Editors Note: The following is a five-part series called “The Truth about the Big Easy” curated by Parker Kim. This series is in partnership with Via Nola Vie and aims to give transplants and locals a series look at what is happening in our local government.
New Orleans always seems to be being left out of the national conversation. Whenever New Orleans is being mentioned it is either about a natural disaster or a report on the rampant partying going on on Bourbon. Sometimes we forget that there is so much more happening behind the scenes in our city. The floats this year at Krewe De Veux were a clear indication that there is more going on behind the curtain in the New Orleans government. From public education to infrastructure this series of articles will give you a better indication of the current state of this great city. There are so many questions that need to be answered and hopefully, this series of articles opens the curtain to why things are the way they are here maybe just a little bit.
On July 16, 2003, Nelson Mandela uttered his famous words, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, to commemorate an organization working to
improve education in South Africa. This signaled a global movement towards equal access to education. Even after Mandela’s speech, education inequality is felt all over the world, including in the US, the richest country in the world.
The US has the largest wealth gap of all nations in the world. In the US, the top 10% of households hold 70% of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 50% of households holds 2% of the nation’s wealth. This wealth gap causes economic discrimination nationwide, but most directly, right here in New Orleans. According to Bloomberg’s Gini Coefficient, New Orleans is the 2nd worst city for income inequality in the US, putting the city on par with Zambia, a country with some of the highest rates of poverty in the world. The rate at which this inequality is growing is faster than that of any other city in the US.
The Garden District of New Orleans is the richest neighborhood in New Orleans. This neighborhood has a median income of $136,916 and an unemployment rate of 4.2%. This is a stark increase from the 9th ward, the poorest neighborhood in New Orleans. The 9th ward has a median household income of $30,264 and an unemployment rate of 7.3%.
Large income inequality between the richest and poorest neighborhoods of New Orleans causes many issues that all stem from economic discrimination. Among these issues is disparities in education caused by economic discrimination, and in the US this issue starts as early as five.
According to a study by the Brookings Institution, only 48% of poor children are ready for school by the age five. However, 75% of children from moderate to high income families are ready for school by the age of five, an uptake from their poverty–stricken peers. This trend continues into a child’s later education, with data showing that low–income students are five times more likely to drop out of high school and 13 times less likely to graduate high school on time than their high–income peers.
The issues that low socio–economic class students face in school is a direct cause of the hardships these students face at home. The economic hardships faced in a student’s home life include disruptions in parenting, increase in family conflicts, and increase likelihood of depression in parents (Eamon 2005). These hardships travel beyond a student’s home life and follows them into the classroom.
For most New Orleans public schools, 84% of the student body is low income. At Benjamin Franklin, only 24% of the student body is considered low income. Lusher is even lower, with
only 15% is low income.
The composition of the student body at both schools is not reflective of the population of New Orleans. The composition of the student body cannot be attributed to districting; it can only be
attributed to one thing: standardized testing and the inherent economic discrimination this testing carries with it.
The SAT is a standardized test administered by the College Board. The SAT is an achievement test that measures a high–school student’s readiness for college and serves as an entrance exam for many colleges. Aside from GPA, extra–curricular activities, and high school course load, the SAT is one of the most important aspects of a student’s college application. The SAT can also determine the amount of financial aid a student will receive from the schools they apply to. Generally, the higher a student’s SAT score, the more options they will have for both attending and paying for college.