10 Years of Reform The Report The Executive Summary

New Orleans tends toward self-analysis – some would even say self-obsession. We talk constantly about our food, our politicians, our festivals, our Saints, our tragedies and identity.

In this report, NSNO talks about our city’s schools.

More specifically, we try to answer the question “What will be the story of public education over the last decade?” This report sifts through a messy tangle of events to pick out the threads that matter. We bring essential facts to the surface, place stories in their local and national context, evaluate successful efforts, and point to persistent challenges that remain.

Public education is a profoundly complicated endeavor. NSNO’s perspective is one among many. Read others.

Though what follows emerged out of dozens of focused interviews and a decade of work in the city, we can’t hope to capture all the social and political nuance of a decade of schooling.


The most important aspect of New Orleans’ transformation is a reimagined role for the school district. Government has shown that when it regulates the system for quality and equity, but doesn’t run schools directly, performance can improve. This innovative structure gives schools autonomy—a crucial ingredient to helping their students thrive.

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New Orleans needs more great public schools. Unlike most cities nationwide, New Orleans will rely on a diverse constellation of local, nonprofit charter school organizations to provide these opportunities to families. Academic performance has improved significantly with the transition to a nearly all-charter school system, but much work remains.

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Strong teachers and principals are at the heart of every effective school. New Orleans empowers educators in unique ways. They seek out schools with compatible values, cultures, and instructional approaches to join. This system elevates the teaching profession and creates the conditions for great people to help students learn.

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Innovative solutions to equity challenges have become a hallmark of the New Orleans system—from transparent school enrollment through the centralized EnrollNOLA system to a fair discipline process that reduced suspension and expulsion rates below 2005 levels. Equity and academic excellence should go hand-in-hand.

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After a decade of unprecedented growth and irrefutable evidence that schools are getting better, some in our community remain frustrated with how reform in New Orleans has happened and how decisions are made. This leads some to ask the question, “Were the academic gains worth it?”

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Educators need resources and flexibility to support student learning. New Orleans allocates the vast majority of public funding directly to schools, and resources from philanthropy and competitive federal grants have complemented these core dollars. This support has enabled the system to adapt to meet student needs.

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