Solution journalism: The charter school illusion.

It’s officially March, so we are marching into solutions. Yes, we’re aware of how lame that pun is! We also think it’s lame that a lot of journalism likes to describe everything that’s wrong with the world without showing data-driven examples of solutions that work! We don’t accept that, so this month we are marching (oof, there it is again) into solutions. We’ll be taking issues/problems from the Nola community and doing the research to find solutions that have proven to work! It’s solution journalism, and we’re continuing with how organizations and politicians can do better! 

Lusher Middle and High School (Photo by Jeffery Johnston)

Part I: The issue
Originally, the idea behind the charter school system was developed as educational labs that could experiment with new ways to educate students, especially for students that were struggling in more traditional schools. The hope was to create small charter schools that were independently run, with the goal of creating educational practices that would benefit specific communities that could later be implemented in the more traditional district school. However, once implemented, charter schools rarely collaborated with the traditional schools and the original mission was forgotten.

A big issue with charter schools is they are often segregated by race and class. Nationally, charter schools tend to be located in more urban areas which account for a higher percentage of minority families, resulting in a higher attendance of minorities in these schools when compared to traditional public schools. According to the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, seventy percent of black students who attend charter schools attend intensely segregated minority charter schools, which is twice as many students attending traditional public schools. Additionally, forty three percent of black students who attend charter schools attend extremely segregated minority charter schools, which is three times as high as traditional public schools. This project found that some charter schools even have a ninety nine percent minority population. It has been shown that schools with greater numbers of minority students have fewer resources, like unqualified teachers and lack of teaching resources, than schools with mostly white students. It is unfair to minority students to be put at an educational disadvantage solely based on the school they attend not receiving as much funding and support as neighboring schools with mostly white students.

This is specifically an issue in New Orleans because free public education has changed into an all-charter school system. In 2019, New Orleans became the first large American city to only offer charter schools as the means of public education, meaning no traditional public schools. New Orleans’ demographics consist of a 33.9% white population, with over half of the population considered minorities.

Part of the reason this is an issue in New Orleans is because of an unsuccessful and unfair lottery system that gives an advantage to the white population. The current system that is in place is called OneApp. The goal of this platform is for families to rank their top eight choices of schools and then the system will match them to a specific charter school based on different factors like the students lottery number and how many seats are offered for their grade. The lottery system gives priority to families who live in the school’s geographic zone, if they have siblings who attend the school, and if they are returning to their school (the students automatically get to stay each year if they are not applying to change schools). After students have done their rankings, schools group them by priority groups. For example, if someone lives in their top school’s geographic zone and has siblings that go to that school, then they are placed into priority group one and have more of a chance in being placed in their top ranked school. If priority groups do not fill up, then they turn to the student’s random lottery number which determines who has first pick.

A flaw of this school system is that schools are not required to use the platform OneApp. Many of the highly-ranked schools end up opting out of using this platform and instead have a separate, complex application that requires different requirements that make the school inaccessible to families. These schools often tailor their applications to white families that are able to afford the application requirements necessary to go to this prestigious school. This defeats the whole purpose of having free, accessible charter schools as it is not giving all families the same opportunity to attend.

All students should have the same opportunities for equal education, including equal access to high quality books, computers, qualified teachers, and any other materials needed for classes. Not only do minority schools receive less quality resources, they also sometimes lack courses that are necessary to apply to college, and even if they do offer these classes, they usually are lower-quality in teaching. Since many charter schools are on a first-come first serve basis, or on a lottery system, students do not always have a choice on whether they attend a school that provides decent resources.

Not only is this an issue because of a lack of resources, current families in the New Orleans school system believe this a flawed system due to a lack of transparency in the platform’s algorithm. Even though OneApp claims to give priority to geographical location and siblings attending the school, many families who meet both of these requirements still cannot get a spot at their desired school, with no explanation of why.

Another downfall of this system is because there are such few highly-rated schools, there tend to be hundreds of applications to these schools that only have a handful of spots available. In 2019, out of 69 schools, only 8 received an A rating, 11 earned a B rating, 26 earned a C rating, and 24 earned a D rating. If everyone is vying for these A and B rated schools, they will quickly run out of seats and push applicants to these lower rated schools.

