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Rebuilding and Transforming New Orleans Public Schools

Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans public schools. But the city used this tragedy as an opportunity to create an innovative education model that led to substantial improvements in student test scores and graduation rates.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the city’s public school system was already grappling with debt, aging assets, and poor student performance. Graduation rates were so dismal that it ranked among the worst K-12 districts in the country. 

The storm took the district’s troubles to a new level when it damaged one-third of all school facilities beyond repair, displaced all 65,000 students, and put 4,000 teachers out of work. 

To get the district back up and running, the state of Louisiana took over 88 percent of the schools via the Recovery School District (RSD), a state agency focused on turning around failed schools. RSD officials turned to BCG for help in the rebuilding effort.

A Bold New Model

The team began a rigorous, transparent, and inclusive process to assess the true state of public education in New Orleans. Key stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and principals, were asked for input, as were national and international experts. The team reviewed case studies of the best performing schools in the US and analyzed pre-and post-Katrina school performance and capacity. 

That process enabled New Orleans to develop a sustainable, long-term strategy and blueprint to transform its public education system. This master plan led to the creation of a bold new education model, known as the system of schools, that provided more flexibility, options, and accountability than ever before. 

In addition, the district increased the rigor of project management, developed plans to streamline and efficiently operate critical school functions, and created processes to recruit top-quality school leaders and teachers. It also launched shared services support for charter schools and coordinated volunteer services to create efficiencies and reduce the cost of repairing and rebuilding schools.

Quantum Leap in Improvement

Nearly ten years after Katrina, New Orleans public schools bear little resemblance to the disintegrating educational institutions they once were.

New Orleans schools led all other state districts in performance growth on state tests in 2013.

Thanks to its efforts and the community’s support for a single, shared vision for its school system, RSD in New Orleans led all other urban districts in performance growth on state tests in 2013. Also, its students have continuously shown clear improvement in math and English proficiency on standardized test scores.

Many in the community believe that New Orleans public schools are better than before Hurricane Katrina. This educational quantum leap has also served as a linchpin for other critical rebuilding and renewal efforts in New Orleans, including economic development, job growth, and other quality-of-life measures.

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