Full Review: https://networkforpubliceducation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/BBaker.NPE_.NOLA_.pdf


In July of 2018, the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans released a comprehensive, summative longitudinal report on the effects on student outcomes of the package of reforms implemented in New Orleans following hurricane Katrina in the fall of 2005. The following policy brief reviews the findings of this recent report by Douglas Harris and Matthew Larsen, offers critique of their methods and interpretation of findings and attempts to provide broader policy context for those findings.

In summary, Harris and Larsen find significant positive effects of Post-Katrina New Orleans school reforms on short-term student achievement measures, and longer term college attendance, persistence and completion. They attribute these results to the “market-based” reforms adopted following Katrina, and go to great lengths to dismiss or downplay threats to the validity of this conclusion. But for many reasons, that attribution may be misguided.

  1. First, the authors downplay the potential influence of significant changes in the concentration of poverty across neighborhoods and schools—specifically the reductions in extreme poverty which may contribute significantly to the improved student outcomes in the years following Katrina;
  2. Second, the authors understate the importance of the substantial increases to funding which occurred concurrently with organizational and governance changes in the district, specifically disclaiming the importance of increased funding by suggesting that the funding increases would not have existed but for the reforms;
  3. Third, the authors argue, without evidence, that similar funding increases provided to the old, New Orleans school system would not likely have had similar impact, claiming they would have been inefficient or wasteful. At the same time the authors sidestep the fact that much of the funding increase in the new system was allocated toward increased and duplicative overhead expenses, as well as increased transportation costs resulting from citywide choice;
  4. Fourth, the authors define the treatment as the package of market-based reforms, which are largely changes to the governance and organization of New Orleans schools, rather than focusing on the types of schools, programs and services, and qualifications of incoming staff who entered this

Adopting similar governance and organizational changes, and citywide choice in other contexts may lead to very different results. It remains unclear whether population change and redistribution, coupled with the infusion of resources could have resulted in similar effects, even without structural reforms.

Published by schoolfinance101

Bruce Baker is an Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. From 1997 to 2008 he was a professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS. He is lead author with Preston Green (Penn State University) and Craig Richards (Teachers College, Columbia University) of Financing Education Systems, a graduate level textbook on school finance policy published by Merrill/Prentice-Hall. Professor Baker has written a multitude of peer reviewed research articles on state school finance policy, teacher labor markets, school leadership labor markets and higher education finance and policy. His recent work has focused on measuring cost variations associated with schooling contexts and student population characteristics, including ways to better design state school finance policies and local district allocation formulas (including Weighted Student Funding) for better meeting the needs of students. Baker, along with Preston Green of Penn State University are co-authors of the chapter on Conceptions of Equity in the recently released Handbook of Research Education Finance and Policy, and co-authors of the chapter on the Politics of Education Finance in the Handbook of Education Politics and Policy and co-authors of the chapter on School Finance in the Handbook of Education Policy of the American Educational Research Association. Professor Baker has also consulted for state legislatures, boards of education and other organizations on education policy and school finance issues and has testified in state school finance litigation in Kansas, Missouri and Arizona. He is a member of the Think Tank Review Panel, a group of academic researchers who conduct technical reviews of publicly released think tank reports on education policy issues.

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