NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 7, 2006

Though Hurricane Katrina left only one-sixth of the New Orleans school system's buildings usable, now comes a challenge that could thwart Louisiana's goal of building a model district, says USA Today. The United Teachers of New Orleans, which represents about 4,000 teachers who have been unable to return to work, has sued to force the city to open more schools. The union disputes the state's capacity numbers, claiming there are more students than space.

Union leaders also argue that by returning soon to a larger school district, the city will be able to lure more citizens with a sense of normalcy. That sounds logical, says USA Today, but here's what "normal" looked like in New Orleans' schools before Katrina:

  • Only 44 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in reading and 26 percent were proficient in math during the 2004-05 school year. Among eighth-graders, only 26 percent were proficient in reading, 15 percent in math.
  • Three of every four schools were declared "academically unacceptable" by the state in the 2003-04 school year.
  • Deficits and allegations of corruption prompted the state to bring in the same New York turnaround firm hired to rescue schools in St. Louis. After reviewing the books in New Orleans, the takeover experts declared that New Orleans' situation was worse than the notoriously mismanaged school system in St. Louis.

Any rush to reopen schools risks a return to that past. Only by moving carefully can the district grow and adapt, says USA Today.

If state education leaders are allowed to lay out their plan deliberately, in years to come Los Angeles, Detroit and other cities with troubled schools will come to New Orleans to learn valuable lessons. Opening schools for the sake of opening schools, however, would only compromise that dream, says USA Today.

Source: Editorial, "Crisis drives reinvention of New Orleans' troubled schools;Other cities may benefit, but teachers sue, risking return to old ways," USA Today, March 6, 2006.


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