New Orleans schools outperform state, nation in graduating students

-- Opinion --

Leslie Jacobs /Contributing opinion writer

With the recent release by the U.S. Department of Education of national high school completion rates, New Orleans has cause to celebrate. In terms of graduating students on time, we have closed the performance gap.

New Orleans outperformed the state and outperformed the nation.

This improvement is a game changer for our students and our city.

Research has shown that high school graduates are more likely to be employed and less likely to be arrested or incarcerated. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual income for high school graduates is almost $10,000 higher than for those without a diploma, and other studies have shown that households headed by a high school graduate accumulate ten times more wealth than households headed by a high school dropout.

We are graduating both more students and better prepared students.

States are now required to use a common measurement for high school completion: the percent of first time 9th graders who graduate within 4 years with a regular diploma. The data on the graduating class of 2011 shows that nationally 76% of white students and 60% of black students graduated on time.

In New Orleans, 76.5% of our students graduated on time

  • Outperforming the national average for black students by 16.5 percentage points
  • Outperforming the national average for white students
  • Outperforming the state of Louisiana (70.9%)
  • Outperforming Jefferson Parish (67%), Baton Rouge (62.3%) and Shreveport (61.5%)

New Orleans had 2,051 high school graduates in 2011, 443 more than if we were at the national average for black students, and 657 more than if we were still at New Orleans' 2005 graduation rate.

Our goal is not just to graduate students, but to give them the educational foundation they need to succeed after high school - to be college or career ready.

In Louisiana, ACT scores and TOPS scholarships are good benchmarks to measure this preparedness.

According to a 2012 analysis by Tulane's Cowen Institute, ACT scores in New Orleans are improving faster than state and national scores. The 2012 average ACT composite score for all public schools in New Orleans was 18.2, up from 17 in 2005.

Even more importantly, a much higher percentage of our graduates are qualifying for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) awards. TOPS provides two- and four-year merit-based scholarships to Louisiana public colleges and universities based on a student's grade point average (GPA), ACT score, and coursework completed. In 2005, only 25% of New Orleans public school graduates qualified for a TOPS scholarship. In 2012, 39% qualified.

The Bottom Line

We measure many things in K-12 education. But, at the end of the day, how well our schools do in graduating students prepared for the next stage in their life is the most important benchmark. LEAP, iLeap and other test scores are milestones we measure along the way.

Taking into account both the increase in graduation rates and the increase in percentage of graduates qualifying for TOPS, for every 100 students entering 9th grade, New Orleans went from only 13 of them graduating and qualifying for TOPS in 2005, to 30 of every 100 graduating and qualifying for TOPS in 2012. Amazing!

Before Katrina, the valedictorian of Fortier High School could not walk across the stage and graduate because she could not pass Louisiana's Graduation Exit Exam (GEE) in math after six attempts over 3 years. Her plight symbolized the failure of New Orleans Public Schools.

Then, we were warehousing children. Today incoming 9th graders are now over two-times more likely to graduate and qualify for TOPS. The education reforms in New Orleans are working, and we are providing our students greatly improved educational opportunities.

Leslie Jacobs has served on both the Orleans Parish School Board and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. She is the founder of Educate Now! ( and can be reached at

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