Oct 25 2013

The Latest New Orleans Miracle

Anytime there is a press release from the Louisiana Department of Education, I know I have some work to do.

Two years ago it was how the RSD had the highest percent growth even though that statistic is exaggerated for districts with low baseline scores.  One year ago it was the ‘growth’ of their ACT scores, which was flawed for similar reasons.  A few months ago it was the increased AP participation despite awful pass rates.

Today they announced the latest district and school ratings and, guess what? — the miracles keep on happening.  Some highlights from the press release on their website:

  • the percentage of students attending a failing public school is less than 6 percent, down from 65 percent in 2008.
  • Only 9 of the 88 public schools in New Orleans are failing
  • For 2013, the RSD New Orleans DPS was 71.9, earning the district a C letter grade for the first time.

Louisiana changed their method of calculation their scores this year to make them ‘simpler.’  Under the new system, out of 100 points, under 50 is considered ‘failing’ while under the old system, out of 150 points under 75 was considered ‘failing.’  How the scores are calculated has also changed so it is difficult to tell if the plummeting number of ‘failing’ schools is genuine or one of lowering the standards.  John White, in what may be a Freudian slip, is quoted on his own Louisiana Department of Education website as saying “Changes made to the formula have led to real increases in student achievement.”  But changes to a formula can’t lead to ‘real’ increases in student achievement, only to higher grades on a scale that they invented.

I took a look at the data and found a few things to expose here.

Two years ago, despite all the talk of the New Orleans ‘Miracle’, the Recovery School District was rated as the second to last district in the state.  It was 67th out of 68, and about 80% of the schools ranked as a D or F.

So the statistic that most interested me was the claim that the New Orleans Recovery Schools had gotten a ‘C’ on their recent report “for the first time.”  This sounded too good to be true and, of course, it was.  When I downloaded the database, I noticed something strange.  Instead of 68 districts, there were now 74 districts.  And when I sorted them from low to high, the RSD was still second to last.

But at third to last was a ‘district’ which was the Baton Rouge RSD, and yes, at 15th to last, or 61st out of 76, was literally “for the first time” the New Orleans RSD schools as their own ‘district.’  Since they hadn’t separated New Orleans RSD schools from the rest in 2011, it is not clear if this represents ‘progress’ or not, even on their own rigged metric.

Another interesting fact from the databases is that in New Orleans RSD, the KIPP high school is the third lowest rated high school with a big ‘mardis’ D.  I wonder if they are at risk of getting shut down anytime soon.

Anyway, I’m sure others will do a fuller analysis of all the claims in their press release.  It’s always amusing to see what new ways they come up with to distort the data.  But like a Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, you can only do it for so long before it all comes apart.

 

6 Responses

  1. Cosmic Tinker

    Once again, great analysis, Gary!

    There are two more charters that need to be analyzed for miracle worthiness, which were identified this week by Ted Mitchell from the NewSchools Venture Fund, Duncan’s new #2 man at DoE: Mastery in Philadelphia and Unlocking Potential in Boston: http://www.forbes.com/sites/nicoleperlroth/2011/09/19/newschools-ceo-ted-mitchell-my-best-idea-for-k-12-education/

    Also, this guy raves about Khan Academy. Of course, Gates has, too, but I don’t get that, so being a Math teacher, maybe you can tell me what I’m missing? I admit I haven’t looked since Gates hopped on board and pumped in a lot of cash, but before that, when I watched, all I saw were chalk board lessons –nothing different from traditional Math classes that I’ve taken, just on screen so in miniature. Have you seen something unique going on there?

    • Serge Vartanov

      Khan Academy has changed significantly over the last couple of years and I haven’t been to it since then, so I can’t really say what’s great about the new version, but I can speak to the original.

      What made Khan Academy different from the chalk-board lesson is that you could rewind it and watch it again, at any time, for free. You could also skip to any part, and thus focus on aspects you didn’t understand. Khan’s lessons aren’t “more effective” than traditional style classroom lectures (and certainly not more effective than well planned and thoughtful lessons) but you can only experience a given lesson once – you can experience one of Khan’s lessons as many times as you want.

      In other words, Khan Academy is kind of like a video textbook. You can assign students to watch a Khan Academy lesson at home to prime them for a lesson you’ll teach in class. It’s a nice thing to have, especially since it’s free (unlike a textbook) and slightly more engaging.

  2. Janey

    As a classroom teacher, I sometimes used Khan academy to re-teach a concept that my class was struggling with. Sometimes, hearing a different voice with a different approach explain a concept, and watching the practice helped my students to learn. I also had students who set up accounts at home, and used the videos and practice problems at home to spend more time on concepts they were struggling with.

  3. J.D.G.

    I us Khan Academy in my personal life and in my classroom. I’m not sure why there’s a distaste at having Bill Gates pump his money into it. It’s now significantly better than any other software out there. It’s free and it’s getting better every day. It makes most of the software that districts pay thousands of dollars for look embarrassing. Without Gates’ money it would be far less comprehensive. With that being said, it will only change the lives of kids that are incredibly hungry or have Tiger parents. I have given 50 motivational speeches on Khan and the importance of self-paced learning. Most kids go home and go on Facebook or play Call of Duty instead. Then I lecture them the next day (you can monitor them on Khan) for not doing any work. Repeat.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

Region
Houston
Grade
High School
Subject
Math

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