New Orleans Is No Education 'Miracle'

By Linda Tran, via Justice Roars.  An article recently posted on the Education Week website offers an important perspective on New Orleans' schools: As a recent graduate of a New Orleans public high school, I find it very troubling that the national conversation about post-Katrina education amounts to little more than talking points about charter schools and test scores. The most telling indication of how we’re doing in the classroom actually comes from a youth-led research project showing the hard realities students continue to face every day. As New Orleans moves to become the first all-charter district in the country, students here must be heard.

The Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association, or VAYLA, surveyed a cross section of 450 students from six different public high schools among the schools overseen by the Orleans Parish school board and those in the state’s Recovery School District, or RSD, asking students for their opinions on everything from counselor availability and teacher effectiveness to school lunches and safety. Published this September, the surveys and testimony that VAYLA gathered contain more than 25,000 student observations. These student voices echo the feelings of many of us yearning to be heard by policymakers.

Louisiana education officials promised to build a world-class public school system after Katrina. But the survey shows that the historic inequalities faced by students of color and those from low-income communities were not washed away by the floodwaters.

An Orleans Parish charter school with a significant white population received high marks across the board, while the remaining five schools averaged what amounts to a C or D in areas like safety, academic rigor, counselor accessibility, classroom management, physical environment, and affordability. I can personally attest to how much these challenges impact a student’s ability to learn, grow, and earn the right to walk across that stage on graduation day.

Even though math and reading scores have improved in New Orleans, the challenge that traps so many people my age is the lack of a high school diploma or at least one that truly represents the education necessary to succeed in life. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, one of every six New Orleans high schools fails to graduate at least 40 percent of its students. By 2018, about 3 million US jobs will be available without enough college educated workers to apply, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Our economic future demands more from our education system and so should we. A majority of the high school students who responded to the VAYLA survey said they did not feel their school was preparing them for college; over 60 percent of students said they complete less than one hour of homework each night; and 20 percent of students also said they have never visited an academic counselor. Schools must find a way to support students with after-school study halls, Advanced Placement course offerings, accessible counselors, and other services that prepare them for college and careers.

Read the rest of the article on Justice Roars.

Linda Tran was the Abramson Science and Technology Charter School's class of 2011 salutatorian. She was also a youth lead organizer and researcher for the VAYLA survey. She is now a freshman at the University of New Orleans.