The narrative of New Orleans charter schools success ‘is starting to crack’

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 14: Neon lights in the French Quarter on July 14, 2013. Tourism provides a much needed source of revenue after the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

A new review by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice raises serious questions about the large-scale conversion of public schools to private charter schools in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

“Unfortunately the rhetoric does not match the claims being made,” the center writes. “The narrative of unqualified success is starting to crack.”

The Great Lakes Center specifically broke down a report titled Ten Years in New Orleans: Public School Resurgence and the Path Ahead, produced by Public Impact and New Schools for New Orleans. That report, the Great Lakes Center writes, “rests on a wobbly foundation, overstates findings and ultimately serves little value to the discussion about how to make America’s schools better.”

Following is the Great Lakes Center news release on its review:

New Orleans’ experiment to convert virtually all its traditional public schools into charter schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been accepted as an inspiring success, worthy of emulation across the nation.

Unfortunately the rhetoric does not match the claims being made. The narrative of unqualified success is starting to crack.

Boosters of New Orleans’ controversial Recovery School District’s “portfolio school model” are now facing a tide of growing skepticism. Closer inspection by researchers and experts are exposing gaps in their claims that converting traditional public schools, with an elected school board, into autonomous self-governing charter schools is both successful and the future of education.

The latest report to offer a glowing endorsement of the New Orleans model is Ten Years in New Orleans: Public School Resurgence and the Path Ahead, produced by Public Impact and New Schools for New Orleans.

This report rests on a wobbly foundation, overstates findings and ultimately serves little value to the discussion about how to make America’s schools better, according to a review of Ten years in New Orleans.

A Think Twice Review finds that the report uses selective and flawed information. Given its release to coincide with the 10-year commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, Ten Years in New Orleans appears to be a publicity stunt rather than a serious document for policymaking. The Think Twice Review notes the report relies on only three research reports that have not been peer-reviewed, using data to which researchers, community members and the media have limited access.

The report’s strongest potential argument – that New Orleans’ take-over of traditional public schools has resulted in improved performance and gradation rates – turns out to be somewhat inflated, too. Though oft repeated by unquestioning audiences and pro-charter school voices, the claim that New Orleans’ schools today are doing better is simply not true. And Ten Years in New Orleans perpetuates that myth, by combining data from the RSD with the Orleans Parish School Board, the other entity within the New Orleans public school system that the RSD completely took over, with the exception of a handful of schools post-Katrina.

Combining the two sets of data hides any understanding of whether test score and graduation rate increases are the result of changes made by the RSD or existing improvements by the OPSB, the Think Twice Review finds. We’ll never really know.

The Think Twice Review cites numerous sources that have exposed the fallacy that test scores and other performance metrics have improved under the charter school regime, including 2014’s Research on Reforms which found OPSB high schools scored higher than RSD high schools.

The Think Twice Review also noted that just before the point of the school takeovers post-Katrina, OPSB schools were actually improving, ranked 11th in Louisiana for growth in 2003-04 and 2004-05.

The report presents the changes in New Orleans as a logical, apolitical process, downplaying decisions that by their very nature are political ones – such as eliminating unions – and misreading the overtly political dimensions of nonprofit charter organizations.

In an environment of choice, schools have a responsibility to create working environments that will attract and retain talented educators, the report claims. Yet it cites no research or data to illustrate teacher satisfaction, and the RSD’s decision to eliminate teacher and staff protections that ultimately lead to job satisfaction, effectiveness in the classroom and professional development must be viewed as a contradiction of the report’s claim.

Ten Years in New Orleans fails on multiple levels. It merely recounts half truths that have already been spread by advocacy groups. More glaring is its perpetuation of a narrative that schools before Katrina were a failure, resting its argument on unverifiable, dubious reports of success.

Find the full review on the Great Lakes Center website: http://www.greatlakescenter.org