Providing Thought Leadership in High-Choice Districts

Understanding Programmatic Access and Gaps in Service Provision in Post-Katrina New Orleans

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New Orleans is the nation’s first all-charter system of schools nationally recognized for its decentralized governance model. While public education in post-Katrina New Orleans provided a promise of improved education, that promise struggles to be realized for all students. Students with disabilities – especially those with the most complex needs – have been historically denied the educational opportunities that school reform intended to provide. Since 2016, the Center has worked in partnership with key stakeholders on the ground in New Orleans (e.g., New Schools for New Orleans, Louisiana Special Education Cooperative, Special Educational Leader Fellowship) to leverage tangible changes and improve access and outcomes for students with disabilities.

Questions guiding this project:

How can charter schools leverage economies of scale and increase efficiencies in a decentralized environment?

What data is available regarding enrollment of students with disabilities in charter schools in order to inform service provision and identify programmatic gaps?

How can all schools – as their own local educational agencies (LEAs) bearing full legal and financial responsibility for meeting every student’s individual needs – build the capacity necessary to provide a wide range of interventions?

What training and support could improve provision of special education at the school level?

How can New Orleans as a sector improve service delivery and offer a fuller citywide continuum of special education supports?

Services provided:

  • Created a performance framework and tools to distinguish the quality of services provided by related service providers
  • Developed a Special Education Rubric to showcase categories of service delivery, provide breakdowns by disability profile and grades ranges, and offer respective best practices
  • Collected and analyzed student-level data to identify the services provided by charter schools in New Orleans relative to what is needed given enrollment needs
  • Recommended a model for a citywide continuum of special education supports and facilitated a working group of key stakeholders on the ground to gain buy-in and support
  • Created a preliminary action plan focused on moving specialization forward in New Orleans via integrated specialized programs
  • Developed a strategic business plan to position New Orleans’ special education cooperative as the key lead agency supporting charter schools on issues pertaining to students with disabilities
  • Co-hosted a city-based convening so stakeholders could develop a shared understanding of expectations for all schools, identify common areas of need that are hindering success in special education programming, and explore potential citywide solutions


Developed understanding of programmatic access and gaps in service provision at the citywide level

Provided thought partnership to organizations and key stakeholders on the ground

Infused data, resources, expertise, and research into the sector to drive evidence-based conversations

Contributed to citywide collaboration

The vision and work of Lauren and Paul at The Center for Learner Equity has been an inspiration for us here in New Orleans. Their vision has spurred us to think more broadly about the work of providing quality professional development to special education coordinators and now school leaders and teachers through the Special Education Leader Fellowship program here in New Orleans. Lauren has been an invaluable thought partner as we have developed this program, serving on our National Advisory Board and as a frequent informal advisor. Thank you, The Center for Learner Equity! 

Jay Altman, CEO, FirstLine Schools and National Program Advisory Board,
Special Education Leader Fellowship, New Orleans, Louisiana