Today’s education system should operate every public school like a charter school—with more autonomy, accountability, diversity and less standardization, according to David Osborne, who traveled to Baton Rouge today to promote his book, “Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System.”
Most public schools still use an organizational structure that is more than 100 years old but was once cutting-edge—it’s called bureaucracy, Osborne says. It’s highly centralized, hierarchical, rule-driven and standardized to be the same for all students.
“Today, it struggles. It’s too slow. It’s too rigid,” Osborne argues. “People want choices now. People realize kids are different and we need different kinds of schools.”
Osborne’s book opens with a chapter on the New Orleans school system after Hurricane Katrina wiped its slate clean in 2005. The state’s Recovery School District came in and gradually transformed public schools into charter schools. New Orleans since has become the fastest-improving district in the nation and will soon be a 100% charter-school system.
East Baton Rouge may not be far behind in the charter revolution, Osborne says. The school district has recently authorized eight charter schools in the parish, including BASIS and IDEA, which top the list of most challenging high schools in the U.S.
“The East Baton Rouge district is ahead of the curve in that they are actively authorizing charters, working on a transformation zone and giving schools more autonomy,” Osborne says. “Baton Rouge might be second in the state behind New Orleans in moving in this direction.”
Osborne—director of the Reinventing America’s Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute and author of 1992 New York Times bestseller “Reinventing Government”—points to student performance results in cities like New Orleans, Denver and Washington D.C. to “undeniably prove” schools that adopt charter-like structures are effective.
“New Orleans has exceeded the state average in high school graduation and college-bound rates, which are probably the two most important metrics,” Osborne says. “And if you look at kids living in poverty, charters do much better with them.”
The charter school debate, however, is a controversial one. Louisiana currently has a lawsuit before the Supreme Court to decide the fate of more than three dozen charter schools. School officials and a teachers union involved in the lawsuit contend it’s unconstitutional for public funds for school systems to be diverted to charter schools. But Osborne says the money is not for the districts, it’s for the students.
“If kids choose a different system or a charter, it should go with them,” he says.
He adds school districts don’t have to necessarily bring in new schools. They can transform the schools they already have to become more like charters. There are several models around the country to follow. Some districts have simply given their schools more autonomy by loosening or changing laws.
When comparing reforms in public education to those in governance, Osborne says, the problems and solutions are the same.
“The old model for both is centralized, hierarchical and employees, after a probational period, get jobs for life,” he says. “The solutions are same: Give autonomy, make them performance-based, contract things out for more competition.”
—Annie Ourso Landry