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Did the New Orleans School Reforms Increase Segregation?

A policy brief and technical report by Lindsay Bell Weixler, Nathan Barrett, Douglas N. Harris, and Jennifer Jennings on the effects of the post-Katrina reforms on school segregation in New Orleans.

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Did the New Orleans School Reforms Increase Segregation?

by Lindsay Bell Weixler, Nathan Barrett, Douglas N. Harris, Jennifer Jennings

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In this study, we examine the effects of the post-Katrina school reforms on the segregation of students on a wide variety of dimensions: race, income, special education, English Language Learner status, and achievement. Research shows that all students benefit, socially or academically, from more integrated schools, making this an important issue to examine. We draw four main conclusions:

  • New Orleans schools were highly segregated prior to the city’s school reforms, especially in terms of race and income, and remain segregated now.

  • We found little evidence that the New Orleans school reforms affected segregation for elementary school students. Most groups of high school students that we examined were affected, with some groups seeing an increase in segregation and others a decrease.

  • There were no consistent trends in racial segregation. Some groups became more segregated, others less so.

  • Among high school students, segregation has increased for low-income students and English Language Learners, but decreased for special education students as well as by achievement.

To our knowledge, ours is the first study to examine the effect of school choice on the segregation of English Language Learners, special education students, and low- and high-achieving students. Other national studies of choice and charters have examined effects on segregation by race and income. The most rigorous of these studies find a mix of usually small effects of choice and charters on racial and income segregation. Our results are generally in line with these prior findings in other cities. New Orleans remains highly segregated after the reforms, suggesting that this will be an issue for years to come.

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