A status report of the New Orleans experiment in charter schools. The catalyst is the transition to a completely charter school district. The reporting is somewhat chaotic. For example, the impetus for change, as stated in the article, was the terrible performance of the public schools in New Orleans and the opportunity for a fresh beginning created by the destruction arising from Hurricane Katrina. But in a 35 paragraph article, it is not till paragraph 14 that we get to a before and after comparison based on empirical measures.
Before the storm, the city’s high school graduation rate was 54.4 percent. In 2013, the rate for the Recovery School District was 77.6 percent. On average, 57 percent of students performed at grade level in math and reading in 2013, up from 23 percent in 2007, according to the state.There's a lot of sturm and drang reported in the article, presumably most of it simply related to the magnitude of the change but some of it clearly generated by concerns of of putative class and race privilege. But if these numbers reported are accurate, they are phenomenal. Most districts struggle to eke out 1-5% improvements in test and graduation rates over five year stretches (unless you resort, as many big city systems have done, to doctoring the numbers). 50% improvement in graduation rates and 100% improvement in test scores are remarkable.
If they are real. In the comments section, there is an immense babble from all sides of ideology, speculation, prejudice, assumptions, etc. There are a number of people who question the validity of the performance measures but they are clearly opponents to the charter initiative so is their criticism empirically based or ideologically based? Hard to tell.
I am sure the charter successes are not as great as proponents are making out. I am also sure that opponents have many motivations that do not include what is best for the children. But where is the truth? Hard to tell without spending a lot of time researching. Layton's article is interesting as a teaser but frustrating for its incompleteness and absence of robustness. If the reported numbers are indeed real and reflective of reality (i.e. aren't gamed), then the charter initiative is already an outstanding success and ought to be investigated much further to yield the lessons that can be transferred to other school districts. And if the numbers aren't real, that should be exposed as well.