Have New Orleans public schools improved? Ask students from the classes of 2004 and 2014

The ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is fast approaching and one of the most frequently asked questions is, “has public education in New Orleans improved since Hurricane Katrina?”. To get to the answer, we should take a closer look at the senior class of 2014, and compare it to its 2004 counterpart.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, public education in New Orleans was a disaster. The school board was completely dysfunctional and school system finances were a mess. It was clear that most students were not achieving at a level that would prepare them to be successful adults.

The 2004 graduation rate was barely above 50 percent. Very few of those graduates were heading to college, let alone scoring well on standardized tests. There is a well-documented story about the valedictorian who could not pass the high school exit exam.

Fast forward to 2014. This senior class benefited from a decade educational options and rigorous academic standards. A comparison of key categories – graduation rate, college enrollment, ACT scores and standardized test performance – shows very encouraging trend lines.

  • High school graduation rate: 56% to 73%
  • College enrollment (first fall after HS graduation): 20% to 59%
  • Percent of students scoring good or excellent on end of course exams: 33% to 59%
  • Average ACT score: 17.0 to 18.4

Yes, it was far better to be a New Orleans public school senior in 2014, as compared to 2004.

Ann Duplessis, president of the Louisiana Federation for Children, says New Orleans parents are now more informed, empowered and engaged, with many school choice options. “They are saying loudly and unequivocally, ‘Don’t go back!’ This is a window of opportunity, opened by Hurricane Katrina, that cannot be closed.”

Data sources:

Tulane University |Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives: http://bit.ly/1LlSqWt
Louisiana Department of Public Education: http://bit.ly/1J6W6ij