July 1, 2022

Michael Deshotels: Converting Public Schools into Charters

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Is the privatized business-based approach to education producing any better results? Louisiana educator Michael Deshotels looks at the current state of the grand experiment in New Orleans.

The majority of charter management organizations came into the Orleans system starting with the 2006-07 school year. State officials had fired almost 7,000 experienced teachers and staff as a way of cleaning house and allowing the new managers a fresh start, unhampered by previous teacher contracts. Most charter groups began by hiring new, mostly younger teachers with no education credentials. Most new teachers were provided by Teach for America. Also, many of the charter school managers had no education credentials. The New Orleans business community and the state authorities believed that a strictly business approach focused primarily on academic results was the medicine that the New Orleans public schools needed. Now, over the last 16 years almost all public schools in New Orleans have been converted into charter schools. It is now basically the only all-charter school system in the United States.

This recently released report by the Louisiana Pelican Policy Institute, a business funded “good government” group has produced a dashboard that compares the most recent data on all public-school systems in Louisiana. It provides a way for us to compare expenditures and results in public schools.  We can now get a good idea about whether the school reforms in New Orleans have lived up to their promises.

It is important to note that not all public schools in New Orleans at the time of takeover had been deemed to be failures. Even though the Orleans public school system, as a whole, fell into the bottom quartile of public school systems in the state based on academic achievement, there was a group of public schools in New Orleans that were performing well, even before 2006. Several highly selective schools had been producing high academic achievement and great college prep results. So approximately one-fourth of the Orleans schools were left intact because of acceptable results. Those schools, even though now converted into charters, continue to be selective in the students they serve and continue to produce exemplary results. But there is still a major problem with the state test scores of the other three-fourths – the reformed takeover schools.

The recent study shows that taken as a whole, the New Orleans all charter system is still ranking in the bottom quartile of all public-school systems in the state. This is in a state that performs near the bottom of all states on national testing and college preparedness. For example, the new dashboard reveals that for the four academic subjects of math, reading, science and social studies, only 18% of all New Orleans public school students are now rated proficient or better.

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