Guest Column from The 74: Regulators, Innovators, & Collaborators in NOLA Education

January 29, 2019

This week, The 74 published a piece by our CEO, Patrick Dobard, on what’s really behind the strength of New Orleans Public Schools. We’re proud to share it here. Read on for Patrick’s reflections on the innovators, regulators, and collaborators at the backbone of our system of schools. 


The year 2018 brought significant progress for education in New Orleans.

To start, we saw meaningful improvement in student achievement. In the 2017-18 school year, 80 percent of New Orleans schools earned an “A” or “B” progress index rating, which measures student growth from one year to the next. We also moved up eight spots in statewide rankings of district college-going rates, with 61 percent of our students enrolling in two- or four- year colleges after graduation. This is a striking increase from a college-going rate of just 37 percent in 2004.

We also saw critical structural changes. For the first time since before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the city’s schools are authorized by a single local body, the Orleans Parish School Board. This shift continues to place agency in the hands of those closest to children. The board also set a higher bar for accountability last year, one that places student growth as a key factor.

Our progress stems from the hard work of many: from board Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. to parents and teachers, school leadership teams, nonprofits and local agencies, and, of course, the students themselves.

So how did we do it? Folks are quick to attribute any growth (or setback) in New Orleans to the role of charter schools. Chartering schools in New Orleans was an expedient vehicle that allowed classes to restart immediately after Katrina. Over the last several years, the district has decided to allow that vehicle to be the norm for public schooling in the city. Of New Orleans’s 87 public schools, 79 are under board oversight; the remaining eight are special types of schools open to all Louisiana residents and governed by the state.

The public charter schools-versus-traditional public schools debate has been ongoing for quite a while, but in New Orleans, charter schools are simply our schools. We have no for-profit schools in the city, and our schools are free, public schools.

It is time now to move past that dated conversation and examine what is really behind local growth. […]

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