Among the worst in the country before Katrina, the New Orleans school system is being reinvented in a state-led effort. Seventy percent of schools are now charter schools, a far higher rate than in any other city in the nation.
The state-run Recovery School District now directs two dozen schools and oversees 46 charters. The local Orleans Parish school district, predominate before Katrina, now runs 16 schools. Testing suggests that public school students are doing substantially better than before Katrina. According to a report released this month by the Brookings Institution, 34 percent of public school students were in “academically unacceptable” schools in 2009, compared to 67 percent in 2005.
School choice is now a defining characteristic of the system, and a poll conducted last year found wide public support: 69 percent of public school parents said charters have improved education in New Orleans.
But it remains a system in recovery. Many students attend classes in portable classrooms while awaiting permanent facilities. Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint with the Louisiana education department, saying the state has failed to ensure that students in New Orleans with disabilities have equal access to education and are protected from discrimination.