This article was originally published at Wiretap magazine.
David Parker Jr.
May 20, 2009
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches, the New Orleans public school system was devastated. A major U.S. city vanished beneath oil-slick waters, and nearly the entire population was carted away in buses, trucks, helicopters, cars, trains and whatever else could roll toward Houston, Atlanta or Little Rock. By the time the city reemerged, the State of Louisiana and its governing educational committees had vanquished the New Orleans Public School (NOPS) education system, fired all teachers and staff, and reorganized around the idea of charter schools.
But when the time came to open the doors, it quickly became apparent that there were not enough charter schools to accommodate all the students who were returning to the city. The state developed Plan B–creating a Recovery School District (RSD) to run alongside the charter schools. Taking control of 107 public schools that had already been deemed “failing” before Katrina, the state hustled to get campuses open as fast as students arrived.
Needless to say, it was a clumsy effort at first, plagued by mismanagements and difficulties. New Orleans City Councilmember Cynthia Morrell, who is chair of the Education Committee, recalls, “The state didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know the neighborhoods. They brought people from up in North Louisiana to try and rebuild the inner city of New Orleans.”
Flash forward. Nearly four years after the storm, the landscape continues to change, a constant push and pull of public versus charter, and state-run versus locally run school organizations. Like gremlins, the types of schools multiply at alarming rates. There are public charter schools. There are traditional public schools. There are RSD schools. There are RSD charter schools. The categories often overlap. Loose confederations of charter schools form, such as the Algiers Charter Schools Association.
Some charter schools fall under the umbrella of university and corporate sponsorship, and begin to sound like professional football stadiums. The Capital One-University of New Orleans Charter Network, for example, includes six schools and is designed to channel children smoothly from kindergarten all the way to university. Many charter schools, which have historically trended toward selective admission, operate on open admission policies. Meanwhile, public schools, which have typically been open admission schools, have trended toward selective criteria, becoming magnet schools or specializing in arts or math and science.