The recovery and improvement of public education in New Orleans is now a well-known story.
In late November of 2005, the state-created Recovery School District took over most of the city’s storm-ravaged schools and created a nearly all-charter system that has achieved eye-popping results and set off debates that still simmer 10 years later.
The transformation might never have happened if it weren’t for an earlier change that seems all but forgotten, at least among national observers. Two years before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, a bipartisan coalition championed an amendment to the state constitution, winning support from voters and laying the groundwork for the creation of a new kind of school district.
Does that crucial step — largely missing in discussions whether other places can follow New Orleans’ lead — hold lessons for other places?
In 2003, Louisiana voters approved Amendment 4, with 60 percent in favor and 40 percent against, giving the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) the ability to take over struggling public schools, mostly in the Orleans Parish School District.
Education reform critics often argue the takeover of Orleans Parish schools after the storm was undemocratic and driven by profit motive. While there are legitimate debates to be had about community decision-making, that narrative tends to ignore the level of support the takeover law received from voters and the state Legislature. It also trivializes the profound dysfunction of Orleans Parish public schools, which helped galvanize public support for the change.
When supporters began pushing to amend the constitution, the Orleans Parish School District was a known as a basket case. In 2003, The Advocate‘s editorial board described the district as “a managerial and educational nightmare.” Continue Reading →