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Thompson: Modest Success In New Orleans

NOLA_charter_083110-thumb-640xauto-818I cannot deny my bias in regard to the prodigious effort to rebuild New Orleans schools.  From 2005 to 2010, per student spending was increased by over 60%.  Many of America's most talented and committed young educators have dedicated themselves to putting those resources to good use.  If they failed to even achieve modest improvements, all Americans would have to take a doubly hard look in the mirror. So, I applaud Matthew DiCarlo's fair-minded analysis of New Orleans charters in the Shanker Blog, and I hope that the glass is half full.  Among 47 non-selective charters, 16 have improved reading scores more than comparable neighborhood schools, while nine have done worse, and 22 have not shown significant differences. DiCarlo notes that those charters serve about half as many special education students but, even so, we should study the successful charters to identify what worked for them and even ask whether some of their lessons are ready to be scaled up. It is hard to see how New Orleans provides evidence that the charterization of Philadelphia schools, for instance, would help them recover from its self-inflicted hurricane. I will soon be posting on the failure of "reform" in Philadelphia but, for now, we should be gracious in regard to New Orleans - which may be reformers' greatest success to date.- JT (@drjohnthompson) image via.   

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Here are some resources addressing the question of New Orleans schools' post-Katrina success:

Report by former Director of Accountability for New Orleans Parish school board: http://www.researchonreforms.org/html/documents/ResponsetoNSNO_001.pdf

University of Minnesota study on segregation in post-Katrina schools http://www.irpumn.org/uls/resources/projects/THE_STATE_OF_SCHOOLS_IN_NEW_ORLEANS.pdfnepc.

This critique of a report extolling the virtues of the NOLA "miracle" cites inescapable facts about manipulating test score targets to create the appearance of success: http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/TTR-NOLAOhio-Fordham_0.pdf

Caroline,

Thanks for the links. I don't disagree with anything they said. The middle one was broken but I'll get to it. Too often, reformers minimize the damage done by increasing segrgation. I don't, so I'll definitely get to that report.

The first report asked whhether the NOLA model should be scaled up. I hope I was clear that I agree that it can't. The report said, "the RSD’s public relations machine glorifies the tremendous gains made over 6 years ..." My response is, of course they did. That's what schools do in the age of accountablity. And that in itself argues against the scaling up of charter systems.

The NEPC report refuted the spin that results have been "very positive," and pointed out that most failing schools continue to fail if the same definitions hold. I don't doubt that.And of course the system is closed-mouth about evidence to the contrary.

But that gets us back to DiCarlo's post. He said they were very open with him, and in terms of reading, especially, they made claims that were modest, having made gains in less than 30% with declines in more than 1/6th. I'm curious about whether the NEPC and Dicarlo would disagree much.

I implied, but I wasn't explicit in saying that I oppose the playbook used by New Orleans. I hope this isn't naive, but the very fair point about the inexperience of their teachers cuts in multiple ways. Given their lack of eperience, contributing to modest gains is probably the best that they could have done. A lot of young teachers must have done great work to get the modest net gain of about 15% of school having improved. Given the extra resources, that modest rate should be a deal killer in terms of scaling up. Even so, a lot of young teachers must have done heroic work that should be praised.

I suggested that some successes should be scaled up, but I wasn't explicit. Charters can be better positioned to teach students to be students because they have regular schools that serve as alternative schools. I'd like the same for regular schools. I also like site-based management. As I have argued elsewhere, I'd do that through Enterprise Schools, or unionized schools with a thin contract who are not subject to command and control, as with Arlene Ackerman in Philly.

This is evidence that effort and money can make a major difference in the quality of education children receive. At one point in the United States, New Orleans had one of the worst school systems. Now, real accomplishments have been documented. Student performance is better than it has ever been and the city is beginning to thrive again. No longer should the state of Louisiana ignore the needs of poor children. They have suffered enough. It is time for real change.

Charters aren’t really a terrible idea in theory, it’s the practice that keeps holding the entire system back. It honestly surprises me that the successful charter schools aren’t interviewed more heavily. Clearly, they’ve determined how the system works best.

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