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.