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10 Years After Katrina: How New Orleans' Charter School Reform is Doing

10 Years After Katrina: How New Orleans' Charter School Reform is Doing

New Orleans had to rebuild much of its city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, including its public school system. The city took the opportunity for a new start and began the biggest charter school reform and experiment in privatization the country has seen.

With this year marking 10 years since Katrina, PRI's Marketplace is looking at how charter school reform is working in New Orleans by analyzing teacher and student experiences as well as looking at the numbers of success and failure.

"After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans fired just about everybody working in its failing public schools and embarked on a wholesale switch to charter schools," said Marketplace Morning Report Host David Brancaccio.

The efforts are an attempt to turn all of New Orleans schools into charter schools to set an example for urban school reform, a move that has evoked criticism from those who oppose the charter school model.

As a result of these efforts, in the time shortly after Katrina, New Orleans performed a mass firing of its teachers during the transition. This led to schools seeing a crop of new teachers willing to come to the post-hurricane area to work the long hours required to help the reform, but statistics have shown that the tough job has equated to double the turnover. Teachers who spoke to Marketplace said this has been harder- not better- for the children New Orleans serves.

And many veteran educators who have continued to teach in the city say that despite the talent and good intentions behind the young recent graduates who have come to help, their tenure is not long and has resulted in what they describe as a talent "brain drain."

Marketplace talked to Phil Dorn, one of these newer teachers who recently finished the Teach for America program. Teach for America is a non-profit that takes recent college graduates and puts them through rigorous training before finding them a job in teaching. Brancaccio talked to him about his experience so far and what the work has been like for him.

"Work it is — for Mr. Dorn, up at 5:30 am, in at 7:30 am.Phil Dorn, one of the teachers who came to New Orleans to join the charter experiment, was at his school getting ready for the coming year, weeks before the kids will arrive," Brancaccio said.

Dorn is a teacher at Encore Academy, a charter school that focuses on the arts. But whereas Encore Academy opened three years ago and has thus not undergone the transition of switching from public to private, many critics say this is where the true problem with New Orleans' experiment with charter schools lies.

So far, there has been little to indicate that the switch to charter schools and the overhaul of public education has helped increase student achievement in one of the lowest performing districts in the country.

"Students in the New Orleans Recovery School District — schools ordered to become charters and overseen by the state — averaged 16.6 on the ACT college entrance exam, a measure that gets a lot of attention in New Orleans, well under the national average score of 21," Brancaccio said.

Another consensus of both critics and supporters of the reform—it's not cheap. Per pupil spending is up and the long hours are requiring higher teacher pay despite no union pay scales and less experienced teachers.

It's also been particularly hard for the parents of New Orleans—who have had to deal with the problems that come with the decentralization of public schools.

As the school year starts up again this month, for instance, across the city's 46,000 public schools there are 19 different start dates that range from July 20 to Aug. 26, said The Lens

One New Orleans parent that The Lens interviewed said that while her 10th grade son started school this week, his sister and three step-siblings all have different start days.

The varying summer vacations for students has been, understandably, a headache for parents. And this is just one of the many downfalls that has so far come with the decreased organization of New Orleans' decentralization.

Certainly, as urban school districts—Atlanta and Baltimore for example—pay close attention to New Orleans charter school reform, it has to be said that there is much change needed to be made before an all-charter school system can provide success.

Read the full article here and comment with your thoughts below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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