Monday, September 13, 2010

Who Should Run The School System

I read this story Sunday about the plan for New Orleans public schools and who will control them. Basically, the debate is who should be running the school system. At the moment most of the schools are controlled by the Recovery School District ran by the state. Some people want the schools returned to the New Orleans Public School Board immediately. There's a bus load of community leaders going up to Baton Rouge for a meeting to discuss this. I’m sure before it’s all said and done the conversation will get pretty heated.

The education debate symbolizes every problem in the city where pre Katrina and post Katrina circumstances collide. It’s the perfect issue where statistics and emotions collide to make things more complicated than they should be. I’m guilty of it myself but I can’t help it. I have never been a person that felt like New Orleans residents couldn’t straightened out problems on their own. One of the main things I couldn’t stand about our last mayor is how it seemed like every responsibility was being subcontracted to a company out of town. It was almost as if we were admitting that we lacked the capacity to do the job. I feel the same way about public schools being under state control. I truly believe that if qualified well meaning New Orleans leaders, educators and parents got together and everyone did their part we could turn the schools around without the state or charters having to do it for us. I won’t apologize for feeling that way because it strikes to who I am as a person. How could I be proud of being born and raised here and at the same time think we can’t do anything thing right except play music and dance? That’s the emotional side of the issue and it's not going away. Let's all acknowledge it's there and deal with it so we can come up with the best solution for the kids.

If you take the emotion out of the equation and look at things rationally, the reality is that before Katrina when we had local control public education in New Orleans was falling apart. The schools were doing so bad that a lot of good people didn’t return home after the storm because of the condition of the schools and the desire to give their kids better opportunities by keeping them out of New Orleans and the schools. No matter how nostalgic we get or how much we kick and scream about deciding the future of our own children, we can't deny the fact that we failed thousands of children in the past. The truth hurts sometimes but it's the first step towards change. I think there are a lot of people in the community that let the emotion involved cloud their judgment and won’t let them admit that something needed to happen. Now, the timing of the takeover, the way it was handled and the way the teachers and staff were messed over was inexcusable and I will never support anyone who had a hand in carrying out that plan no matter how well they explain why they did it. However, I can't debate the need for things to go back to the way they were. That statistics are not on that side of the argument so I think we are going to have to let Mr. Pastorek implement his plan and hope for the best. It's not like the state has knocked anyone's socks off since they took control but our local track record worries me enough to give the current setup more time.

I's cool with an extension of the Recovery School District running the schools for a few years and we can give the school board a few of the failing ones back to their control so they could figure out what works and what doesn’t before the state turns the entire system back over to us. While this planning and transition period is going on we need to also be figuring out what the most improving schools are doing and start implementing those things in all public schools. I still feel like the current set up is an experiment and the system has no order or clear guidelines for parents to understand what's really going on. I have no problem with families having more choices for their children but I'm still finding out about new schools from signs posted on the neutral ground and that is no way to inform the community of something that important.

If there’s a special school you want your child to go to then fine but the basic excellent education should be available everywhere. We shouldn’t have one charter doing one thing that’s working and another school doing something that isn't working causing those kids to fall to the back of the line. It doesn’t take the entire school system failing to create a criminal element. All it takes is one or two schools full of kids with no real chance to create a crime spree and they are all going to be living here with us. Regardless of who has control of the system I think we need some consistency so everybody gets the same chance. If we can't get that accomplished then it doesn't matter who has control because everyone is a failure.

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