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Promotin’ the General Welfare: Segregation in New Orleans Schools

Earlier this month, Tulane University's Education Research Alliance for New Orleans declared that the city's public schools are as segregated as ever. Tulane's study found that post-Katrina education reforms affected segregation — particularly among high school students.  


After Louisiana declared the city’s schools a disaster area, after illegally dismissing an entire workforce and turning over the system’s reigns to CMOs and their alphabet-soup solutions-teams, lots of changes were promised. Indeed, there has been progress — but in the matter of who populates most public schools, I’m not sure the “new system” could be expected to remedy this matter. 


Regardless of the population served, the desire for positive outcomes should be the only priority. The focus should be on providing the best possible educational resources and meeting the essential needs of the students and their families to make every New Orleanian as successful as they can be.


Lip service has been paid to the ongoing reality of segregated schools in New Orleans, but demographics and economic realities dictate fate. Of course, addressing the question of how to integrate schools better should be taken seriously. But is it a more pressing matter than to figure out how we can remake schools to improve kids’ lives each day?


Schools should be havens, and coming to school can be catalyst enough to drive kids if they feel a sense of security and inclusiveness while there. There are countless ills which impact kids’ lives adversely, things we cannot control, but if we can get kids to feel – to believe – that school is a place where they can feel secure – a sense of home – then we will have begun to win them over.


Even though this kind of study conducted by Tulane’s Education Research Alliance does point to some necessary points to address, greater emphasis should be placed on improving the quality of education as it relates to serving the needs of the kids. What seems to be missing, beyond all the new-fangled tactics and terminology, is taking a pragmatic approach to teaching the kids who attend most of New Orleans’ underperforming schools.


So much is missing from home life for many of these students. So many simple things. Are schools surveying their students to determine who has internet access? Are schools keeping their doors open for kids to work late because they lack access to resources at home? Are schools providing health services during the school day?


There are those schools which make such provisions, but today’s school has to be something akin to a one-stop shopping spot. An all-in-one community center plus, that meets the needs of kids while they are present, because once they get home, who knows what is available to them? 


The downside of “choice” schools has been the elimination of neighborhood schools for all practical purposes, and there’s no telling what kind of support administrators, educators, and associated providers could accommodate once the school day is done.


The bigger question facing public schools in New Orleans is how to reconfigure schools to integrate services taken for granted in better served communities. Take library services: I know of at least one school which has a public library branch as part of its campus (Martin Luther King on Caffin Ave.) -- what if our library system established satellite branches at as many campuses as possible, or strategically placed locations? Perhaps, kids would have more immediate access to digital resources. 


What if more schools could create basic afterschool homework services and activity “camps”?  Sure, there are lots of programs in place in some schools, but let’s make certain each campus provides a roster of available programs, and where none exist, find ways to deliver those programs, especially ones which help kids with homework or extra time to get work done.


We cannot cure social ills or class and cultural divisions easily, but we can do our best to bring parity to the educational experience for each student and family.   Maybe we can work toward better racial integration of New Orleans’ public schools over time, but how’s about we work toward a better integration of equal educational opportunities first. 


Then, the next time groups like Tulane’s Education Research Alliance conduct a study, maybe they’ll report about positive outcomes to counter the negative narratives which seem to dominate discussions of public education in this city.


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The text above expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender’s Editorial Board.

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