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Should School Integration Be a Priority in New Orleans?

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This post features an interview conducted by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans team (@era_nola) with responses from community leader Flozell Daniels, Jr. (@Flozell Daniels).

In Monday's post, we discussed our latest study on the effects of the New Orleans school reforms on segregation. We had the chance to discuss our findings with Flozell Daniels, Jr., the CEO and President of the Foundation for Louisiana. In his civic capacity, Daniels currently serves as Ex-officio and Policy Committee Chair of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans Board of Directors; he is also a founding member and Board Chairman of the Orleans Public Education Network.

ERA-New Orleans: Do you think increasing integration in New Orleans publicly funded schools should be a priority going forward?

Daniels: While there are merits to students being exposed to different kinds of people and cultures and diverse environments in the school setting, increasing integration really cannot be a priority in the short term. The data reminds us that the schools are so overwhelmingly segregated that it seems our focus ought to be on evidence-based investment to improve achievement, which would strengthen students and their families where they are. This debate has run for more than 40 years now, and in New Orleans, we have seen little change pre- or post-reform. So while the efforts of some schools to create more diverse student bodies are laudable, the emphasis should continue to be on improving student outcomes. This seems to be backed up by the evidence that when the schools are integrated, they tend to be higher-performing schools.

ERA-New Orleans: How do you see school choice addressing school segregation in NOLA so far and in the long run?

Daniels: I have long held that, not withstanding the best efforts of many people, school choice has not created actual choice for most families and public schools. The evidence tells us that the overwhelming majority of schools are segregated, so there is a bit of a chicken and egg analogy here which seems to suggest, as I have said before, that until absolute outcomes significantly improve, white parents will not choose to send their children to low-performing schools. I also don't understand school choice to create a space that answers the very difficult questions around this community's history of racial segregation in education that in many ways continues today. It seems to me that making investments in proven strategies that will substantively improve schools at the neighborhood level might improve the likelihood of diverse people in neighborhoods sending their children to neighborhood schools, therefore having more integrated and diverse environments.

ERA-New Orleans: What do you take away from the study that may inform your work and others in New Orleans?

Daniels: Now that this study has reminded us that we have seen no significant change in ameliorating segregation, it seems that our focus should be on building consensus on what strategies work to improve academic and psychosocial outcomes for children in public schools.

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