Wednesday, May 11, 2016

New Orleans tries to mix charter schools with democracy: Is this the district of the future? - The Washington Post

New Orleans tries to mix charter schools with democracy: Is this the district of the future? - The Washington Post:
New Orleans tries to mix charter schools with democracy: Is this the district of the future?

In the decade since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and swept away its public school system, the city has become a closely watched experiment in whether untethering schools from local politics could fix the problems that have long ailed urban education.
Louisiana seized control of most New Orleans schools and turned them into charter schools after the devastating storm in 2005. More than 90 percent of the city’s children now attend charters, which are publicly funded but privately run by unelected officials who have complete freedom to decide how to organize their programs, schedules, teachers and curriculum.
The schools, on the whole, are still far from excellent, and there are lingering questions about whether and how a bunch of independent schools — which are under pressure to meet academic targets to continue operating — can ensure access to education for all students, especially those with the greatest needs.
But test scores and graduation rates have risen. And now the state is poised to relinquish its oversight: The Louisiana legislature has passed a bill that would return the 52 schools it oversees to a measure of local control, testing whether independent charter schools and democracy can coexist.
Many charter-school advocates describe it as an inevitable next step in the city’s bold education experiment, and one that could serve as a road map for other cities grappling with how to manage and coordinate a large number of charter schools.
“If they can get that right, it will be really important for New Orleans and for the country,” said Neerav Kingsland, who worked for New Schools for New Orleans from 2006 to 2014, when it started dozens of new charter schools. “You can’t avoid democracy forever, nor should you.”
Proponents of the bill, including many charter-school advocates, are calling it a “reunification” of New Orleans schools, putting the locally elected Orleans Parish School Board back in charge of the city’s schools but leaving actual control of individual operations in the hands of school leaders. They say it is an important step in closing the wounds left by the state takeover without sacrificing the autonomies that they say have been essential for driving academic progress.
“I do think this is the start of a healing process for a lot of individuals, to realize that the city is coming back together,” said Jamar McKneely, the chief executive of InspireNOLA Charter Schools, who helped negotiate the bill.
But some critics say it is a whitewash, written to appear as if local control over public education will be restored when the bill really leaves most of the power in the hands of the unelected boards of directors who run each of the city’s charter schools.
Karran Harper Royal, an advocate for special-education students and their families, called it a “Trojan horse.”
“This is the kind of bill you get when the charter schools want to give the impression that schools are returning to local governance,” she said. “It feels like a very patriarchal view of communities of color, and white people deciding that black people, or people of color, don’t deserve democracy.”
Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) is widely expected to sign the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D) of New Orleans and was supported by the majority of the New Orleans state delegation. It outlines the transfer of schools from the state-run Recovery School District to the locally elected school board by 2019 at the latest.
But the parish school board — which already runs a half-dozen schools and oversees more than a dozen charter schools — would be prohibited from interfering with school-level decisions New Orleans tries to mix charter schools with democracy: Is this the district of the future? - The Washington Post:
Questions remain as New Orleans schools prepare to return to local control | The Advocate — Baton Rouge, Louisiana

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