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

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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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