Monday, June 17, 2013
This weekend, a New York Times article article cautiously took sides in the debate over the charterization of the New Orleans School District. Its position, however, was relatively unique. It posited that charters have produced modest improvements in student achievement, but have been offset by harms to the core of the black middle class: public school teachers. Rather than jump into a very localized issue as though I know something--which I am prone to do--I contacted Brenda Shum of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She is counsel in a class action special education lawsuit against charter schools in New Orleans, which the Times referenced. Here is Brenda's take:
[F]or those of us committed to equity in education, the experience of New Orleans post-Katrina previews both the opportunities and challenges facing public education everywhere. Sarah Carr [author of the NY Times article] raises important concerns related to the focus on school-improvement which has characterized education reform in New Orleans. It is certainly true that the unprecedented rise in charter schools has transformed the education landscape in Orleans Parrish. Many have tried to interpret the role that these charters have played in the increases in student achievement for students in New Orleans. While some may attribute these modest increases in student performance to increased choice, charters have certainly not eliminated the churn which contributes to the destabilization of a student’s educational experiences in Orleans Parrish. Each year, the number of charters has continued to increase, but every year those same charters may experience changes in their charter authorizer, their teachers and staff, their grade configuration, and their location. The “OneApp” enrollment system introduced this past school year centralizes the application process and timeline for schools in New Orleans, but parents continue to report confusion and difficulties in enrolling their children in school. There may be a fundamental disconnect between the educators in Orleans Parrish and the community they serve, but it is also clear that all public schools – both traditional and charter – must acknowledge that the complexity of issues facing students in New Orleans, and how frequently these issues intersect with race and class. The disparities in educational opportunity reflect and reinforce the inequities in the communities around them. But I suspect that many of the parents we have encountered and worked with would strongly disagree with Andre Perry’s observation that their communities are “weaker,” and would likely assert that they are more committed and determined than ever to the future of public education in New Orleans.