New Orleans still working to find its footing in education rebuilding

When it comes to the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, we're more likely to see stories about housing, business and employment than education -- which is why we thought this story on the state of elementary and secondary education in New Orleans was so interesting.

Here's the situation. As families returned to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, their children needed schools to return to, as well. The state of Louisiana had dissolved the previous New Orleans Public School system (NOPS) and fired all its teachers and staff. The way forward, they decided, was charter schools. But it turns out there weren't enough charter schools to service all the students returning to NOLA. To quickly solve the problem and get students in desks, the state developed Plan B -- they created a Recovery School District (RSD) to operate alongside the charter schools, re-opening some of the more than 100 public schools that were considered "failing" pre-Katrina.

Now, nearly four years later, the lines between charter and RSD have blurred; some schools are public charters, some are charter RSDs and some are still just RSD schools. Proponents of charter schools say this autonomy of governance from one school to the next is a positive thing for the students, because it allows principals and teachers to make decisions about curriculum and other previously district-wide issues on a case-by-case basis within their own campuses. They say it's working, and they've got a number to prove it.

The unfortunate thing is that this number -- 66.4, their district performance score -- is misleading. Like any average, it doesn't accurately represent the lowest performing schools. In a sad and ironic twist, it seems that just as some of the wealthiest areas of New Olreans were spared the most painful effects of the storm, while the ninth ward remains beaten and battered, wealthier schools and the students who attend them are prospering in the charter set-up while poorer schools and their students are not. Not only do the lower-performing schools have academic issues to think about, a significant portion of the student population deals with the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

As was the case with the physical destruction of Hurricane Katrina, the private sector has stepped up to the plate to help ease the burden on NOLA's schools. Though it is a little weird to think that a bunch of high schools and middle schools go by the name "Capitol One University of New Orleans Charter Network," the investment itself is an interesting concept, designed to transition a child seamlessly from kindergarten to university. Groups like the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation and Save Our Schools New Orleans offer the kinds of services other cities might get from a school board or governing body, like needs assessments, strategic plans, cost analyses and teacher improvement workshops.

Head here to read the full story. For more information on the issue, here's a site listing tons of resources on education in NOLA pre-Katrina and post, as well as education statewide in Lousiana.