A Bold Proposition for the Big Easy

After just returning from a trip to New Orleans, I was struck by the public image New Orleans’ public schools have.  To date, they have run through the gamut of all the reforms one tends to propose when trying to fix a broken school system — including a brash, take-no-prisoners superintendent, state takeover, and the integration of charter schools — with no success.  Without doubt, the public schools in the Big Easy have been through a great deal, even without Katrina, and fixing them is no easy task.  So the million-dollar question — how do you improve the schools, the quality of their instruction, and their public image in one bold stroke?

Bold questions often yield bolder answers.  Without doubt, New Orleans is viewed as a district on the brink, or beyond the brink, of disaster.  No matter what action they take, what reforms they enact, the public view is the public schools are beyond salvation.  No lessons in rhetoric or clever media relations tricks are going to help them now, right?

So why not introduce the “lost beyond lost” school district with the darling of school reform — KIPP?  A few weeks ago, I wrote how KIPP was one of the truly great ed reform communications stories.  And their influx of new money puts them at the forefront of the school reform agenda.

This seems like a natural.  The State of Louisiana turns over the entire New Orleans school system to KIPP.  Every school, every building, every teacher, every dollar.  KIPP then implements its instructional programs and teacher trainings across the K-12 system, applying the lessons learned in Houston, Washington, New York, and other cities to the struggling Big Easy.  KIPP gets the entire district’s operating budget, full authority to manage the district, and five years to demonstrate improvement. 

It may sound like a silly proposition, or it may be just the sort of bold thinking New Orleans and its students needs these days.  With a KIPP education comes KIPP communications, and a chance for residents and the education community to witness a true school turnaround step by step in the media.  Certainly, local and national media would scrutinize ever step taken, but if KIPP succeeds, and its recent media coverage suggests it just could, it would stand as the gold standard in education reform, with schools, districts, and states clamoring for their own KIPP programs.

It could be a genuine public relations coup — for New Orleans, for KIPP, and for the ed reform agenda as a whole. 

4 thoughts on “A Bold Proposition for the Big Easy

  1. So let me get this straight: given the opportunity to start a school system de novo, you actually want to turn it into a Monopoly? Why? I’ve known about the KIPP model for a long time. Every article I’ve ever read about them is positively glowing and I don’t smell anything fishy (and I have a good nose for this). But the only reason to give every last bit of resources to a single provider is if it’s some sort of natural monopoly in the classical sense (providing a non-rivalrous, non-excludable public good) or you fundamentally believe THAT THEY HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. The KIPP guys sound great: dedicated, tenacious, smart, competent, benevolent, etc. But it defies credulity to think that *one size fits all* and that the people in charge of KIPP have cornered the market on wisdom in education. Other people have something to contribute, too. We need diversity, tolerance, choice. We need feedback loops to make improvements.We need to align incentives so that every student can get the education they need; if one place isn’t working for them, they need to be able to quickly get to another. The people deserve to have a choice. Even the poor people.Even the brown people. No more top-down solutions.No more government-imposed bureaucratic strictures. It’s time for flexibility and solutions that adapt to the needs of a lot of very different children. As for fostering KIPP-style success, this”>http://thevoiceforschoolchoice.wordpress.com/2007/03/06/improving-schools-the-role-of-the-entrepreneur/“>this post is instructive.

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