Natural disaster based ed reform

Corporate education reformers will latch on to anything to portray their preferred policies as being effective. Terry Ryan of the Fordham Foundation has one of the most ridiculous efforts to date

Is it time for urban school superintendents to move from being Reformers to Relinquishers? Yes, is the compelling case that Neerav Kingsland makes today over at Straight Up. Kingsland, chief strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans, writes that reform-minded superintendents should embrace the lessons from New Orleans, a key one being that the academic achievement gains made in the Big Easy have not come from traditional reforms and tweaks to the system. Rather, the changes in New Orleans are the result of virtually replacing the traditional, centralized, bureaucratic system of one-size-fits-all command and control with a system of independent high-performing charter schools all held accountable by the center for their academic performance.

That's one heck of a claim, but the entire piece misses one astoundingly obvious and important fact. New Orleans suffered one of the worst natural disasters to ever afflict a US city, and as a consequence the demographics of the city changed dramatically.

The aftermath of the 2005 storm, which took 1,835 lives and caused an estimated $81 billion in property damage, has left the city with an older, wealthier and less diverse population, according to data recently released by the Nielsen company. If its findings are confirmed by the 2010 Census, that information could go a long way in helping the city attract businesses and outside capital to continue rebuilding.

According to Nielsen, New Orleans lost 595,205 people prior to and shortly after Katrina, dropping it from the country's 35th largest market in 2000 to the 49th largest market in 2006. Atlanta, Houston and Dallas received the bulk of Katrina refugees. Now in 2010, New Orleans ranks as the 46th largest market with 1,194,196 persons. Nielsen projects the city will have a population of 1,264,365 in 2015 and will likely remain ranked as the 46th largest market in the U.S.

"The city has become older (the median age rose from 34 to 38.8), less diverse (the white non-Hispanic population increased from 25.8% to 30.9%) and a bit wealthier (median income rose from $31,369 to $39,530)," says the Nielsen report. The challenge now for New Orleans is to find ways to use some of these changes to help attract the developers and corporations who could help the city rebound.

The population got smaller, richer. It's not a stretch to understand that these factors, and not some corporate education reform policies that have failed to work at scale anywhere are the cause for any aggregate gains in student performance in New Orleans.

Unless, along with getting superintendents to relinquish control of their districts, corporate education reformers can also summon great floods and pestilence, we might be better off not throwing everything out the window just yet.