SPENO Top 8
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Decentralized governance with shared policies: Most public schools are not overseen by the locally elected school board or the city government. However, the governing bodies that hold schools accountable have adopted a number of shared, innovative policies and streamlined processes that apply across the city’s schools, some of which curtail charter school autonomy. These include:
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Charter school dominance: 93 percent of public school students attend charter schools, the highest rate in the nation.
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Without a traditional centralized bureaucracy, school administrators have more freedom than in other districts to make decisions, including more control over academic policies, finances, and human resources decisions.
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In addition to most schools using the same application and enrollment system, New Orleans’ enrollment is unique because there are not geographic limitations: while some schools offer a geographic preference in admissions, students are allowed to apply to any school in the city and are not assigned to schools based on where they live.
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Collective performance of both schools and students has improved dramatically over the past ten years. Schools have gone from failing to average. Graduation and college enrollment rates as well as student performance on standardized tests and the ACT have all increased. The percentage of New Orleans’ public school students enrolled in schools with a score higher than the state average has nearly doubled.
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Hurricane Katrina destroyed most public school facilities that had already been in dire need of attention before the storm. With federal support, nearly $2 billion has been invested in constructing, renovating, and refurbishing the city’s facilities over the last decade.
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Public school enrollment has steadily increased over the past ten years but the total public school population is still less than 70 percent of what it was before 2005. Though enrollment of White and Hispanic students has increased, public schools do not reflect the city’s overall demographics, as 88 percent of public school students are African-American compared to 60 percent of the entire citywide population. From Hurricane Katrina to 2011, public school enrollment grew by 63.9 percent, compared to a 7.2 percent increase for nonpublic schools in New Orleans.
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Many of the functions provided by a central administrative office in a conventional school district are instead offered by nonprofit organizations in New Orleans. Nonprofit organizations supply services such as, but not limited to: arts education, job training, and after school programming; information for families about school choice and enrollment; philanthropic support and grant-making; teacher training, certification, and professional programs; public oversight; assistance with opening or running of schools; and social work and behavioral health services.
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