By Holden Harrell, JMI Intern and Chiles High School Senior
Continuing the discussion begun in “NOLA’s Education Rebirth” on the initial successes being seen by the remodeled New Orleans school system:Many critics of New Orleans’ emerging charter school system claim that the recent improvements are not as outstanding as they seem – that they are actually the result of a change in city demographics due to the displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina.However, a report released in March 2010 by the Cowen Institute of Tulane University indicates otherwise. The report states that the New Orleans student population is actually still within 5% of its pre-storm figures, with approximately 82% coming from low-income families.One demographic has changed – the teachers. When the rebuilding process began, many school boards fired the majority of their teachers, choosing to hire new ones through programs like Teach for America, a non-profit organization that puts recent college graduates in low-income area teaching positions. This has given many of the schools an enthusiastic new teaching base, filled with people who are truly committed to helping students learn.Teaching staffs aren’t the only thing that changed. The teachers union recently lost its collective bargaining agreement, which has led to a much more flexible system regarding work hours, employment, and salaries, which have risen considerably.For the time being, school officials are making incredible strides in both student and school improvement. Shannon Jones, an executive director at the Cowen Institute for Public Education, calls it “a real free market that isn’t being done elsewhere.” With heavily-limited government and union influences, these schools are prime examples of how effective such an environment can be.