It’s finally happened. The US is about to have its first all-charter school system. New Orleans will close its last remaining traditional public schools and beginning this fall, all of the city’s students will have to enroll in a charter school through a computerized lottery system.
Some in the education community see this as the death of a critically important public institution with a direct link to the democratic system of government. Others see it as a long overdue and refreshing cleansing of an old and ineffective bureaucracy of the worse kind — a fossilized failure.
After Hurricane Katrina damaged much of New Orleans' infrastructure, including many of its schools, the storm was used to sweep away much of the traditional public school system, according to a report in the Washington Post
. Since most of the city’s schools were among the worst performing in the nation, shifting to charter operators wasn't a hard concept to sell.
And by many measures, the New Orleans education system has greatly improved, according to the Post. Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. By 2013, the rate had climbed to 77.6 percent.
The Post notes, however, that the data may not be entirely reliable, since many of the city’s students left after the storm, and new students have come into the school system.
And there are issues with the all-charter system that worry many parents, educators, and community leaders. Some parents say they have no control because the new system is not accountable to them. And some lament the loss of neighborhood schools and the sense of community those schools can encourage.
An even bigger concern is that despite increased parental choice, white students seem to be filling the seats in the better charters.
It’s probably going to be another decade before we know how well New Orleans students perform in a charter-only school system. The city will either have created a model for other cities to follow, or a different storm.