When the news came Thursday that the latest CREDO report showed outsize learning gains at New Orleans charter schools, I recalled the simplicity that Neerav Kingsland used to define his idea of “relinquishment” in public education. In a recent talk with Andy Smarick that appeared on Flypaper, Kingsland, the chief of New Schools for New Orleans, said that relinquishment was based on three principles: 1) educators should operate schools, 2) families should choose among these schools, and 3) government should hold schools accountable for performance and equity.

This is relevant to the CREDO report because New Orleans is practically the only city in the United States that adheres to these principles. By the time CREDO finished its analysis of learning gains in Louisiana, and in New Orleans particularly, nearly 80 percent of all public school students in the Crescent City attended a charter school. Arguably, since Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans in 2005, a redefinition of public schooling, a rush of entrepreneurial activity, and renewed focus on what makes for a successful charter school have all contributed to the following CREDO findings:

  • Black students in New Orleans charter schools had the equivalent of nearly two months of reading gains on their peers in traditional public schools and nearly three months of math gains.
  • Impoverished black students benefitted even more: seventy-two more days of learning in reading and ninety-four more days of learning in math.
  • Special-education students in New Orleans get sixty-five more days of learning in reading than their peers in traditional schools and forty-three more days in math.
  • And those who had to repeat a grade also profited from these independent and autonomous schools: twenty-eight more days of learning in reading and seventy-two in math.

Altogether, New Orleans charter students got an additional four more months of learning in reading and an additional five more in math. These drove the overall positive results for charter schools throughout Louisiana that CREDO observed.

Kingsland and New Schools for New Orleans perhaps deserve some credit for this. At a recent education leadership conference at Yale University, I listened as Kingsland expressed his thoughts for how to nurture a burgeoning charter sector, not just in New Orleans but nationwide. It’s no longer about letting a thousand flowers bloom (because many of those flowers were really weeds all along). It’s about incubating a diverse system of high-quality providers that’s held to account for its outcomes (Principle 3 of relinquishment) in a way that brings families and educators together through choice (Principles 1 and 2).

These may be simple principles, but the simplest things are often the hardest to pull off. Every detail counts. Luckily we can observe relinquishment in action in New Orleans, and the outcomes should inspire us.

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