August 25 2010

New Ideas Welcome in New Orleans

Hadley Heath

New Orleans came in first place in a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute of cities that are most open to education reform.  The study measured human capital, financial capital, quality control, political environment, openness to charter schools, and the district environment.

At the Independent Women's Forum, our scholars have long argued that the road to reform should include alternative certification programs for teachers.  Our position is only supported by the findings of this new study.  In the category of human capital:

The top four cities all have significant penetration by "brand-name" alternatively prepared teachers and administrators (limited for our purposes to the largest national alternative certification programs: Teach For America, The New Teacher Project, and New Leaders for New Schools). San Francisco posted the highest marks on both counts, and is the only city in the sample where brand-name alternatively prepared administrators make up more than 10 percent of school leaders.

Furthermore, the overall grades of the thirty cities provide an interesting perspective on the influence teachers' unions have on reform:

Every city that receives a D or an F in this analysis is in a collective-bargaining state. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the top nine scorers (cities receiving a B) are located in right-to-work states.  All of the cities located in right-to-work states included in this study received a B or C, and none received a D or F.

Well, that's ironic!  The authors of the study also point to the failure of teachers' unions to reorganize after Hurricane Katrina as one of the reasons that the human capital element is so strong there.  Here's what they had to say about the winning city:

The charter environment thrives in New Orleans. Louisiana state law places no cap on the number of schools that can operate, and it provides for adequate funding of both charters and authorizers. The Louisiana Charter School Start-Up fund also provides zero-interest loans for charter schools to use for facilities-an element of charter funding that many states ignore. New Orleans leads the country in its percentage of students in charters at 57 percent.

Congratulations to the Big Easy.  This week marks the 5-year anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina.  It should be an inspiration to cities and towns all over the country to see New Orleans rebuild an educational system open to new ideas and headed for success.

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