We have often heard that Mark Twain said that there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I checked with Wikipedia, and it turns out that this phrase has many fathers. For example, says Wikipedia:

Mark Twain popularized the saying in Chapters from My Autobiography, published in the North American Review in 1906. “Figures often beguile me,” he wrote, “particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”

But there are other claimants to the phrase, as the article notes, including one who ranked false statements as “a fib, a lie, and statistics.” A variation on this phrase is: “simple liars, damned liars, and experts.”

And then we come to the “New Orleans Miracle.” According to recent research, test scores have improved dramatically since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina wiped out the public school district and replaced it with a district which is almost all-charter. Douglas Harris, director of the Research Alliance in New Orleans reported the results in the conservative journal Education Next, which promotes alternatives to public education. Bottom line, in his account: Wiping out the district, firing all the teachers, wiping out the union contract, hiring Teach for America to replace veteran teachers, has mostly good outcomes. Education Week reported Harris’s claim of dramatic progress.

But then there is Mercedes Schneider, who reports that the state released 2015 ACT scores for every district, and the New Orleans Recovery School District ranked 70th out of 73 districts in the state. Its ACT scores are virtually unchanged over the past three years. The RSD ACT scores of 16.6 are far below the state average of 19.4.

An average ACT score of 16.6 is low. Louisiana State University requires a composite score of 22. A composite of 20 qualifies for La’s tuition waiver to a 4-year institution; a composite of 17 qualifies for tuition waiver for 2-year technical college.

And here’s the latest study by Research on Reforms in New Orleans, comparing the Orleans Parish public schools to the reformers’ Recovery School District. “A study of three ninth grade cohorts, beginning with the 2006-07 year, shows that the percentage of OPSB 9th graders who graduate within four years is almost double that of RSD 9th graders, and the RSD’s dropout rate is nearly triple that of the OPSB.”

You may decide which statistics matter most to you. But whichever you choose, be sure to read Jennifer Berkshire’s account of what the reforms in New Orleans have produced. It is important context in which to place whatever data you think is most valuable.

Paul Thomas reviews the debate about The progress of Néw Orleans and concludes:

“So we are left with two truisms about education publications and education reform: (1) If “Education” is in the publication title, you better do your homework, and (2) if education reform is touted to achieve outcomes that seem too good to be true, then they likely aren’t true.”