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New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) is a public school system that serves all of New Orleans, Louisiana, United States. Schools within the system are governed by a multitude of entities, including the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), which directly administers 4 schools and has granted charters to another 12, and the Recovery School District of Louisiana, which directly administers 33 schools and has granted charters to another 37. Though the Orleans Parish School Board has retained ownership of all the assets of the New Orleans Public Schools system, including all school buildings, the majority of students attending public schools in New Orleans now attend independent public charter schools - making New Orleans the only city in the nation where more than half of all public school children attend charter schools. The headquarters of the OPSB is in the West Bank neighborhood of Algiers, while the RSD's headquarters is on Poland Avenue in the Ninth Ward.
NOPS was the New Orleans area's largest school district before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in August 2005, damaging or destroying more than 100 of the district's 128 school buildings. NOPS served approximately 65,000 students pre-Katrina. For decades prior to Hurricane Katrina's landfall, the New Orleans public school system was widely recognized as the lowest performing school district in Louisiana. According to researchers Carl L. Bankston and Stephen J. Caldas, only 12 of the 103 public schools then in operation within the city limits of New Orleans showed reasonably good performance at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
In Katrina's immediate aftermath, an overwhelmed Orleans Parish School Board asserted that the school system would remain closed indefinitely. The Louisiana Legislature took advantage of this abdication of local leadership and acted swiftly. As a result of legislation passed by the state in November 2005, 102 of the city's worst-performing public schools were transferred to the Recovery School District (RSD), which is operated by the Louisiana Department of Education and was originally headed by Louisiana Department of Education staff member Robin Jarvis. The current RSD superintendent is Paul Vallas. The Recovery School District had been created in 2003 to allow the state to take over failing schools, those that fell into a certain "worst-performing" metric. Five public schools in New Orleans were transferred to RSD control prior to Katrina.
The NOPS system is currently digesting reforms aimed at decentralizing power away from the pre-Katrina school board central bureaucracy to individual school principals and charter school boards, and at vesting choice in parents of public school students, allowing them to enroll their children in almost any school in the district. Charter school accountability is realized by the granting of renewable, five-year operating contracts permitting the closure of those not succeeding. In October 2009, the release of annual school performance scores demonstrated continued growth in the academic performance of New Orleans' public schools. If the scores of all public schools in New Orleans (OPSB-chartered, RSD-chartered, RSD-operated, etc.) are considered, a district performance score of 70.6 results. This score represents a 6% increase over an equivalent 2008 metric, and a 24% improvement when measured against an equivalent pre-Katrina (2004) metric, when a district score of 56.9 was posted. Notably a score of 70.6 approaches the score (78.4) posted in 2009 by the adjacent, suburban Jefferson Parish public school system, though that system's performance score is itself below the state average of 91.
The conversion of the majority of New Orleans' public schools to independently administered public charter schools following Hurricane Katrina has been cited by author Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine as an application of Milton Friedman's Chicago school of economics shock doctrine, and of the tactic of taking advantage of public disorientation following a disaster to effect radical change in public policy. The reforms imposed upon NOPS in the wake of Katrina are, nonetheless, extremely popular with the public, given its almost total dissatisfaction with the status quo, pre-Katrina. A recent survey conducted by Tulane University's Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives indicated that the state's takeover of NOPS and the subsequent spread of independent public charters are viewed with overwhelming approval, by both parents of students and by citizens in general. (However, it should be noted that Tulane's Cowan Institute is hardly an impartial source of information on this subject; Tulane operates charter schools in New Orleans and Scott Cowan, Tulane's President, is a major ideological supporter of the charter schools movement.) Specifically, a poll of 600 randomly selected Orleans Parish voters and 300 randomly selected parents of children in the NOPS system indicated that 85% of parents surveyed reported they were able to enroll their children at the school they preferred, and 84% said the enrollment process was easy - findings that surprised the researchers. Furthermore, 82% of parents with children enrolled at public charter schools gave their children's schools an "A" or "B", though only 48% of parents of children enrolled in non-chartered public schools assigned A's or B's to the schools their children attended. According to the survey, clear majorities of parents and voters overall do not want the Orleans Parish School Board to regain administrative control of NOPS.
Fifty three public schools opened in New Orleans for the 2006-2007 school year. This number included schools run by the OPSB or the RSD, or schools chartered by the OPSB or the RSD. By November 2006, the district was approaching half of its pre-Katrina enrollment, with 36% of the students enrolled in independent charter schools, 18% in the Algiers Charter School Association charter network, 35% in the state-run RSD, and 11% in the few remaining district-run schools. The majority of students in the NOPS system attended independently administered public charter schools, a condition that has persisted to the present and is cited with approval by national advocates of charter schools.
For the 2009-2010 school year, the Orleans Parish School Board directly administers 4 schools and oversees the 12 it has chartered. The RSD operates 33 schools and has chartered 37. Additionally, two schools were chartered directly by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).
The Algiers Charter Schools Association is a system of eight charter schools that including schools affiliated with NOPS and the RSD.
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