Governance Part 1: Public Opinion and Performance

Education was an issue in the recent Mayoral and City Council elections, especially school governance and school performance. These issues were debated, discussed, and polled. Finally, the candidates were asked their positions. So, now that we have a new mayor and five of the seven city council seats have been decided, where are we?

Public Opinion

In addition to the publicly released polls from the Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL), the Cowen Institute and James Carville’s Democracy Corps, a number of candidates (myself included) conducted private polls that gathered voters’ opinions about the state of public education. In general:

Governance
The majority of voters:

  • Believe the state made the right decision in taking over the schools (Cowen);
  • Strongly support choice (CABL, Cowen);
  • Strongly support charters (CABL, Cowen, Democracy Corps);
  • Do not want schools returned to the Orleans Parish School Board (CABL, Cowen);
  • Do not want mayoral control of schools (Cowen); and
  • Would like return of local control eventually (Democracy Corps).
Forward New Orleans
In an effort to help frame issues during the election, Forward New Orleans, a collaborative initiative including over 30 civic, business and neighborhood organizations, drafted an agenda for city leadership on critical issues facing New Orleans. They addressed seven areas including crime, blight, city finances, economic development, infrastructure, city contracting and education. Mayoral and City Council candidates were asked to commit to each of the seven sections.
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Educate Now! believes Forward New Orleans’ position on governance of New Orleans schools best captures the current public sentiment:
Support the Continued Oversight by the Recovery School District
“In 2010, when the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) must vote on whether to return Recovery School District (RSD) schools to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), urge BESE to keep the schools in the RSD for another defined period of time (3-5 years) to enable community conversation and agreement regarding process, criteria and structure for when and how schools are returned. Maintain the current charter model – local control with State oversight – until there is more agreement on how to best provide local oversight.”
Mayor Elect Landrieu and either 5 or 6 City Council members (depends who wins one of the Council runoff elections) have committed to the education plank.
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Performance
In addition to soliciting opinions on school governance, the polls also sought public opinion on school performance. Voters believe:
·        Schools are getting better (CABL, Democracy Corps)
·         But are not yet good (private poll)

So, what is our peformance….How are we doing?

The public is pretty much on the money in their assessment: We are better, but we still have a distance to travel before all students have quality choices.

Comparing Apples to Apples (or What’s in a name?)

How do we know that schools are better?

The challenge of analyzing individual school performance pre- and post-Katrina is not as simple as it seems. The first instinct would be to simply compare the score of a school that existed before the storm to its performance score post-Katrina. Unfortunately, this method is flawed. It is like comparing apples to kiwis.

There were over 120 schools pre-Katrina. Today, there are 88. Schools have changed attendance zones, admission criteria, student body, leadership, faculty, location and governance. In many cases, the only thing that has stayed the same is the name. And, we have schools with new names.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) recognizes that a school can be in the same building and have the same name but be a new school. In fact, after Katrina and Rita, all schools in Orleans, St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson and Cameron Parishes were labeled “severe impact” schools and were granted new school status, which is why there were no School Performance Scores for these parishes in 2005-06 or in 2006-07.

The schools that reopened after Katrina are new schools. If we can’t get an accurate picture by comparing individual schools, how do we know whether or not schools have improved since the storm?

Looking at the Big Picture

While individual schools changed locations, grade configurations, went from attendance zones to citywide access, etc., the demographic makeup of the student population citywide has remained consistent.

*Pre-Katrina* *10/1/2009*
Number of Students 65,000 38,000
African American Students 93% 90%
Students Receiving Free/Reduced Lunch 77% 82%

We can compare the performance of ALL schools and ALL students pre- and post-Katrina to measure whether or not we are improving. And, the news is good. Schools in New Orleans are improving; student performance is improving; and New Orleans is improving much faster than the state.

School Performance

In 2005, only 37% of Orleans Parish schools were considered Academically Acceptable with one star or higher. Today that number is 58% – an increase of 21 percentage points. We have significantly reduced the number of failing schools.

The Best Measurement: The District Performance Score

That said, comparing the percentage of schools that are academically acceptable also has its limitations. When measuring schools, a small school counts as much as a large school. And, some schools don’t have scores yet.

The most accurate way to compare performance is The District Performance Score. It includes all students, all tests and all performance levels. With the District Performance Score, the student test results are calculated as if all public school students in the city were in one school. Hence, every student is equally weighted, and their performance counts, even if the school does not yet have a performance score.

District Performance Scores

District Performance Scores

Since Katrina, New Orleans’ score has grown 13.7 points versus 3.6 points for the state.

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Student Performance: Selected Highlights

The increase in these numbers has real meaning for our students. For example, let’s look at 4th and 8th grade student performance:

Significant increase in the percent of students
Basic or Above in English

LEAP 4th and 8th English

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Significant increase in the  percent of students
meeting the Promotional Standard

LEAP 4th and 8th Promo Standard

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Or Percent of Seniors Graduating

Percent of Seniors Graduating

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89% of seniors graduated in 2009
up from 79% pre-Katrina.
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I could site other subjects and grades as well. For a more in depth analysis of the data, visit the Data and Analysis page on the Educate Now! website.

Conclusion

The majority of New Orleanians support the state takeover of schools and the reforms enacted. Public education in New Orleans is definitely better than it was pre-Katrina, and we have improved much faster than the state. But, it’s not time to celebrate. More than one in three schools is still failing; more than half of our 8th graders are not performing on grade level; and too many 9th graders will not graduate from high school. We must remain relentless in our commitment to improvement and quality schools for all students.

We are at the two minute warning in the first half. Just like the Saints, we need to Finish Strong!

Educate Now!
Leslie Jacobs
Founder


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