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How to Make New Orleans Market Ed Reform a Success: Hide RSD Failure Inside an OPSB-RSD Data Blend.

July 22, 2018

On July 15, 2018, the pro-market-reform research group, Education Research Alliance of New Orleans (ERA) published this 72-page technical report entitled, “The Effects of the Post-Katrina Market-Based School Reforms on Student Achievement, High School Graduation, and College Outcomes.”

Below is an excerpt from the abstract:

The school reforms put in place in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
represent the most intensive market-based school accountability system ever created in the United States. Almost all public schools were taken over by the state, which turned over management to autonomous non-profit charter management organizations working under performance contracts; collective bargaining and tenure were ended, yielding flexible human capital management; and traditional school attendance zones were eliminated, expanding choice for families. More than a decade later, this study provides the first examination of the effects of this package of reforms on students’ short-term and long-term outcomes…. We find that the package of reforms improved the quantity, quality, and equity of schooling in the city on almost every available measure, increasing average test scores by 0.28-0.40 standard deviations, high school graduation by 3-9 percentage points, college attendance by 8-15 percentage points, college persistence by 4-7 percentage points, and college graduation by 3-5 percentage points. These effects translate to 10-67 percent increases over baseline levels. The reforms also apparently reduced educational inequality by race and income on most measures.

A market win.

Both authors, Douglas Harris and Matthew Larsen, are economists, so it should be no surprise that they view educational success through the lens of market-based reform, and that such a view colors their perceptions of the history of ed reform in New Orleans, which they neatly package near the beginning of their paper:

After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on August 29, 2005, all the
hallmarks of the traditional school district were eliminated. The state
government took over the school system, moving oversight of almost all the city’s public schools from the local OPSB to the statewide Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD). Many OPSB schools were quickly turned into charter schools and, over time, so too were all RSD schools. Attendance zones were essentially eliminated, creating open school choice for families. All educators were fired. The OPSB allowed its teacher union contract to expire and never replaced it. By virtue of becoming charter schools, tenure protections were also eliminated. Local and state agencies still had a role, especially in funding schools, but control was mostly limited to passing funds on to schools (on a per-pupil basis) and negotiating and enforcing contracts with their charter schools. They no longer made decisions about school personnel, compensation, curriculum, instruction, or other most other aspects of school management. Over just a few years, the government role was dramatically altered, from operating schools to overseeing them. Consistent with
Friedman’s (1962) call, the district-based “one best system” of U.S. public education was eliminated for the first time since it took shape a century earlier.

Much history has been excluded from the Harris-Larsen background, including the fact that then-state superintendent Cecil Picard withheld federal emergency dollars from OPSB (and not from other affected school systems), which put OPSB in a position of “all educators were fired” and “allowing its teacher contract to expire.” I have written about these and other issues (and Picard’s and the state legislature’s shady hand in it) in other posts (see here and here and here for some background, or do a deep dive here).

However, my chief concern with the Harris-Larsen study is their decision to pool OPSB schools with RSD schools since almost all New Orleans schools became charter schools. That they did so the researchers make clear in footnote 24 (page 19):

When we say “New Orleans schools,” we mean all publicly funded and governed schools in the city, including those authorized by both the RSD and OPSB.

The problem here is that OPSB schools were never taken over by the state, which means that the New Orleans “failing school” narrative does not include these schools, and that whether they be direct-run or converted to charter schools, OPSB schools have test-score advantages over the “failing” RSD schools taken over by the state. Moreover, a number of OPSB schools are selective-admission charter schools (see also here and here), which gives even more advantage over state-run RSD schools (and which puts a snag in the “open school choice for families” narrative).

It is the OPSB advantage that allows researches to combine post-Katrina, OPSB and RSD data and actually hide the lack of progress that state-run, all-charter RSD has made, all the while selling a generalized version of New Orleans market-ed-reform success to the public. I have seen this ploy in the past from the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) in its efforts to conceal low ACT composite scores of RSD schools that it was supposed to take over and reform right into higher test scores, and I am seeing it here in the Harris-Larsen study.

OPSB schools are not only chiefly responsible for the results in the Harris-Larsen study; OPSB schools are concealing the mediocrity (at best) that was the RSD, state-takeover-charter-conversion experiment.

The melding of OPSB and RSD school data appears to especially affect Harris and Larsen’s high school and college analyses. The authors dismiss the melding of OPSB and RSD high school data in footnote 47 (page 38) since “all are affected by the move to school choice”:

….Note that, compared with elementary schools, a large share of high schools (and high school seats) remained under the school district control after Katrina. This is because the only schools not taken over by the state were those that were high performing. Some pre-Katrina high schools were high performing because they were selective admissions. However, most OPSB schools were also turned into charter schools, and all were affected by the move to school choice and the elimination of the union contract.

