Drastic reforms implemented post-Katrina credited with sparking growth

The progress seen in post-Katrina New Orleans education received glowing commendations from the New York Times this week, continuing the spate of national recognition the city has received since overhauling the education system.
Prior to the storm, roughly 60 percent of New Orleans public school children attended failing schools. Now, this number has drastically shrunk to 18 percent – progress described by Education Secretary Arne Duncan as “stunning.” Likewise, nearly half of Recovery School District (RSD) students are now performing at the ‘basic’ level on state tests, double the rate from five years ago.

The editorial accurately credits drastic measures implemented on the state and local level with charging this revival. One of the particularly controversial reforms cited is the complete overhaul of the city’s teaching corps following Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent implementation of skill tests and higher performance standards.

The creation of the Recovery School District is also attributed with giving individual schools greater autonomy and reducing the stagnant central bureaucracy which plagued the prior school system, as well as the influx of energetic young teachers recruited from around the country. The RSD’s decision not to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions is also noted.

Of all the reforms instituted, arguably the most notable is the preponderance of charter schools versus traditional public schools in the city, which far outpaces the ratio around the country. The correlation between charters, which employ more flexible and student-tailored teaching methods, and progress is hard to ignore. While charters are “often accused of siphoning off scant resources and taking the best students from traditional schools,” the Times points out that accountability measures have ensured that this is not the case in New Orleans.

While the progress in New Orleans is garnering national media attention, as evinced by this editorial, it is far from complete. Many schools are still failing and are rife with underperforming and troubled students. However, the upward trajectory of student and school achievement indicates that they are finally being given a chance to succeed.