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Where Do We Go From Here? New Orleans Voters Disagree

New Orleans voters have very mixed thoughts about how the past eight years of education policies in the city have worked and about what should come next for the city's schools, according to a new poll from the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University, a think tank that studies K-12 education in New Orleans.

According to a phone poll of 294 registered voters conducted this March, 37 percent of voters think that the schools in the city are better after Katrina; 28 percent thought they were about the same; 24 percent say they were better before. When Cowen polled city voters in 2009, only 32 percent thought the schools were better after the storm.

Black voters had different opinions than white voters and voters of other racial backgrounds in the city. Fifty-three percent of white and other respondents said that public schools had improved since 2005, when governance in the district changed post-Hurricane Katrina; but only 29 percent of African Americans agreed.

African-American students make up 88 percent of the city's 44,000 public school students.

Thirty-two percent of voters overall think the city's schools should return to Orleans Parish School Board within two years, while a full 35 percent of voters feel the schools should never return to the local school board. But there are racial discrepancies here, too: 41 percent of African-American respondents thought schools run by the state-run Recovery School District should return to the Orleans Parish School Board within two years, while a majority of respondents from other backgrounds disagreed.

If and when the schools do return to the local school board's control, there's a sense that that the board needs to change: 64 percent of voters felt the way it is currently structured and managed is unacceptable. (We wrote about last fall's school board election in New Orleans, which, according to the poll, left about 21 percent of the city with more confidence in the board and 17 percent with less.)

Nola.com has some context about the lack of consensus.

The future of governance in the city is particularly of interest as New Orleans is often touted as a model for others looking to revamp dysfunctional or low-performing schools. Michigan, Tennessee, and Virginia have created state-run districts modeled after the Recovery School District, or RSD, which runs most New Orleans schools and schools in a number of other Louisiana districts. In all of those places, however, there's not a clear strategy that lays out when and how schools should leave state control.

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