Fixing Failing Schools

Lisa Snell at Reason Magazine pens an article on methods to fix ineffective schools that have been successfully employed in New Orleans, and how they might be employed in other cities. In specific, Snell compares the innovations and free-market approaches being taken in New Orleans to he debt-laden school system in Cleveland, Ohio.

Welcome to urban America’s public school system, which drives away parents who want their children to be prepared for the future. Recently, these failures have been increasingly highlighted by the flight from traditional K-12 schools to charter school programs. Charters are publicly funded schools that get less in tax dollars than conventional schools but have far more autonomy in creating and implementing curricula. A July 2009 article in The Wall Street Journal, “Detroit Schools on the Brink,” details how Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have lost tens of thousands of students to charter schools and suburban districts in recent years. This is due to DPS’s graduation rate of less than 58 percent and overall track record of dismal student performance.

Similar problems plague most urban school districts in the United States, including Cleveland’s, despite massively increased investments in school funding, smaller class size, teacher pay, and more. Cleveland’s public schools currently face a $53 million budget deficit, an enrollment loss of approximately 40,000 over the last decade, and a scandalously low 54 percent graduation rate. The state of Ohio officially lists close to three-quarters of the district’s schools as being on academic watch or in an academic emergency, the state’s worst categories.

Cleveland’s school system should look to New Orleans for guidance on how to turn things around. New Orleans has been on its heels economically for a long time, well before 2005’s Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure, including school buildings. More than 100 schools were closed statewide in Louisiana as a result of the storm, displacing approximately 118,000 school-age children. In the wake of Katrina, state officials encouraged school choice by facilitating charters and giving administrators broad leeway to get schools operational, often in non-traditional settings.

Read the whole thing here.

Snell’s article is based in part on the follow video from ReasonTV: Fix the Schools: Reason Saves Cleveland with Drew Carey, Episode 2.

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