This week, thousands of school leaders, teachers, advocates and policy-makers gathered in New Orleans for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference.
While the event featured a number of big names in education policy, it goes without saying that perhaps the biggest draw for attendees was New Orleans itself—a city that embarked on a bold transformation of its public school system after Hurricane Katrina and is now reaping the benefits of those reforms.
For me, the big lessons from this week are that we must be clear about what has worked, what hasn’t and what still needs to be done, as well as take steps to protect the accomplishments we’ve made over the past decade. With the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina quickly approaching, it’s critical that we take a step back, both to celebrate our successes and recommit to continuing our work in the years to come.
First of all, there’s a lot to celebrate about in New Orleans and across Louisiana. Today, 95 percent of students in New Orleans attend a charter school and Louisiana’s commitment to accountability means charters offer high-quality educational options for families. The percentage of New Orleans students attending failing schools has dropped from 62 percent before Katrina to just 6 percent in 2014. The high school graduation has increased from 54 percent to 73 percent and college enrollment jumped from 37 percent to 59 percent between 2004 and 2014.
On the other hand, we still face several critical issues that need to be addressed going forward. As State Superintendent John White noted this week, we’re limiting the progress we’ve made in K-12 education when we leave thousands of families without access to quality childcare, or when high school seniors earn a diploma, but can’t find an affordable path to college.
Earlier this spring, Democrats for Education Reform launched a new chapter in Louisiana with the aim of cultivating and supporting democratic leaders who are informed about education policy issues and put the interests of students first.
The upcoming election cycle is an opportunity to ensure we can build upon the impressive accomplishments we’ve made over the past ten years. It is crucial now, more than ever, that we work together to elect leaders who will advocate for common-sense education reforms, support initiatives that serve students and their families and defend the progress we’ve made in Louisiana thus far.