How are children in the United States disciplined

The New Orleans Charter Schools

Twice a week, the 140 children from Benjamin E. Mays Preparatory School meet in the school's all-purpose room before classes begin. Like all other rooms, it is in a large container, because there is no real school building yet. It's the first year of school in Mays Prep. It is one of the many new schools in New Orleans that have sprung up since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina four years ago.

Kindergarteners, first and second graders sit in a semicircle around Duke Bradley. He is the headmaster of the school and on his command the children sing, scream and keep quiet. The boys wear beige pants, white shirts and burgundy ties, the girls a beige skirt and white polo shirt. Bradley values ​​school uniforms. It conveys pride and a sense of togetherness, he says. The goal of his school is ambitious: "We want to make all children fit so that they can attend a secondary school, the college."

Learning after Katrina

Sing and shout with Duke Bradley

Achieving this is not easy with children, most of whom come from poor economic backgrounds. This can be seen, among other things, in the fact that almost all children are entitled to the free meals offered by the school. In terms of their social behavior, too, the little ones first have to get used to the “school concept”, explains Rector Bradley Bradley sums up the direction of his school.

When Hurricane Katrina flooded almost the entire city four years ago, most schools were also destroyed. The local school board dismissed almost all teachers and declared classes over for the remainder of the school year, which had just started. But many parents and teachers did not want to accept that and looked for alternatives. They found them mainly in so-called "charter schools", which translates as "contract schools". These have more freedom than traditional public schools. They are financed from various sources in the state, the government in Washington, but also through private investments and organizations.

Alternative: charter schools

Almost every school building in New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

Teacher Kari Detwiler knows the difference between changing from a state school to a charter school. Last year she taught a second class in a state school: "I had no teaching aids and no daily schedule, not even for the extended school hours that we offered the students." There was almost no technical or educational support for the teachers. And no feedback: "Nobody has ever looked at my lessons. I was all on my own."

It was very difficult for her as a new teacher. The Mays Prep, where she now teaches a first class, is the complete opposite. "The teachers are looked after here and sometimes there are two in the classes," says Detwiler. In the charter schools there are also extra teachers who take a child out of the class and give direct tutoring if he or she does not come along. And that the children behave in a disciplined manner makes life much easier, adds Detwiler. Many children have got used to the rules after just a few days of school and eagerly participate in lessons, for example when it comes to spelling. Because learning to read is the first and most important goal.

If the government does nothing ...

The New Orleans charter schools are a huge success. Before the hurricane, the New Orleans school system was considered hopeless. Two thirds of the schools have failed, explains teacher Sarah Usdin. In the meantime, mainly because of the charter schools, this number has been reduced to a third. Around half of the schools that are now back in New Orleans are charter schools. They are supported by private organizations. "New Schools for New Orleans" is one of them. Sarah Usdin founded it herself: "The construction of schools is one of many examples in which we as citizens have taken responsibility for rebuilding the city," says Usdin. You would have expected the government to take care of it, she adds. But it was teachers, parents and other responsible persons who rebuilt the school system. "We have a vision," says Usdin: The schools should be exactly the opposite of the "morally, financially and economically bankrupt system that we had before."

... teachers and parents lend a hand themselves

Small classes, a lot of reading and always targeted tutoring.

Sarah Usdin believes that New Orleans can serve as a model for much-needed educational reform across the country. Important components are the selection of teachers and rectors and the possibilities and means that are given to them so that they can achieve a jointly defined goal. The New Orleans schools would check every few weeks that they were doing their job properly. "This lesson of leadership and foresight and right teaching and rigor and constant control, and that the schools are themselves responsible, is exemplary."

Usdin's words resonate with disappointment at the state's neglect of the education system. She is almost grateful for the "Katrina" disaster: She made a completely new start possible and gives the children in New Orleans opportunities that they were previously denied.

Author: Christina Bergmann
Editor: Anne Herrberg