Thursday, March 4, 2010

Recovery District on Life Support

Latest Accountability results show continued failure of Recovery District
In an article for Education Week on September 2, 2009 titled “Race to the Top Lessons From New Orleans”, Paul Vallas and Leslie Jacobs touted the “compelling results” since the state takeover of New Orleans schools. Vallas and Jacobs in their article suggested that the New Orleans takeover plan could serve as a model for turning around other troubled school systems in the U S. In describing the Recovery District they pointed out that the term "Recovery District" meant “recovery from academic failure- not from the hurricane”. They announced that since the takeover of many New Orleans schools by the Recovery District, “dramatic gains” by students have resulted in a turnaround of previously failing schools!

Taxpayers and parents in Louisiana and observers in other states may be curious to know what are the “dramatic gains” and exactly what “recovery from academic failure” has occurred since the Recovery District was created in 2003. Here it is. A recent report by the LA State Dept of Education reveals that the percentage of students performing below grade level in the Recovery District now stands at 71.3%. The state average percent of students performing below grade level in all the other schools in the state stands at 37.2%. After 5 years of operation, only 13 of 58 schools in the Recovery District now have a baseline SPS above 60. 15 of the schools in the Recovery District now have an SPS of below 40. None of the public schools outside the Recovery District have baseline SPS scores below 40. 1174 schools out of a total of 1192 schools in all the rest of the state had better student performance than the sum performance for the schools in the Recovery District.

In addition, a recent analysis by Barbara Ferguson of the New Orleans Center for Action Research on Reforms finds that 25 of the schools taken over by the Recovery District in New Orleans had SPS scores above the score of 60 at the time of state takeover. Yet nine out of ten of these schools that were reopened by the RSD are now scoring lower than before the takeover, and 5 of those are below 60. (Click on this link to see the full report on Declining SPS scores in New Orleans)

It is important to note that since all schools in the New Orleans Recovery District now have open enrollment as opposed to attendance zones, it is improper to compare performance with the old school system on a school-to-school basis. There are now fewer students in the Orleans area but the demographic composition of the students is about the same as before Katrina. Therefore it is appropriate to review the results of the Recovery District as a whole. If this takeover was supposed to produce a “recovery from academic failure” one would expect to see a reasonable improvement in student performance. Sadly, this is not the case.

Supporters of the Recovery District and associated Charter Schools have figured out that the only way to make the Recovery District look successful is to combine its results with that of the New Orleans Public School System (OPSB). That's what Ms Jacobs does in a recent article on her web site. But that distorts the real performance of the Recovery District. Taxpayers deserve to know how good a job the Recovery District has done in turning around the schools it was trusted to improve. Ms Jacobs in her previous Education Week article said that we can no longer blame abysmal performance on issues external to the schoolhouse such as poverty and demographics. Using that logic, the Recovery District should be judged on its performance alone!

We should continue to ask the following of the State Superintendent and BESE: What recovery is happening in the Recovery District? And also who will take over the failing Recovery District schools? (BESE is required by law to review the status of many Recovery District schools in 2010) The answer to the last question is that the Dept. of Education may already have agreed to give the failing Recovery District schools a four year free pass because that is one of the exemptions given to any school system in Louisiana that agrees to participate in the Race to the Top. Supt. Vallas has shrewdly moved to include his Recovery District in this exemption. Too bad for the students, he was not as shrewd at providing for academic recovery.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it is impossible to do a school-to-school comparison of pre- and post-Katrina school performance because nothing's the same except for school names (but only in some cases).

The only way to look at how schools are doing in comparison is to look at the district's average score (OPSB before Katrina and OPSB and RSD after Katrina).

As The Times-Picayune noted back in October: "All told, about 42 percent of the city's public schools are now considered academically unacceptable, compared with about 45 percent last year, and about 63 percent before Katrina."

The Picayune also made this observation: "Perhaps the most meaningful way to track overall growth includes all of the public schools in New Orleans -- whether they are charter, noncharter, run by the RSD, or the School Board -- and calculates a performance score for that hypothetical district.

Last year, the score would have been about 66.4, while this year it would be 70.6, a jump of about 6 percent. In the year before Katrina, the district performance score for the city's schools was 56.9 -- meaning the overall score has jumped 24 percent since then. The district performance score was improving before Katrina as well."

