So far the corporate reforms in New Orleans have delivered significant student achievement gains.
A recent, rigorous study by Doug Harris noted:
We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time… The effects are also large compared with other completely different strategies for school improvement, such as class-size reduction and intensive preschool.
As I wrote in a recent report, the reforms also radically increased equity.
It is well within reason to make the claim that New Orleans is both the fastest improving and most equitable urban district in the nation.
But corporate reformers aren’t satisfied.
In a recent op-ed, Ben Kleban, the CEO of New Orleans College Prep, wrote:
The evidence is clear — diversity in schools requires intentional design. So, I would propose a systemwide approach to manage the enrollment of all our schools — let’s make them all “diverse by design.”
We could allow all of our public schools, not just a small group, to add some form of admissions criteria — based on income level — for a subset of seats in entry grade levels, and allow that diversity to flow up one year at a time to the whole school.
In a recent interview in Education Week, Patrick Dobard, the head of the Recovery School District, noted the following:
I feel like the first 10 years has just been laying the foundation of getting good academic growth, and the foundation of schools solid. I think the next 10 to 15 years is literally around those areas, again, that are called like “wraparound services,” so what are the mental health interventions that we could put in place? Do we need more than school psychologists? Maybe we need psychiatrists, and really dig into some of the deep, emotional trauma….
Another big area of focus is around how do we create a more robust career and technical education component within our schools? A lot of our high schools right now are like college-focused in the “no-excuses” model, but we really need to start diversifying our portfolio, and our school leaders have embraced that.
The first phase of New Orleans reforms was an intense focus on student achievement.
The next phrase layered on an intense focus on equity.
The third phase may be very well be much more holistic in nature, with a focus on diversity, mental health, and careers.
Of course, one could make the argument that New Orleans educators should have focused on all three issue areas right from the beginning.
But reform is incredibly difficult. And trying to do to much can lead to nothing getting done.
Moreover, I think the order of operators is roughly right: achievement -> equity -> holistic reforms is a logical sequence in attempting to transform a dysfunctional educational system.
As for how to make the next phase of reform a reality, I’m not entirely sure. Integration is notoriously difficult to achieve. New Orleans social services have been chronically poor. And career training so often leads to lowered expectations.
But if any group of educators can figure out how to achieve broad scale integration, effective wrap around services, and high-quality career training, I’d bet on the corporate raiders of New Orleans.