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Study: Post-Katrina changes improved New Orleans schools

By KEVIN McGILLJuly 16, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A Tulane University-based research group says New Orleans public schools saw sustained improvement in achievement scores, high school graduation rates and students’ college performance after Hurricane Katrina.

The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans study credits reforms implemented during a state takeover of most of the city’s schools with the improvements.

Monday’s release of the report comes weeks after the state completed a return of school control to the New Orleans school board. But a key factor in the reform remains: Most schools are charter schools, run by independent entities with authority over personnel and other key decisions. They operate under performance-based contracts with the board.

Also, families aren’t limited to a school in a given neighborhood or district. They can choose from schools throughout the city.

The report covers nine years after the 2005 storm. During that time, student achievement test scores increased by 11 to 16 percentiles, depending on the subject matter; the graduation rate went up by as much as 9 percentage points; college entry rates increased by as much as 15 percentage points with a college graduation rate improving by as much as 5 percentage points.

Although post-Katrina New Orleans has been held up as a reform model for other areas, the report cautions that New Orleans had advantages over other districts. For instance, people flocked to the city from across the country to help rebuild after the 2005 storm.

Also, the city’s public schools were among the nation’s worst before the storm. “As a general rule, it is easier to improve on clear failure like that which was happening in New Orleans prior to the reforms,” the study’s authors wrote.

The report also raised doubts about whether the reforms could work in non-urban areas. That’s because in cities, the report noted, families have more choices of schools, meaning there will be more competition for students.

An 11-page brief on the study includes details of steps taken to ensure that the improvements can credibly be attributed to the post-Katrina reforms. Those steps included measuring outcomes for similar sets of students before and after the storm — for example, third-graders in 2005 and third-graders in 2014. Also, researchers made comparisons with students in other hurricane-stricken districts deemed similar to New Orleans.

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