Applied Research Projects, Reports & Publications

The Cowen Institute is committed to conducting and publishing objective, relevant, and actionable research about governance, finances, facilities, and other operational subjects related to the new landscape of K-12 public education in New Orleans.  On an ongoing basis, the Cowen Institute will release timely analyses to inform educators, administrators, policymakers, and the community about the progress of our city’s extensive school reform efforts. In addition, our work seeks to provide research-based solutions to the major challenges impeding the success of these efforts. In this way, the Cowen Institute hopes to accelerate our city’s progress towards providing every child with the opportunity to receive a high-quality education.

For a complete listing of the Cowen Institute’s publications, visit Topics & Publications. If you would like to sign up to receive our publications by mail, please email coweninfo@tulane.edu.


Spotlight on Choice: Parent Opinions on School Selection in New Orleans

Spotlight cover - final_Page_1In a series of focus groups on schools choice, the Cowen Institute collected feedback on the school selection process from over 80 families with school-age children in New Orleans. Our January 2013 report, Spotlight on Choice: Parent Opinions on School Selection, evaluates the effectiveness of school choice as a successful reform strategy. Based on the focus group discussions, we conclude that, due to limited seats at high quality schools and a complicated application process, school choice in New Orleans currently does an inadequate job providing all parents with access to the best schools for their children. Click here to download the report.


The 2012 State of Public Education in New Orleans

The 2011-12 school year was, in many ways, the beginning of a new era in New Orleans’ public education landscape. The year was marked by momentous changes in leadership and strategy at both the state and local levels.

Reflecting on the past school year, the 2012 State of Public Education in New Orleans provides information about the current system of schools based on available quantitative data, newspaper stories and interviews, and a comprehensive survey of New Orleans public school parents. The report also offers a number of successes as well as key challenges that still face public education in New Orleans. Click here to download the report.


Private Schools and Choice: The Student Scholarships for Education Excellence Pilot Program in Orleans Parish

Since 2008, a publicly-funded private school voucher pilot program in New Orleans has provided nearly 2,000 students from low and moderate income families a scholarship to attend a private or parochial school.  This April 2012 research brief, part of our ongoing Spotlight on Choice project, provides an overview of the New Orleans voucher pilot program and its impact on academic achievement and access to quality schools for all children. Click here to download the report.


Transforming Public Education in New Orleans: The Recovery School District, 2003-2011

Public education in New Orleans has endured years of academic, political, and financial failure, and, more recently, faced the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. The reformation of the city’s public education system has produced a unique structure comprised of a decentralized system of schools that is diverse in governance, ideology and opportunity. The impact of the Recovery School District (RSD) and the resulting school and district restructuring played an important role in this transformation.

In this report, we provide an analysis of some of the issues and policies that have defined the RSD over the past eight years, as well as an examination of the interplay among the contextual conditions and the community’s ability to engage and restructure to ensure sustainable change in public education. The report concludes by discussing the continuing role of state intervention and highlighting the issues currently facing the RSD in New Orleans. Click here to  download the report. Click here for the executive summary.


K-12 Public Education through the Public Eye: Parents’ Perception of School Choice

The Cowen Institute’s third annual public opinion poll surveyed parents of students in New Orleans public schools to asses their experiences in the open enrollment system and their perceptions of the availability of information on public schools and public school options. The poll is a part of our ongoing Spotlight on Choice project. For more key findings and to download our analysis of the survey results, click here.


Case Studies of School Choice and Open Enrollment in Four Cities

While New Orleans is at the vanguard of a number of public education innovations, it was not the first public school system to put into place an open enrollment policy. School districts in Cambridge, San Diego, and New York City, among others, have instituted district-wide open enrollment systems, mandatory and/or voluntary, for elementary and/or high school grades. This briefing, part of our Spotlight on Choice project, presents four case studies that review the open enrollment policies and systems in New Orleans, Cambridge, San Diego, and New York City, examining how the systems operate and the impact they have on students and families. Click here to download the full briefing. Click on the following links to download each case study individually: New Orleans, Cambridge, San Diego, New York City.


