Monday, August 24, 2009

USA Today wrong on New Orleans schools

USA Today is on the charter school bandwagon in New Orleans, claiming in this editorial that the wholesale takeover on the city's public schools is a successful experiment. Verging on the distasteful, USA Today says that Hurricane Katrina "washed away one of the nation's worst school systems and left New Orleans determined to rebuild in a wholly new way."

Factual errors abound in the piece. Here's one: "Since the fall of 2005, the schools have been slowly climbing out of the cellar."

In truth, the climb had begun several years before Katrina. Test scores in all but a handful of the city's schools were on the rise before the storm - a fact conveniently ignored by the education "reformers" who've treated the city like vultures tearing the carcass of a not-quite-dead animal.

Here's another: "Last year, the school district was able to spend $15,500 per pupil..."

Wrong. It's the Recovery School District - those schools seized by the state - that have the largesse. District schools, those still under the authority of the Orleans Parish School Board, must make do with thousands less. Yet they seem to be doing about as well as the RSD schools in providing services to the children of the city.

To USA Today's credit, the newspaper allowed United Teachers of New Orleans President Larry Carter to respond.

Carter makes four important points in his op-ed:
  • The funds spent on charter schools lack accountability.
  • Charter schools in the city often rely on traditional public schools to provide special education services.
  • Charter schools don’t provide the same insurance and retirement benefits to educators as regular public schools.
  • Charter schools can create a gap between Haves and Have-nots in the city, leading to "the creation of a separate but unequal, semi-private school system."
The union is not knee-jerk opposed to charter schools, Carter writes:

The United Teachers of New Orleans supports charter schools that are accountable
to the public, ensure educational equity, are open to all students,and give
their employees a real voice in decisions.

The question is, how many charter schools can meet those standards?

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