Mercedes Schneider reports here on the efforts of the Cowen Institute at Tulane University to burnish the national image of the New Orleans’ all-charter model.


As part of its history of the “New Orleans Miracle,” Cowen has documented the transformation of New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.


However, truth intrudes. Schneider writes:


“The Cowen Institute at Tulane University has been promoting the New Orleans Charter Miracle since 2007. Cowen Institute has been trying since then to sell the “transformed” post-Katrina education system in New Orleans.


“The results are tepid. Still, Cowen tries to sell this New Orleans. Consider this excerpt from Cowen’s history:


[Following Hurricane Katrina] the majority of schools reopened as charter schools, which are publicly-funded and operated by nonprofit organizations or universities, giving New Orleans a greater percentage of students in charter schools than any other district in the United States. Education entrepreneurs and veteran educators from around the country flocked to the city to participate in the greatest public school renaissance in the country. …

“…the new model of delivering education to the city’s youth has begun to yield results. Parental involvement, teacher quality, and community engagement have all improved. Between the 2006-07 and the 2007-08 school years, student achievement rose for nearly every school in the city – and across all school types. Overall, the schools collectively saw a 15 percent increase in school performance scores from 2005-2008. Even so, New Orleans still ranks 65th out of 68 school districts in Louisiana, a state which has some of the lowest public school achievement levels in the country. While public schools in New Orleans are still performing at a level far below where they need to be, the improvements they have shown since Hurricane Katrina is very promising. New Orleans, once ranked as one of the worst school districts in the country, has the potential to develop a model for unprecedented innovation in public education. [Emphasis added.]”


Wow! New Orleans ranks  “65th out of 68 school districts.” That is hardly a “promising,” “innovative” “renaissance.” That’s failure. That’s no model for Georgia or Nashville or any other city or state unless they too want to join a “Race to the Bottom.”


Since it was not all that impressive to have a district ranked 65th out of 68 in a very low-performing state, Cowen then developed a “value-added” model to show how much the schools had improved. This report was widely heralded by champions of the New Orleans plan, but the VAM Model was so technically flawed that the Cowen Institute took it down. Disappeared. But Mercedes saved it and you can read it on her blog.


Mercedes then tried to understand the Cowen Institute’s VAM model for schools. And she discovered that it was not only flawed, it was a deeply incompetent effort to measure school growth. It did nothing of the kind. The flawed report, hastily withdrawn, was an example of dysfunctional research. She says it is easy to fool the public and reporters. Just put out a “report” with a fancy cover, say it came from “an institute,” and the reporters will repeat what the press release says. The public never knows that what they are reading about is just bad research, proving nothing.