by Max Brantley
School "reform" wonks, this article is for you. It's an assessment of the New Orleans school makeover "miracle," in which a handful of schools with unimaginable financial and other support from the Billionaire Boys Club ($50 weekly good behavior rewards for students!) and sometimes cherry-picked students overshadow the familiar story of the difficulty of replicating a strategy for success among impoverished kids and uncommitted parents. It's also about a reform theory that means the end of democratic control of schools in favor of a corporatized model with winners and lots of losers.
Why would Gates and Broad and Duncan promote a deeply flawed and unequal subsidized system as a national model? Because privatizing education is primarily about shifting education from the public to the private sector, and especially removing control of public education from urban Black governance. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that, John White, the new Superintendent of the state-takeover schools, “declared the old model of elected school board in urban districts to be a failed idea.” Urban, is this case, means minority-controlled.
One of the lessons of New Orleans is that once the schools are privatized, they are never returned to local public control. The worse, chronically failing charters have simply been given to another charter operator. Although the state legislature in 2005 promised to return the seized schools once they were brought up to standard, that promise was broken in 2008 when the law was quietly changed to allow the state superintendent to put conditions on the return of the schools. Those conditions in effect guaranteed that schools would not be returned. New Orleans is a case study in the misuse of the original concept of charter schools which were intended to provide autonomy to create replicable innovations at the same cost to tax payers; the charter movement was hijacked by the free-marketers who simply wanted control of education and the profits that come with that. Instead of serving the students with the greatest needs, showcase charters boost test scores by discriminating against special needs students and recruiting high-skills students and using special disciplinary policies to force out low-performing students.
State Rep. John Walker talked about this at the school choice program at Philander Smith the other night — the children left behind.