Katrina's silver lining

Hurricane Katrina destroyed one of the worst public school systems in the U.S., says Reason TV.  New Orleans started fresh with a system based on choice.

Now, “60% of New Orleans students currently attend charter schools, test scores are up, and talented and passionate educators from around the country are flocking to New Orleans to be a part of the education revolution.”

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  1. Beautiful forests grow out of forest fires.
    I think there is a lot we can learn from the destruction/regeneration analogy.

    Forest Regrowth

    Approximate Elapsed Time: 20 years (630 million seconds)

    After destruction by fire, a forest in Montana is reborn. Growth is slow at first. The plants are small and almost shy, but then exuberant. This film shows the progress of regrowth, and the succession from one kind of plant to the next. The first plants to grow, often known as pioneer plants, are hardy and can grow under harsh conditions. They set the stage for other plants by providing shade, gathering moisture, and converting rough materials into nutrients. Soon new type of plants, shrubs and brush, take over and crowd out the pioneers. They grow quickly and cover the ground so that the early plants lose their source of light. However, these plants will also lose in the end. As the clip shows, young trees push through the brush. In a decade these trees will prevent nearly all of the sun’s light from reaching the forest floor.

    (from http://www.playingwithtime.org/cgi-bin/browser/gallerydisplay.pl?clipID=0120 )

  2. Remember that a whole lot of New Orleans kids ended up in Houston. There’s no guarantee that the populations being tested are the same. I’d also like to know how much the test scores went up. In text, please. Video’s annoying.

  3. Even if test scores don’t go up, if charter schools are safer and cost less, it’s a win.

  4. Very interesting that the parent interviewed talked about tracking in a positive way. She clearly thought it was a good thing that the low-level kids were all grouped together so they could make progress.

  5. I suppose with 60% of the public school kids attending charters the well-worn charge of “cherry-picking” has to be put aside?

    I also wonder when the light’ll go on. After all, if 60% of New Orleans’ kids can be educated without the services of a school district and the crucial central office staff why can’t it be 100$%?

  6. “Even if test scores don’t go up, if charter schools are safer and cost less, it’s a win.”

    But how can it be cheaper if schools are smaller? I see your point. I’m just skeptical.

    Also, if scores don’t go up, then there will be a change.

  7. Because, as I wrote above, charter schools don’t enjoy the dubious benefits of a central administration so they don’t have to bear the costs of the central administration.

    The central administration’s an artifact of the school district model. It has no actual value to the task of educating kids as common sense would indicate private schools having gotten along very well without a central administration. Now charters making it clear that even government-supported schools don’t require a central administration. The money stays in the schools there being no other places to spend it.

  8. A friend of mine who writes about local government has been telling me about this for years and he says the the improvements are dramatic.

    We don’t need reform. We need Katrinas.

    The current system is beyond reform.

  9. Math Teacher says:

    “The money stays in the schools, there being no other places to spend it.”

    I agree with Allen that funds are squandered on public school central-admin and bureaucracy, but I don’t agree that’s not the case with charters. From what I have read, there are charter schools that function beneath management organizations, some of which are intended to generate a profit for the firm. There seems to be a lot of variability between charters (just as with publics), and since charters are the recipients of tax dollars, should they be subject to some type of oversight?

    Does anyone remember this interesting story from last year? It’s an extreme example of the possibility for corruption in the realm of charter schooling and it happened in New Orleans:

    And here’s another from the NY Daily News which raises questions about the profit-motive within charter schooling in New York:

    I think it’s disingenuous to frame the debate as “all publics = bad, all charters = good”.

  10. Since charter schools are public schools it’s distinctly dishonest to try to frame the debate as “all publics = bad, all charters = good”.

    And charters are subject to oversight since they have to obtain their charter to operate from an organization described by the enabling legislation. There’s further, much more watchful oversight and that’s parents who’ve selected the school their children attend.

    The neatly phrased objection though suggests that districts are subject to oversight to which charters are not and that’s simply not true. School districts enjoy a substantial degree of autonomy which is how the institution was designed. That autonomy quite often turns school districts into employment opportunities for education professionals with the quality of the education taking a secondary role. As you can imagine, in a situation where the institution’s run for the benefit of the employees there’s not a lot of concern given to a careful husbanding of tax money.

    Lastly, the fact that there are charter management organizations shouldn’t obscure the fact that many charters are independent operations. An umbrella organization may confer certain benefits but the benefits aren’t significant enough to make independent charters untenable.

  11. allen, once again, you make a lot of sense.

    I would have opened a charter myself the first year the legislation passed in California until I found out just how little autonomy we’d have.

    I attended a two day conference in Sacramento that introduced what charter schools were all about and how to go about setting up one. It was sponsored by that state board of education.

    During mealtime, I remember principals and assistant superintendents sitting around the table who were opposed to the whole idea but were attending the conference because their districts had travel money in the budget.

    They were totally opposed to choice–except when it was time to select the entree.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    You might want to ask the folks in Houston for their opinion.


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