Originally published on Fri November 22, 2013 11:59 am
Proponents of charter schools in New Orleans have a refrain: charters mean more choice, for kids and families. But most of the charter schools in New Orleans are based on a similar educational model — one marked by rigidity and a relentless focus on getting into college.
Third-grader Kassim West last July at Walter G. Smith Elementary School, one of more than 20 Philadelphia public schools that closed at the end of the school year.
Credit Claudio Sanchez / NPR
The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers protests outside Feltonville Intermediate School in Philadelphia last month. The protesters demanded the reinstatement of counselors and teachers aides, and blamed Gov. Tom Corbett for budget cuts.
This is the first in a three-part report on Philadelphia schools in crisis.
Sharron Snyder and Othella Stanback, both seniors at Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin High, will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. This, their final year, was supposed to be memorable. Instead, these teenagers say they feel cheated.
"We're fed up with the budget cuts and everything. Like, this year, my school is like really overcrowded. We don't even have lockers because it's, like, too many students," Sharron says.
Rapper Pitbull (Armando Christian Pérez) is the latest in a long list of celebrities lending their star power to the flourishing charter school movement. Alicia Keyes, Denzel Washington, Shakira, Oprah — all support or sponsor charter schools.
Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education, spent years advocating for an overhaul of the American education system. She supported the No Child Left Behind Act, the charter school movement and standardized testing.
But Ravitch recently — and very publicly — changed her mind. She looked at the data and decided that the kinds of changes she'd supported weren't working. Now she's a prominent critic of things like charter schools and school choice — and she's particularly opposed to privatizing schools.
The non-profit's leader, Chris Meyer, was previously an administrator in the state-run Recovery School District. When New Schools launched last April, the RSD appeared ready to hand over the keys to the 7 schools it runs directly in Baton Rouge as soon as Meyer and his team had the charter school operators and resources in place.
Nearly a year and a half later, New Schools has picked half a dozen of what it considers to be the best charter operators in the country -- including Yes Prep and KIPP, which, as The Lens has reported, arefamiliar names in New Orleans. Backers have committed roughly $15 million in seed money. This fall the Recovery School District is starting the process of matching up the operators with buildings where they can start charter schools in Baton Rouge.
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.
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.