Sunday, August 24, 2008

Tough on Charters

Posted By on Sun, Aug 24, 2008 at 5:08 PM

(This post is actually by Michael Tisserand, former Gambit Weekly editor and participant in Saturday's (8/23) Rising Tide III conference, which was excellent. Michael and his family have recently returned to New Orleans, and I know of his strong interest in public education, so I asked him to submit something to our blog about the education panel discussion at RT3. Here it is — and thanks, Michael.)

 

Paul Tough’s recent New York Times Magazine cover story extolling the New Orleans charter school movement didn’t have many fans on the Rising Tide III education panel on Saturday. “Garbage,” said Christian Roselund, a writer, former United Teachers of New Orleans communications director and (of course) a blogger. Around him, heads nodded in agreement.

 

In one corner: Paul Tough. In the other: Rising Tide. The panel tilted against the charters as sharply as Tough’s article tilted for them. The Center for Community Change’s Leigh Dingerson (author of the provocative report Dismantling a Community) charged that conservatives saw a chance to turn a major public institution into a market-based system, that the glowing reports of the new set-up are more PR- than data-driven, and that the cost of this movement is too high: “What New Orleans lost was the permission to make your own decisions.” Panelists knocked all the big players as co-conspirators: the Cowen Institute, New Schools for New Orleans, and the Greater New Orleans Education Foundation. Last year, I wrote an article for The Nation that was considered a skeptical take on the new charter system, but the lack of divergent viewpoints on the Rising Tide panel started to get stifling. Where were the voices for charters?

 

Then panelist (and, of course, blogger) Clifton Harris spoke up. A New Orleans public school graduate with teachers in the family, he is no charter cheerleader. He spoke of trying to find a good kindergarten for his kid, and learning that of the “five to ten schools that you feel pretty good about ... most have waiting lists. After that it becomes a guessing game.” But in spite of this uncertainty — and regardless of ideology — the New Orleanians he knows haven’t forgotten the bad old days and are ready to try just about anything new. “For the last 40 years, public schools failed us badly. We carry that with us.” Harris drew the loudest applause of the afternoon.

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