Public school students show improvement despite poverty rate

May 6, 2014 2:00 PM

Alex Chasick

New Orleans’ public school students are demonstrating improved academic performance despite increasing poverty rates in the city, according to a new report from the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives at Tulane University.

logo for Cowen Institute

The authors of the report say it shows "that high student poverty rates and low school performance scores are not our destiny.” (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

The report tracks data from public schools in New Orleans and Louisiana and measures schools’ performance scores, demographic data and the number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, which is used as a barometer of poverty.

Public school students’ academic performance in New Orleans has improved at a rate that outpaces the rest of the state, the report shows. From the 2004–05 academic year to the 2013–14 year, the average school performance score for New Orleans increased by 41 percent, while Louisiana’s score increased by 16 percent.

During that same time period, New Orleans and Louisiana saw similar increases in students who qualified for free or reduced lunch, suggesting that poverty is not hurting students’ ability to succeed in school.

The Cowen Institute’s findings offer a counterpoint to previous research that suggests a strong correlation between poverty and academic performance.

“Public schools in New Orleans, despite high rates of student poverty, are making performance gains at a rate that outpaces the state,” say the report’s authors, Patrick Sims, senior research analyst, and Debra Vaughan, director of research. “This report shows that high student poverty rates and low school performance scores are not our destiny.”

Sims and Vaughan note that nine of the schools they reviewed received a “B” grade although nearly all of their students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

“On the whole this is great news for New Orleans as we have a handful of schools that are beating the odds and dispelling the myth that school performance is inversely related to poverty.”

The authors plan additional studies and will publish their findings this summer.

Alex Chasick, a freelance writer living in New Orleans, is a 2005 graduate of Tulane University. 

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000