It is upsetting to see these statistics because early education has become increasingly important to be successful. Twenty years ago, a black student who was a high school dropout had a 1⁄4 chance of getting a job, whereas a white student who was a high school dropout had 1⁄2 chance of getting a job. Early education provides a foundation for skills that are necessary to be successful in the employment world. Not receiving quality education for basic reading and writing skills will negatively impact their preparation for later in life.

Part II: The solution
The solution to this charter school issue is to have both public schools and charter schools available as options to families. The Chicago school system consists of both types of school systems, which they have found to benefit their population in a way that was not able to be done with just traditional public schools. The charter schools that are in Chicago are all highly rated, giving students the opportunity to attend a different school if they were not satisfied

by the public school in their district. 85.57% of charter schools receive the ratings commendable or exemplary, with only 10.25% receiving an underperforming rating.

The only public schools that are offered to students are the public schools in their district, so their quality of education depends on living in a location that has a high quality public school, which is often a more expensive neighborhood. This greatly affected minority populations and families with lower socioeconomic status because they were less likely to be able to afford living in these more expensive, higher quality education neighborhoods. The goal of the charter schools was to give students a chance to receive high-quality education no matter which neighborhood they lived in.

Since 2005, Chicago charter school enrollment has grown from 13,000 students to over 54,000 students. More than half of Chicago students are choosing charter schools that are not the public schools offered in their district. In one Chicago charter school district, they found that the high school graduation rate was equal to the public school graduation rate and had a higher number of students enrolling in 4-year colleges than the public school. By giving students the option to either go to their public school in their district or attending a high-quality charter school, they are providing the necessary resources to be successful. Making sure that the charter schools that are offered are high-quality, providing all the means students may need to successfully learn is what makes them much more successful than New Orleans Charter Schools. Having both public and charter schools gives increased opportunities for different, free types of education that families can choose which they would prefer to enroll in.

The biggest limitation to this solution is that students are more likely to leave the charter school system than the public school district. In Chicago, there are higher transfer rates, with 26% of students transferring from a charter school compared to 20% of students who transfer from traditional public schools. This raises the question of are the charter schools performing well because only students who are succeeding stay in the charter school system? To combat this possible limitation, it has to be noted that the performance of charter school students are

still reported, even if they end up transferring. There have not been any studies to see why students tend to transfer from charter schools, but some speculation is it is due to the strict rules that are implemented throughout many of the schools, along with students moving and not wanting to commute farther, However, the issue of the strict rules can easily be changed in a new charter school system with different administration goals.

In 2017, Chicago launched a platform called GoCPS, which centralizes charter and public schools into one application. Families can log on to see all of their education options in one place, including both charter and public schools. Having a platform like this gives families the opportunity to see what all of their options entails. The platform gives explanations for what each school has to offer, which lets families pick a school that aligns with what they value in an education. Giving families options throughout this platform gives them choice and provides equal opportunities that may not have been available by just having public schools or just having charter schools. This platform is applicable for pre-k, elementary schools, and high schools.

When first implementing GoCPS, people were worried that it would cause families to only go for charter schools and disregard the district public schools. However, the opposite happened. For the 2018-2019 school year, 23% of students enrolled in the district high schools, which is the first time since 2014 that there was an increase in public school enrollment. Having GoCPS showed families all of the smaller, specialized programs that district public schools had to offer. For example, before GoCPS, a student that was interested in STEM was more likely to assume their district public school only offered a generalized education program and enrolled in a charter school that specializes in STEM. After GoCPS was launched, that student was able to see that their district public school also had smaller programs related to STEM that they could get involved with.

Part III: Implementation

In order to implement this in New Orleans, the first thing that needs to change is to provide a school system similar to Chicago, offering both public and charter schools. Opening both public and charter schools would solve this issue by making sure every school available is high-quality, offering the resources that make these highly-rated schools desired. If every school is high quality, then families won’t be ranking the same 19 A and B rated schools, they would have more options to choose from. It has been found that many families are not maximizing their options in ranking eight potential schools, which ends in some families not being placed in a school. In the 2013-2014 school year, families applying to 9th grade only ranked an average of 3.1 schools. Some families don’t see the point in ranking low rated schools that they won’t want to attend due to having a lower quality of education than they are seeking, so they only rank schools they would attend which happens to be less than 8.

