News & Opinion | July 16, 2018 4:25 pm

Why the New Orleans Education Overhaul Actually Worked

After Hurricane Katrina, the city made some massive changes.

Third graders at Sylvanie Williams College Prep elementary school work on computers during class, on January 16, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Before Hurricane Katrina, the public schools in New Orleans were some of the worst in the country. According to The New York Times, the high-school graduation rate was 54 percent, and even some of the students who did graduate did not feel up to par with their academic skills. But after Katrina’s devastation, New Orleans started the most ambitious education overhaul in modern America when the state of Louisiana took over the system and abolished the old bureaucracy and closed nearly every school. The state then became an overseer and hired independent operators of public schools, so charter schools, and tracked their performance, according to The Times. Then, on July 1 of this year, the state returned control of all schools to the city, but the charter schools remain. A locally elected school board, accountable to the city’s residents, has been left in charge. The Times spoke to students, teachers, principals, community leaders and researchers to learn about the positives, negatives, and big lessons learned from this overhaul.

Performance on every kind of standardized test has risen dramatically, and a new study shows that the test-score gains are translating into real changes in students’ lives. Plus, high-school graduation, college attendance, and college graduation have all risen. The driving forces behind the progress? Autonomy and accountability.