With more than 90 percent of New Orleans’ public schools becoming charters since Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, it’s easy to forget that the charter school movement in Louisiana is twice as old as that.
The first charter school law in Louisiana was adopted during the administration of Gov. Edwin Edwards. It was mostly an experimental thing, with eight public school systems in the state being allowed to authorize charters.
As the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools explains the history, the more significant legislative changes on the education front came later.
In 1997, under Gov. Mike Foster, the law was expanded to allow all public school systems in the state to permit charters. And in 2002, a constitutional amendment authorized the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to take over failing public schools along with the state funding that would have gone to those schools, money that eventually could be funneled to charter operators.
Charter supporters used last week, National Charter Schools Week, to trumpet their post-Katrina successes.
You may remember that Landrieu was vilified by conservatives because she opposed taxpayer-funded vouchers for private school tuition. You also may remember when the school “reform” movement was a stable stool resting on three major legs: charters, vouchers and education standards.
You didn’t have to be a political conservative to buy into those ideas. President Barack Obama, his Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his former top aide, Rahm Emanuel, all support charters.
Obama and Duncan support the now-controversial Common Core standards that used to be praised in conservative circles.
And while liberal politicians may oppose school vouchers, there’s a liberal electorate — the people who put them in office — that likes them. Poor parents are jumping at the chance to take public money to buy into private schools.
In some cases, the private schools are hardly much better than the public ones and many of them would have to shut down if they weren’t getting so much voucher money. But parents perceive the private schools as safer than their public alternatives.
That leads to this question: Are charter schools doing better than conventional public schools because, like private ones, they have some control over whom they allow to enroll?
I liken it to a sandlot baseball game where two captains get to pick their players. But instead of picking alternately, one kid gets to pick his entire team first, leaving the rejects for the other captain.
Is something like that going on in charter schools? Are charters cherry-picking their students, leaving the potentially troublesome ones to play on someone else’s team?
A recent study by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans points to the possibility that some charter-school administrators are gaming the system to increase their chances of getting the best students.
School-reform advocates have talked about “market-based” ideas; if schools compete, they say, the ones that do better will attract more students and thrive.
But doesn’t that also mean that some schools will die? But before the bad charters wither away, they still have students enrolled. How is school competitiveness helping those kids?
There’s no doubt that some New Orleans children are getting a better education in today’s charter schools than they were in conventional schools pre-Katrina. But we also have to make sure that there isn’t a large population of leftover children, considered not good enough to play on the top “teams,” who are still not being served well by the current arrangement.
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.