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One year ago, I volunteered to board a primary school in New Orleans where I live. Two months ago, I tried to comfort her in a cafeteria full of troubled parents, explaining why the school announced the inauguration of this autumn three days before the end of the school year. I apologized. I described the confusion that exists in trying to solve a budget deficit of six hundred thousand dollars. I apologized again. But what I did not explain was that the fate of the Cypress Academy, a unique closure in a single, charter-dominated school district, was not just a school. It was the failure of startups and what happens when a school system is redesigned around the drivers of the free market: autonomy, competition and customer choice. Honestly, I understood that later. Which is good because the parents did not want to hear the market theory. They just wanted their kids to get a good public education.
In New Orleans, just in the neighborhoods of big cities, almost all schools are now charter schools. This is the result of the most ambitious school reform in the country’s history. In 2004, the year before Katrina, only forty-four percent of New Orleans high school students had graduated. After Katrina, the state of Louisiana took over almost all schools in the city and began to assign them to independent groups – single-church charters such as Cypress or primarily local charter organizations or C.M.O.s. This month, after thirteen years, the Orleans Town Council took over the supervision of all public schools in the city, the reunification of the district and an intense reflection – locally and nationally – on the impact of handing the city over to a charter system.
This system, in which eighty-three percent of students are economically disadvantaged, still has a long way to go. Forty percent of the city’s schools are rated “D” or “F” by state standards, and New Orleans is not new to the national separation of school vacations: CMOs are primarily poor black students, while independent “community” deeds serve racially mixed populations. But since Katrina, enrollment, college attendance, and college endurance have risen from ten to sixty-seven percent. This is confirmed by a recent study by Matthew Larsen, a professor at Lafayette College, and Doug Harris, an educational researcher and economist based in Tulane, who has in the past distanced himself from the results and the idea of ”test to test”. same learning. “New Orleans has done everything without two of the most disgusting charm critics: there are no for-profit charter schools in the city, and the charter system deprives the” normal “school of any monetary system In New Orleans, there is no other system.
I was part of a charter school and I was able to see this system first-hand. I joined the Cypress board because Bob Berk, the founder of the school and a childhood friend, convinced me that primary school volunteer service is the easiest way to help children in difficult situations. (Save the Children recently declared Louisiana the worst state for children for the second consecutive year.) And I admired the school’s philosophy, its diversity, its “all-child” education, and its commitment to teaching all kinds of learners, gifted with special needs, in a classroom.
In New Orleans, parents classify schools for a common application. Cypress has therefore treated every challenge (teacher turnover, disappointing education) as an existential threat that requires a creative response. At the end of the third year, parents’ demand for the next few years was strong. But this success came with a wood rot: the school could not afford to offer education that aroused the parents’ interest. For four months, the Board has pursued initiatives that are familiar to every lavish business: possible mergers, cost reductions, income reforms (in this case, tuition), and raising capital. Looking back, there was too much hope and too little difficult decisions. No solution has come.
Startups fail all the time. That’s why markets work. (Doug Harris attributes much of the success of the New Orleans Charter system to the bad schools.) But Cypress’s failure is unique in the history of school reform in New Orleans; after Michael Stone, the former Co-C.E.O. It was the first time New Orleans New Schools had completed a “good” school. The fate of Cypress is bound up with one big mistake: a school system that is equipped with market economy engines but does not have all the features. Cypress had to succeed as a company through competition and choice. But like other startups, the market system was only built in three key areas.
First, there is the incomplete reward system. An open secret in the charter community is that many charters work because they devour the time, energy and body of their employees. This also applies to private startups. but a young founder knows that her investment of thirty-four could lead to a life in microdosing and suborbital spaceflight. A charter school will never provide such comfort. The economic model is based on an endless life and frequent exhaustion.
The second problem, the most catastrophic for Cypress, is the shock of a competitive system with a fixed-price economy. Cypress wanted to educate all children and 26% of the students had special needs, twice as many as in the city. Financing New Orleans for these students, although much improved, is still ongoing. Any student who had difficulty took money off other students from the budget. In this context, other schools have “recommended” families with special cypress needs. Cypress welcomed these children; It was his mission. Cypress is a free entry-level school, unlike a chain of starters who can customize their menus or prices to attract specific customers and improve margins. He could not choose his clients morally or legally, nor the income he could draw from anyone.