Here's to optimism

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education announced sixty-one finalists in its Race to the Top–District competition. In this iteration of the Race, each district contender was required to procure its union’s signature—a condition that nipped some applications in the bud. But by-and-large, charter schools don’t have that problem, and they made off with merry gains: 10 percent of the finalists were charters, while only 4 percent of K-12 public school students attend charter schools—though that number is growing.

Five years after Missouri stripped the St. Louis Public School District of its accreditation and took over, that school system—in which students in times past were “almost as likely to drop out as earn a diploma,” according to the Wall Street Journal—is starting to rise from the dead. The difference? Kevin Adams, the unassuming, data-driven schools chief hired by the state-appointed board. Under his tenure, the graduation rate rose 18 percent and the debt fell by $25 million; attendance is up, misbehavior is down, and optimism runs high for St. Louis.

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation will invest $25 million to expand high-performing charters in New Orleans and create new ones—the group’s second investment in the Big Easy. Pre-Katrina, 83 percent of New Orleans schools were failing; after the proliferation of charter schools, that number has dropped to 40 percent. “"High-quality public charter schools have changed the landscape of public education in New Orleans," said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “…We [now] have the opportunity to open doors of opportunity for even more students and ensure that our children get the excellent education they deserve." Huzzah for the Arnolds!

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