October 9, 2011

KATRINA WAS THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE CITY:

The Big Easy's School Revolution: John White, superintendent of New Orleans' public schools: 'In other cities, charter schools exist in spite of the system. Here they are the system.' (MATTHEW KAMINSKI, 10/07/11, WSJ)

Mr. White looks in on classrooms. In one, groups of seniors chat loudly and puzzle over a basic algebra problem. In another the teacher struggles to start a conversation about a USA Today article that few students had read. A girl in the corner sits with a jacket over her head, headphones in both ears.

"Just to put that in context, that's a criminal act against these kids," says Mr. White, after walking out. "It's unacceptable to not have a well-planned, rigorous lesson. It's fundamentally unacceptable." He pauses and refers to the algebra class. "I just can't get over that. You have these kids doing sixth-, seventh-grade math in a normal and typical school system [and here] in a 12th-grade year. And not doing it well. Well, we're going to change that."

More than any other superintendent in America, Mr. White can make good on this promise. He heads the Recovery School District, which includes most schools in New Orleans and surrounding areas, and has broad powers over them. Hurricane Katrina wiped out resistance from politicians and unions and improbably made the Big Easy a national laboratory of educational reform.

Four out of five kids in New Orleans attend independent public charters. The schools under Mr. White's supervision are open to all students no matter where they live. "In other cities, charter schools exist in spite of the system," Mr. White says. "Here charter schools are the system."

The results are encouraging. Five years ago, 23% of children scored at or above "basic" on state tests; now 48% do. Before Katrina, 62% attended failing schools; less than a fifth do today. The gap between city kids and the rest of the state is narrowing.

Of course, if they were better educated they'd move out of a bowl below sea level in a hurricane zone.

Posted by at October 9, 2011 8:57 AM
  

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