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Institute on Race & Poverty Study: New Orleans School Experiment Misses its Goal

MAY 20, 2010—The University of Minnesota Law School's Institute on Race and Poverty recently completed a new study of Louisiana's massive effort to rebuild the entire New Orleans public school system after its destruction by Hurricane Katrina. The effort represents the nation's most extensive charter school experiment.

The Institute's new study—The State of Public Schools In Post-Katrina New Orleans: The Challenge of Creating Equal Opportunity—evaluated the success of the rebuilding effort in meeting its goal of providing a quality education to all New Orleans students, regardless of race, socioeconomic class, or locality.

The study finds that the remodeled public school system fails to provide equal educational opportunity to New Orleans students. Reorganization has created a "separate but unequal tiered system of schools" that sorts white students and a relatively small share of students of color into selective, high-performing schools, while steering the majority of low-income students of color to high-poverty, low-performing schools.

It also finds continuing racial and economic segregation in the metropolitan area, which undermines the life and educational opportunities of low-income students and students of color. The report documents that school choice in the form of charter schools does not by itself empower students of color to escape the negative consequences of segregation, especially when it leads them to racially segregated, high-poverty, low-performing schools.

The growing charter sector has undermined equal opportunity in the city's schools, the study finds. One method is by directly selecting students through admission requirements in charter sectors run by the Orleans Parish School Board and Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Another is by skimming the most motivated students through enrollment strategies, discipline and expulsion practices, transportation policies, location decisions, and marketing and recruitment efforts of Recovery School District-run charters. School performance varies significantly across five sectors because schools in each sector have different abilities to select students.

The report recommends a multipronged strategy of expanding school choice on a regional basis, rather than the single-strategy approach that relies exclusively on expansion of the charter sector. It calls for a more balanced, regional approach to public education, including a renewed commitment to the city's traditional public schools and enhanced choices in the form of regional magnet schools and new interdistrict programs.

The study was commissioned by the Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education in New Orleans. A copy of the report's executive summary can be found on the Institute's Web site at http://www.irpumn.org.

The Institute on Race & Poverty investigates ways that policies and practices disproportionately affect people of color and the disadvantaged. It works to ensure that people have equal access to opportunity, and to help areas develop in ways that will promote access to opportunity and maintain regional stability.

Portrait of Myron Orfield

Professor Myron Orfield, Executive Director of the Institute on Race & Poverty. Read Professor
Orfield's Bio