Software Nerd

Thursday, August 24, 2006

New Orleans revamps its Schools

After Hurricane Katrina, many of New Orleans's public schools have changed to being charter schools. The Wall Street Journal (Aug 24th, 2006) reports that before the hurricane, the city had 5 charter schools out of a total 128; in the coming 2006-07 school year the city will have 31 charter schools out of a reduced total of 53. I would guess that no other city has close to 50% of its students attend charter schools. (For the country as a whole, it's about 2% of students.)

This is good news. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next few years. Most of the teachers and administrators in the charter schools are the same ones who were previously employed in regular public schools; however, a system, and the individual responsibility it either encourages or stifles, can make a big difference. One principal is quoted as saying: "As a principal in the public schools before, I never thought about the budget... Now, I look at it differently. Here is a USA Today story on the same topic.)

The teachers' union, and others with their philosophy, criticize charter school, claiming that they do no better (and even do worse) than regular public schools "after controlling for several school characteristics". I read that qualification as saying the following: "All the good students went to charter schools and did better; however, that's not because of the school, that's because of other characteristics of the students". Well, so be it... if all the charter schools do is offer a safe haven to student who want to study, more power to them.

Charter schools are far from an ideal solution to the current problems with U.S. K-12 education, and some charter schools are really bad -- like the Charter school in California that was teaching students Mexican nationalistic ideas. The best alternative -- privatized education -- has zero political support. Better than Charter schools would be a system of education tax-credits; however, since that is something the poor (who pay hardly any tax) won't get, it too has no political support. For that matter, charter schools themselves do not have much support, and have been growing ever so slowly. Still, overall, they are better than the current system.


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