Searching for Equity Amid a System of Schools: The View from New Orleans
58 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2015 Last revised: 8 Sep 2015
Date Written: 2015
Hurricane Katrina leveled both the buildings and governance structure of the New Orleans school system. The system was transformed from one elected school board controlling nearly all the schools to a system of schools with sixty-three school districts operating within the city’s geographic boundaries that are run by forty-four independent school boards. There is not a more decentralized school governance structure in the United States. This Article discusses how this new system of schools is attempting to achieve equal educational opportunities for its most vulnerable and at-risk student populations: the poor, minorities, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners.
For the first seven years after Katrina, the system of schools operated with virtually no centralized planning or unified services, instead pushing all decision-making and service provision down to the autonomous schools. With little oversight, the schools became balkanized by race, class, and ability because of unequal access, retention, and service provision, and because certain schools are specialized for discrete student populations. It became apparent that centralizing certain services and unifying policies was essential to creating equal opportunities for vulnerable students, which slowly began occurring in 2012.
Today, New Orleans education stands at a crossroads in deciding how to achieve equity for its vulnerable student populations. One route relies on centralizing services, planning, and oversight to ensure that every school provides an appropriate education to any type of student that walks through the schoolhouse door. This path embraces the version of inclusion equality set forth in Brown v. Board of Education: “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The other route relies on the market driven reform underlying the charter movement to create specialized schools to fill the unmet demands of vulnerable populations. This route embraces an emerging view of equality — where separate can be equal, possibly even superior, if parents are empowered to maximize their child’s academic outcomes in specialized settings. This Article argues that New Orleans is headed down this latter route and identifies the lessons that can be learned from its evolution to a system of schools.
Keywords: New Orleans, education, charter school, equality, Brown v. Board of Education,
JEL Classification: I2, K19, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation