Journalist Sarah Carr spent a year chronicling the lives of a skeptical teenager, a fresh-faced teacher, and a veteran principal in three separate charter schools in New Orleans for her new book, “Hope Against Hope.”
Some of the same players who orchestrated the makeover of public education in the Crescent City after Hurricane Katrina are trying to do the same thing in Baton Rouge, without the prompting of a natural disaster.
Supporters of the movement hold up charter schools as the salvation of American education. Critics say the overhaul will lead to its ruination. What Carr found was a lot of gray.
The history of education in the South is woven to the history of race. When whites saw public-school integration coming, many started private schools, sometimes called "segregation academies" – and they still play a role.
It’s been nearly 60 years since the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, and the subsequent flurry of lawsuits forcing the desegregation of schools. Two recent studies—one from Stanford University, the other from UCLA—say that schools, particularly in the South, are becoming re-segregated after the lawsuits are settled. Louisiana’s East Baton Rouge Parish appears to be part of that pattern.
For-profit public school management is on the decline across the country. In 2007 about half of charter schools that entered into management contracts did so with a for-profit company. Three years later, that number fell by 25 percent. In New Orleans, all of the for-profits that came in to manage charters after Hurricane Katrina are now gone. Opposition to for-profit public schools in Mississippi is growing fierce.
A constitutional amendment allowing for an independent school district in Southeast Baton Rouge fell fewer than 10 votes short of making it out of the legislature and onto the statewide ballot last year. The proponents, fed up with the shortcomings of the C-rated parish district, intend to try again. Opponents of the split are also readying for round two.
Compass -- the evaluation system being rolled out in public schools across the state -- has raised the stakes. Teachers who don’t score highly effective under the new measures face the loss of salary and tenure. Ineffective teachers could lose their jobs.
The state Department of Education says so far attrition has remained steady, but the East Baton Rouge Parish School District is still wary of turnover. Beanka Williams, the coordinator of support programs for EBR, says the district is having job fairs monthly to make sure schools are fully staffed.
Williams has also been fielding questions from anxious teachers since last summer when they were first asked to set goals for what their students would learn this year.
The rules of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the organization that issues LSU's accreditation, mandate that "the governing board is free from undue influence from political... bodies."
A report in the Chronicle of Higher Education detailed a letter received by LSU’s Board of Supervisors. A national organization that monitors academic freedom at colleges and universities shook their finger at what they called the mistreatment of faculty at LSU.