“If you build it, they will come.”
That famous quote may be from a movie about a fictional baseball field, but it also accurately describes the real-life school choice drama that’s occurring in The Big Easy.
The Washington Post reports that charter schools – independently operated public schools – have proven so popular with New Orleans parents that they’ve driven traditional, government-operated public schools out of business.
During the just-completed school year, an estimated nine of 10 New Orleans students attended a charter.
As a result, New Orleans’ last five government-run schools closed their doors for good this week. The city will be the first in the nation to have a school district comprised entirely of charter schools.
The Post writes:
“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.”
New Orleans officials turned to charter school operators to help recreate their broken school system in the aftermath of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm, the city’s public schools were widely viewed as the worst in the nation – not only because of poor academic results for students, but also because of widespread corruption and incompetence among school leaders.
The new school district was called the “Recovery School District,” and it was designed on the premise that parents should have the option of where their children attend school, instead of simply assigning them to the neighborhood public school.
It turns out “Recovery” was a good name for the new district. Graduation rates today are 23 percent higher than they were before Hurricane Katrina. And from 2007 to 2013, students’ grade-level competence in math and reading has increased 34 percent, the Post reports.
“We’ve reinvented how schools run,” charter school advocate Neerav Kingsland told the Post. “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.”
Despite the undeniable success, teacher unions and other public school apologists still have a laundry list of complaints against charters. They claim the alternative schools are “undemocratic” (because their leaders are appointed instead of elected), “unaccountable” to taxpayers, and cause hardship for parents who have to figure out how to shuttle their kids back and forth to school.
The real reason the unionists hate charters is because educators in many of the alternative schools don’t belong to teacher unions. Difficult as it is to believe, hardcore Big Labor supporters are actually okay with keeping kids trapped in failing schools as long as it keeps the dues dollars rolling into union coffers.
The great thing about charter schools is that officials can shut them down if they’re not meeting academic expectations. That’s a quality control measure no government-run school district has ever faced.
Kingsland – the charter school advocate mentioned above – tells the Post that he is working to export the New Orleans model to other cities. Forty-two states already allow charters, which means Kingsland will have plenty of cities to try and replicate New Orleans’ success.