Instead of opening charter schools alongside traditional public schools, like Chicago did, New Orleans should open traditional public schools alongside some existing charter schools. A potential way to do this could be keeping the charter schools that they deem the most qualified, most likely the 19 A and B rated schools, and start to change the low rated charter schools into traditional public schools. Currently, New Orleans has 20% more seats available than students enrolling in public education, so not as many public schools would need to open.

In addition to opening traditional public schools, the lottery system would need to be changed. All schools, charter and public, should be required to use the same system to give each family the equal opportunity to attend. Having each school use the same system will eliminate any chance for schools to require additional application steps that tailor towards the type of students they want to attend their school.

The difficulty of opening new public schools is the lack of funding. A project like this would require a significant sum of money. A study showed that in order to open a new school district safely, it would require roughly $1,779,139. Fortunately, the White House recently announced New Orleans is going to be receiving more than $4 billion from stimulus dollars to

help with the effects of COVID-19 on education. If New Orleans were to use this money to transform some of the charter schools into public schools, it could be a huge step in upgrading the New Orleans public school system, just like it benefitted the Chicago school system.

Opening a new school system requires a lot of planning and teamwork. New Orleans should start by perfecting the opening of one public school and creating a successful plan that each additional school could follow. By creating a project plan, it would ensure that all of the proper steps are being followed in the right order. One crucial step to follow to ensure a successful opening is making sure the school is being marketed to families in that specific district highlighting what the public school can offer that is different to the current charter schools they are attending. Additionally, before opening the school, there needs to be a plan for every procedure that occurs throughout the day, like checking students in at the start of the day, lunchtime, dismissal, classroom management, etc. While opening new schools is a challenging process, the payoff will benefit students for years to come.

Works Cited

“2020-2021 Tableau.” INCS, 30 Sept. 2020, Ark, Tom Vander. “The Nuts & Bolts of Opening a New School.” Getting Smart, 7 July 2016,

Barnum, Matt. “New Research Takes an In-Depth Look at Chicago Charter Schools- and Finds Good News Beyond Test Scores.” Chalkbeat, 26 Nov. 2017, hicago-charter-schools-and-finds-good-news-beyond-test-score.

“Charter Public Schools Facts & Info: Illinois Network of Charter Schools.” INCS, 8 Dec. 2020,

“Choice Without Equity:
 Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards.” Civil Rights Project, oice-without-equity-2009-report.

Darling-Hammond, Linda. “Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education.” Brookings, Brookings, 28 July 1998,

Dreilinger, Danielle. “How 3 Top New Orleans Public Schools Keep Students Out.”, 27 May 2016, ml.

Emmanuel, Adeshina. “Some Feared GoCPS Would Drive High Schoolers to Charters, But Enrollment Is Up at Neighborhood Schools.” Chalkbeat Chicago, 23 May 2019, hoolers-to-charters-but-enrollment-is-up-at-neighborhood-school.

Harris, Douglas N., et al. “The New Orleans OneApp.” Education Next, 5 Aug. 2020,

Hasselle, Della. “Now an All-Charter District, New Orleans Schools Experiment Still Faces Questions.”, 13 Aug. 2019, ml.

Jason, Zachary. “The Battle over Charter Schools.” Harvard Graduate School of Education,

Jewson, Marta. “Compare 2019 New Orleans School Ratings.” The Lens, 11 Nov. 2019,

Juhasz, Aubri. “Too Many Seats and Not Enough Kids: Why New Orleans Public Schools Plans to Downsize District.” WWNO, 3 Dec. 2021, w-orleans-public-schools-plans-to-downsize-district.

Karp, Sarah. “One in 10 Charter School Students Transfers Out.” The Chicago Reporter, 15 Aug. 2016,

Nobles III, Wilborn P. “New Orleans Parents Slam School Board for Issues Surrounding OneApp.”, 2 May 2018, ml.

Schwartz, Elaine. “What We Need to Open a School Safely.” Econlife, 21 Dec. 2020,

Smedley, Brian D. “Inequality in Teaching and Schooling: How Opportunity Is Rationed to Students of Color in America.” The Right Thing to Do, The Smart Thing to Do: Enhancing Diversity in the Health Professions: Summary of the Symposium on Diversity in Health Professions in Honor of Herbert W.Nickens, M.D.., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Jan. 1970,

Stentell, Will. “$4B In Federal Aid Is Headed to Louisiana Public Schools, But How Will It Be Spent?” The Advocate, 13 Apr. 2021, 8-df783fc2671c.html.


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