NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How New Orleans Made Charter Schools Work

June 12, 2015

Last year 2.9 million children attended 6,700 charter schools in America — public schools independent of districts and free of many bureaucratic constraints.

  • Supporters point out that charters receive 28 percent less money per child, on average, but still have higher graduation rates and send a higher percentage of graduates to college than traditional public schools with similar demographics.
  • Detractors counter saying charters often push out the hardest-to-teach students, and, citing a national study said charters barely, on average, outperform those traditional schools on standardized tests.

The truth is charters have lived up to their billing in some places and been a disappointment in others. In one city, however, they have fulfilled the vision of even their most ardent supporters: that chartering would not only raise student achievement, but also gradually replace the old system.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, 92.5 percent of public school students in New Orleans attend charters.

  • In 2005 New Orleans ranked sixty-seventh out of sixty-eight districts in Louisiana, itself a low performer compared to other states. Last year, the city was forty-first out of sixty-nine school districts in Louisiana.
  • Before Katrina, some 62 percent of students attended schools rated "failing" by the state. Though the standard for failure has been raised, only 7 percent of students attend "failing" schools today.
  • Before Katrina, only 35 percent of students scored at grade level or above on state standardized tests. Last year 62 percent did.
  • Before Katrina, almost half of New Orleans students dropped out, and less than one in five went on to college. Last year, 73 percent graduated from high school in four years and 59 percent of graduates entered college.

If just a few districts prove the New Orleans model can work elsewhere, others may join in. Success, after all, has a way of overcoming all obstacles.

Source: David Osborne, "How New Orleans Made Charter Schools Work," Washington Monthly, June/July/August 2015.


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