Letter: Schools working in New Orleans

With the recent release by the U.S. Department of Education of national high school completion rates, New Orleans has cause to celebrate. In terms of graduating students on time, New Orleans has closed the performance gap, outperforming the state and the nation.

States now use a common measurement for high school completion: the percentage of students who graduate within four years with a regular diploma. The data on the graduating class of 2011 show that nationally 76 percent of white students and 60 percent of black students graduated on time.

In New Orleans, 76.5 percent of our students graduated on time:

New Orleans had 2,051 high school graduates in 2011, 443 more than if we were at the national average for black students, and 657 more than if we were still at New Orleans’ 2005 graduation rate.

This improvement is a game-changer for our students.

Research shows high school graduates are more likely to be employed and less likely to be arrested or incarcerated. According to the Census Bureau, the average annual income for high school graduates is almost $10,000 higher than for those without a diploma, and other studies show households headed by a high school graduate accumulate 10 times more wealth than households headed by a dropout.

Our goal is not just to graduate students, but to give them the educational foundation they need to succeed in college or a career.

In Louisiana, ACT scores and TOPS scholarships help measure this preparedness. The 2012 average ACT composite score for all public schools in New Orleans was 18.2, up from 17 in 2005.

A higher percentage of our graduates also qualified for a TOPS scholarship. TOPS provides two- and four-year merit-based scholarships to Louisiana public colleges and universities based on a student’s grade-point average, ACT score and coursework completed.

In 2005, only 25 percent of New Orleans public school graduates qualified for a TOPS scholarship; in 2012, 39 percent did.

We measure many things in K-12 education, but how well our schools do in graduating students prepared for the next stage in their life is the most-important benchmark.

Before Katrina, the valedictorian of Fortier High School could not graduate because she could not pass Louisiana’s Graduation Exit Exam in math after six attempts over three years. Her plight symbolized the failure of New Orleans public schools.

Then, we were warehousing children. Today, the education reforms in New Orleans are working, and we are providing our students greatly improved educational opportunities.

Leslie Jacobs, founder

Educate Now!

New Orleans