Economics professor studies historic New Orleans school reform

November 18, 2013 10:00 AM

Mary Sparacello

Douglas Harris

Douglas Harris, who holds the first University Endowed Chair in Public Education, founded a research alliance studying the radical overhaul in New Orleans public schools since Hurricane Katrina to find out what is working and what is not. (Photo by Paula Burch-Celentano)

Tulane University economics associate professor Douglas Harris has founded a research alliance to study the radical overhaul New Orleans public schools have undergone in the eight years since Hurricane Katrina.

“What is being done in New Orleans is truly historic and could influence not only current and future generations of children in New Orleans, but the future of the nation’s urban school systems,” Harris says.

The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans is housed within the School of Liberal Arts and works with the Cowen Institute for Public Education Initiatives and with the numerous government agencies and education nonprofits involved in New Orleans schools.

New Orleans leads the nation in the percentage of public school students enrolled in charter schools — 84 percent in the 2012–13 school year, according to the Cowen Institute’s most recent report on the state of public education in New Orleans. Charter schools generally receive public funding but operate privately.

“New Orleans is the only city to have completely upended the traditional school district model,” Harris says.

The Education Research Alliance for New Orleans will conduct an objective and in-depth study to understand what has worked and what has not — and why. Since Harris arrived at Tulane about a year ago, the research alliance has amassed a rich database of pre- and post-Katrina school-related information.

“We hope to help our local partners look to the future and try to help the system improve,” Harris says.

The alliance has begun a monthly Research Brown Bag Series to present research to educators and policymakers that is both rigorous but also meaningful for school system improvement. At the October seminar, attendees discussed parental choice and New Orleans public schools before and after Katrina.

“We think we need to learn from this incredible experiment,” Harris says. “Everybody is watching very closely.”

Mary Sparacello is a communications specialist in the Office of Development Communications.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu