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Pre-Katrina, New Orleans' schools were among the nation's worst. As a college-admissions counselor in the 1980s, I spent several days each fall visiting New Orleans-area high schools. During that time, I visited exactly one New Orleans public school: Benjamin Franklin, a selective high school reserved for the city's best students. Even there, the facilities were so bad that I had to meet with students in a bus outside the school.
Academics and facilities weren't the district's only problems. At one point before Katrina, New Orleans' schools were so corrupt that the FBI set up a satellite branch in the school board's central office...

...Today, more than 80 percent of New Orleans public school students attend charter schools and the rest attend schools operated by RSD. The city has no traditional district schools.
Spending money in the classroom instead of on school-district bureaucracy has served the city well. Before Katrina, only 35 percent of New Orleans' public school students passed state tests; now that figure is 60 percent. The graduation rate has climbed from 55 percent to more than three-quarters, and the percentage of students attending failing schools has fallen from three-fifths to less than one-fifth. It the current rate of improvement holds, New Orleans is less than five years away from becoming the only major American city in which student test scores exceed state averages.

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