New Orleans is catching up

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans public schools were the worst in the state. Now scores for blacks, low-income students and special-ed students are improving more rapidly than scores statewide. The city’s black students have made the greatest gains and  now outperform blacks elsewhere in Louisiana.

That’s a milestone, writes the Times-Picayune. Only four years ago, the city’s students were well behind the state average.  The trend “began after the state takeover of most New Orleans public schools and the seismic shift to mostly independent charter schools.”

Charter students in Washington D.C. are making gains as well.

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  1. Last I knew, it was pretty well-established that a lot of New Orleans residents went to Houston. Has that changed? Did they all come back?


    And tens of thousands of New Orleans residents, their homes and livelihoods destroyed, fled the city; Houston public schools alone absorbed more than 5,000 of the refugee students.

  2. Just read an article (CNN maybe?) that talked about Houston’s changing ‘identity’ due to the influx of displaced New Orleans residents.

  3. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Supersub— Interesting article! Of course, based just on that piece (which only highlights a few people, so it’s anecdote, not data,) it would seem that the people who chose to stay in Houston were the ones who wanted to take advantage of TX’s low-graft, low-tax, business-friendly environment in order to start their own small businesses. If that pattern holds out across all Katrina evacuees, then wouldn’t the HIGHER achievers be the ones staying in Houston?

  4. palisadesk says:

    Spike Lee’s 2010 documentary If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, about post-Katrina New Orleans, takes a brief look at the school system. It’s not an exposé, more an overview from the perspective of refugees and returnees. It paints a much less glamorous picture than the reform press about the “miracle” of New Orleans schools today. For one thing, it points out that schools have not been rebuilt in the poorest sections of the city due to actual opposition from municipal leaders who want the “New” Crescent City to be more white and plutocratic.

    The schools that have opened, whether charter or part of the Recovery School District, mostly provide no services to exceptional students — kids with autism, cognitive disabilities, behavior disorders, physical handicaps and so on. There is in fact a class action lawsuit going forward on the behalf of several thousand families whose children have been denied services in N.O.:

    Spike Lee interviewed N.O. evacuees in Texas who have been unable to return because of the delay in getting permission (or funds) to rebuild their homes, and others who could not come back because there were no special education services for their kids. Others came back from Texas or other states but moved to other parts of Louisiana.

    So Cal’s question, did the kids return? No, they did not. And disproportionately, the ones who did not return are the ones who have the highest needs or were the most economically disadvantaged to start with. The rising test scores in the “New” New Orleans may be more a function of removing the tail end of the distribution than of teaching excellence or the miracles of privatization. Another issue some of the interviewees in the film bring up is the huge salaries and benefit packages going to private operators instead of to services for the students. Hmmmm. And privatization is supposed to mean “cutting fat” from the budget?? Putting students first?? Ya right.

  5. Thanks for those cites. I was pretty sure they hadn’t returned, simply because I know that charter schools get their results from selection bias, so the improved results seemed most likely to be a massive, state wide, indicator of selection bias.

    I’m surprised they aren’t keeping track of how many Katrina evacuees stayed.

  6. palisadesk says:

    Here is a more nuanced and thorough report:

    One conclusion:

    In addition, correlation between academic growth and the major post-storm reforms has not been demonstrated.Changing demographics, the tremendous diversity between school types, and the academic growth of students who relocated to other states all make it difficult to make definitive claims
    about causation.

  7. Cal-
    I’d say that due to the massive boondoggle that the evacuation and resulting dispersal was, it would be nigh impossible to effectively track all the New Orleanians (New Orleaners?)…and in a city the size of Houston, doing a special poll just to locate them would be extremely expensive and result in little benefit.

    Deirdre –
    Remember, it was the lowest-income neighborhoods that got hit the hardest by Katrina, so middle- and upper-class New Orleaners likely returned to their untouched or little-damaged homes.

  8. Regarding the comment about schools not having been rebuilt in the poorest areas, I seem to remember that at least some of those areas are the lowest-lying part of the city (Ninth Ward is one, I think). If that is the case, then I don’t think anything (schools, houses, businesses) should be rebuilt in such high-risk areas. We would do well to remember that part of NO is below sea level. Those areas should be used for parks, athletic fields etc, with only the simple structures associated with them.

  9. palisadesk says:

    I don’t think anything (schools, houses, businesses) should be rebuilt in such high-risk areas

    Using that line of reasoning, the entire Netherlands should be evacuated, as well as nearly all the Mississippi Delta area around New Orleans. What most people seem to have failed to remember is that Hurricane Katrina missed New Orleans. It hammered the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but was only a Category 3 in New Orleans. What caused the devastation of the city was the massive failure of the levee system, which had been predicted by engineers for some time previously (and even just before Katrina — Bush is caught on videotape being warned of the likely levee failure).

    The Army Corps of Engineers has accepted full responsibility for the failure of the levees. Not that that helps the thousands who were killed, injured or forced out of their homes.

    The federal government was also found responsible for failing to maintain the shipping channel (MRGO)from the river to the Gulf.

    The Lower 9th Ward is being rebuilt with the help of private foundations like this one: with an emphasis on building homes that are resistant to rising water and which also afford escape through the roof (many flood fatalities in N.O. died trapped in attics ).

    As for high risk areas — let’s see all the Californians move away from earthquake zones, the denizens of Montana and Wyoming move away from the Yellowstone area (active volcano below), the midwesterners evacuate the tornado zones, the…….oh wait, we may all be obliterated by an asteroid. We live on an unsafe planet.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Some risky places are more risky than others. Anyplace that depends for its safety on the local authorties’ honesty–in New Orleans–and local control of federal operations–in New Orleans, is uniquely at risk. CA has its earthquake codes, which, even in CA, are supposedly being followed.
    A levee is a simple proposition. If it’s maintained. NO couldn’t maintain the levees with the money left over after graft. I don’t expect that to change.
    My sis lives near Houston and her husband was involved in large-scale efforts to take care of the refugees as they arrived. That went well, for a while. Now the Katrina folks are a problem in the Houston area, for one reason or another. Not all, of course, but sufficient to define the group.\
    Speaking of asteroid impacts, Spike Lee would blame white folks for it and insist that black neighborhoods got the worst of it because the whites, seeing where it was headed, neglected to use a force beam from the starship Enterprise to turn it away. Even if all life in Earth were obliterated. Wouldn’t use him as a source. But that’s just me.

  11. I will grant that there are other high-risk areas for property damage, but American taxpayers aren’t underwriting the Netherlands (or Venice) – at least as far as I am aware. Government interference in the insurance market has resulted in far more extensive building, both in number and size of structures, along our coasts that would be likely if only private insurance was available; the insurance cost (if insurance was available at all) would be far too high to justify building miles of high-rise buildings in areas prone to hurrricane damage. Some towns along the Mississippi River have actually relocated because of repeated floods, but taxpayer money has also been used to rebuild other towns several times in the last 10-15 years and I don’t think that’s a good use of my taxes, either. I also agree with Richard that NO’s long and well-earned reputation for questionable governance makes it a particularly bad risk.