Tag Archives: Education Next

We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans.

Over the past ten years, New Orleanians, with the support of the nation, rebuilt their school system.

The system is predicated upon three principles: educators operate schools, families choose from these schools, and government holds the schools accountable for performance and equity.


The title of this post comes from Doug Harris’ article on his study on the New Orleans reforms. After summarizing the effects, which he estimates at .4 standard deviations, Doug writes:

We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.

Doug also notes that these reforms were accomplished at a significantly lower cost than reforms such as pre-k access and class size reduction.

Here’s a chart that tracks the progress of the reform impacts:

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 7.03.28 AM

To put this .4 standard deviation in context, the black-white achievement gap is about one standard deviation.

Over ten years, in the midst of chaos and a struggle to rebuild, New Orleans students and educators achieved an effect that is almost half the size of the black white gap in this country.


The cynic in me assumes that this study will not change much.

After all, it’s just the latest in a series of studies and data analysis that clearly demonstrate that New Orleans children are now getting a much better education than they were before the storm.

Education reform is so polarized that an effort that radically increases student achievement for poor and minority students will likely continue to be dismissed.

The cynic in me wonders: How much do the glaciers have to melt? How much does the sea have to rise? How high do CO2 levels need to be? At what point does denial become a clear signal of scientific ignorance?

The optimist in me believes that these results will further build momentum for education leaders to engage in meaningful reform. Reform that hands power back to educators and families rather that simply shuffles the deck chairs.

Because let’s be clear, that’s what too many school districts are doing: they are shuffling the chairs while kids get screwed.

The realist in me knows that we that we have not yet proven that the New Orleans reforms can scale to other cities; that the reforms, despite all they achieved, included numerous and signficant missteps; that there is much we still don’t know; that there are decades of work ahead.

The realist in me also knows that we need to ensure that New Orleans schools continue to improve. And that this will be very difficult. The .4 standard deviation gain needs to become a one standard deviation gain.

But, after ten years of work, here’s a big shout of praise, admiration, and joy for New Orleans families and educators.

It’s only because of them that we can say this:

We are not aware of any other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.