American critic sees dangers in alternative schools

Karran Harper Royal, from Louisiana Department of Education's Recovery School District Advisory Council. Photo / Supplied
Karran Harper Royal, from Louisiana Department of Education's Recovery School District Advisory Council. Photo / Supplied

An American critic of charter schools has warned of the dangers of setting up the schools here, saying lessons can be learned from failed education reforms in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Karran Harper Royal, an education activist, has drawn a parallel between the education "revival" faced by post-earthquake Christchurch and that of her home community of Gentilly in New Orleans.

She's convinced New Zealand should not open the door on charter schools, saying they have destabilised quality public education in New Orleans and the progress public schools were making before the hurricane.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina ripped through her community, Mrs Harper Royal saw the closure of schools and the sweeping introduction of charter schools.

The decisions were made when most of the locals were displaced.

"They came about after the hurricane and were not mandated because no one was there.

"There were no public hearings, no choice," Mrs Harper Royal says.

She was open-minded at first about charter schools when she was asked by the Louisiana Department of Education to serve on the Recovery School District Advisory Council, hoping state control of schools would be a positive move.

Eight years later she says she was wrong. The state used Katrina as an excuse to push charter schools, and today 70 per cent of New Orleans' 40,000 children attend them. There were 65,000 children attending schools in New Orleans before the hurricane.

Mrs Harper Royal has urged New Zealand not to go down the same track of targeting lower socio-economic communities and underachieving schools.

She will speak at the Post Primary Teachers annual conference next week, with Education Minister Hekia Parata and Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg.

- APNZ

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