Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Is "innovation" the new "reform"?

New Orleans schools will rise again. But first will come the demolition crews. From the AP:

Thursday, October 13, 2005; Posted: 11:04 a.m. EDT (15:04 GMT)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AP) -- The pungent smell of mold seeps out of broken windows at Louis Armstrong Elementary School, where toppled desks lie under overturned bookcases, all caked with layers of potentially toxic mud.

The school is a historic site that, along with another nearby school, was the first in New Orleans to integrate more than 40 years ago. Now a symbol for what faces area schools, it could be bulldozed if found too water-damaged and dangerous.

As the schools figure out how to proceed though, they can hardly guess how many students they will have:

But before a top-notch educational system can be realized, children who will fill these new, improved classrooms and hallways must return, something no one can promise.

"I would be surprised if they get 10,000 students this year," Jacobs said. "I'll be surprised if they end up with 25,000 next year. A tremendous amount of people are out of town where they're likely to find better housing, better schools and better jobs."

As of mid-October, families of about 2,000 students had contacted the school board saying they would return in November.

2,000 out of hundreds of thousands. It's really mind-boggling what happened there. But now as the schools rebuild, something else is happening that is equally mind-boggling:

Some said that if the majority of students don't return, it might be easier to create a new school system with the help of groups like the Gates Foundation, Council of Great City Schools and Pearson Learning Group.

"We'll be a smaller system in a smaller city, which might not be a bad thing for us," said Margaret Nicolosi, a teacher at Jean Gordon Elementary School.

Innovation may be the key for rebuilding.

Innovation is a good thing. But it seems to me that in education, innovation is like reform. Innocuous sounding and agreeable in general, but often odious when the details are considered.

I like the Gates Foundation. I like the idea of small schools. But I'm not so sure what the agendas of the Council of Great City Schools and Pearson Learning Group are exactly. I'll be researching them more in the days to come. In the meantime, does anybody out there know more about them and their agenda for New Orleans' schools?


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