Saturday, August 23, 2008

the past, present, and future of elementary and secondary education in new orleans

Edit: Hit up Maitri for a good outline of the panel discussion.

Can't think fast enough, can't type fast enough, can't make connections fast enough. I've got a couple pages of frantic handwritten notes that I'm trying to compile into something coherent as this panel wraps up and it's just entirely too much. I'm going to be blogging about this for days (or, at my post rate, probably a couple months).

Bullet points that I needneedneed to talk about:

- confusion for teachers/parents/everyone in our fractured lack of cohesive school system
- need for community involvement / vote in the system
- charters roll dismantling the public schools? / privatization
- price of our current state of "individual choice" any worse than flight to the suburbs?
- unions?
- what about incentive-based pay? continued teacher education? contracts?
- perceptions tainted by past bitter experiences / need for outreach
- public school is still a dirty word
- charter PR machines / are charters keeping their promises?
- when are charters good? bad?

There's more but wait. I am torn by the feeling that there are serious problems with many of the charters / privately run schools / and the fractured system that New Orleans Schools is currently working with - but also there is a lot of hostility toward the charter movement here and I work for a large charter association in the city. Personally, professionally I LOVE my school. I see charters working, building community, reaching out to parents, educating the kids who live right down the block from me. It kills me to hear the negative that's dominated and I'm trying desparately to put my thoughts together to counter that, to put out that there is something working with this new, weird, fucked-up way that we are dealing with now. Am I lucky? Are my kids just lucky to have a charter association in their neighborhood that seems to be working overall? Am I biased? Yeah, in a big way. The last thing I want to hear is how charters here are not working because I see them working. I see mine working. Yes, there are bad charters in this city. Yes, they are terribly imperfect and inconsistent in quality and intent.

Charter schools must be prepared to deliver upon the promises that they are making to people. I understand that that is not happening city-wide but I believe that it is beginning to happen at my school, in my neighborhood, in Algiers in general. The skeptics are right to be skeptical of what's going on but I'm still waiting to hear a viable plan to reconstitute a coherent system that works. Fine, the system is still broken in its own way - but if you are out there yelling about it, please someone tell me and point me in the direction of someone somewhere who has a concrete plan to fucking do something about it.

Parents have an insane amount of choices right now and I think that is great. I don't think that it is necessarily a bad thing, although it does create new issues to deal with. Those choices are not always good or easy to make; parents don't have all the information they need to be informed about their childrens' education, nor is that information easy to obtain. Schools make promises that perhaps they are not ready or prepared to keep and that's doing a disservice to kids and parents who are trying to make something better of New Orleans and their lives. But I can't help but think of the way public education works throughout our nation, the struggle to move to more affluent neighborhoods so that your kids can go to the good public schools, the flight to suburbia because schools in the city are screwed up. If I ever have children I don't want to have to choose between paying for private school or moving out of a neighborhood I love for the sake of their education. If I ever have kids I want them to live in New Orleans, not out in suburban wasteland (sorry suburbanites, but it is not for me). I guess what I'm getting at is: is the way we have now so much worse than the old way?

We've got to be doing something right even a little because people have faith that public school can work again.

More later. Must eats.

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