June 8, 2015


How New Orleans Made Charter Schools Work : Since Katrina, the Crescent City's schools have produced what some experts believe to be the most rapid academic improvement in American history--and created a reform model other cities are trying. (David Osborne, 6/08/15, Washington Monthly)

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, 92.5 percent of public school students in New Orleans attend charters. The Tulane University economist Douglas Harris, who leads a research team focused on education reform, calls it "the most radical overhaul of any type in any school district in at least a century."

In Katrina's wake, a governor and legislature frustrated with New Orleans's chronic corruption and abysmal public schools placed all but seventeen of them into its new Recovery School District (RSD), created just two years before to take over failing schools. Gradually, the RSD converted them all into charters. Today it oversees fifty-seven charters in the city, while the old Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) oversees fourteen charters and operates five traditional schools. (The city also has four charters authorized directly by the state board of education and one independent state school.)

The city's two districts, unlike traditional districts, do more overseeing than operating; they steer more than they row. They authorize schools, negotiate performance contracts (charters), measure results, and close schools whose students are lagging behind. Not all the schools succeed; educating poor, minority students in the inner city is extremely challenging. But on a variety of measures, New Orleans is improving faster than any other district in the state, if not the nation. Indeed, it may soon surpass its state on many metrics, a rare feat for a major American city.

Before Katrina, most public schools were terrible. In 2005 the city ranked sixty-seventh out of sixty-eight districts in Louisiana, itself a low performer compared to other states. Last year, New Orleans was forty-first out of sixty-nine school districts in Louisiana.

Before Katrina, some 62 percent of students attended schools rated "failing" by the state. Though the standard for failure has been raised, only 7 percent of students attend "failing" schools today.

Before Katrina, only 35 percent of students scored at grade level or above on state standardized tests. Last year 62 percent did.

Before Katrina, almost half of New Orleans students dropped out, and less than one in five went on to college. Last year, 73 percent graduated from high school in four years, two points below the state average, and 59 percent of graduates entered college, equaling the state average.

And according to a 2015 CREDO study, between 2006 and 2012 New Orleans's charter students gained nearly half a year of additional learning in math and a third of a year in reading, every year, compared to similar students in the city's non-chartered public schools.

There's nothing wrong with cities that destroying and depopulating them won't help.

Posted by at June 8, 2015 1:05 PM

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