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New Orleans becomes experiment for education reform and charter schools

 

It’s been six years since Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans. 

Some things will never be the same in the Big Easy, but maybe that’s alright. Hurricane Katrina provided the fresh start the public schools of New Orleans needed. As the levees crumbled, hundreds of schools were destroyed. 

This disaster allowed a public school system to be reborn and radically changed for the better.

Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said “I think the best thing to happen to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster.”

According to The Economist, before August 2005 over two-thirds of the students in the New Orleans public school system attended schools that were failing. Only about half of the high school students could pass the exams needed to graduate. 

Rebuilding the public education system in New Orleans has become an experiment in education reform. Charter schools are being tested and producing positive results. 

In 2003, the state established the Recovery School District. 

RSD was designed to take over academically failing schools. After the storm, RSD and along with charter school began to transform the Orleans Parish district, that had been declared to be in “academic crisis”  by the state legislature. 

RSD was given control more than 100 schools. The ones that RSD did not continue to oversee were closed permanently or became state authorized charter schools. Charter schools were established, like ones sponsored by the Knowledge is Power Program, a national network of charter schools. 

Part of the success of charter schools in New Orleans is that they are free to experiment, and encouraged to establish themselves. 

The Christian Science Monitor reported that at the end of last school year, 70 percent of the city’s 40,000 students now attend one of the 61 (there are 88 total public schools) charter schools in New Orleans.

Today, New Orleans public schools are reducing the achievement gap and improving their test scores and student performance in math and reading faster than in any other district in the state especially among black students, low income students and special education students. 

Mississippi should take some advice from its neighbor and support the openings of charter schools. 

Right now Mississippi has one. According to Gov. Haley Barbour expansion of charter schools may not happen anytime soon. 

Barbour supports efforts back the Mississippi legislation to create more charter schools but previously such legislation has been blocked by black legislators because of the fear that charters schools might create de facto segregation. 

Most students in charter schools throughout America are black or Latino and due to demographic clustering many public schools in Mississippi are more racially homogeneous.

The New Orleans situation is not unique. 

The success of charter schools in the Big Easy, will not only help its students future but the future of charter schools in America. 

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Meghan Litten is a senior public policy leadership and elementary education double-major from Petal.