Charter Schools Help Improve Special Education in New Orleans

This guest editorial appeared in the Times-Picayune, and I wanted to share it with you.

Charter Schools Help Improve Special Education in New Orleans: Leslie Jacobs

In fourth grade, James, a special needs student at John Dibert Charter School, was struggling academically and behaviorally. He was making daily trips to the dean’s office for disruptive behavior and emotional outbursts. James is now on honor roll in eighth grade, scored mastery and advanced on state tests and is applying to Ben Franklin High School.

Zaria transferred to Arthur Ashe Charter School at the beginning of second grade as a special education student, reading at kindergarten level. By the end of fourth grade she scored mastery in English.

Zaria and James are two of the many students who have benefited from the city’s improvement in serving students with special needs.

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Court Rules Schools Don’t Have to Return

By refusing to hear further appeal, the Louisiana Supreme Court has put an end to OPSB’s lawsuit against the state, which argued schools should be returned automatically to local control after five years if they are no longer failing.

In 2010, BESE decided each charter board had the right to decide whether it wanted to leave the RSD and return to local control. (So far, none has done so.) OPSB argued that keeping schools indefinitely exceeded the state’s constitutional authority, but the board lost its case in district court and again on appeal.

Read more in this article from the Times-Picayune.


New Orleans is Over 90% Charter

Educate Now! has reviewed the most recent enrollment data from the state. As of October 1:

  • 91% of New Orleans students are in charter schools.
  • Enrollment keeps increasing by around 1,500 students per year.
  • New Orleans schools have grown more diverse since Katrina.

New Orleans Enrollment Over Time

October 1

(all students)*
2004-05 2009-10 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14
TOTAL 66372 38051 42030 43540 44950
Charter 1.5% 61.4% 77.5% 83.9% 91.0%
Direct-Run 98.5% 38.6% 22.5% 16.1% 9.0%
White 3.6% 5.4% 7.9% 6.7% 6.9%
Black 93.2% 90.0% 86.3% 87.3% 86.1%
Other 3.2% 4.6% 5.8% 5.9% 7.0%

*2013-14 does not include 0-3 enrollment or NOCCA (which dropped below 50% N.O. enrollment) but does include Milestone SABIS (with over 50% N.O. enrollment).

According to a recent market share report, New Orleans has the nation’s highest percentage of public school students in charters. In 2012-13, Detroit was second with 51% percent in charters, and Washington, D.C. was third with 43%.

Also, when the Recovery School District closes its last four direct-run schools at the end of this school year, it will become the nation’s first all-charter district.

UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect corrected state data that increased charter enrollment from 90.2% to to 91%.

What Does N.O. Think About Education Reforms

There has been much discussion about how folks really view education reforms in New Orleans. Last week, Tulane’s Cowen Institute released a 2013 public opinion poll providing data that replaces pure speculation with poll results on how voters feel about key issues.

Key Findings

Voters agreed more than they disagreed, reflecting consensus on some key points:

  • Support for school choice for families, with only 21% wanting a return to neighborhood schools;
  • Replacing operators of low-performing schools with charter operators who have demonstrated success (65%);
  • The need for the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) to make structural and operational changes before schools are returned (65%), with a strong preference (41%) for a local school board with a mix of elected and appointed members; only 16% of voters believe OPSB as currently structured should have oversight of all charter schools.
  • While black and white voters disagreed on when to return schools, the majority (55%) feel return should be in the more distant future (3-5 years) or never.

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Enrollment Data Released; 84% now attending Charter Schools

The state has released enrollment data for New Orleans public schools, which includes all OPSB schools, RSD New Orleans schools and the city’s Type 2 charter schools. As of October 1, 2012:

  • 84% of New Orleans public school students attend charter schools, up from 78% last year and 71% in 2010. New Orleans has a greater percentage of students in charter schools than anywhere else in the country. Detroit and the District of Columbia come in a distant second with just over 40% in charters. The national average is 4%.
  • Enrollment increased for the 6th consecutive year to 43,540 students, up 1,510 students from last year and a 70% increase from 2006, the first full year after Katrina. Additionally, another 2,440 New Orleans students are receiving publicly funded vouchers to attend private or parochial schools. This increase in enrollment likely means the city’s population continues to grow. Continue reading

End of Course Tests

What are End of Course Tests (EOCs)?

Louisiana is phasing out the Graduation Exit Exam (GEE) and replacing it with specific End of Course tests, or EOCs.

There are six EOC exams. Beginning with the freshman class of 2010-11, students must pass at least three of the tests to graduate:

  • English II or English III
  • Algebra I or Geometry
  • Biology or American History

Like the GEE, if a student does not pass the test on their first attempt, they have other opportunities to take the test.

Last year, the state tested students in Algebra I, English II, and Geometry. Tests for Biology, English III and American History will be phased in over the next two years.

The Louisiana Department of Education recently released the 2010-11 End of Course test results for Algebra I, English II and Geometry. Educate Now! analyzed student performance for New Orleans schools, focusing specifically on Algebra I and English II.

How did our students do?

Algebra I: New Orleans (all OPSB and RSD schools) outperformed many other school districts, posting its highest ranking relative to other school districts on any state administered test- ever! Continue reading

The Return Model for School Governance

In 2010, Educate Now! convened a Task Force to consider long-term governance alternatives for New Orleans public schools.  In a series of meetings over several months, the members of the Task Force worked on how best to restore local control of public education without imperiling the considerable academic progress since 2005.

The Task Force determined that New Orleans requires a unique governance structure to manage the new “system of schools” that has evolved since Katrina. The structure that the Task Force recommended is called the Return Model.

The Return Model:  A New Approach to Governance for Schools in Orleans Parish

Interviews:  Leslie Jacobs Explains the Return Model

Comment on the Return Model

The Return Model report lays out the governance system that the Task Force recommended.  Not every detail is attended to, and Educate Now! expects and invites community debate that will further refine the model.


News Alert: BESE Votes Are In

After a 13-hour, marathon day of meetings, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) has approved the following items in committee. While these votes are preliminary – each committee recommendation will be considered by the full Board on Thursday – items recommended by committees are almost always approved by the full Board.

1.  Pastorek’s Return of School Proposal:  Approved

The Recovery School District Committee approved Superintendent Pastorek’s Revised Plan for Return of Schools by a vote of 4 to 2. Continue reading

Myth 5: RSD Charters are not serving students with disabilities

Fact:  RSD charters are serving lots of students with disabilities and working to improve these services.

In the 2009-10 school year, the 36 RSD charters enrolled 1,228 students with disabilities, falling just short of enrolling their “fair share” of special needs children by 76 students. Continue reading

After the Deluge, A New Education System

Five years ago yesterday, the levees broke. Hurricane Katrina flooded roughly 80% of this city, causing nearly $100 billion in damage. The storm forced us to rebuild our homes, workplaces, and many of our institutions – including our failing public education system.

But from the flood waters, the most market-driven public school system in the country has emerged. Education reformers across America should take notice: The model is working.

Citywide, the number of fourth-grade students who pass the state’s standardized tests has jumped by almost a third – to 65% in 2010 from 49% in 2007. The passage rate among eighth-graders during the same period has improved at a similar clip, to 58% from 44%.

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