August 29, 2015
Ten years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, among the most remarkable dimensions of the New Orleans comeback story are the improved outcomes of the city’s schools. In short, student performance after the storm is better than before the storm.
Our own Ellen Carmichael, who is from Baton Rouge and writes about her hurricane experience here, spent several days interviewing experts on the ground who are featured in our “After the Storm” video. Other films by the Daily Signal and Campbell Brown capture this miracle in vivid detail.
What made Katrina so unique and devastating was not just its cost in terms of lives lost and property destroyed but the extent to which the storm literally washed away systems, institutions and ways of doing things. Faced with a total rebuilding project, residents didn’t have time to play politics or mount an ideological crusade. Instead they had to furiously embrace common sense and “what works.”
It just so happens those solutions — school choice and charter schools — are in greater harmony with conservative, rather than progressive, thinking. The unique circumstance created by Katrina turned a “what if we could start from scratch” thought experiment into something real and tangible — a modern parable of conservative principles in action. The results speak for themselves.
As the graphic below shows, 92 percent of New Orleans students today are enrolled in charter schools, the highest percentage in the nation. Within the Recovery School District (RSD) between 2004 and 2014, graduation rates improved from 54 percent to 73 percent, and college enrollment grew from 37 percent to 59 percent.
Meanwhile, compared to the rest of the state of Louisiana, RSD students from 2005 to 2014 showed a nearly threefold improvement in overall student performance — a 27 percentage point increase, compared to a 10 point increase statewide.
Among African Americans, RSD student performance showed a nearly twofold improvement over the rest of the state — a 27 percentage point increase compared to a 14 point increase. (More data worth reviewing courtesy of AEI is here).
As a city and community, New Orleans has given so much to America. At the turn of the 20th century, New Orleans birthed a new form of music called jazz — a uniquely American style of music with strong individual players who come together to create something that is a little wild, chaotic and improvisational but captivating. At the beginning of the 21st century, tragic circumstances forced the city to improvise, experiment and work together in a uniquely American policy experiment that trusts local leaders to play their part in a way that is bringing the community together.
The one-size-fits-all education-industrial complex in Washington doesn’t quite know what to make of a city that refuses to follow the contrived cadence of the education establishment’s imperial march, but New Orleans continues to march on to its own local beat. The city has, once again, captured the nation’s imagination and attention and inspired all of us to reimagine what is possible when we trust individuals to create something new.
This article originally appears at OpportunityLives.com.