It was recently in the news that ground was being broken on a new, $31 million school building for a newly opened KIPP elementary school, the Ray Abrams Elementary. This is a trend in New Orleans; while we are famous for our historic architecture, it has become the norm for the CMOs (charter management organizations- or as I call them, "school franchisers") to operate out of previously used, and, admittedly, old school buildings then build highly expensive new buildings in a very short amount of time. In 2012, one of the major charters was in the process of erecting a new school while their charter was under review because they had not met school performance expectations for three years, consecutively. Despite this, at the time, the Louisiana Board of Secondary and Elementary schools (BESE) considered letting this organization take over two other schools whose charters would not be renewed.
Knowing this, I was surprised to hear that KIPP was building a new school. There are currently seven KIPP schools in New Orleans including the one who will move into the new building. What I found surprising was that the school had only been open this 2014-2015 school year and yet, they were getting a new building.
If you are not familiar with KIPP schools, or at least, their role in the New Orleans charter reform movement, it would serve to mention that their school model, started in the New York City school system, is the most popular model for charters in New Orleans. It includes extended school days, longer class periods, weekly teacher development, school wide discipline plans and rigid curriculum. The schools are often successful in other cities, however, the model, nor KIPP schools, show true success in New Orleans. Their most recent SPS scores, as detailed here, are far from stellar. Of the seven KIPP schools, including the new Ray Abrams school (listed under KIPP East Community Primary- but has no data because they just opened) two schools rank as "B", two as "C" and two as "D" quality schools. KIPP also touted a $1 million surplus this year.
Is this the model of success?
The old, albeit decrepit, schoolhouses are being abandoned at an alarming rate, but it's not the abandonment of the buildings that is alarming. It is the abandonment of the children who believe, have hope, who fail, that is truly alarming. It is an example that money can't buy you smarts. The children who are shuffled through these charters of New Orleans, who often believe that they are receiving a quality education because they have a new, clean and sleek school building, move through the ranks without the knowledge that they truly need and deserve.
Is this fair?
New Orleans is repeatedly the subject of discussions about education reform. Over and over we hear that New Orleans is a successful charter reform city, yet many of our schools are still performing at "C" rank, at best, and children are not truly learning in these schools.
Will a new school building ensure success for these children?
As we high school teachers continue to struggle with the choices that we have to make, quickly, disapointedly, to serve our children's needs in the best way possible in only four years (while the elementaries have eight years), children and parents continue to have the wool pulled over their eyes and to have their hearts opened to a possibility that is often far out of reach.