New Orleans’ charter schools

The NZ education unions have been trumpeting the New Orleans as disasters and a reason not to have them in NZ. Well a couple of people in the US disagree with them – Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

The Guardian reports:

Romney and Obama hail New Orleans’ charter schools as a model for America

New Orleans is a city that has been failed by government in the past, most tragically when Katrina struck. But one consequence of that disaster has been a root-and-branch transformation of its education system.

The reforms had begun before Katrina, but the pace was accelerated after the disaster. It is now the only US city where a majority of public school pupils – around eight in ten – attend charter schools, which are non-unionised and enjoy a rare degree of operational independence from government.

I think we see why Labour is so against.

This academic year brings further change; under reforms brought in by Republican governor Bobby Jindal, poorer students attending poorly performing state schools can apply for vouchers to cover their fees at a private or religious school. Nearly 5,000 students in Louisiana have taken up the voucher programme, making it one of the most popular such initiatives nationally.

Choice – excellent.

The goal in New Orleans is to reverse years of educational decline. Before Katrina, state schools here had become starkly segregated on race and class lines as white and middle class families removed their children.

By 2004 one in three New Orleans students was at a private or religious school, compared with a national average of 11%. In high school exit exams that year, 96% of the city’s public school students were below basic proficiency in English.

In the years since Katrina, student performance in tests has improved, and fewer students now go to failing schools. Students have achieved a higher average score in the ACT test, which measures readiness for college.

What a disaster.

John White, Louisiana’s state superintendent of education, argues that decentralisation has freed schools to act in children’s best interests. Charter schools, state-funded but independently run by non-profit groups, are now the norm in New Orleans. In the past school year, 78% of public school students were enrolled in charters. The proportion will rise this year. Such schools enjoy great flexibility in managing their time and allocating resources.

White said: “A lot of this is about ensuring that parents don’t leave. It’s really not the state that is the best vehicle for keeping parents in our schools, it’s the schools, and how do you do that? You create a policy environment where choice is the norm, where schools have the freedom to improve and retain parents. We have a choice and competition model, where schools are competing for the interest of parents.”

Innovation works – even in schools.

In an attempt to ensure that schools don’t game the system, a unified system of enrolment has been introduced for the whole city, with places at oversubscribed schools decided by lottery rather than how close the family lives. Schools must abide by the same rules on exclusions. A network of school buses provides transport, enabling families to choose a school distant from their home.

No cherry picking.

In Louisiana, the state sets clear limits on the marketplace. In the end, accountability to its testing regime trumps choice: the government will close a chronically underperforming public school even if parents continue to choose it.

How terrible – closing bad schools.

Granting schools greater autonomy is regarded as vital to the health of the system. Freeing schools from central control – chiefly by setting up charters – has been a hallmark of education reform in the US, embraced by the leaders of both parties.

If only, parties were more enlightened in NZ. You’d think Labour would at least want to give charters a fair go, and see if they can work in NZ. But instead they are 100% negative on them.

Jay Altman, chief executive of FirstLine Schools, dismisses the idea that the competition for students discourages schools from sharing knowledge.

“Even though hospitals in this country are competing with each other and patients have relative choice, medicine has some of the best knowledge sharing in the world,” he pointed out. “Those of us who are trying to close the [education] achievement gap nationally, we share practices all the time.”

Competition doesn’t preclude co-operation and sharing.

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