While you’re taking a lunch break today, be sure to check out this commentary in National Review, titled “After Katrina, Fundamental School Reform in New Orleans.”
Marcus Winters is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who discusses the New Orleans public education system as a case study in the success of school choice reforms.
If we could start from scratch, would we design urban public-school systems as they are today? Would we send students to particular schools entirely on the basis of where their homes are located, or would we offer parents a choice? Would we create a monolithic school district to impose a uniform education philosophy and rigid teacher work rules, or would we provide schools with independence and hold them accountable for meeting high standards?
I hazard the guess that few would replicate America’s current system. And yet, despite meaningful reforms of urban education in recent decades, plenty of work remains to be done. One reason is that it is much more difficult to repeal a restriction — particularly one that favors stakeholders as politically powerful as public-school teachers — than it is to create one. Another reason is fear of the unknown. The current system isn’t perfect, opponents of education reform can argue, but at least it is familiar. Better to stick with the devil you know.
Fortunately, starting over is no longer a hypothetical thought experiment. New Orleans offers the first case study of what can happen when a major American city replaces the old education system with one based on parental choice, school autonomy, and public accountability. The results are eye-opening.