New Schools for New Orleans

As school reformers surveyed the wreckage after Hurricane Katrina closed New Orleans schools for six months, they resolved to grab the opportunity to completely remake that city’s disastrously failed education system. It soon became clear that a local nonprofit was needed to serve as an honest broker and advocate for dramatic change. With the backing of donors, an energetic organization called New Schools for New Orleans was created to serve as a kind of combined guide dog/watch dog.

Eight years later, the main New Orleans school district became the first in America to fully close down its conventional schools and replace them with a system of independent public charter schools from which parents can choose (see 2014 entry). New Schools for New Orleans helped make this possible by contributing to the city’s still-unfolding schools revolution in three crucial ways: It helped establish or expand more than a quarter of the charter schools that now educate the city’s children (students in NSNO-backed schools are now improving their growth scores at about twice the rate of students in other local schools). Second, NSNO has led the charge in improving the training of teachers and principals, supporting teaching fellowships and bringing in top national trainers like Match Teacher Coaching, the Relay Graduate School of Education, the Center for Transformative Teacher Training, and others. Third, NSNO has served as a fair but tough reviewer of school results, and a leader in assisting schools in raising their standards every year.

The results have been dramatic. New Orleans has closed about three quarters of the achievement lag by which it long trailed the rest of its state. In the process, NSNO has become a much-prized authority on school reform, and is now consulted regularly by educators from other cities attempting to turn around their own schools. In all of this NSNO has relied powerfully on philanthropic support, including $40 million of multiyear grants from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and support from numerous other donors like the Robertson Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Doris and Donald Fisher Fund, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, W. K. Kellogg Foundation, and Gates Foundation.