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.