New Orleans improves — with black teachers

A new generation of black teachers are part of New Orleans’ schools revival, writes Citizen (Chris) Stewart, who grew up in the city and attended neighborhood schools.

The Orleans Parish School Board — not “white school reformers” — put the city’s teachers on unpaid “disaster leave” because the schools were closed, he writes. That enabled teachers to collect unemployment benefits.

When schools reopened, the Recovery School District required that teacher candidates pass a basic skills test. “One third of the returning teachers failed that test,” writes Stewart.

“Veteran” and “experienced” don’t necessarily mean “quality,” he argues.

(Critics say) the fired black teachers “knew the kids” and “were the backbone of the black middle class.”

. . . The children of New Orleans deserve every shot at a good life we can proivde them. We can’t get there by viewing schools as a jobs program for the black bourgeoisie.

. . . Yes, some of the previous NOLA schools had many lovely, dedicated people working hard in a deeply dysfunctional system that blocked them from doing their best work.

At the same time, many others needed to go.

Today,  54 percent of NOLA teachers and 58 percent of RSD school leaders are black, writes Stewart. Blacks make up 59 percent of the city’s population.

“Great black school leaders and educators are working hard in a new system with many hopeful new possibilities,” he concludes. This time, growth of the black middle class is linked to “academic results for poor black children.”

Education Week‘s excellent series, The Re-Education of New Orleans, includes an interview with a veteran teacher who wasn’t rehired after Katrina.

Resurgence, by Public Impact and New Schools for New Orleans, analyzes what’s changed in NOLA.

74 Million’s Matt Barnum answers critics who downplay progress in NOLA schools.

Music is vital for community and culture, reports Ed Week.

Rebirth of New Orleans schools

REBIRTH: New Orleans, a Learning Matters documentary on the post-Katrina transformation of New Orleans’ schools, is looking for Kickstarter funding to pay for “sound mixing, color correction, animation, graphic design, line editing, and building a website for the film.”

In 2004, not even one-third of 8th graders in New Orleans could pass a state reading test.  In some schools, the number was lower – just 4 percent.

Since then New Orleans public schools have been transformed.  Test scores have risen steadily outpacing every other district in Louisiana.  Graduation rates are up, dropout rates are down.

. . . Today the city is 80% on its way to becoming the nation’s first all-charter school district, perhaps a future model for the nation.

Here’s more on the documentary from John Merrow.

Born on the Bayou: Learning from New Orleans

In Born on the Bayou – A New Model for American Education, David Osborne (Reinventing Government) looks at how New Orleans restructured its schools after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

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.

New Orleans’ new schools

Five years after New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the city’s bet on charter schools has begun to pay off, writes Jed Horne in Education Next. 

Before Katrina, two thirds of students attended a low-performing school. That number has been cut in half.  New Orleans public schools are improving at three to four times the statewide rate.

Some 71 percent of students now attend charter schools.

 For a change, extraordinarily good things could be said about New Orleans’s traditionally atrocious public school system.

After Katrina, the sstate-run Recovery School District took control of most New Orlenas schools; the Orleans Parish School Board was left with a handful of  high-performing magnet schools, some of which have chosen to go charter.

Under the old order, the all-powerful school board and central office had seemed to view the district more as an adult jobs program and dispenser of patronage-based contracts than as a source of education for young people.

Now, by design, no single apparatus of power—not OPSB, RSD, or the charter schools and charter management organizations that answered to them and to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)—could assert hegemony and dominate the others.

Horne writes about the future of New Orleans’ schools, some of which may return to local control.

Lifting all boats in Louisiana

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has apologized for saying “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina” because it destroyed a disastrous school system and opened the door for change.

Duncan’s statement was “quite accurate,” said Louisiana’s superintendent of education, Paul Pastorek. “It was a pathetic system before the storm.”

Pastorek talked earlier with Lisa Snell, Reason Foundation’s education policy director, about what’s changed since Katrina.

Today in New Orleans, nearly 60 percent of the city’s estimated 26,000 students are in charter schools, and test scores have risen dramatically since 2005. The proportion of fourth-graders who meet or exceed grade-level work in English rose from 44 percent in 2005 to 59 percent this year, a gain of one-third. Eighth-graders improved even more, jumping from 26 percent to 42 percent. High school scores have also shown marked gains, particularly in math, with 58 percent meeting or exceeding state standards this year compared with 38 percent in 2005. In January 2009, Education Week gave Louisiana an “A” grade in the category of “standards, assessment, and accountability.”

Pastorek talks about turning around low-performing schools, the role of charter schools, and the challenges and future plans for school improvement in Louisiana.

Update:  In the Wake of the Storm in Ed Next has more on Louisiana’s embrace of school choice.