The Louisiana Department of Education publishes an annual report on the ACT performance of each graduating class. The report breaks the scores and number of ACT test takers down to the individual high school level. That allowed me to take a look at how charter schools and regular public schools in Hurricane-Katrina-ravaged New Orleans performed.
The results are remarkable. While I still have some unanswered questions, a couple of observations are easy to make:
• The high school infrastructure in New Orleans clearly was rebuilt after Katrina with a very heavy contribution from charter schools.
• Post-Katrina New Orleans is doing far better on the ACT than it was before it became largely a charter high school city.
To learn a lot more, and see some more supporting graphs, click the “Read more” link below.
First, the graph above, which I developed from the 2004 and 2009 ACT reports from Louisiana (Available Here) shows the overall change in ACT Composite Scores in the Orleans District over the past decade. The scores shown here are for public school students only.
There was a slow decay in performance prior to Katrina, which hit one week after the 2005 ACT results were released. Then, there was a remarkable increase in scores thereafter.
This shows that something very different was going on in New Orleans education after the big storm hit. The over two-point rise in the ACT Composite Score is remarkable.
What might be going on?
The next two tables show that by 2009 the Orleans District had been rebuilt as a largely charter school district.
Table Note: The Great Cities Schools web site was used to identify charter schools in New Orleans.
While there were few charters in the district prior to Katrina, by 2009 first table shows the majority of the city’s high schools were organized as charter schools, and they enrolled over two-thirds of the city’s high school graduates that year.
But, the really remarkable thing is that the charter high schools, though only in operation for a few years, significantly outscored the regular public high schools in the “Big Easy.” A 2.5 point spread on the ACT is a huge difference.
To be sure, as you look at the first table, not all the charters in New Orleans outperform the regular public schools, but there may be another message here.
Pre-Katrina when the city had few charters, the overall district ACT Composite Score was only 17.0. Now, even the average for the regular public schools is notably higher at 17.4.
Could this be evidence of a ‘raises all boats’ charter effect? Or, is this just due to some very poor students permanently leaving the “Big Easy” after Katrina?
I don’t have access to the data to clearly say.
However, there is a hint in the eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress Reading reports that the poverty excuse might not work here. I ran the NAEP Data Explorer to determine Louisiana’s 2005 and 2009 percentages of students who were eligible for the federal free and reduced cost lunch program. In 2005, 56 percent were eligible, and that rose to 62 percent by 2009. The 2005 NAEP data was collected about six months before Katrina hit.
I don’t have data on free and reduced cost lunch for Orleans alone, unfortunately, so I won’t speculate further on this information. However, it would not be inconsistent with the possibility that poverty in New Orleans today remains significant.