NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How New Orleans Proved Urban-Education Reform Can Work

September 2, 2015

After Katrina, instead of rebuilding its former school system, New Orleans opted for a network of public charter schools that have had an impressive performance.

The charters, which have open admission and public accountability, have increased the proportion of students performing at grade level. It was once half the rate of the rest of the state, but now trails by just 6%.

A study conducted by Tulane University noted that there was a stark contrast between the performance of New Orleans and that of other districts affected by Katrina that only rebuilt their prior school systems.

Previous attempts to improve underperforming urban districts have introduced more funding, more accountability, more pipelines of talent, more professional development, more training, and more certification rules but still haven't produced the desired results.

The gains have been made without using any of the following strategies:

  • Stricter discipline to expel higher number of students with behavior issues.
  • Excluding students with disabilities.
  • Teaching to the test.

Charter schools break the traditional pattern between property and school assignment which reflect deep racial and socioeconomic segregation. Thus, students can choose to attend their school of choice within their city.

Charter schools also break the system of teacher compensation that grants instructors very high levels of job security and pays them based on years of tenure (evidence shows that experience improves performance only after the first few years).

Although charter schools can't solve every single problem, they have shown that they have the ability to develop the academic potential of the most underprivileged children. Their success in other large urban districts will only be seen if more of those schools open there.

Source: Jonathan Chait, "How New Orleans Proved Urban-Education Reform Can Work," NY Mag, August 24, 2015.

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