|The degree to which schools struggled before the storm, for instance, gave fuel to forward momentum. Additionally, post-Katrina New Orleans was viewed on a national level as “school reform central,” which contributed to an influx of talent and energy to the city’s schools. Finally, Harris and Larsen note that an urban context allows for large-scale, meaningful school choice in a way that suburban and rural settings may not.
While these particular circumstances made New Orleans’ exact process of reform unique, Harris and Larsen suggest that other districts and states can still learn from New Orleans’ progress, particularly in terms of the role of government in education reform. Despite the frequent use of the term “market-based reforms” to describe the New Orleans approach, a significant aspect of our system is the distinctive and active role played by government entities. The essential elements of charter school autonomy and parent choice are combined with specific, intentional government functions related to accountability and equity, such as charter contract enforcement and centralized student enrollment.
The New Orleans reforms worked. We must let this serve as both a cause for pride and a call to action; our work is far from done. The data—and our experience—still show gaps to fill and growth to pursue. For instance, despite gains by black students on long-term outcome measures, the gap between black and white students on achievement scores has widened since reforms began. This calls for continued innovation and dedication to change. We can’t rest at progress when inequities persist.
We also note that some measures of success have dipped or stalled in the past few years. While there remains overall growth, we must push forward with more energy and strategic clarity than ever, so that progress is strong and steady.
We are proud to be a beacon nationwide, and we know there is still work to do. This is the moment for us to lean into our strategy for change. This report is not a capstone; rather, it is a marker and a motivator. We are on the right path, and we must continue with urgency for all of our students.