Charter Pulse

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LOUISIANA: Transforming New Orleans schools

improvementTo fully appreciate the dramatic change in New Orleans public schools reflected in the state’s latest performance scores, you need to think back to before Hurricane Katrina. In those days — eight, nine, 10 years ago — it would have been unfathomable that city schools could move up so far, so quickly.

When Katrina hit and the levees broke, 68 of the city’s 117 public schools were failing under state accountability standards. Half of the rest were in a precarious academic position.

All 13 of the city’s non-selective high schools were considered failing, and Booker T. Washington High School had the lowest score of any school in the state.

There were high-performing schools, particularly those with selective admission. But the vast majority of the 68,000 children in the city system in those days were stuck in a subpar school. It was shameful how little hope there was for their success.

Today is far different.

Before Katrina, 65 percent of students were in F schools. Only 20 percent were in A or B schools. Now 67 percent of children in the city’s public schools — traditional or charter — are in A or B schools, according to the latest state analysis. Fewer than 6 percent are in failing schools.

No one could have predicted that dramatic a shift.

The public school landscape in the city is vastly different than it was eight years ago. The state’s Recovery School District and the Orleans Parish School Board directly run some schools, but most schools are independent charters. The OPSB, which kept the top-performing city schools post-Katrina and now oversees 19 schools, is the second-best performing district in the state.

OPSB as well as the St. Bernard, St. Charles and St. Tammany school systems earned an “A” letter grade this year from the state. That is a positive sign for our region. Jefferson Parish, which has been working hard in recent years to transform its school system, earned a B.

What is remarkable, though, is that the Recovery School District’s schools in New Orleans earned a “C.” The RSD took on all of the city’s failing schools after Katrina.

Being average in a state that ranks near the bottom nationally might not seem like an achievement to some. But considering that the city’s school system was for years among the worst in the state, a “C” is a sign of success.

Some critics point out that the state changed its grading system this year, which may have given some New Orleans schools a bigger boost than they normally would have seen.

The state stopped using attendance as a measurement in elementary schools and for high schools added a credit for scores on ACT, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests.

The state also changed the way it credits schools for improvement made by students who are behind academically — awarding bonus points for students who improve, even if they don’t make a passing grade on state standardized tests.

Those changes apply not only to New Orleans schools, though. So the comparisons with other systems across the state are valid.

When combined, RSD and OPSB school systems have moved up 29 spots in state rankings while other traditionally low-performing systems are still where they were.

ACT scores have risen significantly for city students, and on numerous statistical measurements New Orleans schools as a whole are close to the state average instead of at the bottom where they had been.

That doesn’t mean our work is done as a community, of course. Until every child is in a successful school and is well prepared for college or work, we shouldn’t be satisfied.

There are still public schools in New Orleans — and across the region — that fall far below that mark. But the number is far smaller than it was eight years ago, far smaller than almost anyone believed was possible.

More children are actually learning what they need to know. More children are finding school an enriching experience.

And that is something we should celebrate.

Source: – Editorial

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This entry was posted on October 28, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Louisiana and tagged , .


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