Here in the Crescent City we talk an awful lot about the “Achievement Gap” between White and Black, rich and poor, Uptown and Central City. Sometimes — though perhaps not often enough — we talk about the other gap, the one carrying 600,000 cubic feet of water per second. I mean, of course, the Mississippi River. Now, I don’t want to suggest that there is a West Bank-East Bank achievement gap. Both sides of the river are home to both good and bad schools. (In fact, Algiers is home to four of the city’s 12 two-star schools — those with a School Performance Score of between 80.0 and 99.9, while it also has 3 Academically Unacceptable Schools and 5 on Academic Watch.)
As a former resident of the West Bank of New Orleans, I want to suggest that there is more than just a physical divide between the two banks of the River. While there are good schools in Algiers, what if a couple wants to put their child in Lusher or Ben Franklin High, high-performing OPSB charter schools that aren’t legally required to provide transportation? Someone would have to drive the child to and from school every day. Even if those schools were required to provide transportation, the child would have to be at the bus stop painfully early. (Again, as a former Algiers resident, let me tell you, traffic on the East Bank-bound Crescent City Connection is quite lovely at 8 in the morning.) These are very, very good schools and many parents will indeed make the sacrifices required to get their students into schools like these. But what about those who simply can’t, or who want/need a more convenient option?
In today’s Times-Pic, Cindy Chang wrote a brief article about the International School of Louisiana expanding to the West Bank. Clearly this article got me thinking about this geographical divide. The International School, in the Lower Garden District, is an intensive language-immersion, k-8 school. It is also one of the higher-performing schools in the city, with a School Performance Score of 103.0, earning it 3 stars and making it one of only 9 schools in the city with an SPS over 100.0. The school’s leadership has yet to announce the exact location of the West Bank campus but it will be considered part of the same school, instead of being a separate school under a shared Charter Management Organization (CMO).
According to the Times-Pic article, about 20% of the International School’s applicants come from the West Bank. Talking about the concentration of all of the city’s language immersion programs on the East Bank, the school’s director of institutional advancement, Pamela Stewart said that “there’s a large population who would come [to the International School] … if they didn’t have to cross the river.” Opening up to West Bank constituents will allow both for an increased chance of those 20% of applicants from Algiers to get placed in the school and for populations who do not apply because of transportation concerns to get their students into this program.
While I generally try to keep my personal opinions out of this blog, I will say that I like this. A lot. The governance question has been dominating local public education conversations lately, but another necessary (and timeless) question is this: What works, and when we identify programs that work, how do we increase access to them? The step taken by the International School of Louisiana — a school that is, mind you, about 51% eligible for free and reduced lunch (the best proxy for poverty we have) and about 73% minority — is not the answer. We can’t simply open satellite campuses for high-performing schools. But where that would be beneficial, the option should certainly be on the table.
There are certainly some issues with this model, beyond the fact that it cannot be a universal model for increasing access. Honestly, while this strikes me as a great idea, we will have to wait to see if the International School’s success can be replicated on the West Bank. How will the Head of School and various administrator’s time be split between the two campuses, and what will be the effect of administrator’s splitting time instead of spending every day of every week in the same facility? Will the new campus be as successful as the first, or will some as-yet-unidentified element be missing? These are only a few of several potential issues with this model. These are issues that the folks running the International School, as well as state officials, will have to be vigilant to mitigate. But if they’re able to, increased access to at least one successful education model will certainly be a good thing. Especially for the children of Algiers.