Cowen report: Sharp academic growth defies New Orleans’ widespread poverty

Eighty-four percent of New Orleans students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. That’s up 9 percent from the 2004-2005 school year.

And yet the average school performance score in New Orleans has risen by 41 percent during that same period, according to a report released Wednesday by Tulane’s Cowen Institute, a research and policy arm focused on public education.

Louisiana saw a statewide increase in low-income students comparable to New Orleans’ but the city’s academic improvement was far greater. The statewide average score rose by 16 percent.

The report, which uses Feb. 1 state enrollment data, seemingly debunks the myth that poverty and high academic performance are mutually exclusive and highlights the success of New Orleans’ effort to upgrade its school system since Hurricane Katrina.

It also shows that the city’s impoverished students aren’t distributed equally among its schools. More than 90 percent of students in schools run directly by the Orleans Parish School Board come from low-income households as do students in the Recovery School District’s charter schools. But fewer than half the students at charters run by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are low-income, and only about 66 percent of those attending OPSB charters fall into that category.

The report asserted that New Orleans’ free and reduced-lunch population is higher than that of eight other urban districts, though in some cases the data from other cities was not as current as the data from New Orleans.

Cowen Institute policy director Jonah Evans said Wednesday the data cited in the report were the most recent that researchers could find and that the report was being updated accordingly.

The new data do not undermine the report’s central observation — that New Orleans academic achievement is extraordinary given high rates of poverty.

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About 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 bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. She can be reached at (504) 575-8191.

  • nickelndime

    THE COWEN REPORT d/b/a TULANE U.: Please spare me. All of this (statistics and all) is/are bought and paid for with taxpayers’ dollars (federal, state, and city). It’s a crying shame. (OMAGAWD OMAGAWD) I just realized that I have been watching too many Marriage Boot Camp commercials. But it applies. It’s a crying shame.

  • MissMercury27

    This is still not saying anything to me. WOW, kids who come from impoverished backgrounds can still learn? Groundbreaking. (cue Merryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada). I am a high school teacher in a comparable low-income urban district in California, and we KNOW are kids can learn. We see it every day. We work in public, non-charter schools. I am in my 6th year of teaching, and I am so honored to work beside 20, 25, 30+ year veteran teachers of all backgrounds. I love my students, and as a person of color, have a soft-spot for youth of color and/or from low-income backgrounds. What I want to know is HOW the RSD/charter clusterf**k is better than other districts like the one I work in. These studies do not take into account social constructs because there are no data to mark teacher satisfaction, turnover, student satisfaction, family satisfaction. Data that can speak WHY and HOW this model is better than a model in which teachers mirror student demographics, in which parents feel comfortable with teachers and teachers are not scared of talking to parents because said teachers are 23 year old white TFA teachers with no teaching or life experience. I can go on…To sum up, I am so SICK of this entitled rhetoric that these charter school administrators, board members, CORPORATE donors (LOBBIES) spew about wanting to “be the first city in the country to show that kids of color can learn.” That is a direct quote, btw, from a charter exec at the charter school conference in NOLA a few months ago.

  • nickelndime

    THE COWEN REPORT: MissMercury27, I too “…am so SICK of this entitled rhetoric that these charter school administrators, board members, CORPORATE donors (LOBBIES) spew about wanting to ‘be the first city in the country to show that kids of color can learn,’ ” AND I don’t even work in this “the RSD/charter clusterf**k” CITY. (your words, not mine, just in case Steve is proofing – he will have to throw the both of us out). PEACE, Girl!

  • disqus_pn1er9XdzT

    The facts: 33% of students passed tests at basic levels in 2005. Now, it’s 69%. Pre-storm, 62% of the kids were in a failing school. Now, it’s 5%. Our charter district has more high-poverty, high performing schools than any in Louisiana. There is clear success. There’s no conspiracy, there’s not an alterior motive– there was a clear crisis in New Orleans education and those in decision-making positions acted boldly. Our charter schools aren’t perfect, and our system has had LOTS of bumps along the way to be a fully functioning system. But you can’t argue with the facts. The schools ARE BETTER.