Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Education Reform in New Orleans

Regular readers will know that I think most educational interventions, both liberal and conservative, are pointless wastes of energy.  Educational success is genetics/prenatal, sleep, not getting beat up*, and a dozen little-discussed mind-killers like lead poisoning, lack of iodine - and probably some effect of exposure to drugs and violence in your neighborhood - though even that doesn't seem to measure out as a big factor.  Class size, fathers, amount of TV watched, church attendance, books in the home - these seem to be carts rather than horses.

Still, we have hope that something might emerge that we can actually do something about.  I was very hopeful about Graduation 2010 in Daviess County, KY, but it did not pan out.  There is interesting news about educational results in New Orleans post-Katrina. I remain skeptical, but not cynical.  My first question, however, is whether the student body makeup was different before and after.  If the worst students went away, then improved scores of the remaining students may not mean much.  My first guess is that this effect would have gone in the other direction, with the worst students staying put while the brighter families got outa Dodge City. But I know nothing about that either way.

It is fair to say that what New Orleans did is not what the usual education reformers clamor for. Take it from there.

*There may actually be something environmental in the usual education-research sense here.  There are possibly genes for poor attention-span and for violence that are activated by childhood trauma. All very preliminary stuff.


Boxty said...

Probably only middle class and above home owners with home insurance could afford to rebuild. Renters who lost everything had no housing or property to return to. Cities in Texas or other surrounding areas were probably offering generous welfare benefits compared to NOLA plus more opportunity (but mostly lack of motivation to move back and rebuild).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I fear something like that will turn out to be the case.

"Maybe This Time..."

james said...

Two things come to mind:

1) I cannot after all these years recall the source, but I was informed that changes in factory floor operations caused a slight bump in productivity, followed by a trend down to the old values. Changing back caused a slight and temporary bump in productivity also. The suggested explanation was that when workers felt somebody was taking an interest in them, they responded. For a while.

2) It seems not unlikely that children from blenderized homes may need different class structure and disciplines than those from intact and supportive ones. If the child already has some of the necessary disciplines for study, you can provide a much more enriched (and potentially distracting) environment to encourage learning on ones own. If not, the class needs to be more structured and goal-focused.
One size doesn't fit all.

3) Maybe a hiatus from school helped some of them learn?

Christopher B said...

james, your #1 is 'Hawthorne effect' after the factory in Chicago were it was observed.

Donna B. said...

Boxty - it's also the fact that the worst flooding was in the lower ninth ward. See here for an overview:
However, there's hardly any difference in welfare benefits between Texas and Louisiana.

As the article points out, one reason for the improvements, is that there was nowhere to go but up.

Laura said...

If the poor people were chased out of NOLA, we'd expect to see the median income of the city go up noticeably after 2005. But, at least according to the data here, this effect only lasted for 2-3 years, whereas the test score improvements have continued for 10+ years:

To my eyes, the poor leaving NOLA were mostly replaced by equally poor people coming in for the low-skill, low-wage jobs of cleanup and construction. Anecdotally (I couldn't find hard evidence), I'm hearing that there was some replacement of blacks with Hispanics-- but if anything, Hispanics have even worse school outcomes than blacks. Likewise, if the schools got better because the poor people were chased out, then we'd see the school scores go up in Mississippi (which was hit even harder than NOLA)-- but they didn't.

There's never a truly "clean" data set for this sort of thing, but a half standard deviation improvement is a major achievement. It is certainly good evidence to falsify the claim: vouchers lead to worse outcomes for society. Then, on the basis of advancing personal liberty and responsibility, and limiting the reach of the state into private life, vouchers are the way to go (even if they have the same educational outcomes as mandatory public schools).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Laura - agree almost entirely, but Hispanics tend to do better in school than African-Americans. About even up when they arrive, .03 SD better in the next generation, then a little more, then flat after that.

Blacks and Hispanics in Texas outscore those in other states, BTW.

dmoelling said...

I have a young man who just married into my extended family. Nice guy (white) from a town in the Midwest where in the past most people worked in factories. High School grad, industrious, served in US armed forces overseas. I was helping him on a government job application and noticed how poor his spelling and writing was. His native intelligence and industry is quite good and he could do the job, but I think his poor writing skills doomed his chances. This is where the educational fads of constructive learning etc do the most harm. By getting the grade school basics down pat, most students can do a wide range of things. Neglecting basic writing, arithmetic and communications cripple them. My grandfather went through only the 6th grade, but continued with all kinds of correspondence courses from the 1930's to 1950's. He could do this because a 6th grade education nailed the basics down. (Today the successors of his correspondence schools like DeVry are deemed class enemies)

If the NOLA schools could accomplish just a little of this basic foundation, it could not but help

Texan99 said...

I favor vouchers because I really have no idea which, if any, of the education styles that have been tried out in recent decades make even the least sense for a wide range of student abilities. I have no confidence, therefore, that anything of use can be achieved by letting school boards, agencies, or national gurus lay down the law about how to teach. Letting parents vote with their feet may be a crude tool, but it's the best one I know of. Parents vary widely in what they think a school should be doing, so why not let them choose a school that suits them? If they really don't care and aren't concerned about safety or discipline issues and so forth, they can choose the one closest to them. Why should it be a different process from whatever parents use to choose a private school, if they can afford one? I keep reading on my FB feed that people are concerned about siphoning money away from public schools and toward religious private schools, or that vouchers are meant to divert tax money back to evil rich people, but all that strikes me as rubbish. I say, quit trying to decide which style of school is the obligatory ideal, try a bunch of different kinds, and let parents choose. I also keep reading that you can't let parents decide because some parents will decide badly, but that's too silly an argument to address. Jane Austen would say it doesn't deserve the compliment of a rational opposition.