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RAND study of New Orleans schools gives anti-charter groups some ammunition

A new policy report from RAND takes a comprehensive look at the education scene in New Orleans, comparing the city’s many charter schools to traditional neighborhood schools.

The report relies on answers to a series of surveys sent out to principals asking about instructional time in the classroom, the length of the school year, satisfaction with alternative teacher accreditation pipelines like Teach For America and teacher professional development.

Here are some key findings, beginning with responses concerning educational manners:

• Charter schools average two fewer education days per year than traditional schools, 177 to 179.

• The instructional day was half an hour longer in traditional schools than charters, 7.6 to 7.1 The national average, according to National Center on Time and Learning, is 6.7 hours.

• On a scale of 1 to 4, teachers at charters averaged a 2.5 to the statement they can maintain discipline in the classroom; teachers from traditional schools averaged 1.9.

Some results are counter-intuitive, but the study seems to play into the hands of organizations and advocacy groups skeptical of charter schools as reliant on less qualified teachers and as contracting out transportation and nutritional services.

Consistent with previous studies, parents still view charters more positively. The study authors remark that satisfaction might reveal socio-economic attitudes about choice and freedom of selection:

“Given that charter school parents who responded to the survey reported having a greater sense of choice than their traditional school counterparts, a lingering policy question is whether the system of citywide choice is equally accessible and navigable by all citizens of New Orleans.

The parent responses we received would suggest that it may not be.”

Since school closure happens at a greater rate in New Orleans than in other urban areas the researchers were careful to survey administrators and parents from campuses who have had their doors open for at least a few years. Seventy-five of the 86 public schools operational in 2008-2009 were sent surveys; 42 were charters and 33 were traditional, district-run schools.

New Orleans public schools [Read TAI's in-depth look at the city's school system] underwent an extreme state take-over following Hurricane Katrina, resulting in multiple districts overseeing different schools; however, the study warns that as many traditional schools report to the experimental Recovery School District, the usual lines separating charters from traditional schools blur.

Also from the study:

• Among responding principals, those at charter schools reported being somewhat more likely than their traditional school counterparts to have hired a teacher directly from a traditional licensure program (16 percent versus 7 percent of their newly hired teachers, respectively), whereas charter school principals were reportedly less likely than their traditional school counterparts to have hired a teacher from the alternative route program Teach for America. (TAI note: TFA has a non-binding contract with the Recovery School District to send its teachers to New Orleans classrooms)

• Charter and traditional school principals gave similar ratings of teachers they had hired from traditional versus alternative licensure programs, rating the former at 3.3 on a satisfaction scale of 1 to 4, versus 2.8 for Teach for America Teachers

[…]

• Traditional school teachers reported having about 3.3 more years of experience than their charter school counterparts, at 13 versus 9.7 years, on average. This difference in average experience level also accounted for a slightly higher average salary level reported by traditional school teacher respondents than their charter school counterparts.

• Charter school teachers reported receiving about 21 fewer hours, on average, of professional development than their traditional school counterparts, at 70 versus 91 hours during the school year and preceding summer.

Studies like this one out of the University of Virginia show teacher experience at the same grade level leads to higher student achievement.

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