By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer |

Those with the greatest stake in the city’s educational system – its students – came together today with criticisms and recommendations for reform.

In what it’s calling the most extensive student-led evaluation of the New Orleans public school landscape since Hurricane Katrina, members of the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association (VAYLA) have released a comprehensive critique of six city high schools. The report, based on surveys of 425 students and 50 hours of interviews, was scheduled to be released at 3 p.m. today at the main branch of the New Orleans Public Library on Loyola Avenue, near City Hall.

Among its findings:

-70 percent of students say their teachers can not effectively manage their classrooms.

-70 percent say there are not enough textbooks to go around.

-60 percent say they are assigned less than an hour of homework per day.

Other criticisms include lack of college preparation and limited resources for students whose English is a second language.

VAYLA said the Recovery School District, which since Katrina has emerged as a major player in the city’s fragmented school system, has announced commitments based on the survey findings, including the creation of a student/teacher evaluation system and upgraded peer counseling.

Research leader Linda Tran, a recent graduate of the embattled Abramson Science and Technology School, said that as a result of Abramson’s inadequate teachers, she is concerned that she may be ill-equipped for life beyond high school:

“I’m worried about going to college and not knowing anything, and then flunking out,” she said. “I’m already too far behind. Now, I just hope my sisters and brothers don’t have to go to a bad high school. I don’t want them to experience what I had to experience.”

While Tran is willing to speak out about her experiences at Abramson, the report does not identify the six schools surveyed. Instead, it characterizes them demographically and reveals that two are charters, two are run directly by the Orleans Parish School Board and two by the Recovery School District.

To keep survey responses as candid and honest as possible, research leaders didn’t seek clearance from school administrators before talking to students, VAYLA president Jacob Cohen said.  “It was hotly debated if we should just disclose the names,” he said. “But we wanted to make students feel comfortable. We also felt like a lot of the issues were cross-cutting issues at many schools in New Orleans.”

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her reporting on charter school transparency and governance. In 2012, she was part of a team that received a National Edward R. Murrow Award for their work following a New Orleans family's recovery after Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Edna Karr Secondary School in Algiers, and she obtained her bachelors degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.