Proof Points: Lessons from Katrina for post-pandemic schools

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By Jill Barshay

Ever since schools closed in March 2020 for the pandemic, I’ve been curious to learn what the last major disruption in schooling, after Hurricane Katrina, can teach us about how to recover the months of missed or reduced instruction. Until now, researchers haven’t been able to fully answer the question of whether the city’s new charter schools were doing a better job of teaching after Katrina or whether a different population of students was responsible for the huge test score improvements.
 
A May 2021 technical report, “Taken by Storm: The Effects of Hurricane Katrina on Medium-Term Student Outcomes in New Orleans,” published by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans disentangled the population shifts from the academic gains.
Read the column
Key Findings 
  • Test scores increased substantially, even after adjusting for population shifts in New Orleans and comparing test score increases in nearby parishes.
  • High school graduation increased by 9 to 13 percentage points, college attendance by 7 to 11 percentage points, college persistence by 3 to 6 percentage points, and college graduation by 2 to 3 percentage points.
  • The public school population didn’t shift as much as the overall city population, which became wealthier and more white. In New Orleans schools, the percentage of Black students dropped from 94 to 88 percent but poverty actually increased. The share of students whose families are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch rose from 83 to 88 percent.
Teacher Takeaway 
  • Other cities around the country may be unlikely to repeat New Orleans’s strong results from charter schools and school choice. The academic improvements were based on a very low pre-Katrina starting point for student achievement.
  • The lead researcher on the study recommends investing in tutoring for students who need extra help catching up after the pandemic.
Lit Review 
  1. Harris, Douglas N. and Larson, Matthew F. “Taken by Storm: The Effects of Hurricane Katrina on Medium-Term Student Outcomes in New Orleans.” . Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.  May 17, 2021 update
  2. Hill, Paul. “What Post-Katrina New Orleans Can Teach Schools About Addressing COVID Learning Losses,” The Lens. April 20, 2020. Center on Reinventing Public Education.
  3. NOLA by the Numbers, Teach New Orleans
  4. Abdulkadiroğlu, A., Angrist, J.D., Hull, P.D., & Pathak, P.A. (2016). Charters without lotteries: Testing takeovers in New Orleans and Boston. American Economic Review 106(7): 1878-1920
  5. Angrist, J.D., Cohodes, S.R., Dynarski, S.M., Pathak, P.A., & Walters, C.R. (2016). Stand and deliver: Effects of Boston’s charter high schools on college preparation, entry, and choice. Journal of Labor Economics 34(2): 275-318.
  6. Dynarski, S., Hubbard, D., Jacob, B. & Robles, S. (2018) Estimating the Effects of a Large For-Profit Charter School Operator. NBER Working Paper No. 24428. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research
  7. Ferguson, B. (2017). Outcomes of the State Takeover of New Orleans Schools. Dorrance Publishing Company.
  8. Kimmett, Colleen. “10 Years After Katrina, New Orleans’ All-Charter School System Has Proven a Failure.” In These Times. August 28, 2015.
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