Arne Duncan was right to apologize for his offensive (especially to the thousands who lost family members and homes) remark that Katrina was "the best thing that ever happened to the education system in New Orleans." But once again, I'm urging the Ed. Sec. to go deeper than his, "I said it in a poor way, and I apologize for that. It was a dumb thing to say," mia culpa.
First, I hope he wasn't emphasizing the words TO SAY. Secondly, I hope he will take a deeper look at the data and re-examine the rest of his comments about the "unbelievable" progress "they've made in four years since the hurricane." By "unbelievable progress," of course, Duncan means there was a bump in test scores.
But that bump may have much more to do with death and relocation of tens of thousands of poor, mainly African-American families than it does with the ballyhooed recreation of Paul Vallas' two-tiered school system--one tier, traditional neighborhood schools, the other, privately-managed charter schools.
Posting on TAPPED, the group blog at The American Prospect, Gabe Arana writes:
The statement itself isn't really a call for outrage; it was a trite way to tie test-score gains to the mythology of the city's resurgence. I see it as just another excess of the "education speak" that's bandied about, where everything's about "reform," "achievement," "accountability" -- and "wake-up calls." However, the reason for the correlation should provoke anger. New Orleans schools aren't necessarily doing better with the same students. They are serving a different demographic, one that is more affluent, whiter, and more educatedArana's comments are based on a 2008 study which was released last October, comparing pre- and post-Katrina census data and educational attainment. The study finds that compared with 2000 census data, the region is now less poor with fewer adults lacking a high school diploma, fewer households with children, more one or two-person households, fewer households lacking vehicles, a larger share of the population that is foreign-born, a higher homeownership rate, and more homeowners without mortgages.
New Orleans lost about 60,000 families after Katrina, according to Post Office mail surveys.
Could these demographic and population changes account for the relatively small bump in N.O. students' standardized test scores? You bet they could. Can they explain the "unbelievable progress" Duncan is referring to? Of course they can. Is Post-Katrina New Orleans a model for school reform and social reorganization in cities like Detroit, D.C., or New York? Of course not.
Duncan needs to deepen his self-criticism and rethink his assumptions about reform.