Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina tore through our region, taking nearly 2,000 lives and forever altering hundreds of thousands more. Though many of the storm’s scars have healed, in multiple ways our city is still recovering.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of that generation-defining moment, we mourn and we remember. But we also celebrate our resurgence.
Yesterday, New Schools for New Orleans released 10 Years in New Orleans: Public School Resurgence and the Path Ahead. Written in partnership with Public Impact, we seek to tell the story of our city’s education rebirth, the remarkable rebuilding of a school system in the wake of a natural and man-made disaster.
Ours is a story of steady progress, challenges and breakthroughs, of educators, families and students continually pushing toward the system our city deserves.
We have much to celebrate. The improvement to public schools in New Orleans over the last decade has been remarkable.
- In 2005, 60 percent of public school students in New Orleans attended a school in the bottom 10 percent statewide. Now, that number is down to 13 percent.
- Our average ACT score has grown from 17.0 to 18.8, while the percent of students taking the ACT has nearly doubled.
- Our graduation rate has increased by nearly 20 points citywide, and college-going rates are up as well.
In short, one could argue that New Orleans had the worst urban school system in the country before Hurricane Katrina. Now we’re on par with other urban districts across the country—in many cases, we are beginning to surpass those districts.
The transformation to our schools has positively impacted the lives of thousands and thousands of children who would have been left behind by the old system.
Revolutionizing the role of government in public education enabled our transformation. The district moved from school operator to regulator of the system’s quality and fairness. Non-profit charter school organizations led the way on performance improvement and innovation, while simultaneously recognizing that they are not niche players—they are “the system.” They are responsible for ensuring that every child receives a great education.
But we don’t confuse progress with success. While growth has been undeniable, we are still a below-average school district in a bottom-performing state. If New Orleans stalled today, the city would land squarely in the middle ranks of our country’s underperforming urban school systems.
Too few students would have the opportunity to receive an education with the power to help them realize their vast potential. Too many would be consigned to economic insecurity and a host of other negative life outcomes in part because our schools would not have delivered.
We must address a long list of challenges—including building a great educator workforce, increasing the number of students we graduate who are academically prepared for what’s next and developing a long-term solution that establishes a single effective local governance entity for New Orleans schools, one that holds all schools accountable for quality and equity.
One of the most pressing challenges is the persistent feeling among many in New Orleans that reform has happened “to” and not “with” the communities served by the schools. The frustration that these New Orleanians harbor towards “reformers,” the Recovery School District, charter schools and many other non-profits is inextricably linked to larger issues of race, class and privilege in New Orleans and the country.
All of the city’s adults must develop a shared sense of ownership over education in New Orleans—including acknowledging real wounds, working to heal them and moving forward together. Our public schools must become a point of civic pride. There is no other path to excellence.
We seek to become the first great urban public school system in the country—one whose schools perform on par with the best suburban districts in America, one that personalizes the student experience for all children and one that provides multiple rigorous pathways through and beyond high school to help every child, regardless of background, live up to their potential.
In a city with a dark history of racial segregation, we seek to become a system of schools that represents the racial and socioeconomic diversity of New Orleans.
We believe in our city and in the people walking beside our kids every day helping them excel. New Orleans can become a city where every child attends a great school. The road ahead is long. But it is within reach.