Are The Good Times Really Rolling? New Orleans Public Schools Remain Disproportionately Affected By a Broken School System

By: Alanna Beasley

Public schooling in Louisiana has long been systematically and generationally impacted by the tradition of what “free” education is. The year 1863 marked the beginning of a long history of inequity regarding life, living, and public education of black children in the City of New Orleans – the year of emancipation of people of color. This year marked the establishment of the very first public school dedicated solely to the “spirituality” of black children. From the outset, black education in Louisiana disregarded the necessity of academics as a priority for black students.

In a report written in 1902 by Assistant Superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools Nicholas Bauer he writes “ …to teach the negro is a different problem. His natural ability is that of low character and it is possible to bring him to a certain level beyond which it is impossible to carry him.” Imagine being devalued before you are even afforded the opportunity to enter a classroom.  That spirit has festered. (Bauer Report, Dr. Raynard Sanders)

In 1917, the very first high school for Black Students (formally an all white, male school) was established in New Orleans by the name of McDonogh High School, and by the 1980-1981 school year, black students made up 84% of the public schools in New Orleans. By the 2004-2005 school year an astronomical 94% of the student population was black. Families with resources – both Black and White- sought alternative means of education, leaving public educational options to those who lacked those same resources.

After the initial integration of New Orleans schools on November 14, 1960, there was an extreme uproar f  rom white families. White families immediately began removing their children from the schools moving towards integration. Ultimately, white families either began moving out of the city entirely and into the suburbs or placing their children into private schools and taking their teachers and resources with them. (

Is it a coincidence that one of the lowest ranking public school systems in the nation houses a majority black student body? History may just be repeating itself, and, at this point, it is no secret that white schools and black schools in Louisiana were and still are separate and unequal, disproportionate in every way, from teacher participation to the quality of learning, and it is not looking too hopeful. Compound this reality with one of ongoing racial injustices and a nationwide pandemic of today and you have the manifestations of systemic racism that have so permeated institutions within these United States. (

Systematically, we have seen no change in the narrative of public education in New Orleans. Time and time again there have been strategies to combat the lack of educational attainment by the students that have historically received subpar education. This is partially because of the inadequate funds for the large and intense projects that would be needed to cause a complete 180 degree change in the scope of New Orleans’ public education.

After Hurricane Katrina washed much of this beloved city away, repairing the school system was taken on by the Recovery School District (RSD) and The Orleans Parish School System. They created a project called the School Facilities Master Plan of New Orleans which was intended to address existing conditions, including the erection of school buildings that were “innovative” and “transformative.” In 2008, this promising project created a positive outlook on education for these students allowing them to have access to facilities that were meant for success. (

Fast forward to today and student achievement in New Orleans has still been stagnant since 2014. Why does New Orleans, out of the top ten districts, still have the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students? How do we get to the root of the problem if we have developed initiatives for students to be successful, yet see no change? It seems that we persist in ignoring an important truth that children from disadvantaged families and children from affluent families have backgrounds that are very disproportionate. Those children who are disadvantaged are bound for a life of lower achievement, and they will have difficulty breaking free from this cyclical outcome. It is time to change the narrative of what it looks like for New Orleans students to have educational attainment and student achievement. (

I am a firm believer that education is the foundation of everything we do. One thing students and families should never have to fight for is knowledge, but does knowledge really start with the condition of a school facility? As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared 50 years ago, inequity in schools must be addressed through reform, but food security, healthcare, and job security policies also must be implemented to take direct actions against poverty that will then provide the context within which education reform can succeed.

I am a direct product of the Louisiana school system. The conversations I have been able to have with my peers have shown me that broken systems create complacency. So many of my peers chose to be okay with the fact that they must settle because they were never given the resources for success. Many of these students were more worried about providing a steady income for their households and putting food on their tables for their younger siblings to eat rather than receiving their education. If the same issues were happening five decades ago when Dr. King advocated for equity, we should be evaluating what direct actions have taken place and how effective they have been. When we start to implement reform in areas surrounding poverty and education, that is when we will start to see student success in the public school system escalate.

Any genuine effort to reform schools must be holistic in scope. Children’s lives and their livelihoods for generations depend on it. It is time to move with purpose to provide adequate education to our youth.

Alanna Beasley is a senior, economics major, computer science minor at Spelman College. She attended Louisiana public schools in Lake Charles and is a 2020 summer research intern at Albany State University Center for Educational Opportunity.