For almost two decades, education reform has been a source of conflict in the City of Brotherly Love. Much progress has been made, but too much energy is still devoted to fruitless district vs. charter debates. Those invested in such debates should take a look at the nation’s fastest-improving big cities, to see what can happen when conflict turns to collaboration.
The most rapid improvement over the last decade has come in New Orleans, where all but a handful of public schools have been converted to charter schools. Charters are public schools operated independently of the district, with freedom from many state and district rules but accountable for performance. If their children are not learning, they are supposed to be closed or replaced by a stronger operator.
Like Philadelphia, New Orleans has intense poverty: more than 80 percent of its public school students are low-income, and an equal percentage are African American. Yet on two key measures — graduation and college-going rates — New Orleans is the first high-poverty city to outperform its state.
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