Learning from New Orleans
Yesterday I highlighted a recent report that showed just how big a part of Kansas City’s education system charter schools have become. The #1 district in that report, with 93 percent of students enrolled in charter schools, is New Orleans, Louisiana. Given that Kansas City’s charter enrollment only appears to be growing, it’s looking like our school system is going to more closely resemble that of New Orleans in the coming years.
That brings me to this report, authored by Neerav Kingsland, one of the central architects of New Orleans’ education system. In it, he describes how the system works and looks at preliminary results. I recommend reading the whole thing, but my quick reactions are as follows:
- The academic results are really encouraging. The graph above (from page 3) shows the progress that New Orleans has made, nearly closing the gap between the city and the rest of the state. I can’t think of any big-city system anywhere that comes that close to the state’s average. Can you imagine if Kansas City or St. Louis achieved at the same level as the state as a whole? Clearly this system can drive improvement.
- That said, Kingsland is open about the fact that New Orleans is far from perfect. Just getting closer to the average of one of the lowest performing states in the union is not good enough. New Orleans still has a long way to go toward becoming a world-class system of schools, and to his credit, Kingsland is honest about that.
- On another note of caution: New Orleans has a lot of things going for it that might be hard to replicate. As Kingsland points out, a constellation of nonprofits, advocacy groups, educators, civic leaders, and others have come together to help make this system work. There was also a huge infusion of social capital post-Katrina; individuals moved there specifically to help rebuild and improve the city. We have not seen similar levels of comity and commitment in the Show-Me State.
- Missouri would have to make several key shifts to make our big city systems look like New Orleans’. The majority of schools in New Orleans are overseen by a statewide Recovery School District that functions very differently from your standard school district. It does not operate schools, or at least does not want to operate schools over the long term. It is designed to be a funder and a regulator, with independent charter organizations operating the schools themselves. There has been an unsuccessful effort to create such a district in Missouri, but it would be possible to try and pivot a shrinking school district like Kansas City into a regulator-funder like the RSD. If charter schooling spreads outside of Kansas City and St. Louis, given the number of small districts that it might disrupt, some kind of state-wide district model might be necessary.
All in all, New Orleans is a hopeful example. It was able to move a district that was one of the worst in the nation meaningfully forward. No one would say it is anywhere close to where it needs to be, but it appears to be on the right track, which is more than we can say for most districts (including those in our own back yard).