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Study: How Do New Orleans' Schools Respond to Competition?

In New Orleans, where charter schools are the norm and compete against each other for student enrollment, school leaders' perceptions of, and reactions to, competition differ based on where they sIt in the marketplace hierarchy, a new study finds.

Huriya Jabbar, an assistant professor of educational policy at the University of Texas in Austin, conducted the study, which looked at the choices school leaders made in an increasingly competitive school environment. Jabbar used data from 72 interviews with district and charter school officials as well as with principals across 30 randomly selected New Orleans schools to conduct the study.

The study's findings show that leaders of high-status schools—those which have high student achievement and are often viewed as competition by other schools—were more likely to respond to competition by developing niche programs, instituting operational changes like increased fundraising or expansion into pre-K education, and using more selective or exclusionary practices regarding enrollment.

Leaders of lower-status schools were under more pressure to compete, and employed a larger number of strategies to promote their schools. These strategies included improving academics, providing a wider range of extracurricular activities, gathering information, and increasing marketing.

The most important finding of the study, according to Jabbar, was that two-thirds of the leaders reported not implementing substantial academic or operational strategies aimed at improving their schools in order to increase their competitiveness.

Rather, 25 of the 30 schools promoted existing programs and assets through marketing ventures such as advertising or recruitment fairs. The study determined that changes such as marketing to and screening students were inefficient and unfair.

New Orleans served as an ideal site to conduct the study, according to Jabbar. In 2005, as the school system was being rebuilt after the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, the majority of New Orleans schools came under the control of the Recovery School District, a state-run effort to improve underperforming schools.

Since then, all RSD-operated schools have become charter schools. Charter schools enroll more than 84 percent of all New Orleans students, according to the study, though other estimates raise that percentage to more than 90.

The study is the second in a series of reports dubbed Urban Education Future. The report series is produced by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, a Tulane University-based research organization where Jabbar is also a research associate.

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