The city of New Orleans has often been singled out as a success in choosing schools and taking over local schools by the state. This is the result of perhaps the most ambitious school reform effort in the country's history, which began in 2004, a year before Hurricane Katrina. Before the reforms, only 54 percent of New Orleans high school students graduated. After Katrina, the state of Louisiana took over nearly all of the city's schools and began handing them out to independent groups, such as single-school charter schools and mostly local charter school management organizations (CMOs).
This month, after thirteen years, the Orleans Parish School Board took control as the regulatory body of all public schools in the city, reunifying the district and provoking intense reflection on the effects of this revolutionary reform effort. Joe Bouie recently proposed specific measures to address charter schools that operate only in New Orleans. These proposals aim to temporarily stop the issuance of new charter contracts in the city, replace the current admissions system with an application process, re-establish neighborhood public schools under the Orleans Parish School Board, and impose review requirements on contract renewals so that only charter schools with proven success would remain in operation. Billions of dollars later, New Orleans remains the lowest performing school district in the worst-performing state.
A Tulane University study found that students in New Orleans did not change schools significantly more than those in Jefferson Parish, but that black and economically disadvantaged students were more likely to move than their white peers. The findings echo those of previous studies that found that, after school reforms following Hurricane Katrina, student mobility in New Orleans declined. More than 75% of New Orleans students during that period did not move, compared to 73% of students in Jefferson Parish during that period. Meanwhile, a recent editorial from the New Orleans Tribune denounced the reforms as attempts by white “social engineers and speculators” to gain local influence.
The recent study shows that, as a whole, the New Orleans charter school system continues to occupy the bottom quartile of all public school systems in the state. For many people in the black community, these measures meant a takeover of power. Now we can get a good idea of whether the school reforms in New Orleans have kept their promises. It is important to note that not all public schools in New Orleans at the time of the inauguration had been considered a failure.In conclusion, it is clear that while there have been some successes with school reform efforts in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students have access to quality education.
The recent study shows that student mobility has decreased since Katrina, but black and economically disadvantaged students are still more likely to move than their white peers. It is also clear that there are still many challenges facing charter schools operating only in New Orleans.