What Effect Did the New Orleans School Reforms Have on Student Achievement, High School Graduation, and College Outcomes?

Douglas N. Harris and Matthew F. Larsen:

The New Orleans school reforms represent the first time in the last century that the traditional U.S. government-driven system of K-12 schooling has been completely replaced by a market-driven one. In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the state took over almost all of the city’s public schools from the local school district and then turned them over to non-profit organizations. These charter schools had autonomy over personnel decisions and almost all other matters and were held accountable to the state through performance-based contracts. Instead of assigning students to schools based on the neighborhoods they lived in, the new system allowed families to choose schools from across the city, and schools began receiving funding based almost entirely on the number of students they attracted.

This study builds on our earlier analysis where we estimated the effect of the entire package of market-based reforms on test scores through 2012. Our method entails essentially subtracting the improvements in New Orleans from those in a carefully matched comparison group of students, schools, and districts elsewhere in Louisiana, and adjusting the result for any remaining demographic differences between the groups. Here, we use this method to examine a wider range of outcomes through 2014. We find that for New Orleans: