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NEWS: Info on New Orleans Graduation Rates Pre-Katrina

June 11, 2015

Today I read a May 2014 post, Charter Schools’ Memory Hole, written by Adam Hubbard Johnson.

His piece opens as follows:

Pre-Katrina New Orleans graduation numbers are charter school advocates’ exhibit A for reform. One problem: The U.S. and Louisiana Departments of Education say they don’t exist.

What Johnson attempted to do was track the supposed pre-Katrina New Orleans graduation rate of 54.4% to a primary source by contacting those who have cited this stat, including reporter Danielle Dreilinger and former state board member Leslie Jacobs.

Even the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) communicated to him that they did not have “published graduation rates” that went back that far (Johnson asked for 2002-04).

No primary source available.

Well. I have some graduation data on Orleans Parish pre-Katrina, and it comes from LDOE data.

Here is the process that I followed:

In his post, Johnson noted that the url for the LDOE website has changed five times in the past ten years.

I used the web archive search engine Wayback Machine and plugged in the first of Johnson’s reported LDOE urls. Archived page views went back to 2006.

Not far enough.

So, in an effort to find a document with an older LDOE url on it, I googled the term, “louisiana department of education 2001 pdf.” Sure enough, I came up with

When I plugged that into the Wayback machine, it showed archived LDOE page views going back to November 1996.

Here are some that I saved– and they are a trove of archived data that LDOE cannot erase:

La. overview, data and reports

La. student data, 1998-2003

La. district composite reports, 1996-2003

La. first-time college freshmen state reports, 1997-2002

La. dropout numbers and percents, 2001-02

My goal in this search was to find information on Orleans Parish graduation rates in the years preceding Katrina, information archived from LDOE.

I found two items of data that allowed me to calculate graduation rates for Orleans Parish schools for 1998-99, 1999-2000, 2000-01, and 2001-02.

The first information comes from the OPSB District Report 2002-03. Page 5-8 includes the total number of high school graduates for the district for the years 1997-98 through 2001-02 in the charts regarding first-time college freshman performance for 1998-99 through 2002-03.

The next information comes from several pages that can be found using the “student data” link above. The pages are named, “Multiple Statistics” for October of each year. I used the pages with data from 1998 to 2001. One of the district-level stats available is the number of students enrolled in each grade level in October of each school year (the official state count). Thus, I was able to find out how many seniors Orleans Parish schools had at the beginning of a given school year.

By dividing the number of Orleans Parish graduates for a given school year by the total number of Orleans Parish seniors enrolled at the beginning of that same school year, I was able to calculate Orleans Parish graduation rates for several years preceding Hurricane Katrina.

And here they are:

Year              # grads          total # of seniors    OPSB grad rate

1998-99          3,507            4,583                      76.5%

1999-2000       3,604            4,473                      80.6%

2000-01          3,450            4,409                      78.3%

2001-02          3,471            4,395                      79.0%

Not even close to the marketed-though-unsubstantiated pre-Katrina “54.4%” that LDOE refuses to validate.

contemplative kid

But this surely presents a marketing problem for those who would have the public believe that the charter school takeover in Orleans “raised” the graduation rate to 77.8% in 2012, as claimed in 2013

…And on the proverbial eve of the National Charter School Conference, scheduled to transpire in New Orleans from June 21-24, 2015.

Simply terrible.

But wait: AN UPDATE:

One of my colleagues in North Carolina commented that Louisiana uses a cohort graduation rate, which means that graduation rates are calculated using stats from the freshman year to determine a four-year rate. (For more on the varied ways of calculating high school grad rates, read here. Also, as of 2011-12, the US Dept of Ed had states standardize reporting of grad rates.)

The only data I have readily available for such a cohort calculation is taken from the info I used above for calculating based on the number of seniors, except backing it up to the number of freshman, for 1998-99 (which means the graduation rate for 2001-02).

The calculation yields a 2001-02 OPSB graduation rate of 52% (3,471 grads from 6,675 freshman in 1998-99).

But there is yet another issue here, and that is the issue of the state splitting what were the OPSB schools into two districts– with one being state-run (Recovery School District– RSD) and turned into an all-charter district in 2014-15, while the other remained local-board-run OPSB with its own charters (but not state-takeover charters).

The data cited below can be found here.

The first RSD cohort post-Katrina was the freshman class of 2006, which means the graduating class of 2009-10. The graduation rate for this RSD cohort was 49.7%.

The RSD cohort graduation rate for 2010-11 was 58.8%.

For 2011-12, it peaked at 67.7%. Then, in 2012-13, it dipped to 59.5%.

Now, these are the fruits of the state running the show, the system that was supposed to save New Orleans schools. A question that begs an answer is the 8.9% rise to the 2011-12 67.7% peak then the 8.2% drop from the 67.7% peak to the 59.9% in 2012-13.

It is hard to sell RSD as a solution if the graduation rate does not continue to rise– and especially if it drops so drastically.

Meanwhile, the OPSB has been “creamed” (and here); the OPSB cohort rate for 2009-10 (based on the freshman class in 2006-07) shot up to 90.3%, and then further in 2010-11 to its peak, 93.8%. The OPSB cohort grad rate then dropped to 89.3% in 2011-12, where it remained for 2012-13.

The parlor trick comes when the state combines the OPSB and RSD cohort graduation rates. It is a way of selling the state-run RSD while deflecting attention from the fact that the state running schools does not produce miracles.

The best combined statistic happened in 2012: the 77.8% previously alluded to in this post. That stat helped prop up the RSD 67.7% and make it look even better than the state average of 72.3%. But then 2013 came, and with it, a drop in that combined OPSB-RSD stat to 72.8%– even as the state graduation rate continued to rise to 73.5%.

