Posted: Oct 9, 2011 2:31 PM by AP
Updated: Oct 9, 2011 4:33 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A national think tank's latest study of
post-Hurricane Katrina public education in New Orleans says parents of students at independently run charter public schools are more satisfied with the quality of education, safety and discipline at those schools than parents of students at more traditional schools,
even though the two types of schools operate similarly in many ways.
The RAND Corp. study said its findings were based on surveys of parents, teachers and principals taken in 2008 and 2009. While those surveys show relatively few differences in the way charters and traditional schools operate, parents of charter students were not only more satisfied overall, they reported having a greater sense of choice.
"Given that charter school parents who responded to the survey reported having a greater sense of choice than their traditional school counterparts, a lingering policy question is whether the system of citywide choice is equally accessible and navigable by all citizens of New Orleans," the study said in its conclusion. "The parent responses we received would suggest that it may not be."
Jennifer Steele, a RAND researcher who worked on the study, said Friday that the data don't make clear the reasons for the differences in attitude about the quality of education and choice. She said the findings may indicate a need for better education of parents about charter school availability, a need to simplify the application process or the fact that there are more applicants for some schools than there are available slots. Those are problems state officials have acknowledged and have been working to rectify. Steele noted, for instance, noted for a common application process for public schools in the city.
The RAND Corp. study comes six years after the state took control of most public schools in the hurricane-ravaged city away from the long-troubled Orleans Parish School System. While the local school board kept some high-performing schools, those taken over were placed under control of the state Recovery School District. Today, RSD governs about 70 schools and has turned most of those over to independent charter organizations. The Orleans Parish School Board still runs six schools and oversees 11 charter schools.
RAND's study said teachers at charter and traditional schools reported "almost no meaningful differences" in instructional practices. It said neither the length of the school year or of the school day was notably different between the two types of schools. "Principals at both types of schools reported having steering committees that met about weekly or monthly, and teachers in both types of schools also reported meeting regularly to discuss issues relating to student assessments, instruction, and discipline," the report said.
Still, some key differences were evident. "Principal and teacher respondents rated all 12 potential challenges presented to them (most notably, parent involvement, student discipline, and student transfers) as more serious in traditional schools than in charter schools, with the exception of facilities, which was rated as the most prominent challenge among charter school principals," the report said.
Again, why such challenges were deemed more serious at the traditional schools wasn't addressed in the data, Steele said, although she noted that data indicate somewhat higher income and education levels for parents of children attending charters.
New Orleans's post-Katrina educational landscape has been held up as an example by national education officials on how to aggressively tackle the problem of underperforming public schools. The RAND study's self-identified aim was to "shed additional light on prominent local and national questions about how charter school practices differ from those of their traditional school counterparts."
But the report itself notes that even the "traditional" schools in New Orleans are operating under a vastly different system than is in place in other cities - or that was in place before the 2005 hurricane shut down the city and led to the dismissal of thousands of school workers.
"It is important to clarify that the noncharter schools in this study, which we refer to as `traditional schools,' operate alongside their charter school counterparts in a post-Katrina system of citywide school choice and in the absence of collective bargaining," the report said.
Steele emphasized that the study's data has been compiled and analyzed based on two-year-old surveys and said it is simply a snapshot of data from the 2008-09 year. Still, she said, it holds fodder for future consideration. For instance, while the report lists numerous similarities in the operations of charter and traditional schools, it also notes that the independently run charters tend to contract out more services. That will lead to discussions, she said, about how best to allocate money for a variety of services, including transportation, meals, nursing, social work and counseling.