By Patrick Dobard

In 2010, NSNO, the RSD, and Tennessee’s Achievement School District were awarded a nearly $30 million federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant to transform low-performing schools.

Earlier today, CREDO released their report evaluating the effectiveness of the grant and its impact on students in 13 New Orleans schools and 8 schools in Tennessee. This evaluation is an important addition to the growing body of research into New Orleans educational resurgence: Tulane’s Education Research Alliance, Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, National Bureau of Economic Research, American Educational Research Association.

The primary aim of the grant was to lift students out of low-performing schools and increase their opportunities to attend high-performing schools. While the report acknowledges that most turnaround schools did not meet their ambitious goal—going from the bottom 25% of performance to the top 33% of performance—it notes that the new schools performed better than those they replaced.

“The CRM [Charter Restart Model] schools in both New Orleans and Tennessee showed significantly higher academic growth compared to the Closing schools they replaced.”

Students who did not attend the turnaround school also benefitted from the closure of the low-performing school.

“Even students who were ineligible to attend a CRM school had an academic growth comparable to that of similar students in non-CRM schools, suggesting widespread positive consequences from the closure of the Closing schools.”

These findings are consistent with those from Tulane’s Education Research Alliance that showed school closure and turnarounds produced between 25% and 40% of New Orleans’ unprecedented academic growth.

Five key takeaways from the report

Harbormasters matter a lot: The researchers attribute the disappointing results in Tennessee in part to the absence of a harbormaster in Memphis or Nashville. As Superintendent of the RSD throughout the evaluation period, NSNO was an invaluable partner – as the report concludes, NSNO became a leading example for other harbormaster across the country. Now as CEO of NSNO, we look forward to working with OPSB in the same fashion in the years ahead.

School selection is critical: Potential turnaround operators that do not meet a high bar for selection, even when provided with significant additional support, rarely do as well as schools that meet the full criteria for leadership, continuous improvement, and school model from the outset.

Fresh starts have an advantage over full turnaround: On average, starting a school with a grade at a time results in better performance, on both qualitative and quantitative measures, than a full school turnaround.

Centralized equity initiatives are necessary: OneApp, New Orleans centralized enrollment program, provided families with access to a wider range of schools. The citywide special education initiative and a revamped school funding formula that provided more resources to schools serving students with the highest needs also strengthened the commitment of schools to serve all students.

Prioritize community engagement: The report notes the growing pains of our community engagement efforts. Early on, the school selection process was too often finalized without input from the community. We learned this lesson the hard way and developed an authentic, comprehensive approach to involve the school community in the school selection process.

The i3 grant played an integral role in improving the performance of the school district. Over the period of the evaluation, ACT and state test scores improved, graduation rates increased, more students started to enroll in college, and we decreased the percent of students attending schools that perform near the bottom of the state.

Our aspiration reaches far beyond better than before, so we will use this evaluation and others to push forward so that every child in New Orleans attends a great school that puts them on a path to a high-quality life outcome.

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