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My Education Question

I wanted to ask a question of the Education Panel at Rising Tide III, but time ran out and the question went unasked. So I thought I’d pose it here.

We hear a lot of talk about a great experiment going on in our fractured New Orleans school systems. We’ve got all these charter schools, many taking different and supposedly novel approaches to education. Yet still, with all this panoply of choices, this rich buffet of options, this veritable smorgåsbord — still it seems that many of the new charters emphasize only greater regimentation, greater control, longer school days, longer school years, more rigid curriculum, and so forth. The experiments are all about order, or so it seems to me. But there’s another strain of educational experimentation that doesn’t seem to be present on the local scene, the approach that emphasizes freedom, liberty, democratic process, putting children in charge of their own education. (For example, the Sudbury model.) This is the sort of educational experience I envision wanting for my own daughter. I don’t see any examples of this locally, neither public nor private, despite the supposedly rich array of choices now available to parents in New Orleans. Do you agree with this observation, and if so can you explain why this is the case?

Published inThe Ed Biz


  1. Bart, you’re asking a question that has a couple of different paths to its answer. One of the reasons why there aren’t that many experiments in terms of methods lies in America’s history of treating educational experiments very warily – it hasn’t been until the past few decades that, say, Montessori education has made its inroads into the methodical landscape of elementary and secondary education – and for this city to have a public/charter Montessori school is MIND-BLOWING to people I have talked to who are from outside this city. The expectation in this country in terms of the experimental methods like the Sudbury model you described, or Waldorf education, or anything else that has developed over the years, is that if you want it for your kids, you will be paying for it….in large part because these are still considered to be specialized forms of education that require specially trained teachers to implement their lessons.

    In the case of New Orleans schools, the charter school movement, which, nation-wide, was never intended to serve as a total replacement, found a wide-open door with the aftermath of Katrina and the levee breaches and the suspension of the part of the state charter schools laws that required parental consent for the change of a school’s status from traditional public to charter. What is fueling the current charters that take up more than half of the “system of schools” here is a Darwinian battle based on two things that will ultimately determine whether or not these schools will sink or swim: the kids’ test scores (and the focus on those is a serious consequence of No Child Left Behind) and the money the schools can get if they enroll a certain number of students. Throw in a dash of a teachers’ union with no teeth and a large number of the city’s population that is still paying for private education, and this adds up to a less than conducive ground for the type of experimental education you are talking about. Having to teach to a standardized test just to SAVE your school is a killer all by itself – and the public schools all over this country are facing this. The private schools are NOT.

    I was lucky enough to get my child into a Montessori program here that I don’t have to pay out the nose for. I want there to be more experimental education such as this available to all – but the current educational climate makes this highly unlikely until NCLB is overhauled and people in positions to DO something about it will look at education as more than kids and teachers in a building together for seven hours out of every day.

  2. Damn, now I’m getting a new post brewing, ’cause there’s another thing I didn’t address here. Will get that up soon, after I recover from the amazing day yesterday. It was great to see you there!

  3. joejoejoe joejoejoe

    My nephew went to a Sudbury school and I visited a few times and it was an eye opening experience. Some of the internal programs they have for dealing with discipline and conflict resolution are just unbelievably good. IMHO the self-imposed environment of mutual respect (by student committees) really lets kids learn in a more efficient manner than in a busy public school where a good chunk of the time is spent dealing with other people’s BS. There can be problems associated with having individual schools in less than stellar hands (like any kind of “franchise”) but overall I the Sudbury schools have a great model.

  4. It was great to see you again. Wish we’d had more time to chat yesterday!

    As for education, I’m always open to new approaches because my husband and I both did not respond well to the rigidity of traditional education. I hope my daughter has better options. Ultimately as Cliff and Jeff pointed out on the panel – it’s the parents’ duty to guide a child! No matter how great the public education, a child with an unstable home life will not succeed. I fear “progressive” education is becoming more like communist education – assuming the mighty state can take full responsibility for raising a child. And it just does not work that way.

  5. Garvey Garvey

    “Having to teach to a standardized test just to SAVE your school is a killer all by itself.”

    You can divest from NCLB. It’s a fact. Federal funding accounts for about 8% of funding for public schools, yet NCLB accounts for 90% of bitching from teachers, etc.

    If 8% is the difference maker in your school, then your school has much bigger problems.

    But the other option is to work with the folks who create the standardized tests. Each states gets to pick its own and then use it as a measuring stick to show progress. How is this bad, again? I hear a lot of mealy-mouthed “reasons” about how we end up teaching to the test, etc., but how is a basic skills test bad?

    Are we really saying that there are NO academic performance criteria that students should achieve? As it stands now, the state could set the bar as low as they want. And if you’ve actually examined various state exams, you’ll plainly see that, yes, the bar is quite low, indeed.

    Sending one’s child to public schools as some sort of noble act is misguided.

  6. Garvey Garvey

    FWIW, I would add that a lot of folks look to the extra regimentation as a good thing, a huge selling point. For example, the AA community would not, by and large, prefer a “progressive” education. Most parents don’t want some “hippie school” that elitist white liberals dreamed up: they want an “old fashioned education”!

    I would also add that only vouchers will get us to the kind of competition of ideas that you mentioned, B.

  7. ” You can divest from NCLB. It’s a fact. Federal funding accounts for about 8% of funding for public schools, yet NCLB accounts for 90% of bitching from teachers, etc.”

    A link for you to peruse:

    This entire state decided a few years back to make the LEAP test mandatory for all the students in the public schools. There are states that can allow you to “opt out” of the standardized testing, but Louisiana ain’t one of ’em, and more states are following this one’s lead. The only way for everybody to “opt out” here is to send your children to the private schools or go for homeschooling. And, under the vouchers program, even though those students are attending private schools, they will still be expected to take the LEAP, as opposed to the kids who are NOT attending with the help of the vouchers.

  8. Why not the model of freedom, choice, autonomy, etc.? Because the children in question are black and generally poor. Poor black children get KIPP, not Sudbury.

  9. dsb dsb

    It’s a helluva idea, B. I selfishly would like to see such a school started at the high school level so our daughter could go there in a few years. Let me know if you see any hint of such a thing, but I have a feeling that it’s going to be left to the likes of us for a school like that to appear here. As if we don’t have anything else to do.

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