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Duncan contrasts New Orleans, Detroit

When it comes to education, Detroit needs to be more like New Orleans, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters gathered in the Crescent City on Friday for the annual gathering of the Education Writers Association.
Duncan hinted during a question-and-answer session that his department is developing plans to intervene in Detroit Public Schools, a district with massive budget problems and chronic achievement issues. He declined to be more specific.

“Stay tuned,” he said. “I see the progress here in New Orleans and I ask, ‘Why not Detroit?’ We don’t need to wait for a hurricane before we can reform schools. I even think Detroit can leapfrog New Orleans.”

Duncan also touched on the use of value-added measures in evaluating educators, talked about whether teacher ratings should be made public and questioned turnaround practices in some cities, including New York, where schools allegedly play “musical principals and teachers” – swapping staffs between turnaround schools instead of genuinely restaffing.

In Detroit, Robert Bobb, the district’s emergency financial manager, has said that state-approved plans to shrink the district’s $327 million deficit by closing more than 70 schools could cause high school class sizes to swell to 60 students.

Last month, Bobb announced a new plan to open 45 charter schools in Detroit to replace some of the district’s 141 schools. According to The Detroit News, the plan, dubbed Renaissance 2012, is aimed at reducing the deficit, stemming enrollment declines and improving student achievement.

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, a majority of the city’s charter schools are improving student achievement at a faster rate than traditional schools, according to a recent study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes or CREDO.

The study was commissioned by the non-profit New Schools for New Orleans to help determine which charter operators will share in $28 million in federal grant money to start additional schools in coming years.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the study analyzed test scores from 44 charter schools:

  • Twenty-three met eligibility requirements to win grant money, with test scores improving faster than scores at schools run by the state Recovery School District. The difference had to be statistically significant in either reading or math.
  • Another 12 charter schools fell into the “neutral” category, showing no significant difference in scores for either category.
  • Nine other schools missed the bar completely, with scores in at least one category lagging behind those of direct-run schools. While the ranking doesn’t necessarily mean a school is failing, three of those schools have already turned in their charters.

Schools in New Orleans, once considered among the nation’s worst, have undergone a dramatic overhaul since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. The Orleans Parish School Board now runs just five public schools and oversees 11 charters, while Louisiana’s Recovery School District operates 23 district schools and oversees 46 charters.

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