Dear Alumni, Students, Staff, Parents, and Friends of SLA,
As we noted in last month’s newsletter, each month we are going to highlight one of the four multi- and interdisciplinary themes of our newly adopted strategic plan. For this month’s newsletter, we will introduce you to some of the work being done in the area of crisis and innovation. While this School of Liberal Arts strategic theme includes a number of critical issues revolving around the environment, crime, poverty, and discrimination, today we will focus particularly on public education.
As is well known, Hurricane Katrina not only ravaged large parts of the city, but revealed a school system in great disarray. 62% of students attended failing schools, graduation rates were well below the national average as were scores on national tests such as the ACT. With the storm, innovation and experimentation took center stage. The newly formed Recovery School District took over some of the worst performing schools while the Orleans Parish School Board continued to oversee high scoring schools. Numerous schools closed while others became charters.
The change has been substantial and is still underway. Today, only 5% of all students are enrolled in schools designated as failing. According to Educate Now, “K-8 schools have increased the percentage of eighth-graders performing on grade level in math and English from 28 percent pre-storm to 67 percent… In 2005, only about 50 percent of our high school students graduated. Today, close to 80 percent of our high school students will graduate.” Scores on ACTS have risen dramatically while New Orleans has the greatest percentage of students in charter schools in the country.
Through its research and teaching, the School of Liberal Arts has been part of this innovation and experimentation. In the past, we have reported on the work being done by our Mural Painting service-learning course. We have written on our award winning document film project, Place-Based Storytelling in New Orleans, as well as our Shakespeare on The Road program. We have introduced you to students engaged in bringing debate societies into middle schools. In fact, if you have not read about the impact of the debate initiative, we invite you to browse their website: http://rhetoric.wp.tulane.edu/ and follow the links listed there, such as the radio broadcast of NPR.
But our activities have not ended there. Although we could give you numerous additional examples of our dedication to bringing innovation to schools in New Orleans, today we introduce you to some of the activities being done by Tulane’s Teacher Preparation and Certification Program and SLA’s newly created Education Research Alliance for New Orleans. These are just two illustrations of the impact our faculty and students are having on school reform in the Crescent City. I know you share with me the excitement and pride in their endeavors.