Oct 12 2011

New Orleans RSD — the ‘miracle’ district

The Louisiana Department Of Education just released the 2011 School Performance Data. As New Orleans has been hailed as a ‘miracle’ district, I was eager to see the results. As you might know, after Katrina the lowest performing schools were assembled into a district known as ‘The Recovery District’ (RSD) which has become a grand experiment in what would happen if an entire city was taken over by charter schools with a high number of Teach For America teachers.

When I downloaded the data I learned that 87% of the 68 schools in the RSD got either a D or an F on their State Report Card. This did not seem very impressive.

But then I read the press release from their website, which I’ll quote here:

While state officials point to significant overall improvement from 2010 to 2011, among the highlights noted is the growth of schools in the Recovery School District, which assumes responsibility for chronically failing schools. Specifically:

For three of the last four years, Louisiana’s school turnaround model has been ranked highest for the percentage of gains achieved from one year to the next.
Schools in the RSD Improved to Achieve An Average Gain of 6.7 Points or 11 Percent — More than Three Times the Average Statewide Gain for All Schools (2.2 Points, or 2.4 Percent).

“The mission of the RSD is to transform failing schools,” RSD Superintendent John White said. “And given that our students have made more progress than students in any other district, our schools are on their way to achieving their mission.”

There was a time that the corporate reformers talked about how demography was not destiny and how there were so many 90-90-90 schools that prove that. When I, and others, started debunking the supposed miracle schools, the corporate reformers started focusing instead on ‘growth.’ This turns out to be a statistic that is very easy to use to make no progress seem like a lot of progress.

Here is the dramatic chart, straight from the press release:

The top ten most improved districts, based on the percentage increase in their District Performance Scores from 2010 to 2011:

 *District

2010 DPS

2011 DPS

Percentage Increase
(Point increase)

Recovery School District (All)

58.4

66.7

14.21% (8.3 Points)

East Carroll Parish

79.4

88.5

11.46% (9.1 Points)

Cameron Parish

93.1

100.6

8.06% (7.5 Points)

Franklin Parish

77.6

83.7

7.86% (6.1 Points)

Red River Parish

86.8

93.6

7.83% (6.8 Points)

St. Bernard Parish

98.4

105.9

7.62% (7.5 Points)

Iberville Parish

80.3

86.2

7.35% (5.9 Points)

City of Baker School District

62.8

67.3

7.17% (4.5 Points)

Orleans Parish

110.3

118.0

6.98% (7.7 Points)

Plaquemines Parish

104.1

110.8

6.44% (6.7 Points)

White says that “given that our [Recovery District] students have made more progress [the 14% stat] than students in any other district” which sounds very good until someone with a trained eye takes a look at the numbers behind that claim.

When we see that big Fat Tuesday 14.21% increase it seems pretty convincing at first. But when we look at that number alongside the 2010 baseline score, we get a more accurate picture of what that number means.

Feel free to download the excel files from the links at the bottom of the press release.

Out of 70 districts in 2010, The Recovery School District (RSD) ranked 69th out of 70 districts in their District Performance Score (DPS). The DPS score is something that can be as high as about 120, and the goal is that all schools get to 120 by 2014. The RSD score in 2010 was 58.4. This score is so low (Channeling Johnny Carson here) Altogether now, HOW LOW IS IT? It is so low that the average and median scores for the 70 districts was around 92. It is so low that ANY increase, whatsoever, would amount to a large percent increase. So, yes, they had a 14% increase up to 66.7. And with this score increase, with such a high percent increase, they have catapulted themselves to … 69th out of 70 districts in 2011. Now the average and median scores for the 70 districts is around 95. This 66.7 is still so low that only 5 districts even have a score under 80.

So they can brag about their 14% percent increase, but the statistic means nothing. Had there been a district that had started with a baseline score of 5, and they got their score up to 7, that would be a 40% score increase. As another example, this is why it is silly to compare two districts’ percent increases: Nearby Orleans Parish had a 7.7 point gain compared to the similar 8.3 gain of RSD. But because Orleans Parish had a 2010 score of 100.3, their ‘percent increase’ is only 7% compared to RSD’s 14%. But since they are trying to get to 120, Orleans Parish is the more impressive gain since they had so little to go, yet under this comparison RSD has twice the ‘gain’ as Orleans Parish. This is a meaningless stat, and an excellent example of what the corporate reformers do to make it look like they’re making progress when they are really not. They make up as many crazy stats as they can until they find one that makes them look good.

There are scenarios where this ‘percent change’ stat would be meaningful. For instance if you have a healthy 160 pound man and a healthy 110 pound woman. It is generally about as difficult for the man to gain (or lose) 16 pounds as it is for the woman to gain (or lose) 11 pounds and both are a 10% change. So the time that a stat like this is meaningful is when the ‘difficulty’ to increase a certain percent does not depend, at all, on the starting point. But that does not apply here. It is much easier for a school to increase twenty percent if they are going from 50 to 60 (a ten point increase) than if a school is going from 100 to the completed goal of 120 (a twenty point increase). I can definitely argue that it is actually easier for a school with a lower score to get the same absolute point increase as a school with a higher score so that the percent change is actually skewed in two different ways to make the school with the lower starting point seem to have the better gain. It’s easier to get the same point gain and then that point gain is also a bigger percent of the lower starting point.

The corporate reformers are desperate. They have no proof that any of their theories about how to improve education are working. They have been given the power to experiment with needy kids and they should be ashamed of themselves. Their arrogance to ignore all statistics that prove they don’t know what they are doing is awful and if we stand back and let them continue, we share, a bit, in the blame.

