Poll: Most Think Charters Improve New Orleans Schools

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An education think tank's annual poll again shows that people in New Orleans have growing confidence in public schools, although the need for improvement remains evident.

         Almost all public schools in the city are independently run charter schools. And 59 percent of respondents said charter schools have improved public education. Only 18 percent disagreed.

         Thirty-seven percent said schools are better since Hurricane Katrina hit nearly 10 years ago. Twenty-one percent said schools were better before the storm.

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         The poll, released Tuesday, was commissioned by Tulane University's Cowen Institute in partnership with The New Orleans Advocate.

         Market Research Insight polled 600 adults by telephone between April 7 and April 14. The poll has a margin for error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

         The Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives was formed at Tulane after Hurricane Katrina to do education research and develop data on public education with an eye toward helping public officials improve a system that was widely seen as foundering even before the storm.

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         The institute was formed as the school system was undergoing radical change: All but a handful of public schools in the city were taken over by the state's Recovery School District after Katrina. Now, all 56 schools overseen by the RSD are operated by independent charter organizations. The Orleans Parish School Board remains in charge of 24 schools, most of them chartered as well. In most cases, the schools are "open enrollment," meaning parents city-wide have a choice of where to send their children.

         The poll indicates strong support for specific changes since Katrina. Not only do 59 percent believe charters have improved education in the city, 72 percent support the open enrollment policy over geographic school districts and 76 percent of public school parents among the respondents said they had enough information to select a school.

         Still, the results indicate respondents see a need for improvement. While 72 percent support open enrollment, only 52 percent say it has had a "positive impact" on public education. Forty-five percent said schools are performing at an average or C level, while 17 percent gave the schools a B and 4 percent an A; 16 percent rated schools a D; 5 percent, an F.

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         "Those polled expressed strong preference for the quality of education in private schools, with 65 percent stating private schools offer better quality compared to 13 percent who said public schools do so," the poll's accompanying analysis said.

         However, half of all parents — and 46 percent of private school parents polled — said they are more likely to send their children to public school than they were before the storm.

         A plurality of 46 percent of all respondents said they would recommend public schools to a friend or family member, compared with 38 percent who would not.

         The poll noted an improvement in the view of public schools among African-Americans. This year, 37 percent of black respondents said schools are better now than they were before Katrina, while 21 percent said schools were better before the storm.

         When that question was asked two years ago, only 29 percent of African-Americans thought schools were better after the storm, while 34 percent thought pre-Katrina schools were better.

         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill

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