Our recent blog on the Charter School movement highlighted the dramatic adoption of Charter Schools in two cities in crisis: New Orleans after Katrina and Detroit after the collapse of the auto industry. The question that remains after we reported the brief history of Charter Schools is:
Are Charter Schools working in these disadvantaged cities?
After Hurricane Katrina shut down New Orleans, the Louisiana Recovery School District seized most of the city’s public schools and gradually began assigning them to charter organizations.
- In 2005 the New Orleans school district ranked 67th out of 68 school districts in Louisiana in academic achievement. In 2016 New Orleans was 41st out of 69 school districts in Louisiana.
- Before Katrina, some 62% of students attended schools rated “failing” by the state. Now only 5% of students attend “failing” schools.
- Before Katrina, only 35% of New Orleans’ students scored at grade level or above on state standardized tests. Last year 62% did.
- Finally, since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans schools have become more diverse. Enrollment of Hispanic students, for example, has gone from under 1% in 2004 to over 5% in 2015.
Although all New Orleans’ education problems are far from solved, progress is being made utilizing the Charter School model.
Detroit is another city that has seen most of its students enrolled in charters or using vouchers to attend private schools.
A study of Charter School performance in Michigan conducted by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CORE) stated:
“Based on our findings, the typical student in Michigan Charter Schools gains more learning in a year than his TPS (Traditional Public School) counterparts. These positive patterns are even more pronounced in Detroit, where historically student academic performance has been poor. And we see significantly better Charter School results for minority students who are in poverty in Detroit.”
In Detroit, however, we can also see how risky it can be to rely on market forces to ensure educational effectiveness and equity. Because Charter Schools are permitted to choose their own neighborhoods rather than be located where they are most needed, Detroit is suffering from what might be described as “school deserts”.
The N.Y. Times reported:
“In a city of 140 square miles, the highest-performing schools usually remain out of reach to the poorest students, because most schools do not offer transportation, and the city bus service is unreliable.”
Detroit’s results are a little less consistent than New Orleans’. Where Charter Schools are being established, students are making progress. However, the location of Charter Schools has not served the neediest students. Detroit’s inner city is spotted with “school deserts” where local students can’t find a higher achieving school to attend.
The consensus opinion seems to be that although Charter Schools might not be the single easy answer to the severe education problems plaguing the inner cities, they are a step in the right direction.