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Educating Katrina's Exiles: Has Texas Done It Best?

It's been more than four years since tens of thousands of students from Louisiana and other parts of the Gulf Coast landed in some of Texas' public schools after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes, their cities, and their schools. Most of those kids wound up in big city districts like Houston and Dallas, and many have remained there since.

Examining four years of data, officials at the Texas Education Agency have released a new report that touts the academic progress that those displaced students have made in their adopted schools.

Between spring 2006 and spring 2009, Katrina students enrolled in Texas schools steadily improved their reading and math scores on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS. The TEA's study examined Katrina students who were enrolled in grades 3, 5, and 8 in 2006 and who remained enrolled in Texas' public schools in 2009.

The upshot? Kids forced to relocate because of the August 2005 storm did better academically than other Texas students who were most similar to them based on demographic and economic indicators, as well as academic performance on 2006 state tests. When compared with all students in Texas, Katrina exiles did just as well as or, in some cases, slightly better in reading performance. In math, the displaced students haven't caught up to the performance of all Texas students, but they've made strides in closing a gap in the fifth grade that was as high as 20 percentage points to one that is now about 6 percentage points, according to the TEA's findings.

In a press release, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott attributed the students' progress to the state's educators, who he said had been "making a real and lasting difference in the lives of these children." Read this blog item (and some interesting commentary to go along with it) from the Texas Tribune that quotes Commissioner Scott as saying that Texas educators had "closed the achievement gap" between students displaced by Katrina and all other Texas students.

As the study points out, students displaced by Katrina received a number of special services and additional resources in Texas' public schools, which may have contributed to their improved academic performance. It also notes that Katrina students may have performed poorly on the 2006 exams—which were administered less than nine months after the hurricane—because of negative aftereffects that included being out of school for weeks or months.

When I was reporting in New Orleans during the 2007-08 school year, numerous students I interviewed talked about their Texas schooling experiences very positively. Almost all of them described how calm and organized the Texas' schools were compared with their old campuses in New Orleans.

It would be hugely enlightening to see how well these displaced Katrina students in Texas have done relative to their peers who returned to schools in the devastated parts of the Gulf Coast, particularly those who are enrolled in charters and state-run schools in New Orleans. Maybe someone is already working on that. If so, enlighten me.

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