Educational Quasi-Reform

Friday, August 27, 2010

In Newsweek, there is story about how New Orleans has built a drastically better school system -- that isn't necessarily saying much -- in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina:

In New Orleans today, students and educators have unprecedented leeway to mold educational experiences. Students can apply to and, if accepted, choose to attend any of the [district's] 46 charter schools or 23 "traditional" schools. The vast majority of schools have open-enrollment policies that allow any student to attend, regardless of past academic success. (Schools with more applicants than spots hold lotteries.) The prevalence of charters means that in most of the city's schools, educators can choose how their schools are run. Even in traditional schools, principals have unusual autonomy over the hiring -- and firing -- of teachers, since the city's teachers' union lost its collective-bargaining rights.

So far, the experiment appears to be working. Before Katrina, two thirds of students were attending schools deemed failing by state standards, notes Leslie Jacobs, a New Orleans education-reform advocate; in the 2010–11 academic year, she says, it will be less than one third. "The fact that we haven't gotten everything right yet shouldn't take away from the fact that we're getting a whole lot more right," she says. New Orleans schools are still performing below the state average on achieve...
What lesson public officials and voters will take from the success that this round of free-market-like reform has brought is unlikely to be that full privatization should be the ultimate goal, although such a move would easily address issues that are becoming apparent now.
"What's the tax rate for schools going to be? How do we know we have enough schools for the kids we have? If we don't have enough school buildings, who's going to manage bonds and manage construction of new buildings? How are we going to make sure that kids with special needs are provided for?"
This "experiment" may well provide useful data -- both on how even limited moves towards economic freedom are improvements over central planning and on how limits to reform can ultimately kill such gains -- for winning what I think of as the "battle of imagination" in the effort to move towards a capitalist society.

-- CAV

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