Do parents need a trigger — or choices?

Won’t Back Down — Hollywood’s parent (and teacher) trigger movie, premieres today. A documentary it’s not, but its emotional appeal is likely to move the debate. Think of Erin Brockovich for school reform.

Can parents do a better job of running their children’s schools? Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, is sympathetic but concerned, he writes on Title I-derland.

Specifically, I worry that Parent Trigger laws will be better at destroying bad schools than creating excellent schools. The crux of it is this: Parent Trigger laws combine two actions – (1) parent empowerment and (2) parent influence over management – when only the first action is necessary for real change. Moreover, involving parents in management may end up decreasing student achievement.

. . . The power to change doctors is an important power – the power to influence hospital management is less useful. I don’t know how to run a hospital, and I don’t wish to have the responsibility of guiding hospital management strategy bestowed upon me.

(In November, I’ll vote on the management of the local hospital district. I’ll have to figure out which way to go by then.)

New Orleans has lots of choices for parents, responds RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation, but it’s not typical:  Most parents have few or no affordable alternatives to the neighborhood school.

Biddle thinks parents will do a better job than school districts. I think parents who win a trigger vote (and the subsequent lawsuits) will hire a management team — probably from a charter network — and fire them if they don’t perform well.

Born on the Bayou: Learning from New Orleans

In Born on the Bayou – A New Model for American Education, David Osborne (Reinventing Government) looks at how New Orleans restructured its schools after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

On New Orleans schools

Learning Matters has released a documentary on New Orleans schools after Katrina.

New Orleans is catching up

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans public schools were the worst in the state. Now scores for blacks, low-income students and special-ed students are improving more rapidly than scores statewide. The city’s black students have made the greatest gains and  now outperform blacks elsewhere in Louisiana.

That’s a milestone, writes the Times-Picayune. Only four years ago, the city’s students were well behind the state average.  The trend “began after the state takeover of most New Orleans public schools and the seismic shift to mostly independent charter schools.”

Charter students in Washington D.C. are making gains as well.

CREDO: New Orleans charters raise scores

Most New Orleans charter schools are improving student performance at a faster rate than traditional schools, according to Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). The study matched charter students to “virtual twins” in race, socioeconomic background and previous test scores at district-run schools.

New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit, commissioned the study to help decide which charter organizations will get some of the $28 million in federal grant money for new school start-ups.

Of 44 independent charter schools, 23 were improving at a significantly faster rate in reading, math or both than other New Orleans schools. Twelve charters were doing about the same. Nine showed slower progress; three of those have turned in their charters.

Detroit: We’ll convert 41 schools to charters

Faced with closing 41 schools, the bankrupt Detroit school district wants charter operators and Education Management Organizations to take over its failing schools by the start of the school year, reports the Detroit Free Press. That’s six months away. It may be impossible.

However, charter school operators and advocates across the nation said they believe the time line for chartering 30% of the district is too ambitious, given the amount of work that goes into hiring and training staff and developing a school design.

Converting low-performing California schools to charters didn’t raise reading and math scores, concludes a 2010 Brookings Institution report, which found converted schools “look more like traditional public schools than start-up charters.”

“The challenge of coming into an existing school is it frequently has a strong culture which might be dysfunctional, particularly if it’s been low-performing,” said Doug Ross, CEO of New Urban Learning, a nonprofit that operates charter schools in seven locations in Detroit.

KIPP, which prefers to start schools from scratch, already has said it won’t bid on Detroit’s surplus schools. Neither will Green Dot.

New Orleans, with 61 percent of students in charter schools, has seen significant progress since Hurricane Katrina “swept away much of the school system in 2005,” notes the free Press. “Prior to Hurricane Katrina, about 62% of New Orleans students attended failing schools. Today, that number has dropped to 17%.”

New Orleans schools that don’t improve are placed under the management of a high-performing school, said Paul Vallas, Recovery School District superintendent.

DPS should close its 41 schools, let those students be absorbed elsewhere and then convert some surviving schools to charters with rigorous standards, Vallas said.

“That would not only solve financial problems, it would solve your problem of school quality,” he said.

In addition to New Orleans, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Denver have given up control of the most troubled schools to outside operators, notes Ed Week.

However, only 5 percent of turnaround schools have been turned over to outside management, notes Title 1-Derland.

New Orleans’ new schools

Five years after New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the city’s bet on charter schools has begun to pay off, writes Jed Horne in Education Next. 

Before Katrina, two thirds of students attended a low-performing school. That number has been cut in half.  New Orleans public schools are improving at three to four times the statewide rate.

Some 71 percent of students now attend charter schools.

 For a change, extraordinarily good things could be said about New Orleans’s traditionally atrocious public school system.

After Katrina, the sstate-run Recovery School District took control of most New Orlenas schools; the Orleans Parish School Board was left with a handful of  high-performing magnet schools, some of which have chosen to go charter.

Under the old order, the all-powerful school board and central office had seemed to view the district more as an adult jobs program and dispenser of patronage-based contracts than as a source of education for young people.

Now, by design, no single apparatus of power—not OPSB, RSD, or the charter schools and charter management organizations that answered to them and to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE)—could assert hegemony and dominate the others.

Horne writes about the future of New Orleans’ schools, some of which may return to local control.

New Orleans: From F to C

New Orleans schools have gone from an F to a C in five years, write Eduwonk guest bloggers  Sarah Newell Usdin and Neerav Kingsland of New Schools New Orleans.

Five years ago, New Orleans was perhaps America’s worst school system. The FBI convicted over twenty district officials for stealing from kids. A valedictorian of a local high school failed the high school exit exam. Five times. Her school had failed her. Her district had failed her. Her school board had failed her. At every level, the system was broken.

Five years later, NOLA is on the way up.

* We’ve out paced the state’s growth by nearly a factor of 4 over the past four years (growth of about 12 pts. vs. 3 pts)

* We’ve halved the percentage of failing schools (about 60% to 30%)

* Our highest-performing open-enrollment schools are out-performing selective-admission magnet schools.

The challenge, they write, is to go from C to A. They have some ideas about how to do it.

GOOD looks at the effort to rebuild New Orleans’ crumbling schools.

Via HechingerEd.

Lifting all boats in Louisiana

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has apologized for saying “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina” because it destroyed a disastrous school system and opened the door for change.

Duncan’s statement was “quite accurate,” said Louisiana’s superintendent of education, Paul Pastorek. “It was a pathetic system before the storm.”

Pastorek talked earlier with Lisa Snell, Reason Foundation’s education policy director, about what’s changed since Katrina.

Today in New Orleans, nearly 60 percent of the city’s estimated 26,000 students are in charter schools, and test scores have risen dramatically since 2005. The proportion of fourth-graders who meet or exceed grade-level work in English rose from 44 percent in 2005 to 59 percent this year, a gain of one-third. Eighth-graders improved even more, jumping from 26 percent to 42 percent. High school scores have also shown marked gains, particularly in math, with 58 percent meeting or exceeding state standards this year compared with 38 percent in 2005. In January 2009, Education Week gave Louisiana an “A” grade in the category of “standards, assessment, and accountability.”

Pastorek talks about turning around low-performing schools, the role of charter schools, and the challenges and future plans for school improvement in Louisiana.

Update:  In the Wake of the Storm in Ed Next has more on Louisiana’s embrace of school choice.

Vallas on TFA in New Orleans

Paul Vallas, now running New Orleans schools, talks about the Teach for America Effect on Learning Matters TV.