NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 2, 2005

New Orleans public schools were in trouble long before Katrina's visit in August. But the hurricane aftermath has given the state an opportunity to turn things around educationally, and Louisiana seems eager to seize it, says the Wall Street Journal.

Last month, the legislature voted to let the state effectively take over the New Orleans public school system. What's more, the state plans to turn a significant number of the city's underperforming schools over to universities and foundations to reopen as charters.

Change was way overdue, to put it mildly:

  • Some 90 percent of the city's 117 public schools were performing below the state average.
  • And 68 of the state's 170 failing schools are located in Orleans Parish.

According to the Journal:

  • Charter schools, which are public schools permitted to operate outside of the control of local school boards, are ideal for New Orleans, where more than 40 percent of new teachers quit within three years.
  • Unburdened by union work rules, charter school parents and teachers have more control over the learning environment and freedom to try new methods and curriculums when old ones aren't working.
  • Teachers can earn merit pay, for example, and the academic school year can run longer than the state minimum, if that's what it takes to teach the mostly poor and minority kids who were attending the city's worst schools.

In a speech last month endorsing the state takeover, Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco noted that Katrina refugees with school-age children who had relocated to better schools across the country would be reluctant to return home if educational improvements weren't made. "If we're going to bring back New Orleans, we must bring back our schools," said Blanco. "We cannot afford to rebuild schools that do not give students the quality education that they need."

Source: Editorial, "A Louisiana Education," Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2005.

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