Academic journal article High School Journal

Excerpt From: 'National Model' or Flawed Approach? A Report by the United Teachers of New Orleans, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, November, 2006

Academic journal article High School Journal

Excerpt From: 'National Model' or Flawed Approach? A Report by the United Teachers of New Orleans, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, November, 2006

Article excerpt

Recently, as the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina arrived, the media shined its spotlight on New Orleans' rebuilding and recovery efforts. Yet relatively little of this coverage focused on the city's public schools. Moreover, the limited coverage of the post-Katrina school system presented a sketchy and incomplete picture of the major structural and operational changes that state officials made to the New Orleans public schools.

In the weeks and months after Katrina, many bold promises were made to reinvigorate the city's public schools. In November 2005, Gov. Blanco called for the state to take control over most New Orleans schools, and she vowed to create a "new birth of excellence and opportunity" for the city's schoolchildren." (1) A document by state officials promoting the takeover plan identified the mission of the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) as creating a "world-class" school system in which "every decision focuses on the best interests of the children." (2) In April, Leslie Jacobs, a BESE (Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) member, envisioned New Orleans as "a new national model" for urban schools. (3)

Although it is early, initial evidence strongly suggests that the redesigned New Orleans public school system is unlikely to deliver on these and other promises. Why?

* The dual-district structure created by state officials has proven confusing and cumbersome. Moreover, the confusion and disarray that were pervasive as the 2006-07 school year opened are likely to bedevil school operations for the rest of the year unless the seeds of these problems are adequately addressed.

* The state's substantial takeover of the public school system was carried out clumsily and without fully engaging and involving parents, students, educators and other stakeholders. Any at meaningful and positive change will fall short unless state and local officials reconcile their policies and practices with the concerns and needs of these stakeholders.

Over the past year, the people of New Orleans have endured great personal losses and tremendous hardships. As they struggle to rebuild their lives, they need a public school system that is strong and stable--a school system that gives them reasons to believe that tomorrow can be better than today.

The time for finger-pointed and political grandstanding is over. Reassessing the redesign of the city's schools is essential if state and local officials are to learn lessons, make necessary changes and create a public school system that provides a high-quality education to all of its students.

Roughly 54 public schools were open in the city by September to accommodate an estimated 22,000 students. Public school enrollment in New Orleans is projected to increase to as many as 34,000 by January 2007, and most of these students will be left with no choice but to attend the RSD's non-selective schools because nearly all charter schools are full and turning away students.

The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) is the governing authority for 13 charter schools and 5 non-charter, selective-admission schools. OPSB's regular and charter schools scored above the average of the state's school performance score in 2004-05.

* Regular schools--All staff in the five regular schools work for OPSB and are under the authority of OPSB's superintendent.

* Charter schools--These schools are authorized and overseen by OPSB, which owns the buildings, but each of the 13 schools is run by an individual board, selects its own leadership and staff, and determines its academic and operational policies. Some regular public schools converted to charter status after Katrina because it was the most expedient and financially lucrative way to open the school. In 2005-06, the federal government awarded approximately $21 million to Louisiana for development of charter schools and will follow this with another $24 million in 2006-07. …

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