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New Orleans closes last traditional school, shifts to all-charter

After Hurricane Katrina's devastation in 2005, Louisiana embraced a radical vision for New Orleans education, leaning ever more heavily toward charter schools. That shift culminates this month as the last of NOLA's traditional schools close.

New Orleans is now an all-charter school city.

It's the story of a school district that destroyed itself — on purpose.

The Recovery School District, under state control, had actually begun rebuilding the city's schools in 2003, two years before Katrina, Education Week notes.

The RSD's name refers to the disaster that was New Orleans education, and predates the Katrina disaster. But after Katrina the Legislature gave the RSD expansive new authority of the city's schools.

"It started with just five schools, but the August 2005 storm that ravaged the city triggered the massive takeover," Education Week reports. "Only 17 higher-performing schools escaped the takeover and remained under the authority of the elected Orleans Parish school board. Several of those schools also eventually converted to charters, leaving just five traditional schools still under the direct operations of the board."

Now the Recovery School District's job is done. And the Washington Post writes that of the RSD's 600 employees, 510 are now out of a job.

"An all-charter district signals the dismantling of the central school bureaucracy and a shift of power to dozens of independent school operators," the Post reports, "who will assume all the corresponding functions: the authority to hire and fire teachers and administrators, maintain buildings, run buses and provide services to special-needs students.

Charter schools remain controversial, in New Orleans as elsewhere. But on balance the new schools seem to be outperforming the old, admittedly failed system.

On a national level, charters have had fairly mixed performance, Edward Cremata of the Center for Research of Education Outcomes at Stanford University told NPR. But in New Orleans, the results appear to be stronger.

"We find in New Orleans that about half the schools, charters, provide significantly greater performance than those students would have otherwise received in a traditional public school and only a handful performed worse," Cremata said. "So from a national perspective, New Orleans charter sector is definitely one of the standouts with respect to their quality."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com