Panel Paper: The Schools They Are a-Changin': The Evolution in School Quality and Product Differentiation in New Orleans’ Charter-Driven School Market

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Tyler - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Douglas N. Harris1, Lihan Liu1, Briana Diaz1, Alica Gerry1 and Paula Arce-Trigatti2, (1)Tulane University, (2)Rice University

Charter schools are a form of market-based schooling that relies on competition, innovation, and choice to drive improvements in school quality. As charter schools make up a growing share of the public education sector, it is important to understand how the market evolves in terms of both school academic quality and the diversity of product offerings over time. Does a market-based educational setting encourage innovation and improvement in the ways theory might suggest?

To address this question we pursue two analyses of market dynamics in the New Orleans charter school system since Hurricane Katrina. First, while studies show that schools do differentiate from one another in a market-based setting, no research has examined how product offerings evolve over time, and whether schools continue to transform and diversify their program offerings, or instead become more similar (Arce-Trigatti et al. 2015; Gross et al. 2017). We also add to the research on how the distribution of quality changes over time (Baude et al. 2014; Ladd, Clotfelter & Holbein, 2017).

Our research uses the New Orleans’ Parent’s Guide data, which provides information on each school’s curricular focus, discipline model, and extra-curricular offerings to examine the ways in which schools market themselves, and how, if at all, their marketing of product offerings changes over time. Preliminary findings suggest that the ways in which schools market themselves become more similar over time. At both the elementary and high school levels, we find that schools are more likely to identify a curricular focus such as STEM or college prep in more recent years of the Parent’s Guide. Similarly, schools report providing increasing numbers of school support staff and extracurriculars. Additional analysis will explore the variation within these larger trends, as well as the degree to which any observed changes appear to be primarily driven by new schools entering the market, low-performing schools exiting the market, improvement of schools that persist, or some combination of these.

Second, using statewide student-level data from Louisiana (LDOE), we examine overall changes in the distribution of school academic quality (school value-added) over time. Research in Texas and North Carolina has shown that market forces are generating improvements and reducing the variance of school quality in the charter sector (Baude et al. 2014; Ladd, Clotfelter & Holbein, 2017). Prior research in New Orleans shows that average school value-added has increased (Harris & Larsen, 2015; Bross, Harris & Liu, 2016), but does not provide evidence about variance. Our preliminary analysis shows that the variation and range of performance in New Orleans has shrunk relative to the rest of LA at the elementary school level over time. We show that the improvement at the low end of the distribution has been driven by government accountability pressures, whereas market accountability has driven improvement in the middle and upper end of the distributions.