Should New Orleans have closed so many schools? Study explores charter trend
If you're going to close a school, you had better have a better place for students to go. That's the takeaway from a new report from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans that addresses one of education's most controversial issues and endorses extensive school closures and the move to charters in New Orleans -- but not in Baton Rouge.
Tulane University released the report Monday (Oct. 17).
It's a deeply relevant question in New Orleans, where more than 50 public schools have been closed, chartered or re-chartered by new management since Hurricane Katrina, according to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune research. Almost all of the city's 83 public schools are now charters: publicly funded schools run by private nonprofits that receive broad autonomy in exchange for meeting certain academic targets.
Advocates of the charter school revolution say the new system won't work unless elected school boards are willing to close failing charters. But it's upsetting for families, who may think cities should fix troubled schools instead of closing them -- as parents said when the state shut down Lagniappe Academies in Tremé in 2015. Often it's the most disadvantaged students whose lives are disrupted, and it can leave neighborhoods without their anchor.
The Tulane researchers asked the $64 million question: Is the disruption worth it? After examining state test scores, graduation rates and college entry, they concluded sometimes yes, sometimes no.
"The key to making closures and takeovers work is to ensure that directly affected students end up in better schools after the intervention," they write. "These interventions can offer promising strategies for improving student achievement when well implemented."
Indeed, the authors say closure policies caused 25 percent to 40 percent of the improvement in New Orleans students' academic results from 2006 to 2012. Along with eliminating some failing schools, the threat of closure motivated schools to improve test scores.
But Baton Rouge students suffered -- a lot. High school graduation rates fell by 11 percentage points, "apparently because the average affected student ended up in a worse school than where he or she started," the researchers write.
Sometimes schools were closed even though they weren't doing that badly. In Should New Orleans have closed so many schools? Study explores charter trend | NOLA.com: