This week in school choice: Democracy matters

Travis Pillow

Democracy matters

With the governor’s signature, it’s now official. New Orleans public schools overseen by the Recovery School District will soon return to the control of their local school board.

Here’s why that matters:

Proponents of the bill, including many charter-school advocates, are calling it a “reunification” of New Orleans schools, putting the locally elected Orleans Parish School Board back in charge of the city’s schools but leaving actual control of individual operations in the hands of school leaders. They say it is an important step in closing the wounds left by the state takeover without sacrificing the autonomies that they say have been essential for driving academic progress.

New Orleans has embraced the new definition of public education. In the coming years, we’ll learn how well its model works under local democratic governance.

Some fear the move could be a mistake, but here’s a key question for the future:

The bill outlines clear powers for the school board, superintendent, and existing schools, but less ink was spilled on ensuring there is a continually pipeline of new (and hopefully innovative) schools. I think this amongst the biggest risks in NOLA over next decade: will the incumbents of the system (government, charter schools, non-profits, etc). utilize their hard and soft power to block new entrants?


Louisiana’s private school voucher program still faces a political threat. Despite progress, this remains the case for school choice programs all over the country.

Information is power for parents. And often, they need more of it.

It’s true that parents often fight back when their children’s schools are going to be closed. And why not? In most cases, they’re losing their current option without being offered a replacement. They are told to go find a new school. Often, the alternatives are not much better than the old schools, and they may be a lot less convenient. It’s not a trade. It’s a one-sided loss—and a huge headache. …
Instead of asking parents if they want their children’s schools to remain open, we should ask them whether they would choose to stay if they had other options. Then we should give them other options.

Here’s something that happens fairly often for us at EdNavigator, where we provide high-touch educational support to families in New Orleans. We sit down with a parent for an initial get-to-know-you conversation. When we ask whether they are happy with their current schools, they say yes. …

But then we ask a follow-up question: Would you like to stick with this school, or do you want EdNavigator to help you explore your alternatives? Many times, even “satisfied” parents are very eager to know what’s out there. Ten minutes later, they have decided to participate in OneApp (the universal enrollment system in New Orleans) to seek a new school.

ZIP codes remain destiny in NYC:

“After more than a decade of universal school choice, a child’s community district is still highly associated with his or her likelihood of graduating high school in four years,” the study said.

The data-mapping project by researchers Kristen Lewis and Sarah Burd-Sharps provides the first look at New York City high school graduation rates based on where students live, rather than where they attend school. It poses layers of questions about how much a high school choice system can improve outcomes for low-income students by freeing them from their neighborhood high schools.

Ohio’s struggles with charter school reform aren’t over.

The bipartisan legislation to improve the sector was widely heralded, and some went so far  as to declare the problem “fixed.”  But implementing the law in a way that will improve the quality of Ohio’s charters will hinge on creating a tough new accountability system for the organizations that sponsor charter schools.  That task falls to a state Department of Education that is still recovering from a charter school-related scandal.

Also crucial is whether the powerful charter-school lobby succeeds in efforts to water down the reforms. Large for-profit charter operators have donated significant sums to Ohio politicians, but generally their schools have produced poor academic results for students.

Meet the Buckeye state’s new schools chief, who will be tasked with sorting this out.

Denver charter schools make progress amid political peace. Charter school parents make their presence felt in Newark.

Teachers unions (predictably) say charters drain money from traditional schools. Is that really what matters?

Florida’s teachers union tries to make a similar argument, in appellate court, against tax credit scholarships. Parents, clergy and activists show support for the program. And the state capital’s newspaper agrees with them.

Education savings accounts: The way of the future for parental choice? A new way to spur innovationNot so fast?Some key questions.

Nevada’s legal battle over its ESA program inches closer to a state Supreme Court ruling.

Miami-Dade’s superintendent gets recognized for promoting magnet schools.

It’s time to admit we don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to educational technology.”

School choice is good, but the goal needs to be academic excellence.

New evidence on school choice’s effects.

The new federal education law can promote school choice, encourage weighted funding, and expand course access.

Tweet of the Week

Quote of the Week

You can’t avoid democracy forever, nor should you.

– Neerav Kingsland, on New Orleans charter schools’ return to local control.

This Week in School Choice is redefinED’s weekly roundup of national news related to educational options. It appears Monday mornings on the blog, but you can sign up here to get it Sunday. Did we miss something? Please send tips, links, suggestions and feedback to tpillow[at]sufs[dot]org.

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