From the AJC : Deal said legislators should consider a system, known in Louisiana as a Recovery School District, that gives the state more powers to take over struggling schools and convert them to charters.
Under the Louisiana system, the state can intervene in schools deemed “academically unacceptable” for four consecutive years. Those that receive charters receive state funding without being tied to requirements of local school boards. Those that fail to improve or meet standards would lose their charter.
Since its inception, the New Orleans model has been met with great criticism and controversy.
Though proponents of the Recovery model have pointed to greater choice for parents and gains in test scores, opponents point out that communities have been ripped apart and data has been manipulated to push a special interest agenda.
No doubt Deal is taking a big gamble on an issue that is sure to continue to erode his support among many educators and pro-public education supporters.
Note: scroll to the bottom of the post for related resources.
Concerns raised in a National Education Policy Center Report:
Hurricane Katrina Led to Large-Scale Population Changes
First, the overall population of New Orleans has changed substantially since Katrina, thereby changing the student population as well. Census data show that not only has the city become smaller since 2000, the disproportionate loss of black families and children has shifted the overall demographics of the city.11 People who did not own homes or lived with friends and relatives were less likely to return to New Orleans after Katrina. 12 These shifts are important for understanding whether the rising achievement rates in New Orleans are due to the educational reforms or to a broader shift in the student population.
Funding Per Student Actually Increased; Special Interest Money Influence Local Decision-making
Second, the large amount of government and philanthropic dollars that seeded New Orleans charter schools sets the district apart from most other urban systems. A federal i3 grant alone brought in $33.6 million. Also, support from private foundations has been essential to expansion of the portfolio model, both in New Orleans and nationwide.13 Private dollars have funded charter networks directly and helped to elect local and state-level board members supportive of such policies.14 A 2009 report by Tulane’s Cowen Institute estimated private contributions to range from $272 to $407 per pupil, on average, or about 3% of total revenues, though these figures were as much as 29% for particular charter networks. Furthermore, as Cowen states, these figures might be under-reported due to the lack of systematic notation in school budgets.15
The Temp Teachers Takeover
Third, New Orleans’s teaching force is very different from that of most urban systems. New Schools for New Orleans reported in 2012 that 30% of the city’s teachers came from either Teach for America (TFA) or The New Teacher Project.16. After the RSD took over a larger number of schools post-Katrina, the schools’ 7,000 teachers were laid off and had to reapply for their jobs, thus creating a shift in the teaching workforce and weakening the local union.17 No evidence is available on the positive and/or negative effects of this massive change.
Only One Set of Researchers Were Allowed to Evaluate Data
Finally, researchers’ access to New Orleans data has been uneven. While the state shared data with CREDO researchers, it has refused to release it to others such as Research on Reforms, who filed a lawsuit over the lack of equitable access to state data.18 Thus, there is no independent scientific replication or evaluation of the report.
Recovery District’s Performance Claims Needs Context
Examining the Claims about New Orleans Schools--page 4
In this section, we examine the authors’ claims about the portfolio model’s effects on student achievement in New Orleans, their assessment of the successes and challenges of the reforms, and their discussion of school closures, human capital, and community conflict.
Gains in Student Achievement--page 4
The presentation makes several claims about student achievement in New Orleans, including the assertion that RSD schools outpace the state, displaying a graph with impressive growth from 2007 to 2013, and that New Orleans is closing the achievement gap. A greater percentage of African American students in New Orleans are proficient on state high-stakes tests than their peers across the state. However, whether these reported gains are due to the portfolio model or to demographic changes in the city overall is unclear. Researchers such as Gumus-Dawes et al. contend that the modest performance advantages seen in the New Orleans community may be the result of student selection.19
Therefore, while the audience is led to assume that the improvements are due to the portfolio related educational reforms post-Katrina, it is not possible to make causal claims with these data. Previous studies of New Orleans reforms have been limited. One often-cited report was conducted by CREDO in 2013. As stated in a recent Think Tank Review by Andrew Maul and Abby McClelland of a national CREDO study that used the same Virtual Control Record (VCR) strategy, the gains claimed in the CREDO study of New Orleans charters rest on questionable methods.20 Maul and McClelland question the authors’ methodological decisions, including the choice to use VCR when propensity-score matching is a more accepted method for making causal inferences.21 Furthermore, McClelland noted in a follow-up statement that the effect sizes in New Orleans were very small regardless, with only one half of one percent of the variation in test scores explained by attending a New Orleans charter school.22
Performance of Special Education Students Are Skewed
Research on Reforms also states that gifted and talented students were not separated out from the overall “special education” category, which includes students with severe disabilities.23 This may, they argue, account for some of the claimed growth for special education students. Additionally, there are allegations by the Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children that many students were “pushed out” of RSD charters and into the RSD direct-run schools.24
Thus there are stark differences of opinion about the performance of New Orleans charter schools and about the way it is measured.
Over Half of Schools Are Still Failing
Furthermore, despite overall achievement score growth trends in New Orleans, it is important to note that over half of the schools are still failing. In 2012–2013, 35% of schools in New Orleans received a letter grade F, while another 22% received a D, and 13% were not given a letter grade because they had been open for less than three years. 25
Without student-level control data, we cannot tell whether reported gains are due to student population changes, whether selection mechanisms are at play, and/or whether other policy shifts explain the results.26 The achievement gains in New Orleans are impressive, but without more careful analysis we cannot attribute these gains to the city’s portfolio model.
- "The Test-Based Evidence On New Orleans Charter Schools" (with reference to
- The RSD and New Orleans miracle (of cheating)
- While CREDO Reports have continued to promote the efforts of the New Orleans Recovery District (http://credo.stanford.edu/documents/la_report_2013_7_26_2013_final.pdf and http://credo.stanford.edu/pdfs/NSNOYear2Report.pdf), many have criticized their reports (http://crazycrawfish.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/credo-is-not-credible-and-never-has-been/ and http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-credo-2013)