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.

School Choice

Voters overwhelmingly support school choice for families.

In Cowen’s poll, 72% support choice:

  • 54% of voters support pure choice.
  • 18% support reserving half of the spaces for neighborhood children.
  • Only 21% want a return to neighborhood schools.

This support for choice has remained unchanged. A 2009 CABL poll showed:

  • 77% of voters favored parents picking the school.
  • Only 15% favored assigning students to a school.

Replacing Operators of Low-Performing Schools 

Voters strongly support replacing operators of failing schools:

  • Two-thirds (65%) agree that bringing in a charter organization to take over a failing school “creates the best chance to improve student learning.”
  • Two-thirds (66%) agree that only charter organizations that have demonstrated success should be approved to take over schools.
  • And two-thirds (66%) believe that charter operators of D schools should also be replaced.

Return of Schools

Cowen asked voters their preference on when schools should be returned. CABL asked a very similar question in its 2009 poll. In both polls, the majority (55% Cowen; 52% CABL) feel return should be in the more distant future (3-5 years) or never. There has been a shift (11 points) in the number of voters who support the return of schools within two years.

Do you think all RSD schools should be returned to OPSB? Cowen
(Mar 2013)
(Aug 2009)
Within two years 32% 21%
In the next three to five years 20% 17%
Should NOT return to OPSB 35% 45%
Uncertain 13% 18%

Cowen’s poll shows significant differences between black and white voters:

  • 41% of black voters want schools returned now (#1 answer for black voters); 51% of white voters do not want the schools returned (#1 answer for white voters). 

Changes to the Orleans Parish School Board

While voters don’t agree on the “if and when” for return of schools, there is much more consensus, extending across racial lines, that OPSB needs to change if schools are to come back.

  • 65% of voters agree that OPSB needs to change the way it functions and/or is structured to manage all schools.

And, given 4 choices, the idea of a school board with some elected and appointed members was the clear first choice.

In terms of long-term governance, who should have
oversight of charter school boards?
BESE 22%
OPSB 16%
A local school board with some elected and some appointed members 41%
A local school board with all members appointed by the mayor 9%
Uncertain/No opinion 12%

Educate Now! finds it interesting that while 32% of voters think schools should be returned in the next 2 years, only 16% prefer to return schools to OPSB as currently structured, if given other options.

The Good News

There is more consensus than division among voters:

  1. Voters support school choice.
  2. Voters support replacing low performing schools with charter operators who have demonstrated success.
  3. Voters agree OPSB needs some structural and operational changes before managing all schools. A combination of an appointed and elected board resonated with voters. In any proposal like this one, the challenge will be working through the details: who appoints and through what process.

Hopefully, we can build upon this consensus to structure long-term governance.

View the Cowen Institute’s analysis of their 2013 poll results.
View the Times-Picayune‘s article on the poll results.