The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University just released a report on state turnaround districts.
The report states:
In short, the Recovery School District, which was marketed (and continues to be lauded) as ushering in a miraculous transformation in New Orleans, has not kept its promise to some of the country’s most disadvantaged students.
The report cites another report, from Stanford University, and makes the following claims about equity and accountability:
The SCOPE [Stanford center] review also found that school quality and accountability are impeded by the lack of a strong central system (within the RSD) to support instructional improvement or maintain safeguards to ensure equity and access to reasonable quality of education.
Here is what Doug Harris, who actually studied student achievement in New Orleans, wrote:
For New Orleans, the news on average student outcomes is quite positive by just about any measure. The reforms seem to have moved the average student up by 0.2 to 0.4 standard deviations and boosted rates of high school graduation and college entry. We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.
Here’s a graph that captures these gains:
As for equity, I think this has been NOLA’s greatest innovation. I wrote a report on it. Here’s a highlight: despite serving a very at-risk student population, New Orleans has a lower expulsion rate than the state.
As for accountability, it’s hard to think of a city that has been more serious about ensuring students don’t attend failing schools. In 2004, 60% of New Orleans students attended a school that was in the bottom 10% of the state. Now 13% do.
People Who Live in New Orleans
Lastly, here’s what New Orleanians think about the reforms:
Reasonable people can debate whether or not other states will see the same results.
But to say that the RSD has not kept its promise to the country’s most disadvantaged students is not supported by science.
Of course, there is still an incredibly long way to go in New Orleans. ACT scores, for example, are at an all-time high at around 19, but this still falls short of college and career ready.
Also, the New Orleans reforms were messy. While the academic results are undeniable, it’s been ten years of tense and difficult work, with many mistakes made along the way.
But if you don’t want things to be messy, you’re in the wrong line of work. The issues or race, class, and poverty are insanely complicated. If you work in the sector and haven’t changed your mind about a major issue, then you’re probably not thinking deeply enough.
All that being said… the student achievement gains are real. Children are better off.
And students across the country would be much better off if other cities achieved results similar to those in New Orleans.
Hopefully this will occur.