Features and Profiles

Teachers College: Outsourcing the District Office

This is an article about outsourcing school system management that was written for the 2009 Teachers College Annual Report. It includes discussion of the phenomenon in New York City, New Orleans and nationwide.

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Sitting in his car on a busy New Orleans street corner one morning last year, Henry Levin counted no fewer than 17 school buses going by, each serving a different school.

To Levin, the William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, it was one sign among many that, since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, there have been dramatic changes in the city’s educational landscape.

Much was wrought by the storm itself. Katrina destroyed a third of all school buildings in New Orleans and damaged most of the rest. With the city’s population cut by 80 percent, the schools were closed, and nearly all New Orleans public school employees were laid off.

But even before Katrina, New Orleans’ schools were due for an overhaul. More than 90 percent of the city’s students were failing high school exit exams in both reading and mathematics. Deficits and corruption were widespread. In 2003, the state of Louisiana had established a new entity called the Recovery School District with the charge to “attempt to reconstitute schools with high student failure,” and New Orleans’ public schools were its prime target

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