Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’s Recovery School District – created in 2003 to take over the administration of Louisiana’s lowest-performing schools – is undertaking groundbreaking educational reform. This week, it permanently closed down its five board-run public schools: from now on, all of its facilities will be charter schools.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools run like private institutions – that is, without the control of school boards.
New Orleans charter advocates say that area schools have been able to dramatically improve by empowering principals to fire underperforming teachers and to implement tailored policies like separating the sexes and mandating school uniforms.
New Orleans has often been called the national laboratory of the charter movement. Recovery Superintendent Paul Vallas once said “I’m a believer in schools having the freedom and autonomy to make decisions that are in the best interests of the children, so I support charter schools because charter schools are a vehicle for achieving that type of freedom.”
Critics of the charter system say every school should be required to conform to certain uniform standards – they must all employ speech therapists, for example. Yet in New Orleans, it seems, this one-size-fits-all model is losing ground.
“We’ve reinvented how schools run,” says Neerav Kingsland of New Schools for New Orleans. “If I am unhappy with service I’m getting in a school, I can pull my kid out and go to another school tomorrow. I don’t have to wait four years for an election cycle so I can vote for one member of a seven-member board that historically has been corrupt.”