Poster Paper: Rewarding Growth or Achievement? Assessing the Eligibility Criteria of the Recovery School District Return Policy

Saturday, November 10, 2012 : 12:00 PM
Liberty A & B (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Richard Welsh and Andrew McEachin, University of Southern California

Since 2005, the governance of K-12 public education in New Orleans has been split among the Recovery School District (RSD), the locally elected Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), and a small number of charter school operators with agreements with the Louisiana Board of Secondary and Elementary education (BESE). The RSD has transformed New Orleans from a traditional public school system to the first majority charter school district in the United States. The RSD was intended to take over low performing schools, improve their academic performance and return them to local control after an initial period of five years. However, in December 2010 the RSD adopted a revised policy for return to local control that allowed eligible public schools to choose their own governance structure.

The identification strategy approved by the BESE for RSD schools in New Orleans to return to local control is based solely on School Performance Score (SPS). Schools in New Orleans under the jurisdiction of the RSD for five years that meet performance benchmarks (an SPS of 80 for two consecutive years) will be eligible to choose to stay in the RSD or return to local control (OPSB) beginning in the 2012-13 school year. This paper evaluates the eligibility criteria of the RSD’s policy to return schools to local control. We use a four-year (2007-8 to 2010-11) panel of student-and school-level data for all schools within the RSD and OPSB to estimate school-level measures of "value-added". In short, the school measures of value-added are estimates of the average student achievement gains within each school relative to the mean gain for all schools within New Orleans.  We compare these measures of school performance to the schools' SPS scores, the eligibility criteria of the RSD policy of returning schools to local control.

Our preliminary results show that that there is a moderate correlation (~.50) between the schools' measures of value-added and their SPS scores. Furthermore, a few of the schools eligible to choose their governance structure have negative value-added estimates, while a few schools just below the eligibility cutoff have positive value-added estimates. These results hold even when using multiple years of data to estimate schools’ value-added estimates. In short, the results indicate that the current SPS score cutoff does not separate the low to negative growth schools from those making positive growth. Our results also indicate that qualifying schools could have lower SPS scores in 2011 than in 2005 and that the policy only identifies one type of school—those with achievement levels above a set cutoff.  The policy is a very unique experiment that blends accountability and governance, so the RSD should be careful about which schools are rewarded.  From both a research and policy perspective, it might be best to reward schools that attain both a certain level of achievement and are showing academic growth yet the current policy does not necessarily reward schools that received low performing students and are making positive achievement gains.