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New Orleans Schools

Susan Notes:

After Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the public school infrastructure in New Orleans, Louisiana embarked on a massive effort to rebuild the entire New Orleans public school system, launching the nation's most extensive charter school experiment. Here is a summary of the result.

Iâve spent a lot of time in New Orleans and this is a tough thing to say but Iâm going to be really honest. The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina. That education system was a disaster. And it took Hurricane Katrina to wake up the community to say that we have to do better. And the progress that it made in four years since the hurricane, is unbelievable.
--Sec. of Education Arne Duncan

by Michael T. Martin

A May 15, 2010, Report by the Institute on Race and Poverty, at the University
of Minnesota Law School commissioned by the Loyola Institute for Quality and
Equity in Education has some interesting findings. The report is titled: "The
State of Public Schools in Post-Katrina New Orleans: The Challenge of
Creating Equal Opportunity."

Some interesting findings:

"The reorganization of the city's schools has created a separate but
unequal tiered system of schools that steers a minority of students, including
virtually all of the city's white students, into a set of selective,
higher-performing schools and another group, including most of the
city's students of color, into a group of lower-performing
schools. The extremely rapid growth of charter schools has not improved this

"In the new system, public schools operate under five distinct governance
structures that serve
different student populations: Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) traditional
public schools
(which educate 7 percent of the city¡Ãs students); OPSB charter schools
(20 percent); Recovery
School District (RSD) traditional public schools (36 percent); RSD charter
schools (34 percent);
and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) charter schools (2

"In 2009, 87 percent of all white students in the city attended an OPSB or BESE
charter school,
while only 18 percent of black students did so. In contrast, 75 percent of black
students attended an RSD school (charter or traditional public) in 2009,
compared to only 11 percent of white students."

"Students of color were much more likely to attend a high-poverty school
than white students in
these two sectors. For instance, in 2009, students of color in OPSB charter
schools were nearly
12 times more likely to attend a high-poverty OPSB school than white

"The charter school sector in the city of New Orleans has been growing in a
haphazard way in response to strong financial incentives and not because of
their superior educational performance. The increasingly charterized public
school system has seriously undermined equality of opportunity among public
school students, sorting white students and a small minority of students of
color into better performing OPSB and BESE schools, while confining the majority
of low-income students of color to the lower performing RSD sector."

"OPSB and BESE schools in the city provide some of the most advantageous
educational settings in the region. However, they do so mostly by skimming the
easiest-to-educate students through selective admission
requirements that allow them to set explicit academic standards for incoming
students. They also shape their student enrollments by using their enrollment
practices, discipline and expulsion practices, transportation policies, location
decisions, and marketing and recruitment efforts. These practices certainly
contribute to the selective student bodies and superior performance of these

"RSD charter schools still skim the most motivated public students in the RSD
sector despite lacking the selective admission requirements OPSB and BESE
charters have. They do so by using their enrollment practices, discipline and
expulsion practices, transportation policies, location decisions, and marketing
and recruitment efforts. These practices almost certainly work to increase pass
rates in RSD charters compared to their traditional counterparts."

"As a result of rules that put RSD traditional schools at a competitive
disadvantage, schools in this sector are reduced to "schools of last
resort." This sector continues to educate the hardest-to-educate
students in racially segregated, high-poverty schools."

"The new, post-Katrina, public school system in New Orleans is becoming
more and more reliant on charter schools. The sector grew rapidly as a result of
the coordinated efforts of a number of charter school proponents, in response to
strong financial incentives (from the federal government and the philanthropic
community), and not necessarily because of superior educational performance by

"As charter schools begin replacing traditional public schools at the district
level through school conversions, parents, students, and teachers may be forced
to choose a charter school because of the lack of high-quality
traditional public schools. In fact, this is already happening in parts of New
Orleans, where traditional public schools have not been reopened in the
aftermath of Katrina. When charter schools become the only option, rather than
being one among many, choice options are narrowed for students."

"An improving traditional public school sector should remain as part of an
expanded portfolio of choices available to the city's students. The
current playing field is clearly not level. This report documents the rules and
practices that put RSD traditional schools, which educate 36 percent of the
city's students (the majority low-income students of color), at a
competitive disadvantage."

— Michael T. Martin


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