50 years later, schools still effectively segregated

As a 6-year-old, Ruby Bridges integrated New Orleans Public Schools 50 years ago this week.

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer

Fifty years after New Orleans desegregated public schools, 90 percent of the city’s public school students are black, and nearly a quarter of public schools have student populations that are 100 percent black, analysis shows.

The classrooms, clearly, are less diverse than the city as a whole. In 2008, 75.6 percent of school-aged children were black, 15.8 percent white, 5 percent Hispanic and 3.3 percent Asian, according to the nonprofit group, Agenda for Children.

The overwhelmingly black majority in New Orleans public schools illustrates the challenge of creating a truly integrated school system in a city where stark class divisions play a large part in separating black and white communities.

Of the 91 public schools operating in New Orleans in 2009, 16 of them had black enrollments of 99.5 or higher, according to school system data collected by Greater New Orleans Data Center. (excel spreadsheet)  By comparison, 58 percent of the students at private or parochial schools in the city are white, according to Agenda for Children.

The city’s public schools have seen a 2 percent increase in non-minority student population since Hurricane Katrina – in 2005, 94.6 percent of schools had populations of 90 percent to 100 percent minority compared to 92.4 percent of schools last year.

But clearly, the “opting out” of parents who can afford to do so is still a major problem for the city schools, said Laura Mogg, research director for Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives.

“What we’re left with is a system that is segregated by class and income and that, in large part, has contributed to the lowering in school performance,” Mogg said.

New Orleans schools that have enrollments with 99.5 percent black or above are:

  • Alternative Learning Institute
  • Arise Academy
  • Booker T. Washington High School
  • Carver Elementary School
  • Excel Academy
  • Kipp Believe College Prep
  • Kipp Central City Academy
  • Kipp Central City Primary
  • Langston Hughes Academy Charter School
  • McDonogh No. 28 City Park Academy
  • McDonogh No. 35 Senior High School
  • P.A. Capdau School
  • Robert Russa Moton Charter School
  • Schwartz Alternative School
  • The Youth Study Center
  • Albert Wicker Elementary School

All but one* of these schools were deemed failing after Hurricane Katrina and put under the control of the state Recovery School District. While many of the schools have seen increases in student achievement since the storm, all still face significant challenges with large numbers of students performing below grade level. The outlier is McDonogh No. 35, a high-achieving school under the control of Orleans Parish School Board.*

By contrast, the schools with more diverse student bodies are the city’s most elite. Highly ranked Benjamin Franklin High School, for instance, reported a 2009 population that was 44.3-percent white, 30-percent black, 23.3-percent Asian and 2.3-percent Hispanic. At competitive Lusher Charter School, 51.5 percent of the 2009 students were white, 38.8 percent black, 5.1 percent Asian and 4.4 percent Hispanic.

Public school advocate Ashana Bigard said the data represents what public school parents already know all too well.

“The problem of segregation and white flight have never been reconciled,” she said.  “People make excuses but separate but equal is not equal.”

* This article was changed to correct a factual error that mistakenly identified McDonogh No. 35 as a failing school under the control of the RSD. As Lens education reporter Jessica Williams astutely noted in the comments section, McDonogh 35 is high-performing school under the control of Orleans Parish School Board.

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  • JFR

    Correct. Separate but equal is NOT equal. This is why we chose to send our son to Morris Jeff Community School. Their vision to accurately mirror the city’s racial makeup drove us there. We have the obligation to our son (who is white) and our city to work to deconstruct racial divides.

  • I think this is reflective of a larger problem – that the city discourages middle class folks of all races from staying due to substandard education options. I’m a middle class urban dweller and facing the issue of where to send my kids to school. I’d PREFER a public school that reflected the society around me, but it simply doesn’t exist except maybe in charter schools (which have a hugely inadequate number of slots and are almost impossible to get into). So my choices are: A) Very poor under-performing monoracial public schools, or B) Extremely expensive slightly-less-monoracial private schools. My family is encouraging me to leave for the suburbs where you can get a good public education in a more economically/racially diverse school. Jefferson Parish, for instance, was ranked by Teach For America as the most racially diverse public school system in SE LA. But I’m a city person, and don’t want to leave. The better schools are so tempting though.

  • Emily Richards

    Why does the article refer to black children as being “minority?”

  • ariella cohen

    Good question, Emily. The term “minority” is used to refer to all students classified as non-Hispanic white, a group that includes Latino, Asian and black children.So, throughout the article we use the term black to describe black children, but then in the stat that includes other non-whites, we use minority. Thanks for asking.

  • Jessica

    Fact error: McDonogh #35 was not deemed failing after Katrina. On the contrary, it was one of the top 10 performing high schools in New Orleans. McDonogh #35 is currently under the control of OPSB, not the Recovery School District.

  • Jessica

    McD #35 is also not a charter school. Maybe you meant McDonogh #42?

  • Ariella Cohen

    Hi Jessica,

    Good catch. I corrected the story above ( and noted the correction.) As for the charter school point, the data is not limited to charter schools and nor is the story. The word charter, in fact, does not appear in the story. (Perhaps a first in post-K education coverage?)

  • thanks for the article. two quick observations/suggestions.

    #1: consider including the number of students at each school. the much hyped “success” of charter schools in new orleans does not reveal the large numbers of students who are pushed out and/or miseducated.

    #2. consider including the budget for each school, or the per student expenditure. what will quickly be obvious is not only are the charters spending two and three times as much per student, but also they are run on a model that is unsustainable by new orleans and therefore dependent on outside funding. that’s not public education, that’s outside manipulation.

    what the “successful” charters actually demonstrate is that resources (both in terms of money but also in terms of instructors and in terms of the composition of the student body) greatly influences the success of public education. level the budgets, service special needs students as 15% – 20% of your student population, and mandate actual open admissions to the entire student population of new orleans, look at the result and then, if you can, tout your success.

    education should be looked at not as a cost but as an investment, not as a competition to determine who is the smartest but rather as a cooperative effort to educate everyone.

    kalamu ya salaam, co-director
    students at the center