What the data really proves is that it takes a lot more than a bunch of untrained, but intelligent, teachers to overcome the effects of poverty. This is something anyone who knows anything about how students learn and how schools improve could have, and did, predict.

21 Responses

  1. Michael Fiorillo

    The only “miracle” in New Orleans is how the Shock Doctrine has been successfully used to privatize virtually the entire public school system and turn it over to corporate locusts, while simultaneously using intelligent but easily duped young people to convince themselves and others that it was in the service of the children and local communities, communities that are being systematically dispossessed.

  2. anonymous

    Something else I noticed when looking at the breakdown in the scores. At least two schools that existed in the RSD last year–Joseph S. Clark High School and Greater Gentilly–but were either chartered or closed this year, do not appear in the scores at all. Students at these schools took the tests. The RSD has basically been able to wipe them out of the accounting.

  3. Jeff Klaus

    Gary, If it weren’t for the reformers, the purveyors of the status-quo would be still sitting on their butts soaking the taxpayers and crying crococdile tears for low income kids. We will never go back again thanks to competition of ideas and practices.

    • MeghanK

      No, the purveyors of the status quo are not happy. I’m not sure who that is exactly. But the people winning are the ones who want to eradicate public education entirely. There is not competition of ideas and practices. I don’t know what you’re talking about there. Everyone across the nation is moving towards THE SAME ideas and practices, namely, those that will ultimately destroy public education entirely.

    • Don Whittinghill

      Bah! Humbug! Pre Katrina these same schools, then run by a corrupt OPSB, averaged 1.5% gain per year in SPS. The new OPSB operates similiar schools from the same pool but are significantly better performing.

  4. Karran

    Jeff it seems the fake reformers touting miraculous success are in fact the purveyors of the status quo. All the extra federal dollars after Katrina, free reign to operate RSD schools as they please without union rules or Board meddling produced these piddly results. Some of the RSD schools that became charters right after Katrina were already on an upward trajectory. In fact one much celebrated school has actually slowed it’s growth since becoming a charter post Katrina.

    Anonymous, also missing are Gregory, Reed Elem, Carver Elem, Rabouin, F.C. Williams, Jeff, International HS, and KIPP Renaissance. Some of these schools closed others became new charters and two were in their first year. Never the less, they were omitted. The LDOE never gives an explanation for the missing schools. There doesn’t seem to be any consistency from year to year as to which kinds of schools are included. One is left to wonder how these schools would impact the DPS.

    The LDOE is so invested in this farce being successful that it is not objective in it’s data reporting, nor it’s oversight of these schools

    • anonymous

      Has it been publicized that the numbers are not reflective of ALL students who tested? Does this make it likely that the percentage of growth does not include testakers from these schools?

  5. Nolan

    So you’re complaining that the RSD schools showed improvement? Seems like you’re a damned if you do, damned if you don’t – either way you’re dammed type of thinker.

    So you should be really upset at the district that is now 70th.

    What will your response be if and when the RSD moves up to 68th, 65th and next year? Still something wrong with that improvement as well?

    When will the improvement be a GOOD thing in your eyes?

    • Tracie

      Nolan we will be satisfied when we (the students and parents) get what was promised. Shame on you Black man for thinking 65 is okay!

    • Bernardo

      Nolan, you miss the point. Te 70th district isn’t being touted as a model for reform for the whole country. The RSD is, without any evidence that firing every teacher in N.O and busting the union produced much of anything in the way of measurable improvement for the children.

  6. Karran

    Anonymous, It has not been publicized that the numbers are not reflective of ALL students who were tested. Something will soon be publicized on http://www.researchonreforms.org. In reviewing the Data and Reports section of http://www.louisianaschools.net and looking at the 10/1/10 student counts, you can see a list of all schools receiving funding and operating inside of New Orleans last school year. The student counts are broken down by grade level so with a little bit of work you can figure out which schools were not included and how many students were not included. So, yes it is absolutely likely that the percentage of growth does not include test takers from schools not listed on the Growth spreadsheet. One should also understand that the schools that were closed were closed because they were the lowest performing schools, so you can expect a increase in the number of F schools reflected in the report if those closed schools were actually included. This is just another way the LDOE tries to boost the mediocre performance of their grand charter experiment.

    • Demian

      Is there still a plan to publicize the critique on the NO numbers? I’m not currently seeing anything on the researchonreforms.org site. (though I have seen Gary’s similar analysis on a prior blog). Thanks.

  7. Mavor

    These results don’t even consider cheating. Having taught in Orleans Parish before the storm and considering how widespread cheating is on high stakes testing nationwide, I am sure that cheating was common in the RSD. Corruption in Louisiana? NO!

  8. NY History Teacher

    I hope you have a letter into the NY times after the story today.

  9. Matt

    There was an editorial in the October 16th New York Times that made the following claims: “Five years ago, less than a quarter of the children in New Orleans public schools scored at or above the “basic” level on state tests. Now, nearly half do. Before Hurricane Katrina, more than 60 percent of children attended failing schools. Now, only about 18 percent do.” Are these claims inaccurate or misleading, and if so how?

    • Matt

      Thanks for providing the link to the Maddow blog.

  10. Don Whittinghill

    Minus spin and with a bit of data mining one finds nuggets. Even that 66 score should be looked at with some suspicion. Another report from the state reveals that students enrolled in the RSD New Orleans schools were under tested by 16.7% in February 2011. That is fewer enrolled students had their test scores counted than were enrolled. Conversely, the schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board tested 2% fewer than were enrolled in February’s student count.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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