Success in Education: New Orleans

Nathanael Yellis By Nathanael Yellis • Last Updated May 18, 2021

Massive disruption in education is a recipe for success. When you get the adults out of the way and focus on kids and their education, things can go really well:

It’s working. Sci, whose student body is representative of most pre-Katrina public schools (92 percent are on free or reduced lunch and 95 percent are black), is a star performer in a reinvented school system obsessed with analytics. After Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans laid off every public-school teacher and started from scratch. It turned over most of the system to the state-run Recovery School District, which began issuing charter licenses that allow schools to operate in whatever way they see fit, as long as they meet certain standards. The RSD is strict about credentialing only ambitious, college-prep schools—and even stricter about closing them after three years if they fall below expectations. Eight years after Katrina, more than 80 percent of the city’s students now attend a charter school. And the early results are amazing. 

Before Katrina, the passing rate on state tests was 35 percent; now it’s 60 percent. The graduation rate has climbed from 55 percent to over 75 percent, surpassing the national average. Before the storm, three-fifths of the city’s students attended a failing school; now fewer than one-fifth do, even as standards got tougher. And parents are 40 percent more likely to send their kids to a school other than the one closest to their home, according to a forthcoming study by Douglas N. Harris, an education economist at Tulane, and several of his colleagues. (Most charter schools, like Sci, are open-enrollment; there are no more district schools.) At this rate, within five years New Orleans will become the first major city in the country to exceed its state’s average scores.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

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