Institute Outlines Challenges Still Facing Orleans Schools

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Uneven performance among schools in different neighborhoods and a need to improve career education are among the challenges the New Orleans school board faces as it prepares to take back governance of close to 50 schools from the state, an education think tank said Wednesday in its annual report on the schools.

         All of those schools are now operated by independent charter organizations under the oversight of the state's Recovery School District. But legislation passed last year puts the schools on track for return to local control as early as next year.

         Tulane University's Cowen Institute began researching and reporting on the city's public education system after the state took over most public schools in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Levee failures during the hurricane caused widespread damage, schools were unable to open immediately and lawmakers moved to take control of all but a handful of schools from a local system that was widely disparaged for poor student performance and corruption.

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         With preparations for a return to local governance underway, the institute issued its annual report on the state of New Orleans schools Wednesday morning. In addition to statistics on the students and the schools they attend, the report summarizes lingering issues the board will need to address as it resumes control of the schools.

         While noting improvement in academic progress over the years, the report said there remain issues that will have to be addressed by the school board. They include:

Uneven progress. "Though schools have improved in the past decade, the quality of schools in specific areas of the city varies greatly," the report said.

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College readiness. New Orleans schools began placing an emphasis on college readiness after Katrina and the percentage of New Orleans public school students enrolling in college grew from 39 percent in 2004 to 59 percent in 2014, the report said. But the report said data on how well they do once they enroll is "largely unavailable" and will be crucial to measuring how well the schools are really doing.

Career readiness. The institute said career and technical education in high schools has improved but more efforts are needed to make sure training is aligned with available jobs in the area.

Special education. The report said schools need more resources to make sure special needs students, including those with mental health issues, are better served.

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         – by AP Reporter Kevin McGill


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