Dear friends and colleagues,

Here at The Data Center, we’re thankful for the 90,503 young people age 19 and younger in New Orleans.  It is not trivial to assert that “the children are our future.” Truly, it is a demographic reality.

With the holiday season upon us, and New Orleans’ tricentennial drawing to a close, we’re pleased to release our final Prosperity Index report, which covers the history of New Orleans public schools.   

This report reveals that New Orleans was a southern pioneer in public education—influenced by northern democratic ideals that a public school system should be tax-supported, educate all children together, and prepare all to participate in our democracy and our economy while developing a shared sense of community.

But the story of public education in New Orleans was rarely about educating the public at large. Based on a legacy of colonialism and chattel slavery, and then de jure and de facto segregation, there has never been a time when all residents of the city participated in the public school system together. When they have been allowed to attend school, the poor and students of color have often attended second-class schools designed (whether wittingly or unwittingly) to deprive future generations of resources and opportunities for upward mobility. 

The recent moment is one of historically high optimism and attention being paid to public education in New Orleans. If we are to reform our public school system so that it serves its intended ideals, it will likely have to enroll a larger percentage of our young people than it currently does. A disproportionate share of New Orleans families (about 25 percent) choose private schools, compared to a national average of 10 percent. We will also need to take seriously the role of community engagement and democratic control, even if charter schools remain the primary option for most public school families in the short term.

If our leaders are willing to create the conditions for sustained improvement, and our citizens are prepared to support them, then the long-articulated promise of an accessible, equitable, and high quality public school system is attainable.

Today, The Data Center releases the sixth in our series of reports we are calling The New Orleans Prosperity Index: Tricentennial Collection. This report is contributed by Brian Beabout of The University of New Orleans and Kyshun Webster of University of Holy Cross.

To learn more, check out “New Orleans Public Schools: An Unrealized Democratic Ideal” as part of The New Orleans Prosperity Index: Tricentennial Collection
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The Data Center team
Erica Amrine, Allison Plyer, Keisha Smith, Dabne Whitemore, Jenna Losh, Robby Habans, Lamar Gardere, and Rachel Weinstein
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