Nov 13, 201310:00 AM
Dispatches from a New Orleans Newcomer
Navigating the New Orleans School System
Since Chris and I are engaged, we’ve been having lots of "marriage talks." We talk about when we want to buy a house, when we want to join cell phone plans and when we want to have kids.
The kid thing seems to come up a lot because it often meshes with another conversation about where we want to buy a house. We keep asking ourselves: If we buy a house in New Orleans, where will our kids go to school? We have not been able to answer this question. The school issue has also come up in many other conversations I've had with fellow New Orleans newcomers, as everyone seems a little uneasy about the New Orleans school system.
I was spoiled with a great public school education. I attended public school from kindergarten through high school graduation. My family and I moved a few times when I was little, but my parents always chose houses in good school districts. Because of this, I grew up thinking that where you live determines where you go to school, and that that school is always great.
I have since learned that the idea of “where you live determines where you go to school” does not apply to New Orleans since the whole system works differently here. Parents have the opportunity to choose where they want their kids to go and then there’s an application process. As someone who grew up with a completely different process, the whole New Orleans school situation seems very confusing and complicated. Plus, New Orleans isn't known for having a stellar school district.
The good thing is New Orleans' education system is improving. I recently read this Wall Street Journal article, in which reporter Stephanie Banchero does a great job of explaining what's going on. The article, which is headlined “Inside the Nation's Biggest Experiment in School Choice,” talks about the big changes in New Orleans that have happened since Hurricane Katrina. Banchero writes:
There is broad acknowledgment that local schools are performing better since Hurricane Katrina washed away New Orleans' failing public education system and state authorities took control of many campuses here.
The article goes on to talk about how parents in New Orleans can participate in an “open marketplace,” which allows parents to have a say in where their kids go to school so they can potentially pick the best school for their children. It’s not so easy, though, since there’s a lottery and some schools participate in the lottery and some do not… Like I said, it’s complicated. (Side note: The Wall Street Journal did include this cool graphic that maps out New Orleans' schools, which is pretty interesting.)
Even though the system isn't perfect yet, it is still seeing good results. Banchero's article also notes the improvements in test scores and other measures of success, saying:
Graduation rates went to 78% last year from 52% before Katrina—surpassing Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Oakland, Calif., cities also struggling to boost achievement among lower-income students. The share of New Orleans students proficient in math, reading, science and social studies increased to 58% in 2012 from 35% before the 2005 storm, state data shows.
Another article I read back in February in New Orleans Magazine (for which I'm an associate editor), also talks about how New Orleans' experiment may one day be seen as the model for how to fix a flawed school system. Education Columnist Dawn Ruth writes:
The school system that once consistently tied with another Louisiana parish for dead last in academic achievement and ultimately one of the worst in the nation, now boasts double-digit improvements in test scores, graduation rates and national college entrance exams for black students.
But even with all of these improvements, I feel like New Orleans' school system still has a bad reputation. I have some friends who grew up here and almost all of them attended private Catholic school. Other people I've talked to here have told me they're thinking of moving to the Northshore so their kids can go to school there. One man I know moved with his family to Slidell particularly for the school district.
This conversation happens a lot with my fellow newcomer friends, too. Whenever the question “Do you think you will live here long?” comes up, it almost always goes to, “Yeah, I want to, but I don’t know if I want to raise kids here. Where will they go to school?”
On the other hand, I’ve talked to other people who rave about where their kids go to school in New Orleans. One of those people is fellow MyNewOrleans.com blogger Eve Crawford Peyton, who recently blogged about her daughter Ruby’s school Morris Jeff Community School and how much they both love it. So maybe my future kid can go there?
It seems like everyone has an opinion in New Orleans about how to get the best education. It's a lot more complicated here than moving to a good district and putting your kid on the school bus. I know there are always aspects of moving to a new place that require adjustment, but I sometimes wonder how I'll deal with the education issue here when it comes time for my own kid to go to school. Should my kid go to private school? If Chris and I can't afford private school, how will we make sure our kid gets into a great public school? Does it make sense to move to a nearby suburb simply for the schools?
I don't know the answers to these questions, but I have to figure them out in the next few years. I'm not ready for kids right now, but I will keep doing research about finding the perfect school in New Orleans. Choosing a school seems like a huge decision and one for which I want to be informed before my future children get to kindergarten. In the meantime, I'm glad New Orleans schools are seeing improvements. Every kid should have the right to a great education, even if their parents have to work a little bit harder to find it.