It's not OPSB school performance that's driving that increase. The overall SPS scores of the schools that OPSB currently either operates or charted (most of which are select-admissions) declined by 9.3 percentage points since 2005. The Overall SPS scores of the schools the RSD currently operates or charters has grown by 8.7 percentage points since 2005.

By the way, this post has some incorrect information:

Twenty two of the RSD schools that received an SPS are now above 60. Eight RSD schools in New Orleans are within 5 points of 60.

Just nine RSD schools (not 15) are below 40. Of that number, two have been shut down, two are being converted to charter schools and five are high schools that have some of the city's most challenging students. These schools are being restructured.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Deshotel's comments have no basis of truth and thus can only be explained as a weak attempt at satire.

Michael Deshotels said...

In response to the comment above about the post containing inaccurate information: All of the information on school baseline SPS scores and student grade level scores referenced in the article came directly from the latest report prepared by the LA Dept. of Education.
Michael Deshotels

Leslie Jacobs said...

Since I was quoted in the post, I would like to help clarify the data and address inaccuracies. Mr. Deshotels comments are in " " followed by my responses.

1. “All the rest of the state had better student performance than the sum performance for the schools in the Recovery District”

The RSD should have the lowest performing schools and students. It took the low performing schools away from local school districts that allowed schools to fail for years. Outside of New Orleans, any school that entered the RSD had to be failing for at least 4 consecutive years. Every one of these schools had an SPS below 60 since 1999. School districts had a decade to get them above 60 and could not.

2. “After 5 years of operation, only 13 of 58 schools in the Recovery District now have a baseline SPS above 60.”

No school in the RSD has 5 years operating experience. The most is three years. Only 33 of the 57 RSD N.O. schools were open in 2006-07.

3. “The only way to make the Recovery District look successful is to combine its results with that of the New Orleans Public School System (OPSB).”

The RSD educates 80% of the K-8 students; OPSB has 20%. The K-8 gains are driven by the RSD. To suggest otherwise is mathematically impossible.

And the K-8 gains since Katrina are impressive:
The % of our 4th graders who Passed the LEAP went up 12 points since 2005. The state average only went up 6 points during this time.

From 2005-2009 the % of our 4th graders meeting the state’s proficiency goal of Basic or Above improved 15 points in English, compared to an 8 point gain statewide.

And the gain in the % of our 8th graders proficient in English is inspiring! From 1999-2005, before the state took over the schools, N.O. grew a mere 3 points (23% to 26%). Last year alone we grew 6 points.

4. “15 of the schools in the Recovery District now have an SPS of below 40.”

Only 9 schools in the RSD (not 15) have an SPS below 40. See 2009 report.

Unfortunately, there are still schools with an SPS below 40, but the number and percentage of students attending these very low performing schools is down dramatically. Pre-Katrina 26 of 117 schools in Orleans Parish had an SPS of 40 or below (22%). Today 9 of 73 schools (12%) have an SPS of 40 or below. Of these, five are being phased out.

5. “It is improper to compare performance with the old school system on a school-to-school basis because all schools in the RSD are open-enrollment now as opposed to attendance zones pre-Katrina.”

In fact, after Katrina every school in Orleans Parish (and Jefferson, St. Bernard, and Plaquemines) started over officially as a new school beginning with school year 2006-07.

Unfortunately, Mr. Deshotels precedes his statement with his own school-to-school comparison and even a link to school-to-school data. Comparisons like these should simply be ignored.

However, since the student demographic data is unchanged, one can compare percentages of schools that are Academically Acceptable, and fewer schools are failing.

Pre-Katrina only 37% of Orleans Parish schools were Academically Acceptable with one star or higher. Today that number is 58% - an increase of 21 points.

6. “What recovery is happening in the Recovery District?”

The most accurate performance measurement for New Orleans is the District Performance Score. It includes ALL students, ALL tests and ALL performance levels. With the District Performance Score, the student test results are calculated as if all public school students in the city were in one school. Hence, every student is equally weighted, and their performance counts even if the school does not yet have a performance score.

Since Katrina, New Orleans has grown 13.7 points versus 3.6 points for the state.

Again, the RSD educates 80% if the K-8 students and 55% of the high school students. These gains are driven by the RSD.