NY Times Lauds New Orleans Education Progres, Role Of Charters

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Drastic reforms implemented post-Katrina credited with sparking growth

The progress seen in post-Katrina New Orleans education received glowing commendations from the New York Times this week, continuing the spate of national recognition the city has received since overhauling the education system.
Prior to the storm, roughly 60 percent of New Orleans public school children attended failing schools. Now, this number has drastically shrunk to 18 percent – progress described by Education Secretary Arne Duncan as “stunning.” Likewise, nearly half of Recovery School District (RSD) students are now performing at the ‘basic’ level on state tests, double the rate from five years ago.

The editorial accurately credits drastic measures implemented on the state and local level with charging this revival. One of the particularly controversial reforms cited is the complete overhaul of the city’s teaching corps following Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent implementation of skill tests and higher performance standards.

The creation of the Recovery School District is also attributed with giving individual schools greater autonomy and reducing the stagnant central bureaucracy which plagued the prior school system, as well as the influx of energetic young teachers recruited from around the country. The RSD’s decision not to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions is also noted.

Of all the reforms instituted, arguably the most notable is the preponderance of charter schools versus traditional public schools in the city, which far outpaces the ratio around the country. The correlation between charters, which employ more flexible and student-tailored teaching methods, and progress is hard to ignore. While charters are “often accused of siphoning off scant resources and taking the best students from traditional schools,” the Times points out that accountability measures have ensured that this is not the case in New Orleans.

While the progress in New Orleans is garnering national media attention, as evinced by this editorial, it is far from complete. Many schools are still failing and are rife with underperforming and troubled students. However, the upward trajectory of student and school achievement indicates that they are finally being given a chance to succeed.

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  • James Horn

    Education is ground zero in the systemic exploitation of black people
    in New Orleans–ground zero because public schools are the direct
    feeder for the necessary, albeit unskilled, labor needed for the
    tourist-oriented economy. . . . In New Orleans they are building more
    hotels every day.  Where will the bellhops and maids come from? . . . .
    Our schools are the way they are because the economy. . . continues to
    require a labor force to clean, cook, and serve.


     –Kalamu ya Salaam, quoted by Buras, 2010, pp. 66-67

    In December 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report
    filled with grisly and harrowing details of student abuse,
    miseducation, segregation, and exclusion in the schools of New Orleans. 
    The first paragraph:

    New Orleans students are supposed to be learning in one of the most
    advanced, innovative educational environments in the country. When it
    comes to school safety and security, however, many New Orleans schools
    employ ineffective discipline practices that were discredited by
    education policy researchers decades ago. School staff react to minor
    rule violations by forcibly handcuffing children to furniture, brutally
    slamming them, banishing them from their schools and cutting short
    their education. Far from keeping New Orleans schools safe, these
    policies actually reinforce a culture of violence and disengagement
    from schools and communities.