And the 2013 RSD grad rate dropping below 60 percent once again, to 59.5%, well, that’s just not a good selling point for advertising RSD as a state-run model.

hitting head on wall


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, due for publication June 12, 2015.

both books

  1. Nice work !

  2. Gene Glass permalink

    MS Great bit of detective work.

    _________________________ Gene V Glass Emeritus Regents’ Professor Arizona State University

    -Sent from my mobile-

  3. GREAT JOB!!!!! Thank you!! And GREAT JOB on those ACT Scores, also!!!

  4. Thank you for putting their “claims” to shame.

  5. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    Catching Corporate Education Reforms lying through their (use your imagination for the last word)—this is something the RheeFormers do repeatedly.

  6. Catching Corporate Reformers lying again is nothing new. This is what the RheeFormers have done repeatedly—-lie, lie, and lie some more.

  7. Janna permalink

    Mercedes, great job tracking the data! Graduation rates are determined by cohorts. So you need enrollment of 9th grade group and see how many graduated 4 years later. Most graduation rates are 4 year cohorts for federal reporting. 5 year rates are calculated too but generally not as widely discussed. Louisiana reports 4 year rates. One year enrollment to dropout rates are always higher. I hope this helps. Thanks for all you do. Can’t wait to order you latest book tomorrow!

  8. Oh, you are good!!!

  9. Janna permalink

    If I read it correctly the 9th grade enrollment of Orleans Parish was 6675 in 1998. So if those are the ones who graduated in 2001-02 year ( 3471) then the 4 year cohort graduation rate is 52%. I did not look at students who left or moved into the district which can alter the numbers. I hope I am wrong. You are welcomed to correct me since I may be missing something obvious. But working with graduation rates is something I deal with a lot professionally.

    • Hi, Janna. I appreciate your comments. I added an update to the post, both about the 52% you comment on as well as the fact that the state-run RSD had a 2012-13 cohort grad rate of 59.5%. Not a miracle.

      • Janna permalink

        Nice job. I knew there were probably other variables I was missing like the district splitting. Congrats on book 2 today!!

  10. Ken Watanabe permalink

    It’s just ironic that NO corporatists stole the data from Orleans Parish to make their pet districts look better than the former(which is not) and overall district schools. I think RSD stands for ‘Ridiculously Slow Drivers’ since they only do disservice to data by eating up the overall gas mileage. It’s like pumping up ethanol into a diesel fuel truck.

  11. Herb B. permalink

    Mercedes, I have been pondering the reports LDOE released on its 10 Years After Katrina page. Each year, the size of the OPSB 9th grade class is nearly double (600-750 more) the size of the previous year’s OPSB 8th grade class. Given OPSB’s high four year cohort grad rate and high proficiency rates, retention does not explain this jump. Likewise, RSD drops several hundred students from 8th to 9th grade across years. OPSB appears to skim off some of RSD’s most academically able at that point, leaving RSD on the whole with the weaker students in the 9th grade. While this is not conclusive, lacking student identifiable info, it is highly plausible.

    This points out that many parents choose to move their children out of RSD in the ninth grade where more seats are available in OPSB. On the flip side, if the students that switch are a self-selected, higher than RSD average-performing group, then RSD’s average performance ninth through twelfth grade would negatively impacted.

    • Herb, don’t some OPSB schools draw from the entire state, not just RSD? I’m thinking of the selective-admission charters.

      • Herb Bassett permalink

        At least Ben Franklin High requires residency in Orleans Parish.
        I do believe that some students who previously attended private or religious schools through 8th grade enter OPSB in the ninth grade. Still, I want to account for the impact of school choices where some students are in and out of RSD, OPSB, private/ religious schools, and also the impact of vouchers. I realize that I do not have the hard data, but there must be an impact of students going from one to the other especially in the ninth grade where the balance shifts significantly.

      • I agree that it needs to be investigated and that data should be readily available. OPSB has some convoluted application requirements– meetings, supplemental paperwork, and even testing. Plus, the district is disproportionately white.

        But I refuse to let RSD marketers off of the hook. They said they could produce a miracle, and they constantly imply that their brand is better then traditional, local-board-run education. RSD was not supposed to be a permanent district, and now it is. Let them live up to their hype.

        I am curious to see what will come from Doug Harris’ ERA reports at their conference next week. It is ERA’s second study of 2012 data that found both OPSB and RSD principals (ten of them) admitting to manipulating student enrollments at their schools.

        And Milton Friedman thought the school choice market would take care of itself. Well, it certainly does, but not in the way he idealized.

  12. Thank you. The fact is that no one really knows who owns the Charter Schools. Who hides behind the corporate names and hired hucksters, and are they even American? After Katrina, the corporate giant Sodexo took over all janitorial and cafeteria functions, I know because I spoke to the people who’d lost their jobs. Unhealthy looking food is shipped in boxes from Chicago to New Orleans to be microwaved, some students get this three or four times a day. Isn’t this an assualt on both the health and culture of these children? Another school where I worked had been completely taken over by the students after they succeeded in having a teacher fired for disciplining them. This involved the usual misrepresentation of facts to the public, of course. There was no incentive for anyone in that school to either teach or learn. Schools need to be brought back to the neighborhood where parents can keep a watchful eye on things, where children can walk home for lunch if they want to, and to afterschool activities…

  13. wdf1 permalink

    Another way to get at graduation rates in New Orleans, pre-Katrina would be to do a database search for news stories in a database like This database, or one like it, is often available through public or university libraries. You can search on key words and select years. A preliminary search shows numbers in the neighborhood of what you find in your update. And they do appear to use a 9th grade cohort rate formula.

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