Cowen Institute’s Opinion on Public School Governance

Public education in New Orleans has come a long way in the past five years: the city’s public schools collectively have seen an increase of over 32 percent in their school performance scores and the percent of failing schools has been cut in half. However, the transformation of the city’s school system has also created new challenges. Harnessing the potential of successful reforms while addressing the challenges created by the current complex system requires a new approach to education governance.

In September State Superintendent Pastorek presented his recommendations on governance in New Orleans, and the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is slated to vote on them in less than two months. To date, discussions relating to governance in New Orleans have divided the community: charter vs. traditionally-operated schools, Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) vs. Recovery School District (RSD), neighborhood schools vs. school choice, teachers vs. teachers, parents vs. parents. Instead, we must come together as New Orleanians to answer a fundamental question: How should the system of public schools in New Orleans be structured to ensure that every child in the city has equal access to a high-quality education?

Today, the only locally-elected governing body in New Orleans is the OPSB. However, it has not yet proven its ability to turn around failing schools or effectively manage a large, diverse portfolio of schools with a high needs student population (to be fair, the current board has not been given the opportunity to do so). That being said, the community should consider all options including the creation of a new governing entity or entities. In the short term, we believe that all schools currently under the auspices of the RSD should remain there as described in Superintendent Pastorek’s plan. During this period of time, a citizen-led conversation about a long-term solution should be facilitated by the RSD, BESE, and OPSB.

The Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University believes that a governance framework that addresses the current problems plaguing the system of schools and promotes high quality schools for all is critical to the long-term success of the education system. Assuming charter schools will continue to play a major role in public education in New Orleans, any solution must promote cooperation and coordination between the multiple school operators. The new governance framework should only impinge on school autonomy to address major issues that transcend individual schools. Subject to that overarching principle, it should also:

  • Solely focus on what is best for children and their families
  • Ensure that funding and facilities are equitably distributed
  • Hold all schools in the city, regardless of operator, to the same set of standards and rules
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities for the multiple entities overseeing schools

Identifying a governing framework that meets these ambitious goals won’t be easy. But unless the New Orleans community is empowered in determining what the public school system will look like in the long-term, we risk the return to an educational system that routinely fails our children. Parents and citizens need a platform to voice their concerns, get answers to their questions, and provide input on vital issues. At the very least, the Orleans Parish School Board, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the Recovery School District leadership are encouraged to hold regular joint community meetings in New Orleans.

How will we engage in an open dialogue to ensure that the decision best meets the needs of our children? The Cowen Institute looks forward to working with the New Orleans community on this critical effort. Please contact me at if you’d like to share your thoughts.

Shannon Jones Couhig
Executive Director

Our Recent Publications on Public School Governance
The Cowen Institute has released a series of reports on public school governance in New Orleans over the past year. These publications can be found below.

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