Tuesday, September 24, 2013
New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD) is among the most hailed charter school experiments in the nation and is considered a template for national education reform. Newsweek tells the New Orleans RSD story this week in The Great Charter Tryout: Are New Orleans’ schools a model for the nation—or a cautionary tale? I summarize part of the article here: More than 75 percent of New Orleans kids are educated in the Recovery School District, which is dominated by charter schools. Hurricane Katrina swept away the public schools that ranked among the lowest-performing districts in the nation. Post-Katrina, New Orleans fired many of its unionized and veteran teachers and replaced them with Teach for America graduates (about 400 TFA grads teach in New Orleans; 42% of RSD teachers have been teaching less than three years). Today, 79% of RSD charters are still rated D or F by the Louisiana Department of Education, but that is not for lack of trying. The per-pupil funding post-Katrina was about double what it had been in the two years immediately preceding the hurricane and 50 to 100 percent greater than it was for the rest of Louisiana during the same period. Oprah Winfrey gave RSD’s flagship high school, Sci Academy, a $1 million check on-air. RSD's schools are also putting in lots of time. At Sci Academy this spring, classes were regularly suspended for added studying for the ACT, which included tutoring for seniors who scored below 20 on their ACT at a cost of $1,000 per student. Sci Academy’s teachers put in 16-hour workdays to try to prove that charter schools are the right choice for a solid education and a pathway to college for low-income students. And it is working, depending on what you measure. Sci Academy got a B in the state’s grading system. But its out-of-school suspension rate was 49 percent in 2012, the second highest in the city. Even with all of the money and teacher hours, achieving a district-wide turnaround is proving to be more complicated than originally thought. Large numbers of New Orleans’ students are still not graduating and are not likely to make it through college. Read The Great Charter Tryout here.