“Rebirth: New Orleans” (2013) is a one-hour documentary directed by John Merrow for Learning Matters and PBS, tracing the painful renaissance for the public school systems in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
By the end of the year, the city and state decided to replace much of the old public school system with public charter schools. Some of the schools are connected to KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program).
Quickly, the discipline codes at the schools (demerits for small infractions in dress or behavior) became controversial. They tended to result in expulsions. Slender, articulate young Sci School principal Ben Marcovitz defended the policies but then changed his mind.
One interesting rule in (KIPP) charter schools was that every kid learned to play a musical instrument.
Another development in the charter schools was the Circle of Courage for underperforming students.
Charter schools tended to hire a lot of graduates from Teach for America, who were often white and middle class. Some teachers had trouble connecting with students. Danny Hoffman would start a class by asking the students what they knew, and that seemed to be the wrong approach. Late in the film, Danny relates his being let go at the end of the first year (when the normal term was two years).
The remaining public schools were, however, often in even worse shape. Charter schools had about 7% special needs kids, while regular schools averaged 15%.
The film (on Netflix) made me feel I was spending a fall Friday morning working as a substitute teacher myself. I did have trouble with classroom management with low-performing classes, and with being expected to enforce rules that didn’t make sense.
One interesting observation was that teachers and principals greeted students as they got off the bus or entered the classroom. We were supposed to do that as subs, at least in lower grades, and I was rather uncomfortable with that. But it does send a message that everyone should have a chance.
The official site for the film is here.
I visited New Orleans myself in February 2006.