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%.
After Hurricane Katrina, state officials faced a choice: Take control of the schools in New Orleans or leave them in the care of the city’s notoriously troubled School Board. A takeover was risky. New Orleans Public Schools were among the worst in the nation. Most New Orleans legislators opposed state action. More daunting, any reasonable analysis would have put the state’s chance of success extremely low and of political embarrassment correspondingly high. Nowhere else in the nation had a state department of education ever assumed direct responsibility for operating local schools.
Yet state leaders, led by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and then-Superintendent Cecil Picard, had the courage to take the gamble. With legislative blessing, they moved decisively to expand the state-run Recovery School District – initially created to handle just a handful of failing schools – to include all but 16 schools in the city.
Five years later, it’s clear that gamble has paid off in ways unimaginable even to the most ardent supporters of the takeover. Continue reading
Pre-Katrina, New Orleans had one of the worst dropout rates in Louisiana, and Louisiana had one of the worst dropout rates in the nation.
Educate Now! was curious to know how New Orleans is doing today. We hadn’t seen any dropout data for New Orleans since Katrina, so we contacted the Louisiana Department of Education and got the 2008-09 dropout numbers for every school in Orleans parish. The 2008-09 data is the most recent year available because dropout reporting lags a year. (The 2009-10 data will be released next spring.)
The Good News: We are better in 2008-09 than we were in 2004-05.
The Bad News: We are still above the state average and have a lot of room for improvement.
Two years ago, Louisiana enacted the Student Scholarship for Educational Excellence Program, a pilot voucher program in New Orleans designed to offer students an alternative to attending a failing public school. The voucher program gives parents of eligible students in New Orleans the choice of attending non-public schools that have agreed to participate in the program, and the state pays the tuition.
As a district of choice, Orleans families have multiple education options, including the voucher program. There has been great focus on the reforms inside the Recovery School District (RSD) and the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). With the recent test score release, we now have data to begin evaluating the performance of voucher students. Continue reading
If we look at the high school data from 2005 to 2010, we can come to certain conclusions:
- Significantly fewer students are forced to attend a failing high school. We are giving students better high school options.
- Our high school students are performing better on the GEE.
- We are doing a much better job getting our seniors to graduate.
- There is not sufficient data to accurately assess how well we are doing at keeping students in school. Since the data system to track students across all schools does not exist at the local level, the state needs to provide timely information so New Orleans can ensure that this important outcome is evaluated and any related issues addressed. It is a critical issue that is not getting the attention it deserves.
Pre-Katrina, the state measured the annual dropout rate for each district by analyzing the October 1 student counts to determine how many students dropped out from one year to the next. Back in 2005, New Orleans had an annual dropout rate of 11.4%, compared to a state average of 7%. (For every 100 high school students enrolled in 2004, 11.4 of them dropped out of school by 2005 – a total of 2139 students!) This was the third worst dropout rate in the state behind two small rural parishes – Red River and East Carroll. To view the 2004-2005 dropout report, click here. Continue reading
Historically, New Orleans did a dismal job helping their seniors cross the finish line. In fact, in spring, 2005, the last year all the schools were under the Orleans Parish School Board, only 79% of New Orleans seniors graduated, tying Madison Parish for the worst record in the state. Thus, for every 100 seniors, 21 did not get to walk across the stage and receive diplomas.
The percent of seniors graduating has risen dramatically since 2005.
This year, 90% of seniors graduated, allowing 270 additional seniors to proudly participate in graduation ceremonies.
In 2005, 79% of seniors graduated.
In 2010, 90% of seniors graduated – an 11 point increase.
For a list of post-Katrina (2007-2010) graduation rates by school, click here.
The Graduation Exit Exam (GEE) tests 10th and 11th graders in English, Math, Science and Social Studies.
Since 2005, New Orleans test results have grown more than the state in all subjects.
- In English, New Orleans grew 12 percentage points; the state grew 3.
- In Math, New Orleans grew 21 percentage points; the state grew 11.
- In Science, New Orleans grew 13 points. The state grew 4.
- In Social Studies, New Orleans grew 18 points. The state grew 7.
In 2005, 67% of high schoolers (grades 9-12) attended a failing school.
While a failing school has a School Performance Score (SPS) of less than 60, the majority of New Orleans’ failing high schools were the worst schools in the state, with scores below 30.
Post-Katrina to Today
The high schools governed by the Orleans Parish School Board were the first to reopen after the storm. Some of their highly selective schools reduced or eliminated their admissions criteria to help get students back in school and to bring their student enrollment closer to pre-Katrina levels. This change in student make-up contributed to a drop in their SPS scores.
As a result, today we have fewer 3, 4, and 5 star schools and more 1 and 2 star schools.
The good news: Significantly fewer students are attending failing schools.
Using either the 2009 SPS scores or the spring 2010 test
scores, Educate Now! estimates that in 2010 only 36% of students in grades 9-12 attended failing schools. This is marked improvement!
In addition to the schools that were one star or higher in 2009, Educate Now! calculated three additional high schools should have a 2010 Growth Performance Score* of 60 or higher:
O. Perry Walker, Algiers Technical Academy and Thurgood Marshall Early College High School. Congrats to all three!
Unfortunately, while the percent of students attending a failing high school has dropped, so has the percent of students attending a high performing high school – from 21% in 2005 to 10% in 2010.
We can and should be able to have non selective high schools that are high performing. Educate Now! wants to shine the spotlight on Sci Academy. Their 10th grade GEE scores were excellent -the third highest in the city behind Ben Franklin and Lusher. Sci Academy proves that open admission high schools can excel; our challenge is for more of them to do so.
* Growth performance scores use only the most recent year of data. A school performance score averages two years of data.