In August of this year, NSNO released our report Ten Years in New Orleans: Public School Resurgence and the Path Ahead.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting some of our key findings.
The most important reform to come out of New Orleans—the one that enabled every other key change in the system—was to reimagine the district’s role. In the vast majority of schools today, nonprofit charter organizations make the core school-level decisions that affect teaching and learning, including curriculum, personnel, and instructional time.
With a dramatically smaller role in school operation, the Recovery School District (RSD) could focus on becoming an exceptional regulator. The state-run district focused on increasing school quality and system equity—and continuously demonstrated the courage to transform failing schools and expand top charter organizations. Very quickly, this strategy has resulted in fewer children in low-performing public schools and more children attending the highest-quality schools. At the same time, RSD also tackled equity challenges like fair, transparent school enrollment in partnership with charters that recognized they are “the system” now. (We explore the New Orleans equity story further in Chapter 4 of the report.)
No definitive answers have emerged on what long-term structure can protect the autonomy of schools while ensuring meaningful accountability for low academic performance. The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) is showing promise, but perennial worries about corruption dog the local board. And after squabbling for nearly three years to select a new superintendent, the board has not yet coalesced around a common vision that would enable it to make tough decisions—particularly around school turnaround. . If our local district cannot adapt and embrace those principles without inappropriate political meddling, the New Orleans community would be better off navigating the current bifurcated system that has resulted in transformational academic gains.