisiana’s overall scores are still the fourth-lowest in the nation. However, the graduation rate has risen from 56 percent to 73 percent, over nine years. Also, graduation and college entry rates have increased over pre-Katrina levels.

But these New Orleans miracles, may not be all they seems. Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation, and the new research says little about high school performance.  To date, there appears to be very little data available that can accurately document the overall performance of high school students.

Concerns of non-supporters

Those in opposition to the charter-takeover have not given up. In 2016, the NAACP called for a moratorium on charter schools, until transparency and accountability can be actively addressed.

Even before Hurricane Katrina, statistics showed The New Orleans public school system had suffered from the segregating practice of “white flight from the city”, among other issues. In the aftermath, many lifelong families and residents have started new lives in communities that accepted them as evacuees. In 2013, the student population was still under 45,000, compared to 65,000 students before the storm.  

Immediately following the storm, some 7,500 unionized teachers and the other educators were put on unpaid leave, and eventually laid off.

The State of Louisiana had created the Recovery School District about two years prior to Katrina. The RSD was set up to take over individual failing schools. After the storm, it took over 60 local schools and this left about 20 well-performing schools in the Orleans Parish School Board. Some have described the change as a two-tier system, where one group suffers while another benefits. This left parents baffled around the disappearance of traditional public education,  and long term viability of charter schools. Are they really much better?

Why they support?

According to U.S. News and World Report (2009), a study from Stanford University examining numbers from 16 states, found in math testing, 46 percent of charter schools performed the same as other public schools, while 37 percent were worse, and just 17 percent performed better.  Overall, the performance of charter schools is improving, as the Stanford data indicates. In 2013 updated data, the Stanford researchers found that the number of charters, out-performing public school scores in math, increased to 29 percent. The study also showed the percent of underperforming charters had fallen to 31 percent.  

Across country, we can find charter schools listed among the nation’s best public schools, and among the worst. Most charters are still authorized by the state and local school districts, which vary a great deal, in their policies.

While charter schools in some states outperform their counterparts, a subset in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Nevada, have charter sectors that significantly underperform other schools. If we could work on having the two sectors operate as complementary parts of a unified education system, it would be a big advance toward a mutual goal, the students’ best interest.

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