Examination of ACT composite scores shows a clear disparity across years between the two districts. (Note that in their study, Harris and Larsen use data from 2001 – 2014. Also note that an ACT composite score of at least 20 is roughly what it takes for guaranteed admission into a four-year college in Louisiana.)


ACT Composite Scores for OPSB and RSD, Classes of 2007 – 2015

Class of ACT Composite # of high schools # of students RSD or OPSB
2007 14.5 8 272 RSD
19.1 9 810 OPSB
2008 15.2 6 186 RSD
19 9 912 OPSB
2009 15 11 639 RSD
19.1 8 948 OPSB
2010 15.6 11 755 RSD
19 9 948 OPSB
2011 16.2 16 738 RSD
19.2 8 1,056 OPSB
2012 16.8 missing data RSD
19.5 9 998 OPSB
2013 16.3 18 967 RSD
19.7 8 1,121 OPSB
2014 16.4 18 1,178 RSD
20.5 8 1,111 OPSB
2015 16.6 14 1,065 RSD
21 7 1,105 OPSB
Source: Louisiana Department of Education; Note: ACT composites RSD classes of 2010 and 2011 are likely modestly overapproximated due to removal of data for a few RSD high schools not in New Orleans.


As for OPSB versus RSD district letter grades: The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) only reported these as separate scores for four years: 2012 – 2015. All four years, OPSB had an A. In 2012, RSD had a D; in 2013, the formula for school letter grades changed. Had RSD’s grade been calculated as it had in 2012, the 2013 district grade would have been a D; however, the new calculation raised it to a C, where it remained in 2014 and 2015.

Combining OPSB and RSD data conceals RSD embarrassments, which, in turn, boosts the New Orleans, market-driven narrative.

Before exiting this post, there is one final issue worth noting: inequity. As previously noted in their abstract, Harris and Larsen state, “The reforms also apparently reduced educational inequality by race and income on most measures.” However, if one considers where the concentration of white students in New Orleans attend school, their presence is overwhelmingly concentrated in OPSB and independent schools; only one RSD school, Morris Jeff Community School, makes the list:


New Orleans Schools with High Concentrations of White Students in 2017


Total students



% at-risk

2017 grade

New Orleans Center for Creative Arts






Bricolage Academy






New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy






Morris Jeff Community School






Audubon Charter School






International School of Louisiana






Edward Hynes Charter School






Benjamin Franklin High School






Lycee Francais de la Nouvelle-Orleans






Lusher Charter School






Source: Orleans Parish School Board; “% at-risk” is the percentage of students considered at-risk due to factors including low income


If one follows enrollment trends of New Orleans’ white students, one sees that state-run, lower-scoring RSD is free to be *openly enrolled* by predominately black students, which certainly is an issue of inequity.

What I relearned from reading the Harris-Larsen study:

Any analysis incorporating data from both OPSB and RSD presents a blended picture of all-charter New Orleans progress that duplicitously conceals OPSB vs. RSD disparity, instead placing before the public a false narrative of general success.

Harris and Larsen’s blending of OPSB and RSD data propagates that lie.

rabbit hat


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.



  1. IRA SHOR permalink

    Nefarious skullduggery with data to make the lies credible, wonder if you can send this to NYTimes op-ed in condensed form.

  2. Lance Hill permalink

    Why are we turning over education to economists? Didn’t 2008 teach us anything? When the facts are bad, send in the economists. Numbers are used to disguise facts. Tulane doesn’t even offer an education degree. Undergrads earn a Tulane degree in a content field, not in education. They have a certification program that turns out an average of 14 teachers a year.

    Don’t you love farce?
    My fault, I fear
    I thought that you’d want what I want
    Sorry, my dear!
    But where are the clowns
    Send in the clowns
    Don’t bother, they’re here

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    I have written several times about the econometric turn in education, absurd metrics forced into education for measures of “productivity” etc. Mercedes is uniquely qualified to blast this report from economists who love markets in education above all else. Keep going Mercedes.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. How to Make New Orleans Market Ed Reform a Success: Hide RSD Failure Inside an OPSB-RSD Data Blend. | Cloaking Inequity
  2. New Orleans RSD Mirage, Not Miracle: A Reader | radical eyes for equity
  3. Mercedes Schneider: The New Research on New Orleans is a Hoax | Diane Ravitch's blog
  4. Was there really an academic miracle in New Orleans? | GFBrandenburg's Blog
  5. Challenging Doug Harris to a Follow-Up Study Isolating OPSB and RSD Outcomes | deutsch29
  6. A New Push For Charter Schools Should Anger Progressives. Here’s Why.
  7. Betsy DeVos Visits 2 New Orleans Charters Preferred by NOLA’s White Population | deutsch29
  8. NOLA 2018-19 AP Scores: Two High Schools Carry the Entire District. | deutsch29

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