Community Impact Series -- Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives

New Orleans, La. –
All across New Orleans, Tulane University students are going back to high school. They're working at four schools to establish advanced placement courses, part of a college-readiness program called AdvanceNOLA. While Tulane site coordinators work with teachers and school leaders on the program, Tulane undergrads tutor the high school students, sharing their own recent insight on advanced placement testing and, often, much more.

"We've also learned that around those conversations about, what is photosynthesis, the high schools students often ask, what's it like to be in a sorority or what's it like to live in a dorm?," Emily Remington, assistant director for programs for the Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives, which runs AdvanceNOLA.

"They don't necessarily have a frame of reference or know anyone who's been to college, and so they have a lot of questions around what does it look like to be on a college campus."

The Cowen Institute is named for Scott Cowen, president of Tulane, which started this nonprofit in 2007 to help support the transformation of the city's public school system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"I think even before the storm, we had probably one of the worst public education systems in the state, and even in the country," says Debra Vaughn, the group's assistant director of research. "So we weren't really in a good place, even before the storm. The storm, a lot of people refer to it as an opportunity, to build and rebuild the public education system into one of the best in the country."

The institute is partially an education think-tank, analyzing the issues driving education reform and best practice from around the nation. Its research also propels direct programs in the schools, like AdvanceNOLA, and it fuels the group's advocacy work with the decisions makers in public education, whether they're government officials making budget decisions or local families deciding where to send their children in the city's new and ever-changing landscape of charter schools and choice.

"I think it makes the role of research vital. Because there isn't one body holding all moving parts accountable. So we provide that unbiased, honest look, so we can share information and help make better decisions," says Vaughn. "So I think it's especially important, at this time, is to provide the decision makers with clear evidence of what works and what doesn't work, what needs to be addressed, what could be working better."

While the Cowen Institute works at the highest level of education reform, its work inside its partner schools also gives a perspective of just how these reforms are changing the prospects and expectations of students themselves, as Remington has seen firsthand.

"Students are being celebrated in a way they never have before," she says. "And parents are being called in to join banquets and they're being called in to help celebrate student success in a way that they've never really been a part of before. And in that way we're getting whole families involved, so younger siblings see their siblings or their older cousins doing really well in school and looking to that as a model, not only for performing well in high school but performing well in college."

To learn more, visit the Scott S. Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives.