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Good "School Choice" News from New Orleans

Lisa Snell
July 31, 2007, 9:01am

Many folks have been very skeptical of the school choice based charter system in New Orleans. The charter schools seem to be working out for the kids that choose them. Via the Times Picayune In a ranking of the city's schools by percentage of students scoring at basic or above in English and math, the state's barometer for acceptable performance, 17 of the top 20 New Orleans schools are charters. Among schools controlled by the School Board or the state-run Recovery District, charters posted the highest scores in every grade level. On both the fourth- and eighth-grade LEAP tests, eight of the top-10 schools in both grades are charters, a mix of schools overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board, the Recovery District, the Algiers Charter School Association and the state board of education. In the high school graduation exam, six of the top-10 schools are charters. Many of the schools posting higher performance were lower-performing public schools before they were given the autonomy that comes with the charter school contract. In some cases, the highest-scoring schools have selective admissions and scored high before they became charter schools. But Wright and Martin Behrman Elementary, which is part of the Algiers Charter School Association, showed striking improvement under the new charter model after years of posting failing or below-average scores. "The improvement at Sophie B. Wright is inspirational," said Leslie Jacobs, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. "The people at Sophie B. Wright felt ownership. I think it empowered them." Clark, a counselor and the assistant principal met with all students taking the LEAP tests to let them know where they stood academically. The administration showed the students old test scores, along with results of pilot tests, and made tutoring mandatory, she said. Wright was a middle school before the storm, so its fourth-graders can't be compared with past classes. However, the school's eighth-graders scored far better this year than in 2005. Then, on the English portion of the LEAP test, 41 percent of students scored at the lowest level, unsatisfactory, and 43 percent scored approaching basic, the second-lowest category. This year, just 12 percent scored unsatisfactory; 46 percent scored approaching basic; and 37 percent scored basic. The success of Recovery District charters is particularly encouraging, Jacobs said, because none of those schools has selective admissions, unlike some of the magnet schools chartered by the School Board. They're succeeding in educating students who likely arrived at their doorstep needing intensive help. "I am excited that we have already turned around some failing schools," she said. I looked at New Orleans move to a choice-based school system here.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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