Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Educational “Best Practices” in New Orleans Public Charter Schools: An Exploratory Analysis

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 2:25 PM
Tuttle Center (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas and Shannon Lasserre-Cortez, Southwest Regional Education Lab by SEDL
Public charter schools are manifestations of economic ideas involving consumer choice and organizational autonomy as applied to the delivery of education.  Charter schools are public entities that deliver education based on a founding charter, and under the supervision of an independent board of directions, as opposed to traditional public schooling that takes place under a bureaucratic hierarchy and detailed operational mandates.

Recent research on the effectiveness of public charter schools and possible mediators and moderators of charter school effectiveness suggests that; (a) charter schools vary substantially in their levels of effectiveness; and (b) a variety of charter school features and approaches may be systematically associated with student achievement gains, at least for certain populations of students, and thus may explain at least some of the variation in charter school effectiveness.

This exploratory analysis, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education through the Southwest Regional Education Lab, examines three types of potential moderators of charter school effectiveness: operational features, such as student time in school and the use of formative assessment; organizational features, such as school age and size or grade range; and instructional features, such as class sizes, student-teacher ratios, teacher experience, teacher credentials, instructional staff supports, and tutoring. The analysis identifies the extent to which these inputs and outputs in the education process correlate with the test-score gains of elementary and middle school students in the city of New Orleans.

New Orleans is the ideal location for identifying the possible best practices in public charter schools.  The “Crescent City” is unique among U.S. cities in that charter schooling is the primary governance structure for public education. Public charter schools enroll 84 percent of New Orleans public school students. A total of 69 of the 75 chartered schools in New Orleans are open enrollment charters, which are not permitted to select students by any criteria. These schools are the focus of the study.

Data have been collected regarding the characteristics of public charter schools and the students attending them in New Orleans from 2010-11 through 2012-13.  The data are being analyzed, using Hierarchical Linear Modeling, to determine which characteristics of charters are systematically associated with higher or lower levels of student achievement gains from the baseline year of 2010-11 through the outcome years of 2011-12 and 2012-13.

Although all student-level data for the study are from New Orleans, the exploratory results of this study also will be of interest to public charter school operators and policymakers in other cities with large concentrations of charter schools such as Washington, DC, Detroit, and Los Angeles.  The study also will inform hypotheses for more rigorous future testing regarding which charter school features and approaches might actually impact student achievement causally.