By Holden Harrell, JMI Intern and Chiles High School Senior
These days in New Orleans, schoolchildren are achieving academic standards that seemed unreachable in pre-Katrina times. The devastating 2005 hurricane struck a fatal blow against a school system that was failing at the time (64% of New Orleans schools had been deemed “academically unacceptable” by the state), allowing officials to build an entirely new structure for education.To do so, officials turned to the concept of the charter–a hybrid type of school that enjoys the freedoms of private institutions and the funding of public ones. As charters charge no tuition, the student capacity for each school, rather than cost, is the only limitation. Most schools enroll as many students as they can, while those with more applicants than openings use lotteries to determine who attends. Thankfully, with 46 charters in the area, this is not an issue.One of the keys to the success of this system has been the lack of zoning restrictions enforced upon charter schools. Students from all over the city are free to choose whichever school they wish to attend; this has resulted in an environment where schools must produce compelling results in a short period of time in order to attract the best students. The subsequent quality control of teachers and administrators has led to double digit increases in both senior graduation rates and standardized testing scores.Over 70% of New Orleans students are now enrolled in these charter schools, a sure sign that they are flourishing. How long will it be before the rest of the United States recognizes that this system of accountability, free choice, and self-regulation is one to be emulated?