During the years leading up to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, most of New Orleans’ public schools were failing and only 55 percent of students were graduating from high school. As the flood waters of Katrina receded, our community realized that New Orleans public education could—and must—change in order for our city to emerge stronger, healthier, and safer for future generations. State and local leaders acted quickly to capitalize on a rare opportunity to re-make an entire urban public school system. Then and today, almost all public schools in New Orleans are charter schools serving majority low-income students.
In the 10 years since Katrina, while Teach For America was expanding its footprint in the city, the community has seen rapid growth in student achievement. Next year, we expect that not a single child in New Orleans will be attending a failing school, whereas this was not true for 62 percent of students just a decade ago. The proportion of our city’s public school students in grades 3-8 who score “Basic” or above on statewide exams has grown from 25 to 63 percent. Additionally, the gap between New Orleans student performance and that of their statewide peers has decreased from 23 percentage points to six.
Teach For America – Greater New Orleans began with just 45 corps members in 1990, and now has a corps of over 300 serving the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard. Additionally, there are over 1,000 alumni living in the region. Today, TFA corps members and alumni comprise a full 20 percent of the New Orleans teaching force, and over 50 alumni serve as leaders at the school or school systems level.
In the Louisiana Delta, currently half of our students are growing up in poverty, and disproportionately the students that face this reality are African American—this puts the Louisiana Delta parishes (East Carroll, Madison, Tensas, and Concordia Parishes) among the most impoverished counties in our country (#16, 32, 34, and 81 of 3140, respectively, and all in the top 3 percent of all counties as of 2010 US Census). The majority of public schools in the area are well over 90 percent African American despite between 40-50 percent of the parish population identifying as white. Our schools are consistently ranked among the lowest in state by all measures. Schools that earn a C or D from the state’s School Performance Scores (SPS) are often seen as successful, while most in our region remain an F.
Teach For America has been in the Louisiana Delta since 2010 with a corps of 16 in two parishes. We have now grown to five district partners and a growing alumni base as well. In the past five years, we have seen the impact of our teachers, in partnership with community members, with results in test scores, increased graduation rates, and opportunities for our students. Three of our teachers in Concordia Parish began Conexiones: Costa Rica which is now in its third year and takes students to Costa Rica every June. Jennifer Jeffers (Corps ’12) was a finalist for Louisiana Teacher of the Year, and we have also seen the creation of the region’s first charter school.