Louisiana is famous for many reasons but since Hurricane Katrina, it has become the poster child of national K-12 education reform, being touted as a “radical experiment in reform” in the New York Times (August 14, 2008). Recently Governor Jindal's reform agenda dominated the 2012 legislative session and the national media with legislative priorities revising teacher evaluation and implementing a voucher system. The reforms have drastically altered the process for evaluating teachers while virtually eliminating tenure. In addition, the voucher program has diverted nearly $2 billion in public education funds to private institutions resulting in controversy concerning the curricula of the some of the approved voucher schools. Proponents claim the program is about empowering principals and parents by giving them more choices and creating competition. Critics charge that it is no less than an attack on the very concept of public education.
Meanwhile, New Orleans, with its diverse system of various types of charter schools with their own boards, remains the state's (and some would say the nation's) most preeminent "laboratory" for educational experimentation. During a recent television appearance, Senator Mary Landrieu praised "a brand new entrepreneurial, public school system that's attracting middle class white and black families, Hispanics, back to the system and seeing extraordinary gains in academics, freeing up our principals to be great and expecting our teachers to be great."
Critics have charged that the charter system decentralization makes its governance less accountable and transparent and that its reliance on the Teach For America program devalues experienced educators. Many also claim that the selective admissions policies in many of the most sought after charter schools encourages racial and class segregation. Critics also charge these same charter schools of failing to provide services for special needs students.
Education in New Orleans has undoubtedly become synonymous with innovation. The question remains whether it will also be associated with progress.
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