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Government & Politics        < Previous


New Orleans: 'Diverse Providers Strategy'


Q. What's an example of creative thinking about school organization and management that is paying off for kids?


What's going on in New Orleans is a good example. Presiding at the top is a nontraditional school superintendent who was a budget analyst, not a teacher, in his early career. But his national reputation as a successful school reformer may suggest that putting a noneducator in charge is the way to go if you want innovative problem-solving in public education.


Former Chicago school superintendent Paul Vallas went on to privatize failing schools in Philadelphia, and has gained fame as a Democrat who acts like a Republican when it comes to attempting to improve cost-effectiveness in schools. He is now trying to patch up the absolute mess that decades of neglectful supervision by a Democratic educational machine, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, made of the New Orleans school system.

Vallas arrived to find horrendously segregated schools and mostly low-income students, the hardest student population to teach. New Orleans at that time had 97% African-American populations in the public schools because of white flight to the private schools, and 75% were so poor they qualified for free or reduced-price school lunch.


Some would say that New Orleans needed to invest countless extra millions of dollars into its schools to bring them back up to par. But Vallas perceived that the old-fashioned model of school management - the top-down, command-and-control model - failed to empower local school leadership and blocked innovation and improvement.


So, instead of rebuilding the same kind of large central office management structure, he instituted educational entrepreneurship, New Orleans is using a "Diverse Providers Strategy."


Some of the schools are still managed as they always were. But many others are being changed with a diverse mixture of school choice, charter schools, magnet schools, plenty of freedom for principals of schools that are doing great or OK, and increasing focus and control over principals of schools that are still failing.


There are tons of sharp young teachers from Teach For America, too - another fantastic school reform that's in 1,000 schools across the country and holds great promise for disadvantaged pupils whose schools have failed them using traditional personnel and methods.


How is it going in The Big Easy? Too soon to tell - but the early reports are that the innovations are blowing through the problems and the bureaucracy like an educational hurricane . . . and that's in a GOOD way.



Homework: Here's an article on the New Orleans situation, "A Teachable Moment," by Paul Tough, from The New York Times Magazine:


By Susan Darst Williams Government & Politics 15 2008

Government & Politics        < Previous
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