Good News for New Orleans
September 14, 2015
After hurricane Katrina, New Orleans made radical changes to its schools: it fired all school employees, eliminated attendance zones and the state took control of the city's school system. After some time it handed them over to charter management organizations.
No other district has implemented reforms on the scale New Orleans has, but the most important change was schools were freed from most district and union contract rules and allowed to innovate. They were held accountable not for compliance but for results.
Before the storm, the district was highly dysfunctional and academic results were poor. But the question is, are the reforms really working? Specifically, how did the reforms affect school practices and student learning?
- The biggest change is the authority of the state to close schools and the authority schools have over their teaching staffs.
- Flexibility in personnel management: leaders could hire anyone they wanted, including uncertified teachers, and dismiss teachers relatively easily.
- Total public schooling expenditures per student increased by $1,000 in New Orleans relative to other districts in the state.
- Parental choice: access to highly differentiated schools, some specialize in math and science, others in the arts; some offer language immersion programs, while others have more traditional curricula.
The average student outcome for New Orleans is quite positive and graduation rates have increased dramatically. No other districts that have made such large improvements in such a short time.
It would be hard to replicate the results of New Orleans elsewhere in the nation. Student scores were near the bottom and had nowhere to go but up; also, the pool of talented instructors willing to work for a modest salary is not endless.
Source: Douglas N. Harris, "Good News for New Orleans
" Education Next, Fall 2015.
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