New Orleans school district shutters last remaining traditional public schools

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, core services had to almost completely reinvent themselves — including public education. Governor Bobby Jindal used the opportunity to expand school choice through vouchers and charter schools, the latter being a partnership between private-sector education and public-sector school districts. That experiment has worked so well in the New Orleans Recovery School District that the last five remaining traditional public schools have closed their doors:

Benjamin Banneker Elementary closed Wednesday as New Orleans’s Recovery School District permanently shuttered its last five traditional public schools this week.

With the start of the next school year, the Recovery School District will be the first in the country made up completely of public charter schools, a milestone for New Orleans and a grand experiment in urban education for the nation. …

in New Orleans, under the Recovery School District, the Louisiana state agency that seized control of almost all public schools after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city in 2005, the traditional system has been swept away.

The creation of the country’s first all-charter school system has improved education for many children in New Orleans, but it also has severed ties to a community institution, the neighborhood school, and amplified concerns about racial equality and loss of parental control.

An all-charter district signals the dismantling of the central school bureaucracy and a shift of power to dozens of independent school operators, who will assume all the corresponding functions: the authority to hire and fire teachers and administrators, maintain buildings, run buses and provide services to special-needs students.

It’s a little difficult to credit the concern over equality and parental control to the reliance on charter schools. The equality issue might be the case if the district shifted entirely over to vouchers and left the distribution of children to school recruiters. NORSD isn’t doing that, though; they’re using a lottery system to assign children to the charter schools that still have to operate under the authority of the school district. Any basic lottery system of all but the smallest scale should not introduce radical distribution errors that would create significant demographic imbalance in a population.

Parental control concerns seem even more absurd. The problem with public schools has been union control, and a lack of flexibility thanks to federal education mandates. Charter schools get more room to innovate by remaining outside the control of both, which allows for more parental involvement. That’s why school districts often end up holding lotteries to deal with the overwhelming demand for limited slots in the charter schools.

The results of the innovation in the NORSD speak for themselves:

Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23 percent in 2007, according to the state.

Not every jurisdiction has embraced innovation, choice, and parental control as has New Orleans. The Blaze‘s Will Cain has launched a terrific documentary series about the attack on charter schools in New York City under Mayor Bill DeBlasio, in which some of the best schools in the entire state are getting shut down in favor of some of the worst: