The Impact of New Orleans School Reforms on Student Achievement, High School Graduation and College Outcomes

The reforms implemented in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina had a significant impact on student performance, high school graduation rates and college outcomes. According to a study conducted by the New Orleans Educational Research Alliance (ERA-New Orleans), the reforms increased student performance by between 11 and 16 percentiles, depending on the subject and the method of analysis. The high school graduation rate was also boosted by 3 to 9 percentage points, while the college entrance rate increased by 8 to 15 percentage points. The 13 percent increase in per-student spending in New Orleans was associated with increases in the graduation rate of between 4 and 9 percent, according to Harris and Larsen.

This is in line with what other school districts in the United States have experienced, including those that have not undergone state takeovers or “portfolio reforms.” ERA-New Orleans is a research organization located in the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane University. It is financially supported by the Tulane Murphy Institute and is dedicated to conducting objective, rigorous and useful research to understand post-Hurricane Katrina school reforms in New Orleans. Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans was the second lowest performing school district in the second lowest performing state, as measured by student performance. After the hurricane, per-student spending increased dramatically and the Municipal Fund, led by Neerav Kingsland, used New Orleans as a tool to open the coffers of philanthropy to its portfolio approach to school government.

This approach would replace 30 to 50 percent of traditional public schools with charter schools in 40 cities. The research conducted by ERA-New Orleans revealed that test scores, high school graduation rates and college results improved for students who attended school in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. New York Times opinion columnist David Leonhardt praised the city for its successful school reform efforts. However, Neerav Kingsland cautioned that his optimistic view of the New Orleans reforms cannot be extrapolated to other districts that may wish to adopt the portfolio model or expand the statutes in another way.

He emphasized that each district should assess its own needs and develop an appropriate strategy for reform.

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