The New Orleans reforms have been both impactful and popular but the gains are plateauing

The New Orleans reform efforts are nearly thirteen years old.

As a reminder, the efforts led to some of the most significant achievement gains in our country’s recent history.

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In a recent Sean Reardon study that appeared in the New York Times, New Orleans was the only city that scored in the top ten for growth in the country and serves a majority of African-American students.

All of the other top performing districts, except for Chicago, barely serve any African-American students, as the chart of the top ten growth districts below shows:

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College enrollment rates have also skyrocketed, though we don’t yet have great data on college completion and post-secondary outcomes.

college enrollment NOLA

However, most of the test score gains were made in the first 7 years of the reforms, and the city is no longer increasing relative to overall state performance.

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The gains in New Orleans are very real. But so is the current plateauing of test score performance. It remains an open question whether or not the system will see another significant increase in student performance. My guess is that the increases will eventually pick up again, but at more modest rates.

A particularly difficult strategy question is what philanthropy can do to help New Orleans at this juncture.

Leaders in the city are both trying to double down on expanding the best operators, as well as help all schools increase their instructional rigor.

Over the long-haul, I believe that most gains will come from scaling the best school operators, selectively starting new operators, and replacing the worst. But I do think that supports to help all schools can lead to some improvement, though my expectations with these types of reforms are modest. Many smart people disagree on how to allocate funds across these two types of strategies. It will be interesting to see what we learn from New Orleans over the next few years on this issue.

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But what do the people think?

The Cowen Institute just came out with its annual polling data on New Orleans education. The poll draws from registered voters in New Orleans.

When it comes to voter perception of the system, votes are split between “the system is getting better” and “the system is staying the same.” Very few feel it’s getting worse.

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The perception mirrors the data: the system has improved, but these improvements are slowing down, and it’s unclear that things are getting much better now.

The public also continues to support charter schools and the city’s unified enrollment system.

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Only 17% of voters disagreed that charters had improved education, putting charter favorability at a 3:1 ratio.

Even more interesting: 70% of public school parents believed charter schools had improved education, compared to only 50% of those without children.

Charters seem to be winning those they serve but not fully winning those they don’t.

Open enrollment also only had 16% negative rate, putting it a 3:1 favorability rating.

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Overall, the New Orleans reforms have been both impactful and popular.

Right after Katrina, neither of these outcomes were inevitable. In the early years of the reforms, school performance was very uneven and the reforms were very controversial.

It is incredibly difficult to transform a whole city’s educational system in a way that increases opportunities for children and garners the support of the public.

I am hopeful that other cities, such as Camden (see here for a good New York Times profile on the city’s efforts), will also do great things for kids and gain the public’s trust.

 

 

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