Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

Public Schooling in Post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans: Are Charter Schools the Solution or Part of the Problem?

Academic journal article The Journal of African American History

Public Schooling in Post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans: Are Charter Schools the Solution or Part of the Problem?

Article excerpt

Great crowds were following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, if you want to be my follower, you must love me more than your own father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me. But don 't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates, and then checking to see if there is enough money to pay the bills? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of funds. And then how everyone would laugh at you. They would say, there 's the person who started that building and ran out of money before it was finished. (1)

Louisiana's first charter school legislation in 1995 enabled eight local school districts to either establish charter schools, or grant charters to other entities wishing to establish charter schools under the school district's supervision. Additional legislation passed in 1997, 1999, and 2001 established further guidelines in such areas as delineating operational procedures, requirements for specific student services, employee guidelines, fiscal responsibilities, and charter eligibility guidelines. (2) Prior to Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, charter schools within the Orleans Parish School District in New Orleans were significantly outnumbered by traditional public schools. However, due to the extensive damage sustained by the majority of district schools, students returning to Orleans Parish in the months following Hurricane Katrina were presented with a vastly different public educational system, consisting of charter schools overseen primarily by the Recovery School District (RSD)--the state-run district created prior to Katrina to take over failing public schools in Orleans Parish, the Orleans Parish School Board, and a number of independent charter schools. This transformation occurred primarily due to state legislative action (pre and post Katrina), as well as additional federal and state aid that was allocated specifically for the purpose of creating charter schools to address the educational needs of students in New Orleans immediately following the hurricane.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, there were eight charter schools in New Orleans. By the end of the 2006-2007 school year, the Orleans Parish School Board was directly responsible for the operation of 5 schools, and served as the sponsoring agency for approximately 12 public charter schools. The Louisiana Department of Education assumed responsibility for some 22 schools as part of its Recovery School District, and oversaw approximately 17 district charter schools. The Algiers Charter School Association was responsible for 9 schools under charters granted from both the Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District. (3)

The demographics of students returning to New Orleans resembled those of pre-Katrina in that the majority of students once again were of African American descent and from low-income families. (4) In any ethical scientific research study utilizing human subjects, great lengths are taken to minimize the risk of injury to participants prior to the study's execution. In addition, researchers must make participants fully aware of those risks and receive consent prior to the introduction of any treatment conditions. Therefore, caution must be advocated and exercised any time African American children, or any group of children, are used as experimental agents of change in a reform movement. One may reasonably argue that continuing support for such mass charter school reform in Orleans Parish would occur based on demonstrated student achievement and enrollment numbers. Decreased, increased, or stagnant enrollment may become a key indicator of the success and longevity of charter schools in Orleans Parish.

Considering the nature and urgency of returning normalcy to the city, and given the lack of revenue available within the Orleans Parish School District, the establishment of charter schools represented a viable solution to address the problem of returning families and students in the district. …

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