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Orleans schools’ graduation rates spur new celebration

22nd January 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Phil Stelly
Contributing Writer

Graduation rates among New Orleans high school students have not changed in recent months, but public school officials are celebrating anew based on two reports circulating among educators.

The first report came from the U.S Department of Education which looked at high school graduation rates across the country based on uniform performance measures, making a state-by-state comparison more useful. The second report came from the non-profit group, Educate Now, which crunched the numbers to get a more accurate picture of graduation rates for both school districts operating in Orleans Parish.

Statewide, the percentage of students who graduated from high school in four years, known as the “cohort graduation rate,” was 70.9 percent for the 2010-2011 academic year, according to the Louisiana Department of Education. In that same time period, the cohort graduation rate for schools operated by the Orleans Parish School Board came in at 93.5 percent. For Recovery School District schools the cohort graduation rate stood at 57.3 percent for the 2010-2011 academic year.

The state released its findings in October 2011 and has yet to release graduation rates for the 2011-2012 academic year. In the meantime, states were required to drop flawed measurement formulas that often undercounted dropouts and produced inflated results.

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Education reported state-by-state graduation rates for the 2010-2011 academic year based on the new criteria. As a result, 26 states reported lower graduation rates compared with previous years while 24 states showed unchanged or increased rates. Louisiana’s graduation rate for the 2010-2011 academic year jumped to 77 percent under the new criteria.

“By using this new measure, states will be more honest in holding schools accountable and ensuring that students succeed,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Ultimately, these data will help states target support to ensure more students graduate on time, college and career ready.”

However the federal agency warned against reading too much into its first-ever report. “The fluctuations should not be considered progress or regression, rather a more accurate snapshot calculation,” the agency said.

Still, the U.S. Department of Education’s report prompted a second look by Leslie Jacobs, who has served on both the OSPB and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Jacobs, founder of Educate Now, asked the federal agency to supply her with a graduation rate for New Orleans high schools operated by both school districts. The grand total, Jacobs concluded, would be more accurate than taking the average score of both districts to come up with a new average.

Last week, Jacobs posted her findings online at and The data on the graduating class of 2011 shows that 76.5 percent of New Orleans students graduated on time compared with the national rate of 76 percent for white students and 60 percent for Black students.

The completion rate for New Orleans students means they:

• Outperformed the national average for Black students by 16.5 percentage points,

• Outperformed the national average for white students,

• Outperformed the state average and

• Outperformed schools in Jefferson Parish (67%), Baton Rouge (62.3%) and Shreveport (61.5%).

Jacobs said the education reforms adopted post-Katrina are in stark contrast to what was occurring in New Orleans schools prior to 2005. “Then, we were warehousing children,” Jacobs wrote. “Today incoming 9th-graders are now over two-times more likely to graduate and qualify for TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Program for Students).”

Jacobs called the soaring graduation rate a game changer. She pointed out that research has shown that high school graduates are more likely to be employed and less likely to be arrested or incarcerated. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual income for high school graduates is almost $10,000 higher than for those without a diploma.

Jacobs also noted that other studies have shown that households headed by a high school graduate accumulate 10 times more wealth than households headed by a high school dropout.

For their part, school officials are cautiously optimistic. “We are pleased with our performance so far,” said Stan Smith, interim superintendent of the Orleans Parish School Board. “Our challenge is continuing to improve on that graduation rate.” A spokesperson for the Recovery School District could not be reached for comment.

This article was originally published in the January 21, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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