Scaling New Orleans's Charter Restart Model: 5 takeaways from CREDO's evaluation

Getty Images/Sean Pavone

Patrick Dobard

In 2010, New Schools for New Orleans (of which I am the CEO), Louisiana’s Recovery School District (RSD), and Tennessee’s Achievement School District were awarded a nearly $30 million federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to transform low-performing schools.

Earlier this week, CREDO released their report evaluating the effectiveness of the grant and its impact on students in thirteen schools in New Orleans and eight schools in Tennessee. This evaluation is an important addition to the growing body of research into New Orleans’s educational resurgence: Tulane's Education Research Alliance, Stanford's Center for Education Policy Analysis, National Bureau of Economic Research, American Educational Research Association.

The primary aim of the i3 grant was to lift students out of low-performing schools and increase their opportunities to attend high-performing schools. While the report acknowledges that most turnaround schools did not meet their ambitious goal—going from the bottom 25 percent of performance to the top 33 percent of performance—it notes that the new schools performed better than those they replaced: “The CRM [Charter Restart Model] schools in both New Orleans and Tennessee showed significantly higher academic growth compared to the Closing schools they replaced.”

Students who did not attend the turnaround school also benefitted from the closure of the low-performing school. “Even students who were ineligible to attend a CRM school had an academic growth comparable to that of similar students in non-CRM schools, suggesting widespread positive consequences from the closure of the Closing schools, ” notes the report.

These findings are consistent with those from Tulane’s Education Research Alliance that showed school closure and turnarounds produced between 25 percent and 40 percent of New Orleans’ unprecedented academic growth.

Key takeaways

Harbormasters matter a lot

The researchers attribute the disappointing results in Tennessee in part to the absence of a harbormaster in Memphis or Nashville. I was the superintendent of the RSD throughout the evaluation period, and NSNO was an invaluable partner; as the report concludes, NSNO became a leading example for other harbormaster across the country. Now that I am CEO of NSNO, we look forward to working with Orleans Parish School Board in the same fashion in the years ahead.

School selection is critical

Potential turnaround operators that do not meet a high bar for selection, even when provided with significant additional support, rarely do as well as schools that meet the full criteria for leadership, continuous improvement, and school model from the outset.

Fresh starts have an advantage over full turnaround

On average, starting a school with a grade at a time results in better performance, on both qualitative and quantitative measures, than a full school turnaround.

Centralized equity initiatives are necessary

OneApp, New Orleans’s centralized enrollment program, provided families with access to a wider range of schools. The citywide special education initiative and a revamped school funding formula that provided more resources to schools serving students with the highest needs also strengthened the commitment of schools to serve all students.

Prioritize community engagement

The CREDO report notes the growing pains of our community engagement efforts. Early on, the school selection process was too often finalized without input from the community. We learned this lesson the hard way and developed an authentic, comprehensive approach to involve the school community in the school selection process.

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The i3 grant played an integral role in improving the performance of the school district. Over the period of the evaluation, ACT and state test scores improved, graduation rates increased, more students started to enroll in college, and we decreased the percent of students attending schools that perform near the bottom of the state.

Source: New Schools for New Orleans

Our aspiration reaches far beyond better than before, so we will use this evaluation and others to push forward so that every child in New Orleans attends a great school that puts them on a path to a high-quality life outcome.

Patrick Dobard is the CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit organization committed to delivery on the promise of excellent public schools for every child in New Orleans. Dobard also served as the Superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District from 2012 to 2017.

Editor’s note: A version of this post was initially published on New Schools for New Orleans’s blog.

The views expressed herein represent the opinions of the author and not necessarily the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.