This was a big undertaking and these types of projects are some of the best of modern journalism. Kudos to them.
The research methodology is great in its scope (every city in America) though rather crude in its precision (raw proficiency gains from 2009 to 2015). It’s not as accurate as experimental and quasi-experimental research, but it’s still useful in taking a broad look across the country.
Which of the largest 200 school districts in the country saw the most growth?
Here’s the top 10:
In 5 years, all of these districts achieved at least 5.5 years of academic growth. Of the 200 largest school districts in the nation, these are the highest performers.
Are these cities very similar to each other?
Not at all. And this is where I think the reporters could have done much more. The New York Times journalists rightfully pointed out Chicago as an outlier, but they did little else to tease out the vast differences between these high growth districts.
Let’s take a look at these top growth districts by free and reduced lunch rates:
See any differences?
Only four districts – Salem Keizer, Garden Grove, Chicago, and Orleans – have students bodies where the majority of students are economic disadvantaged.
And Chicago and Orleans are in a category of their own, with 80%+ students receiving free and reduced lunch during the years of the study. The task these districts face is 100x more difficult than that of the low poverty school districts.
Here’s the district African-American student enrollment percentages:
See any differences?
None of the highest growth districts in the country except for Chicago and Orleans serve many African-American students.
New Orleans and Chicago serve many students whose lives are still shaped by the deep, generational poverty that is rooted in our country’s horrific history of slavery.
The fact that their academic growth is amongst the very best in the nation should be a huge cause for celebration and hope.
What we talk about when we talk about high growth districts
It took me about 45 min to create the above charts. I did quick google searches so the numbers probably aren’t perfect, but they paint a pretty clear picture.
Yet in the 10+ articles I’ve read about the Stanford research data set not one has mentioned that New Orleans is the only majority black school district to be in the top ten growth school districts in the nation.
And in case you’re wondering if the New Orleans data includes all of its schools, it does. I emailed the researchers and they confirmed that the data includes all district and charter schools in the city boundaries.
So let’s give a big shout out to the amazing educators, students, and families who achieved unprecedented gains in learning in New Orleans between 2009 and 2015.
The New York Times might not have noticed, but hopefully others eventually will.