Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the RSD had control of only five schools in Orleans Parish. After the storm, as a result of a poor reputation, many speculated that the New Orleans Public School System would remain shut down indefinitely. Seeing the hurricane as an opportunity for change, state government decided to take more control, and place approximately 100 additional schools in the RSD. While under this new ruling, these schools would remain in the recovery school district for at least five years. During this time, the schools test scores and overall performance would be evaluated. If these schools reached an acceptable level of academic performance, they would then be returned to local control.
So far, the program has been an overall success for the New Orleans Public School System. Between 2007 and 2010, fourth grade students have increased their pass rates for standardized tests from 49 to 65%. Eighth graders’ pass rates have gone from 44 to 58%. The number of high school students performing on their appropriate grade-level has increased from 42 to 60% in math and 36-52% in English. Additionally, a considerably higher percentage of high schools students are graduating.
Though there are some traditional public schools in the RSD, the majority of it is comprised of charter schools. These schools are nonprofit organizations that control their own budget, make their own decisions regarding hires, and make specific academic decisions, while still receiving federal funding. The new system is also giving more choices to students and parents. There are no longer geographic boundaries that state that a student must go to a specific school based on their district, or what neighborhood they live in. Permits are no longer required to go to “out of district” schools. If a parent or student is not happy with the school that they are attending, for whatever reason, they now have the option to choose a new one. Charter schools are serving the majority of the approximate 24,000 students in the RSD.
The future of the recovery school district is still unclear. Being that the RSD has reached the five year mark, legislation will be held this fall to decide whether or not to continue on the current track of education, or to return the schools back to the local school board. Public opinion believes that the schools should remain in state control, as only 21% of voters stated that they felt the schools should be returned to Orleans Parish School Board. One of the issues at hand is that having two sets of government, one in Baton Rouge (state) and one in New Orleans (local,) isn’t the most ideal situation. With all of this being said, it will be important for local government to provide a stable, productive and helpful plan regarding the future state of New Orleans Public Schools.