Citywide Education Progress Report


Key Takeaways: June 2018

In July 2018 the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) will finish receiving all of the schools formerly managed by the state-run Recovery School District, making OPSB the first school system in the country comprised solely of autonomous schools. New Orleans made strong early progress closing the city’s achievement gap with the state between 2010 and 2015. But state data released in November 2017 revealed a decline in the city’s test scores, highlighting the urgency to address persistently low-performing schools. This will mean doubling down on recruiting the talent the city needs to drive school-level improvement and using data to ensure new or restarted schools are in the highest-need neighborhoods and at the most-needed grade levels. Setting a clear vision for a high-quality system of schools, and involving families and schools in the process, will be key steps post-unification.


System Reforms

Do students have access
a high-quality education?

Transportation is working Good
Enrollment is working Good
Families have information Good
Array of school models Developing
Strategic school supply Developing

Is the education strategy
rooted in the community?

City engages families Good
Variety of groups Good
Broad support Developing
System is responsive Developing

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Equitable funding Exemplar  
Right teachers Developing  
Right leaders Developing

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

► Establishing a common vision for a system on reset

Starting in July 2018 the publicly elected OPSB will manage a fully decentralized school system, all the while navigating a tight financial situation and adjusting to new state grade requirements. Reunification has presented a common goal that the city’s disparate nonprofits, civic leaders, and schools can rally around. But once unification is complete, New Orleans must develop a common vision and plan that can continue to guide efforts forward as a high-quality system of schools, rather than a smaller, more traditional school district. The board, district, and community organizations must clarify how each group interacts with and advances that vision in unified and role-appropriate ways. Unification provided an opportunity for community groups and families to provide input and be part of the city’s education coalition. It will also be important for system leaders to sustain opportunities for community input while also closing the feedback loop so families know what the system can and can’t respond to.

► Developing talent and operators who can succeed in New Orleans

The state’s last year of curved scores were published in November 2017, exposing a three-year decline. Forty percent of the schools were rated as D or F; the percent would have been higher had the scores not been curved. School improvement in a fully autonomous system can happen—as early progress in New Orleans demonstrated—but it will require system leaders to double down on attracting and developing high-quality leaders, teachers, and operators. 2018 interviewees expressed a concern that the novelty of New Orleans’ school system has worn off, making it harder to recruit talent. Nonprofits and system leaders must seek new avenues to recruit nationally and further develop “grow your own” models. The city should also look into developing new partnerships with nonprofits and universities to focus teacher and leadership development on areas that matter most in New Orleans: being successful in autonomous school settings, guiding school turnaround, and working with youth who have experienced high levels of trauma. The quality and fit of operators is also critical. In 2018 OPSB received only one application each for three charter schools it planned to restart. System leaders must assess why so few operators in the city have capacity for the work and how to address this shortcoming. Continuing to attract and develop operators that can deliver a variety of learning environments, motivate students, and prepare them for life after high school must also remain a priority.

► Ensuring system leaders have the data to drive improvement

To push forward on school and system improvement, New Orleans needs data and a way to store and share it. OPSB just approved a new school performance framework to assess quality and is working to align new school development with the Facilities Master Plan. New Schools for New Orleans is starting to track teacher vacancies to drive talent strategy. These efforts are headed in the right direction, but it is still just the start. Identifying who will own data collection for school portfolio management and talent—OPSB or a nonprofit—is a critical question. System leaders now have a common framework, but they must ensure that they have the capacity to conduct regular analyses using this, and to regularly update the facilities plan. In the future, system leaders may want to include survey information from families about what school models and services they want for their child’s school. Then the system must make the data and analysis transparent so it is accessible to the many schools, service providers, funders, and nonprofits in the city. System actors can then use the information to locate, restart, and expand in the highest-need neighborhoods and at the most-needed grade levels.


Teacher Council Guides Talent Strategies

A group of 36 teachers from across New Orleans are being tapped to provide input on district strategy and teacher pipeline development. The Teacher Advisory Council is the last of three advisory bodies established by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB)—the others are student and parent councils.

The council has already been asked to give input on the district’s strategic plan. Their main work, however, is to partner with system leaders on improving teacher pipelines. Teachers on the council will administer surveys at their schools so system leaders will know the supports teachers want and the struggles they face. Especially important is identifying differentiated supports teachers need, depending on how long they have been teaching, and other factors. Then OPSB and the council’s partner,  New Schools for New Orleans, can develop strategies to leverage existing supports or create new recruitment and development pipelines.

While this work is just beginning, there is also hope that the council can help break down silos, both between teachers and with system leaders. Teachers across different charter networks and neighborhoods will work together. OPSB also wants to use the council to help teachers understand their role in the larger system and know which levers they can pull when they want to see change.

City Upgrades Special Education Application and Enrollment Process

Families of children with IEPs want to know what specific services are available at a school before applying, but school information guides rarely provide  descriptions about these services, leaving families. This means families must track down someone to talk to at the prospective school or enroll and find out midyear whether it is a good fit.

EnrollNOLA, the city’s application and enrollment system, publishes detailed information about which special education services are available at each school. A family will know whether the school is inclusion-only or has special programs for students with moderate to severe needs.

To improve the application and enrollment process, the city conducted a landscape analysis in 2017 to identify available special education seats. It is also working to set aside space for students requiring specific services. EnrollNOLA adjusted its algorithm for how students are assigned and when they can transfer, so special education students can more easily transfer when a school is not the right fit.

Meeting the needs of students requiring specialized services has been a weakness for New Orleans in the past. The measures above are not perfect: schools still don’t report the percent of students receiving special education services. But these are critical improvements for any family living in a high-choice city.

Student and School Outcomes

Between 2012 and 2015, New Orleans’ school proficiency rates improved in reading and math, relative to the state. The city is about at the national average when it comes to how well it educates low-income students, and all students are proportionately enrolled in advanced math coursework in high school. Graduation rates remained mostly flat.

► Between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the math proficiency gap between the city and state was closing. In 2014-15 the city’s proficiency rate was 2 percentage points below the state’s.

► In 2013-14, the city’s graduation rate was about on par with the state’s.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. Performance data from the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and graduation data from EDFacts. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.


About New Orleans

After more than 10 years of overseeing a majority of the city’s charter schools, Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD) is transferring its 49 schools back to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) by July 2018 under a unification plan (Act 91). This transition will mark the next chapter of the city’s work to transform how public schools are governed and operated.

School Choice in the City

All New Orleans schools are open enrollment, with some that have selective enrollment. There are neighborhood zones for a share of spaces at most schools, but families are still able to apply to any school across the city using the OneApp process.

Governance Model

This past year (2017-18), New Orleans schools were either overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board or the Recovery School District.

2015 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 43,948 students
Race and ethnicity: 87% black, 7% other (including Hispanic), 6% white 
Low-income: 84% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition

Source: Enrollment data from EDFacts, 2014-15.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.




The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email