Daniele Dreilinger of the Times-Picayune reports that charter schools in Néw Orleans are ill-prepared by large numbers of new students from Central America, and the students and their families are confused by the city’s choice system.
One school saw its Spanish-speaking enrollment jump from 10 to 53 in one year, 20% of its students. “That’s a gargantuan challenge for a small school that six weeks ago didn’t have instruction materials in Spanish or a full-time English as a Second Language teacher.”
“Immigrant students are also arriving in a system under fire. VAYLA last year filed a federal civil rights complaint describing deep gaps in schools’ abilities to serve Spanish-speaking families. In one school, a 5-year-old said she had to translate for her parents at report card meetings because there was no staff member to do so, the complaint said.”
The problems are exacerbated by the city’s Balkanized school “system.” Nearby parishes with central offices and zoned schools are handling the problems of new immigrants with better planning and coordination of services for the students.
Since most of the schools in Néw Orleans are independent charters, no one has an accurate count on the number of new students from Central America.
“The rapid rise of students needing help learning English this is fall means they are spreading to many more schools, observers said. Lacking official numbers from the Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune contacted officials representing more than 60 of the city’s 83 schools to inquire about their enrollment.”
“Part of the reason why some schools are particularly saddled by a large number of new English-learner students, while others get a few, is the New Orleans enrollment system. The “school choice” process is complex and challenging even for families that speak English and have months to decide. Recently-arrived immigrants had neither.”
As late enrollees, the students had to go wherever seats were available. Assignments “were made regardless of whether the schools had teachers and resources available to handle ESL students.”
The downside of NOLA’s almost-all-charter system is that there is no central office to plan or coordinate the response to changing conditions. Every charter is on its own, and every student is also.