Only in New Orleans, where devastation from levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina led to an extreme makeover of schools, have results been dramatic. Although there were bright spots, city schools as a whole were among the worst-performing in the state before the disaster.Grim and I sometimes argue about the value of the free market. He is skeptical of its tendency to monetize values that should be beyond monetization. I in turn am drawn to its way of putting choices in the hands of the recipients of goods and services. The advantage of competition is not that someone wins and someone loses. The advantage is that customers can gravitate to what succeeds and abandon what does not. The "losers" in this contest aren't doomed to bleak lives in hovels after their customers withdraw their resources and support. They can always adopt the winning strategies if they like, and quit losing. What they can't do is force their customers to keep coming back to hear a new set of excuses for failure. Parents don't have to agree or disagree with any of the excuses. They can simply go to another school, which is getting better results with a different approach.
Since the state took over most schools post-Katrina, that is changing. Recovery School District students, including charter and traditional campuses, posted their fourth consecutive year of improvement last year. The proportion of students scoring at grade level or above grew to 48 percent in 2011 -- more than double the percentage in 2007.
That progress has come as most city schools became public charter schools, a concept that the governor's legislation would expand statewide.
Some opponents of the reform legislation have tried to make charter schools seem like a questionable experiment and point to the failure of some schools. But there are highly successful, stable charter schools in New Orleans. And the fact that some unsuccessful schools have been closed down is a sign that the system is working.
Does this approach protect us against parents who make poor choices? Of course not. Making up for bad parents is beyond the capacity of a public school system, as failing schools are always telling us.