We’ve heard the claim many times: Charters are a specialized form of schooling that might not be able to cater to the needs of large segments of the population, some people say. These critics claim that while public charter schools might be able to deliver good results by serving a few highly motivated families, there is no way they can succeed at scale.
New Orleans has proven those skeptics wrong. The city has been the test case for scaling public education through the charter school model — and it has passed that test with flying colors.
Since Hurricane Katrina, every public school in the City of New Orleans has been a charter, and most of the public schools in Orleans Parish similarly have the independence of the charter model.
Two rigorous evaluations have concluded that charter schools in the Crescent City produce better educational outcomes than traditional public schools with similar student demographics. The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University concluded that, in the 2016-17 school year, a student attending a New Orleans public charter school gained the equivalent of an additional 54 days of learning in reading and 71 days of learning in math compared with a similar student in a traditional public school in the city, back when traditional schools existed.
The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University found that the charter-centered package of education reforms implemented after Katrina increased student achievement by 11 to 16 percentage points, boosted high school graduation rates by 3 to 9 points and improved college graduation rates by 3 to 5 points. Study authors Douglas Harris and Matthew Larsen state, “The reforms also improved all outcomes for disadvantaged students and reduced educational inequities for high school and college measures. It is very unusual to see programs and policies improve all of these outcomes.”