Sunday, March 9, 2014

School districts

A lot of new teachers and even families have questions about or are confused about the school districts in the city. It is a complicated mess of politics that has left the very small city of New Orleans with a splintered group of schools that it is not always easy to learn about. The city's schools are divided into schools run by the Recovery School District, Orleans Parish School board, charter and private schools. Unlike most cities and even our suburban counterparts, there is no unified district that handles all students within New Orleans/Orleans parish.

This can be troublesome for parents looking for schools and teachers looking for places to work. There is a very large difference in the two types of public schools. Charter schools are completely autonomous, save for the requirement to take the same state-mandated standardized tests. This means that everything from teacher salary to amount of funds available to the school can vary. Charters are being touted as the solution to the education gap, however, being a charter school is a very vague description of what the school does. It is as vague as saying "fast food restaurant"; it only means that they are self-governed and it does not give any information about what systems are being used within the school. This alone means that statistics about charter schools are inaccurate; the methods used within each type are not considered when collecting data. For instance, Audubon Montessori uses very different teaching methods than Kipp Central City but they are both charter schools.

Within the heading of "charter school" are two more types: Charter management organizations and Independently run charters. The CMOs are basically franchise organizations. It is one organization that runs multiple schools. These charters are eligible for more and different types of funding and have a different set of requirements to keep their charters. These are organizations like Crescent City Schools, ReNew Schools, KIPP Schools, Firstline Schools , New Beginnings Schools , ARISE Schools and Algiers Charter School Association. Aside from the Algiers CSA, and New Beginnings, they all use the KIPP school model.

Then there are the independently run charters. These schools are governed by either the Orleans Parish School Board , which was the city's original school district, or the Recovery School District . These schools are autonomous, however. Some are montessori, some follow traditional school models, some are new and some are old. The Orleans Parish Schools are the highest performing and most prestigious schools in the city. The politics behind why that happened would have to be saved for another day.

That leaves everything else. The Recovery School District came about as a means to "recover" the failing and damaged schools in 2003. The plan was for them to take them over (leaving the passing schools to stay with Orleans Parish), improve their SPS Score then charter them out. Why the schools wouldn't be returned to Orleans Parish is more politics that will be saved for another day. What actually happened, however, is that the RSD was mismanaged; run by people who did not know why the schools were failing and did little to actually improve the schools. They quickly ran out of money and had outstanding bills all over town. The ultimate solution was, by the end of the 2013 school year, to close or charter out the bulk of their schools. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. This district now only runs five schools in the city.

Despite all of this, children are eligible to go to any public school regardless of which district governs it or where it is. The only restrictions ever fall under the selective enrollment schools which require a testing process to be considered for entry.

Teachers entering Teach for America or Teach Nola are eligible to work at any public school regardless of which district governs it.

Knowing how the school districts work, which schools are governed by which organization, and how to find their SPS scores is very important in navigating the New Orleans educational system.

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