Last week, the Education Research Alliance at Tulane University released a report declaring that the market-driven reforms in the New Orleans schools were a success. The formula for success: Get a big hurricane to wipe out a large swath of your city, close down the public schools, fire all the teachers, eliminate the union, get the federal government and foundations to pour in huge sums of money, and voila! A miracle! The miracle of the market!

When watching an illusionist at work, keep your eye on the action. Watch his hands. Or watch what else is happening (I saw an illusionist last year in Las Vegas and still haven’t figured out the tricks he pulled off while everyone watched his hands).

Watch the master illusionists at the Education Research Alliance at Tulane University. They said that the New Orleans corporate takeover was a roaring success. They said it in 2015. They said it again in 2018. Guess what? On the same day that they published their latest study, Betsy DeVos gave them a $10 Million grant to become the National Research Center on School Choice! What a happy coincidence!

Unfortunately for the ERA, Mercedes Schneider figured out the Big Trick.

You see, after the hurricane in 2005, the state created the Recovery School District (RSD) and took control of most of the NOLA schools, turning them over to charter operators. The best schools, however, remained under the control of the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB).

The RSD is all-charter. Forty percent of the charters are failing schools. The white kids go to the top-rated charters. The failing schools are almost all-Black.

The best schools in New Orleans are the OPSB schools, some of which are selective-admission charter schools. Not surprisingly, the selective-admission schools have the highest test scores.

The ERA pulled a fast one. In its report, it combined the results of the less-than-stellar RSD with those of the high-performing OPSB.

Schneider titled her post: “How to Make New Orleans Market Ed Reform a Success: Hide RSD Failure Inside an OPSB-RSD Data Blend.”

She writes:

“The problem here is that OPSB schools were never taken over by the state, which means that the New Orleans “failing school” narrative does not include these schools, and that whether they be direct-run or converted to charter schools, OPSB schools have test-score advantages over the “failing” RSD schools taken over by the state. Moreover, a number of OPSB schools are selective-admission charter schools (see also here and here), which gives even more advantage over state-run RSD schools (and which puts a snag in the “open school choice for families” narrative).

“It is the OPSB advantage that allows researches to combine post-Katrina, OPSB and RSD data and actually hide the lack of progress that state-run, all-charter RSD has made, all the while selling a generalized version of New Orleans market-ed-reform success to the public. I have seen this ploy in the past from the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) in its efforts to conceal low ACT composite scores of RSD schools that it was supposed to take over and reform right into higher test scores, and I am seeing it here in the Harris-Larsen study.

”OPSB schools are not only chiefly responsible for the results in the Harris-Larsen study; OPSB schools are concealing the mediocrity (at best) that was the RSD, state-takeover-charter-conversion experiment…”

As it happens, David Leonhardt of the New York Times today published the second part of his two-part encomium about the apotheosis of the New Orleans schools, due entirely to the miracle of the market. Ironically, his article is titled, “A Plea for a Fact-Based Debate About Charter Schools.” Ironic, because he swallows the charter propaganda whole. He apparently doesn’t know that the “miracle” was the result of merging the RSD scores with the OPSB scores. He never acknowledges that 40% of the RSD schools are failing and segregated. He is right, however, that it is time for a fact-based debate about what happened in New Orleans, and his two articles did not contribute to that debate.

Watch the illusionists. Great tricks. Don’t be fooled.