COVID derails progress made by charter schools in New Orleans | national news

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(The Center Square) – From an outsider’s perspective, the latest Louisiana statewide student test scores would appear to be a damaging indictment against New Brunswick’s unique public school system -Orléans, where 76 of the 83 public establishments are charter schools.

According to the Louisiana Education Assessment Program, a annual testing regime known as LEAP, not a single charter school in New Orleans has seen positive gains in student skills – defined as being ready for the next year – for grades 3-8 in mathematics, science, social studies and arts of the English language.

The results for high school students were similar. In the 2020-21 school year, 33% of high school students in Orleans Parish, which has the same boundaries as the city of New Orleans, were proficient in English 2, while 24% were fluent in English. algebra, 19% mastered biology. and 17% had a command of US history.

By isolating New Orleans, the overall LEAP scores for the last two school years seem to undermine the case for the experiment implemented after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. However, Louisiana’s predominantly traditional public school system also suffered significant performance losses, as did many states during the period. broadly defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Louisiana had the added misfortune of experiencing several natural disasters during the period, which continues with the fallout from Hurricane Ida, a Category 4 storm that struck the parish of Orleans and the southeast region of the state on August 29. A month later, there were still over 70,000 students. outside of school.

Student earnings in New Orleans were considered well outside the city limits prior to the 2019 school year, especially since 83% of the district’s 45,000 students are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and 90% are minorities.

“The progress we are making in New Orleans is of national significance,” wrote Henderson Lewis Jr., superintendent of schools in New Orleans, in a widely published prepandemic article. editorial. “The nation is closely following what is happening here as cities strive to structure their systems in a way that benefits all children, providing not only choice, but quality choice.”

It’s a question of choice

Charter schools in Louisiana are licensed either by the state Council for Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) or a local school board, and schools are operated by non-profit corporations in accordance with an approved contract. , or “charter”.

The Orleans Parish School Board licenses New Orleans’ 76 charter schools and is responsible for holding them accountable to “high quality standards,” according to the NOLA Public Schools website.

The allure of charter schools comes down to choice, according to Lewis.

“We are a portfolio district, where schools have flexibility and autonomy coupled with accountability to voters through an elected school board,” he said.

The sentiment closely resembles the Louisiana Department of Education’s definition of charter schools: “public schools that exercise increased levels of autonomy in exchange for increased levels of responsibility.”

The DOE also states that “charter schools are able to make decisions about programs, staff and budgets based on the specific students enrolled in their schools.”

In other words, they are publicly funded and managed by the private sector, putting them at odds with teacher unions and their elected allies. However, the contradictory impact was mitigated in the parish of Orleans as United Teachers of New Orleans. labor union – a branch of the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO – was decimated after the massive conversion of district schools in 2005.

Charter schools are also a popular school choice option for economically disadvantaged families and minority parents. According to a recent morning consultation survey, seven in ten black parents support charter schools across the country.

Unlike the traditional school model, New Orleans has abolished predetermined school enrollments based on where students live. Instead, parents can apply for a preferred charter through a registration system called OneApp, an online platform that allows families to apply at up to eight participating schools of their choice across the city.

The Cowen Institute at Tulane University, a public education research group, calls the school system the most “decentralized” in the country. Lewis calls it “the most unusual management structure of any school district in America.”

The “COVID slide”

While the 2019-2021 LEAP data showed a decline in student skills in New Orleans, the data also showed that Louisiana’s K-12 public school system suffered learning reductions in all areas, regardless of the charter or the status of a public school.

“This decrease has been felt across grade levels, content areas and student subgroups,” a statement from the DOE said. “In each individual subject, the number of students obtaining a master’s degree and above has decreased since 2019.”

The main reason was COVID-19 and government decisions to close schools for in-person learning, State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said, although Louisiana also suffered four separate declared natural disasters. during the period, not counting Hurricane Ida.

“In the face of immense adversity, students, teachers, administrators and parents have demonstrated unwavering resilience, demonstrating a deep commitment to safety and learning,” said Brumley, adding that LEAP scores would be “invaluable” in recovering from the unprecedented disruption in student learning. .

According to the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, the decline in student performance in New Orleans and Louisiana mirrored other states during the same time period, although none had suffered from insecurities related to comparable weather conditions in addition to COVID-19.

“There is no doubt that the learning gains that have occurred since the school buildings were closed have been negatively affected,” CREDO director Margaret Raymond said, referring to what she called the “slide. COVID “of the nation.

“The only question was, how bad is it? ” she said.

CREDO conducted a study in 19 states, including Louisiana, and found that student performance declined significantly in the first year of the pandemic.

“The results are not good,” Raymond said.

“The estimates of learning loss were translated into learning days lost, based on a typical 180-day school year,” the CREDO study said. “Across the 19 states, average estimates of the number of students lost in spring 2020 ranged from 57 to 183 days of learning reading and 136 to 232 days of learning math.

CREDO found charter schools in New Orleans before the pandemic to be exposed “similar growth in reading and stronger growth in math” compared to the rest of Louisiana, or they “outperformed the state average in both subjects,” according to the charter classification.

Compare pre-pandemic performance

While government security measures related to COVID-19 appear to have caused serious learning losses in Louisiana and other states, multiple pre-pandemic evaluations show gains, particularly in New Orleans, bolstering reforms of the charter of the school system.

“In Reading, New Orleans students experienced greater learning gains in 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17 compared to the state’s average learning gains,” the researchers determined. of CREDO. “In math, New Orleans students experienced larger learning gains in 2014-15, similar progress in 2015-16, and stronger growth in 2016-17 compared to the state average . “

However, test scores and learning gains were only one way to gauge results. Comparing spending per student is another.

Corey A. DeAngelis, director of school choice at the Reason Foundation, and Patrick J. Wolf, professor of educational policy at the University of Arkansas, calculated student performance against taxpayer funding. The result is that New Orleans charter schools accomplish more with less, they said.

In February to study, DeAngelis and Wolf found that charter schools in New Orleans were producing about 21 reading points on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, for every $ 1,000 in funding by the end of the year. 2018, nearly tied with Denver for the second highest cost-efficiency charter school in 18 major urban areas. The Indianapolis charter schools were the first.

“We found that public charter schools, on average, received about two-thirds of the amount of funding per student in traditional public schools in the same city,” DeAngelis and Wolf said.

In New Orleans, that meant $ 12,520 per student in a charter school, compared to $ 18,694 per student in a traditional public school. NEAP scores averaged 275 points versus 270 points, respectively.

“In New Orleans, the most [return on investment] in charter schools projects nearly $ 470,000 more in lifetime income per student than the [return on investment] generated in the district schools in our study.

A third way to assess the performance of the New Orleans system is to compare it to what preceded the city, state, and state education reformers who turned the school district into a city-wide school choice experience.

According to NOLA Public Schools, the high school graduation rate has increased by 20% compared to the traditional pre-Katrina public school year. ACT scores and college entry rates have also increased, as almost twice as many students enter college than in 2004.

“The numbers speak for themselves: our high school graduation rate is 73%, up from 54% in 2004. And only 11% of our students attend the worst performing schools in the city, compared to 62% when the storm hit. We know our job is far from over, but these numbers show that thousands more New Orleans students are thriving, ”Lewis said.

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