Dear Commons Community,
It has been eleven years since Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005. One of the results of the catastrophe was that New Orleans was converted into a mostly charter school district controlled by the state. New legislation is expected to be passed that would retain charter schools but put them under the supervision of a locally-elected school board. As reported in the New York Times:
“Nothing has defined and even driven the fractious national debate over education quite like [New Orleans] and the transformation of its school system in the decade since Hurricane Katrina.
Reformers say its successes as an almost all-charter, state-controlled district make it a model for other failing urban school systems. Charter school opponents and unions point to what has happened here as proof that the reformers’ goal is just to privatize education and strip families of their voice in local schools across the country.
Now comes another big moment in the New Orleans story: The governor is expected soon to sign legislation returning the city’s schools to the locally elected school board for the first time since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The article goes on to mention that the new proposed model of governance splits the powers of the charter school operators and the school board.
“The schools will keep the flexibility and autonomy, particularly over hiring and teaching, that have made charters most unlike traditional public schools. But the board becomes manager and regulator, making sure schools abide by policies meant to ensure equity and provide broad services, like managing the cost of particularly expensive special education students, that individual schools might not have the capacity or desire to do.
Cities from Boston to Los Angeles are locked in fierce fights over charter schools, which critics say siphon off money and the most engaged families from local districts, while skimming the best students and steering away the most challenging — not always with better results. Families in districts with majorities of poor black and Latino children are increasingly pushing back against educator recruitment groups like Teach for America, scorning their efforts as education tourism for privileged Ivy Leaguers.
People here say the national debate does not fit some of the nuances of the divide in New Orleans. For one thing, the local board itself runs its own share of charter schools. But what has resonated broadly here is the sense that changes to the schools were done to the city’s residents, not with them.”
The article concludes by quoting a charter school operator.
“Those who have in the past resisted a return to local control say they now believe the changes here cannot be sustained without greater involvement from people who actually live here.
“It would be a shame,” said Ben Kleban, the founder of New Orleans College Prep, a charter network, “if our message to the rest of the country was that the only way to reform a school system is to seize control from local people.”
This next phase of the New Orleans and the charter school movement will be watched carefully by education policy makers throughout the country.