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Bruno: Charter School Critics Get Part of Their Wish in New Orleans

8441961571_4211aa25a9The big news out of the New Orleans Recovery School District last week was that they're shutting down their last traditional district schools and becoming a district consisting entirely of charter schools.

A great story by Lyndsey Layton documents some of the biggest issues to worry about here, including inequitable access to individual schools and the large number of African-American employees terminated while charter schools expanded.

But it should not be forgotten that even fairly recently critics of charter schools were calling on charter operators to take over an entire district to demonstrate that their apparent success was not merely the result of "creaming" the easiest-to-educate students.

At least as recently as 2012, Diane Ravitch issued "a challenge to KIPP" to "find an impoverished district that is so desperate that it is willing to put all its students" in the charter operator's care.

Granted, that challenge was issued to KIPP specifically, to put their most strident claims to the test. The logic of the challenge, however, was that KIPP schools could not legitimately claim to be providing a superior education as long as they might be "cherry picking" the most advantaged students from - and "dumping" the most disadvantaged back to - traditional district schools.

And even if KIPP is not the operator of the entire Recovery School District, that logic would seem to generalize to the charter sector as a whole. So New Orleans may not offer a test of KIPP specifically, but it nevertheless does offer a test of charter schools in general. A test that, until recently, charter critics had claimed to want.

It's not yet clear - at least to me - whether Ravitch and her fellow charter critics see it this way, whether they think the experiment will somehow still be rigged in charter schools' favor, or whether they're nervous about having their own boldest predictions put to the test in New Orleans.

 No experiment in education ever settles anything. Hopefully, though, we can all agree at least that New Orleans is in a position to teach us something about what happens when charter schools "scale up", even if the results are - inevitably - difficult to interpret. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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I'm not clear. In California, I'm pretty sure that no students can be assigned to charter schools by default -- all charter school students had to specifically apply. The only reason I added "I'm pretty sure" is that I'm really not sure how that worked with the Locke High School experiment.

So in an all-charter district, will there be some charters that get the default students, who didn't apply to any schools? Otherwise, there simply will be students with no school. How will New Orleans handle that? I'm pretty sure it hasn't been the only all-charter district anyway. In the days when for-profit Edison Schools was the miracle du jour, it took over the entire school district of Inkster, MI. As far as I know it simply failed and quietly slunk away, and all the former cheerleaders pretended they'd never heard of it, as they did with the entire Edisonpalooza of 2001 or so.

Because KIPP imposes a number of admissions hurdles (as I know from having entered my own daughter in the enrollment process for KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy, which contacted us to schedule her required test as part of the process), that's what makes the notion of its taking over a whole school district so intriguing. (When I blogged about that, many KIPP parents engaged me in the comments section, making it clear that there are further counseling sessions in the process, ensuring that the family is on board. Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" also gives a glimpse of that in his chapter about KIPP.)

So, would KIPP eliminate the hurdles, designate a school for the students who couldn't/wouldn't conquer the hurdles or what? It makes complete sense to raise that question.

I'm not entirely clear on the logistics of the New Orleans system, but the article linked above describes it this way:

"All 33,000 students in the district must apply for a seat at one of the 58 public charter schools, relying on a computerized lottery to determine placement."

That sounds similar to Oakland's system for district school choice. I'd guess that, like Oakland, they let families rank more than one school preference.

In any case, it will be interesting to see the dynamics if some charters want to throw up more barriers to entry than others.

Caroline, do you think there is an education blogger or commenter who hasn't heard your one-trick story by now?

(Edison schools, check; you signed up your daughter at a KIPP school as a hoax several years ago, check).

Aww, I'm so flattered that someone thinks I'm so influential and memorable that everyone hangs on my every word. Thanks, WT!

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