In Education Week Leslie R. Jacobs and Paul Vallas argue that autonomy, budget control, and school choice drive school improvement in New Orleans.
New Orleans schools now operate under a decentralized system that is unique. Sixty percent of students attend charter schools, and both charter and noncharter schools have autonomy over staffing and budgets. All schools are schools of choice. The money follows the student, so schools receive funds based on their enrollment. There is no longer a collective bargaining agreement, nor a citywide salary schedule.
The results thus far are compelling. In the four years since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, New Orleans has shown more growth in student achievement than any other district in the state. The percentage of failing schools is down significantly, and student test scores are up in every grade and subject. Some of the gains are dramatic. The 10th grade math proficiency rate has jumped from 39 percent to 58 percent, and the senior graduation rate from 79 percent to 89 percent. The percentage of 8th graders proficient in English has grown from 26 percent to 42 percent. For context, from 1999 until the state takeover in 2005, 8th grade English proficiency had improved by a meager 3 points.
For a look at several districts that are moving toward charter-like autonomy, budget control, and choice see Reason's "Weighted Student Formula Yearbook."