Bobby Jindal and Eric Cantor (Facebook)

School reformers love to talk about the charter-dominant  Recovery School District in New Orleans as an example of how great the charter sector is. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal talks about it on his travels around the country, including on a recent trip to Virginia, where he attended a fund raiser for charter schools for Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Whip. According to this Associated Press story about the trip, Jindal said that before Hurricane Katrina, 77% percent of students in New Orleans were attending failing schools but that the percentage has been reduced to 29%. Jindal said:

We’re not where we want to be but have made great progress in seven years.

Unfortunately for Jindal, the progress he cited as being made in the last seven years isn’t supported by the facts. I asked Charles Hatfield, co-founder of Research on Reform, a non-profit organization that conducts research on New Orleans school reform, to analyze Jindal’s statement. Hatfield said the governor has his facts wrong.

Here is Hatfield’s full report:
*After seven years of operating, the Recovery School District in New Orleans (RSD-NO) had a 2012 District Performance Score (DPS) of 76.7, which was equivalent to a letter grade of D.  The RSD-NO ranked among the lowest of the 71 school districts in Louisiana, i.e. 4th from the bottom. It slightly surpassed the performance of the Recovery School District outside of New Orleans that ranked last, with a District Performance Score of 58.9 and a letter grade of F.

*The following  results are based on 60 of the 67 RSD-NO schools that were assigned a 2012 Baseline School Performance Score assigned by the Louisiana Department of Education:
1)           55% of the 60 RSD-NO schools received an F

2)            28% of the 60 RSD-NO schools received a D

3)            52% of RSD-NO students attended F schools

4)           27% of RSD-NO students attended D schools

*I don’t know where Jindal’s 77% figure came from. During the 2004-05 school year, there were approximately 108 schools that operated under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) with approximately 59,000 students. Approximately 63%, or 68 schools, were labeled as Academically Unacceptable (AU) or failing in accordance with the LDOE’s achievement standards at that time, i.e. School Performance Score below 60. Approximately 60%, or 36,000 students, attended these 68 schools. 

*It is important for the public to understand that not all schools taken over in New Orleans by the Louisiana Department of Education were failing by the state’s achievement standard of a School Performance Scorebelow 60. The politically contrived criterion approved by the state legislature for takeover in Orleans Parish was a School Performance Score below the state’s average of 87.4. It remained at below a SPS of 60 in other parishes. In addition to the 68 schools with an AU label, there were 23 additional non-failing schools that scored between 60 and 87.3 that were also taken over. At least 13 of the highest performing schools were left with the OPSB to operate.

*Jindal’s statement that the percent of students in New Orleans who attend failing schools is now 29 percent is misleading. After Katrina, New Orleans was divided into two major and independent school districts: Orleans Parish School Board and the Recovery School District New Orleans. A clever PR spin that is consistently used by the Recovery School District and its supporters is to aggregate  the low performing RSD-NO results with those of the historically higher performing OPSB results,  thereby masking the actual achievement performance of the RSD-NO. We don’t think these claims address the central question of what significant progress the RSD-NO — not OPSB — has made in seven years of supposedly turning around “failing” schools around.  I suspect that Jindal’s 29% figure is based on the aggregated data of both school districts. This would result in a much lower figure than the 52% enrollment figure reported above.

* Finally, seven of the 67 schools did not publicly receive a 2012 Baseline School Performance Score or letter grade. They did operate during the 2011-12 school year but were closed or converted for the 2012-13 school year. One can only surmise that these schools would have had failing 2012 Baseline School Performance Scores. These failing scores would have probably lowered the officially reported score of 76.7 if they had been used in the computation of the District Performance Score, perhaps even lowering it to an SPS below the failing criterion of 75. However, this is only conjecture. This has become an annual procedure with RSD-NO’s reporting in order to inflate their annual district performance score.

*Do the facts presented above warrant the aggressive promotion by the RSD-NO and its educational and political supporters as a model for national reform in other cities? After seven years, the RSD-NO is still a district in academic crisis with the vast majority of its students attending failing or substandard schools with respect to achievement. However, the proliferation of this myth continues to be aggressively promoted by major Louisiana politicians such as Jindal and U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu.