37 Percent of New Orleans Students Attended Excelling Schools in 2014
On Friday, June 19, 2015, I attended the Education Research Alliance (ERA) of New Orleans conference, entitled, The Urban Education Future? Lessons from New Orleans 10 Years After Hurricane Katrina. One of the participants in the first panel session was Nash Crews, who had no bio information in the conference program but who does have bio info as part of the Net Charter High School board of directors:
Nash Crews, Board Member
Consultant at Educate Now!
Ms. Crews is a consultant for the non-profit Educate Now! and previously served as the Chief of Staff and Executive Director of Policy for the Recovery School District. Prior to that, Ms. Crews worked as the Associate Director of the Scott S. Cowen Institute and the Health and Education Legislative Assistant for Senator Mary Landrieu. Ms. Crews holds a master’s degree in non-profit management from the University of Mississippi and a bachelor’s degree in English from Furman University.
During the panel discussion, Crews made a statement similar to one that I have read and about which I have been asked more than once:
Before the storm, we had 62 percent of students in failing schools. Now we have 7 percent.
The audience was allowed to submit questions to the panel participants. So, I submitted a question: I asked Crews to define “failing schools.”
There are a few definitions of “failing schools” floating around the Big Easy. In 2003, a “failing school” in Louisiana was one with a school performance score below 60. In November 2005, a “failing school” was one with a school performance score below the pre-Katrina state average of 87.4. In 2012, the Louisiana “scholarship” (voucher) program defined “failing school” as one with a C, D, or F school letter grade.
Then there are the numerous changes in school performance scores, including calculations and scaling.
So, I wanted to know what was behind a statement that makes an amazing news byte. There is no fine print to a news byte, but I wanted some fine print.
In response to my question, Crews stated that “failing school” before Katrina and after was “not defined the same way” and that failure was “below the 50 percent mark.”
“Below the 50 percent mark” of what?
At the end of the panel presentation, I approached Crews to find out the details behind the “failing school” definition, and Crews stated it was too complicated to get into on the panel but that she would email the details to me.
I emailed Crews; she responded, and I wrote again, twice. (Read our entire email exchange here.)
In short, the 67-percent-to-7-percent definition of “failing school” for “before the storm” was a 2005 rating of “academically unacceptable” based upon a school performance score below 60. Current definitions of “failing school” related to Crews’ statement involved schools with an F letter grade. (Read email exchange for more detail.)
People hearing the 62-percent-to-7-percent news byte would not only not get any detailed explanation– they could also easily assume that “not attending a failing school” readily translates into students attending schools with high letter grades– like A or B schools.
The beauty of marketing by news byte rests in the assumptions that listeners easily make. In this case, a listener hears that most New Orleans students used to be in “failing schools” but are no longer, and that listener could easily assume that not being in a “failing school” means that almost all (93 percent of) New Orleans students are now in excelling schools.
I wanted to offer the public information to help balance out the sensationalism evoked by the 62-to-7-percent-in-failing-schools news byte. So, I created my own news bytes.
Instead of focusing on New Orleans students attending “failing schools,” I used the logic behind Crews’ statement to create brief, easy-to-communicate (and more realistic) statements focused upon “excelling schools”:
Before the storm, in 2005, 7 percent of New Orleans students were in excelling schools. Nine years later, in 2014, the proportion of New Orleans students in excelling schools is 37 percent.
Before the storm, in 2005, 7 percent of Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) students were in excelling schools. Nine years later, in 2014, the proportion of OPSB students in excelling schools is 88 percent.
Before the storm, in 2005, no New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) students were in excelling schools. Nine years later, in 2014, the proportion of New Orleans RSD students in excelling schools is 16 percent.
Moral of the story: The “failing schools” news byte makes for better miracle marketing of New Orleans schools than does the “excelling schools” angle.
Now, for my “fine print”:
In my news bytes, I defined 2005, pre-Katrina “excelling schools” as those with four or five stars. (Before Louisiana had letter grades, it had a star rating system, with no stars as “academically unacceptable” and five stars as the best schools.) As concerns 2014 “excelling schools” and school letter grades, I defined “excelling” as having an A or B school letter grade.
And since the New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) is the marketed, turn-around product, I produced three news bytes: one for all New Orleans schools; one for non-state-run Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) schools, and one for RSD schools in isolation.
Those considering emulating the New Orleans model of state takeover need to understand that the state did not take over OPSB– that OPSB remains a local-board-run district– and that several OPSB schools are selective admission.
The state only took over RSD schools. Moreover, RSD is not a district required to return schools to OPSB. RSD is a permanent district, and RSD is supposed to “turn around failing schools.”
To date, RSD has “turned around” no schools as A schools and only a handful as B schools. And that is what gets lost in Crews’ “failing schools are really just F schools” news byte: A “non-failing” school is not automatically an “excelling school.”
For those interested in even “finer print”:
The details of my calculations can be found here:
And the data sources for my calculations can be found here:
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?, newly published on June 12, 2015.