The Katrina Class — the kindergarteners who entered school after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc in New Orleans — will soon begin their senior year of high school. Most say they’re thrilled with the prospect of entering the adult world but questions remain about the educational experience of today’s seniors compared to a dozen years ago.
Erika McConduit-Diggs, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana, said it’s also important to consider whether the students are more likely to graduate, have access to mental health resources and how they may have been affected by changes to the school system — one that’s now rooted in choice.
As the parent of a high school senior, McConduit-Diggs has watched the Katrina class grow up. She has also been an influential player in many of the reforms that have transformed public education in New Orleans.
“The educational experience of today’s public-school seniors is one of expanded choice,” McConduit-Diggs said. “With few exceptions, seniors 12 years ago could not choose which schools they wanted to attend. Rather, they were assigned to schools based on their zip codes. Additionally, through Louisiana’s Jump Start program, high school students now have the opportunity to obtain additional credentials through dual enrollment in identified demand-sector career tracks, greatly increasing their marketability in the economies of the future.”
All students are required to take the ACT — the nation’s most popular college entrance exam that’s accepted by all universities and colleges in the U.S.
The ACT, which has been based on what students learn in high school and provides personalized information about their strengths for education and career planning, counts as another change in the post-Katrina context with New Orleans’ average improving twice as much as the state.
Also, nearly half of the senior class of 2016 were eligible for Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, a state college scholarship initiative, almost doubling the number of students enrolled in college, from 25 percent in 2005 to 64 percent — a dramatic 37 percent increase from 2004, McConduit-Diggs said.
“However, achievement gaps continue to persist based on race, economics and for students with disabilities. Advancing equity and excellence must be central to our strategy for success,” she said.
With nearly a 20 percent jump since Hurricane Katrina, the graduation rate has greatly increased. However, recent fluctuations indicate a leveling-off between a 72 percent and 77 percent graduation rate, evidencing more work to be done, McConduit-Diggs said.
She notes that given the impending implementation of Louisiana’s ESSA plan, educators must double-down to quickly advance growth in the city and state.
“Sadly, there’s still a great need for mental and behavioral health services for our students. Today’s seniors were Katrina’s kindergarteners,” McConduit-Diggs said. “They have experienced the trauma of being shifted between cities, states, schools, cultures and communities. They’ve witnessed family members deal with the on-going effects of rebuilding after a life-altering and even shattering, unprecedented event.
“Layered on top of that is the strong presence of growing poverty and violence in New Orleans — a city with one of the highest instances of shootings and a nation-topping murder rate,” she said. “As the country struggles with access to health care, it is imperative that Louisiana find solutions to ensure the care and success of our students.