Newsweek Needs A Civics Lesson, Or Maybe A Quiet Gravesite

When the Washington Post sold Newsweek Magazine to the Daily Beast for the grand sum of $1, it was a good indication of whether the venerable publication still had any relevance in the modern marketplace.

Since then, Newsweek has hardly turned things around. Most of its articles are reflexively left-wing and seldom provide any depth of perspective or even factual reporting.

Most of the time they’re not devoid of basic civics, though.

For example, it doesn’t take a PhD to know that mayors don’t control school systems. And it also doesn’t take a lot of in-depth research to know that New Orleans’ schools have been mostly under the control of the state, rather than the Orleans Parish School Board, since shortly after Katrina.

But when education reform is cited by Newsweek as the reason why Mitch Landrieu is one of the nation’s five most innovative mayors, it’s clear the candlepower just isn’t there in that newsroom.

This was Newsweek’s writeup on New Orleans’ educational innovations…

Decades of mismanagement. The indictment of education officials. And the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans’s schools have had a rocky recent history.

But now one of America’s worst-performing school districts has been transformed, and the pace of improvement is unprecedented. That’s because under Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the Crescent City has aggressively embraced education reform. Here, as in most major urban centers, city hall doesn’t control the school system. But Landrieu has unapologetically championed charter schools and other changes that would be considered politically difficult in most municipalities. He’s successfully campaigned for pro-education reform candidates for the school board. And he’s helped raise millions from national philanthropies and worked to secure a $1.8 billion lump sum from FEMA to rebuild schools destroyed by the 2005 storm. The result is a sea change in public education. Consider this: nationwide just 4 percent of students attend charter schools. In New Orleans, nearly 80 percent of parents choose charters. Seven years after Katrina, the dropout rate has been cut in half, while test scores have soared by double digits. The lessons are clear—increased competition, autonomy, and accountability along with public-private partnerships and parental choice can turn even the most troubled public school systems around.

The author of the piece, John Avlon, says he compiled his list with the help of Stephen Goldsmith and Jayson White of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Do people at the Kennedy School not understand that the state-controlled Recovery School District is in charge of the vast majority of those charter schools? And do Avlon and his Kennedy School pals realize that the RSD’s involvement in New Orleans schools long predates Landrieu’s arrival at City Hall?

The lessons from New Orleans’ school choice programs drawn in the piece are the correct lessons. And you can’t really have a quality discussion about urban renewal and innovation without talking about K-12 education.

But giving Mitch Landrieu credit for the miracle school choice has performed in New Orleans is like giving Sammy Hagar credit for building Van Halen into a powerhouse rock band.

Even that might be giving him too much credit. At least Hagar did some singing. All Mitch does is dance some. As for Newsweek, isn’t it obvious the show is over?

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