by Katy Reckdahl | December 25, 2019 | nola.com
In 2018, as the city’s system of charter schools transitioned from state control to the oversight of the Orleans Parish School Board, the Greater New Orleans Foundation sat down with school and philanthropic leaders. The idea was to look closely at the newly unified system in an effort to determine what stood in the way of every student succeeding.
“We recognize that there’s a long-term impact of racially inequitable policies, both inside and outside of schools, that is the background to all the challenges that we face currently,” said Andy Kopplin, president and CEO of the foundation.
The fledgling partnership this week released the result of a yearlong needs analysis, called “New Orleans School Partnership Study: What Our Students Need and How We Can Help.” The report outlines how historical and current-day racism and inequities leave some schools and communities better able to address students’ needs than others.
It comes at a time when many are asking questions about the success of the charter school revolution launched locally in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Nearly half of the city’s 72 charter schools scored either a D or an F grade in the most recent school performance scores from the state. Despite a slight increase in overall school performance, students’ test scores largely have stayed level for three years, after several years of increases.
To create the new report, the partnership — made up of NOLA Public Schools, the Greater New Orleans Foundation and two philanthropic partners, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Baptist Community Ministries — sought to determine what students need and whether New Orleans has the resources to meet those needs. They hired researchers to collect data and to survey school and nonprofit leaders, students and parents.
They found that many high-priority needs are not being met. In particular, the demand for trauma counseling and mental-health services far outstrips their availability citywide. The analysis also found that students learning English need more help to perform on grade level.
“It was like, you know, a blinking red light — that students with special needs require additional services that are not available,” Kopplin said.
School leaders identified mental-health and behavioral services as “the most pressing need” not currently being met.
According to the analysis, existing community organizations can provide:
- Academic support for only half of kindergarten through eighth-grade students who need it, even though most students are not proficient on state LEAP exams.
- Identification and support for only one-fifth of special education students.
- Social-emotional programming for, at most, one-third of students who need it.
Kopplin said the report’s findings are already being used by local philanthropists to steer how grants are awarded, with hopes of strengthening the educational system and building student performance.
“When all of these things come together, the ultimate result will be a stronger student,” said NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr.
Some needs are starting to be addressed.
For instance, the report found that nearly 50% of teachers in New Orleans public schools were novices with three years or less of experience, far higher than the 18% average elsewhere in Louisiana. In recent years, New Schools for New Orleans and other organizations have launched initiatives to reduce the high attrition rate that contributes to the district’s lack of seasoned teachers.
However, most schools funding — 98%, according to the report — goes directly to individual charter schools, which operate autonomously, in a way that’s not measured by this report, which measures only community capacity, not how each school allocates resources and meets needs on its own.
“One school is doing things one way and another school is doing things another way,” said Charles West of Square Button Consulting, which helped to create the report along with Education Resource Strategies, the Spears Group and the Racial Equity Institute. “So one thing that we made clear is that a deeper study of what’s happening at schools could be undertaken.”
Given historical racism and inequities, however, resources likely are more plentiful at nine higher-performing schools that the report describes as “concentrated advantage schools,” where the student body is at least 20% white and fewer than 60% of students are economically disadvantaged, compared with the remaining public schools, where 88% of students are black and 90% are economically disadvantaged.
Earlier this month, NOLA Public Schools proposed a “systemwide needs program” to support teacher and student initiatives by offering training and grants to address some of the deficits identified by the report, though it’s unclear how schools with higher levels of unmet needs would be prioritized for the new support.
Over the next few months, the partners plan to meet with school leaders to get that deeper picture of what resources exist at the individual school level to meet student needs.