Is New Orleans’ Divided School District System Unfair to African-American Children?

Benjamin Banneker Elementary School fourth-graders Michael Jefferson, left, Byron Cooper and Travis Housey were photographed studying science in December 2009 (Rusty Costanza/The Times-Picayune/AP).
Benjamin Banneker Elementary School fourth-graders Michael Jefferson, left, Byron Cooper and Travis Housey were photographed studying science in December 2009 (Rusty Costanza/The Times-Picayune/AP).

The news this week about the closing of traditional public schools in the Recovery School District in New Orleans raises questions about whether African American students are getting an equal opportunity to attend the best public schools in the city.

Issues of access and equity are complicated by the public school situation in New Orleans, where there are two distinct systems. The Recovery School District, the larger of the two, was created when the state seized control of most public schools in the turmoil that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After this week, when the Recovery district closes the last neighborhood schools, that system will consist of public charter schools, which are funded by taxpayers but privately run.

The second system, the Orleans Parish School District, consists of 14 charter schools and six traditional neighborhood schools. Four of the 14 charter schools have selective admission, which means that students are accepted on the basis of certain criteria, which can include test scores and interviews. These schools are among the city’s highest -achieving schools.

The Orleans Parish School District, which is overseen by an elected school board, ran all the public schools in New Orleans before Katrina. It was in serious trouble before the storm: It was bankrupt and couldn’t account for $71 million in federal funds.

But after Katrina, the Orleans Parish district emerged to control the city’s best-functioning public schools. Five of the OPSD charter schools were given an “A” rating on Louisiana’s A to F report card for 2013. By contrast, none of the Recovery district’s charter schools earned an “A” rating that year.

Those high-performing schools in the Orleans Parish district also enroll a disproportionate number of white children, which has sparked protest from community activists who say that admission policies to some of the OPSD schools have the effect of excluding African American children.

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SOURCE:  
The Washington Post

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