What do we do now? We focus on solutions.

December 13, 2017

Out of the 200 largest school districts in the United States, there is no city serving primarily black students that outperforms New Orleans on academic growth. This was recently highlighted in The New York Times. In 2015, Tulane’s Education Research Alliance said that they were not “aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.”

Over the last two years, however, our results have been disappointing. For the first time, statewide academic performance outpaced New Orleans and now one of every three public school students attends a D or F rated school.

We have done more than what most thought possible. And not done nearly enough.

So what do we do now? We focus on solutions and we double-down on our commitment to the students and families we serve.

New Schools for New Orleans has identified three core strategies to address the root causes of our recent performance. Our work is one part of a greater citywide effort. We are grateful to the partners we work with—and acknowledge those outstanding organizations that will tackle other critical issues facing our city’s young people. This is a team effort and we must rise together.

#1: We will help schools make the instructional shifts necessary to meet more rigorous standards.

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) has developed such a comprehensive, coherent curriculum that education leaders from Milwaukee are blogging about the positive impact it has had for their schools.

Districts across the state were more disciplined in their implementation of these resources. Their performance improved, while New Orleans’ stagnated. Based on our work with schools and the district, we believe only a third of elementary schools are using fully aligned curricula for English Language Arts and only one in five high schools are using aligned math curricula.

Overhauling a school or networks’ curriculum is complex and cost intensive work. Fortunately, the federal Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides a framework for NSNO to collaborate with LDE and local leadership to support schools to make these changes. Through this collaboration and the support of national experts, we will dramatically increase the number of schools using the state’s tier 1 (fully aligned) curriculum starting now.

#2: We will invest in schools and partner with OPSB to improve the quality of New Orleans school options.

A New Orleans family had a slightly more than one-in-ten chance to get their child into a top performing school in 2004. Those chances are much better today; over one-in-three families now send their child to an A or B school. This is notable progress, but too many families still do not have a good option.

To address this, we will invest in educators to launch new schools with a promising approach, expand high-performing schools, or turnaround failing schools. There also remains a strong likelihood that within the next few years several schools will fall short of their renewal bar. NSNO will work with the district and partner organizations to ensure students in these schools are supported and get the opportunity to attend a higher performing school.

#3: We will take an active role in coordinating solutions to the city’s teacher recruitment and retention challenges.

Each year, New Orleans schools need to hire nearly 900 teachers. Like most urban school districts, about 20% of our workforce leaves the classroom annually. Left unaddressed, teacher recruitment and retention deficits will limit our ability to make sustainable progress.

In November, we joined Xavier University, Loyola University, Teach For America, teachNOLA/TNTP, and the Relay Graduate School of Education to announce a collaborative effort to recruit and train 900 new teachers by 2021.  As Dr. Renee Akbar, the Chair & Associate Professor of Xavier University’s Division of Education and Counseling, acknowledged during the press conference—now is the time to put aside past ideological differences and come together as a city.

We are also working with experts on teacher retention to identify how our schools—and the city—could make teaching a more sustainable career choice. From teacher pay and working conditions to tax relief and housing subsidies—we need to explore all potential opportunities to support our teachers.

We are resilient.

Turning around one of the lowest performing school districts in the country, in a city with generations of inequity, is not a five or ten year project. It is challenging work filled with inevitable stumbles. But when we falter, we do what we have done for our 300 year history.  We get up. We find solutions. We address the challenges in front of us.

This is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do to better the life outcomes of our young people. No matter what lies in front of us, my faith remains with our families, our students, our educators, and our ability to once again prove what is possible for kids in New Orleans.

Have a happy holiday!

Patrick