Going to school in New Orleans in the early 2000s was dismal with only 1 in 4 children scoring at their standard grade level. The cities’ school board was so corrupt that the FBI started an investigation and eventually put its president and 30 others into jail. On top of this, almost all of the teachers were organized in unions. This ensured that even the worst teachers kept their job for life. Idealistic educators and politicians tried to change the system, but their efforts were blocked by those in charge, who did everything possible to keep things as they were.
In 2005, Katrina, a massive hurricane, struck the city and destroyed virtually everything, including all schools. As a result, everyone left the city, kids stopped going to school, the school board lost its funding, the teachers lost their jobs leading to the unions losing all of their members. It was a true disaster for everyone.
In the aftermath of Katrina, politicians, bureaucrats, and educators, saw an opportunity to finally bring change upon a system that had previously failed so many kids in such a miserable way.
Under the leadership of Governor Kathleen Blanco, it was concluded that, while they didn't know the best solution, they did know that the new system had to be created using trial and error and experimentation.
They had an idea.
Instead of running a top-down system of state schools, their idea was to allow independent charter schools to take over. Charters are schools that are fully state-funded, free of charge and run by independent entrepreneurs who follow their mission. Charter schools hire their teachers and set up their curriculums. They often even built their facilities and then compete with one another to attract new students.
As a result of this bold effort to reform, a lot of philanthropists and non-profit organizations invested into New Orleans education and hundreds of charter schools opened up.
Parents and their children suddenly had a lot of choices in picking schools aligned with their ideas regarding quality education. The schools that didn’t attract enough children, closed down again.
In 2019, 15 years later, almost half of all students performed at grade level. High school graduation rates increased and college outcomes became significantly better. New Orleans had become the first large American city that does not operate a single traditional public school.
The story of New Orleans schools shows what is possible when old structures breakdown and people have no choice but to leave a damaged system. Good people who were stuck in a bad system then get the opportunity to start fresh. Parents and children have the opportunity to choose for themselves the types of schools that they believe in.