A Look at School-By School Finances in New Orleans, 2009-2010: An Addendum to the March 2011 State of Public Education in New Orleans: School Finances

In this report, released in September 2011, we first provide an overview of charter school revenues in New Orleans and analyze how those revenues were allocated and spent in the 2009-2010 school year. In doing so, we consider key indicators of financial health for charter schools and operators. In addition, this report looks at school-level expenditures for all schools and school types, including non-charters, in New Orleans based on data made available in new one-page financial reports released in May 2011 by the Louisiana Department of Education. As a supplement to the March 2011 State of Public Education in New Orleans: School Finances, this report  further develops a picture of the financial status of public schools in New Orleans, a measure that is central to understanding the efficiency and sustainability of the schools serving our city’s students. Click here to download the report.


The 2011 State of Public Education in New Orleans

The 2011 State of Public Education in New Orleans, released in July 2011, is intended to provide journalists, policymakers, community leaders, and the public with the latest information, data, and context about governance, demographics, finances, facilities, and human capital in the new system of schools that has evolved from the reforms undertaken after Hurricane Katrina.

Since the Cowen Institute opened its doors at Tulane University in 2007, we have published an annual State of Public Education in New Orleans report to provide an ongoing chronicle and assessment of the reform efforts. These publications have generally included a comprehensive description of the current system, an assessment of public opinion, and a list of accomplishments and challenges still facing schools and students. As the system of schools continues to stabilize, we have changed the focus of the publication. While we explore issues like school finance and facilities in depth in a series of white papers that are released throughout the year, The 2011 State of Public Education in New Orleans has evolved into a reference guide on the system’s basics – a necessity in the complicated public education landscape in New Orleans – that compiles and analyzes the latest data and information on governance, enrollment, performance, facilities, funding, and human capital. Click here to download the report.


Public Education Data Transparency and Accessibility in New Orleans and Louisiana

The Cowen Institute is pleased to release Public Education Data Transparency and Accessibility in New Orleans and Louisiana. In this paper, we explore the importance of making data more readily available to stakeholders as well as discuss what other states and districts across the nation are doing to address similar challenges. We also examine the state of data transparency and accessibility in New Orleans and Louisiana and make recommendations for improvement. Click here to download the briefing.


The State of Public Education in New Orleans: School Finances

The Cowen Institute at Tulane University released The State of Public Education in New Orleans: School Finances in March 2011. In this publication, the Cowen Institute attempts to decipher the K-12 public education financial landscape in New Orleans. This paper describes the financial circumstances of public schools in New Orleans by providing a “bird’s eye” view of revenues and expenditures, and addresses the issues associated with a multi-district system of schools. As one-time federal funds are expended and philanthropic dollars are increasingly scarce, it is imperative that parents, educators, policymakers, and taxpayers understand how money is being spent to ensure the greatest return on investment. Click here to download the report.


The State of Public Education in New Orleans: School Facilities

In December 2010, the Cowen Institute at Tulane University released The State of Public Education in New Orleans: School Facilities. This report is part of our State of Public Education in New Orleans series, which aims to provide journalists, policymakers, community leaders, and the public with information, context, and thoughtful analyses about specific topics related to K-12 education in New Orleans.

In this publication, the Cowen Institute provides details and highlights issues related to the School Facilities Master Plan for Orleans Parish, a $2 billion blueprint to build and renovate schools across the city. In addition, we consider the road ahead, including potential speed bumps, with school building assignments, funding for facility maintenance, and cost estimate adjustments. Finally, we present our recommendations for policies and practices to ensure that every child in New Orleans attends school in a state-of-the-art facility. Click here to download the report.


Surveying the Public High School Landscape in New Orleans

The Cowen Institute is pleased to announce the release of its latest report,Surveying the Public High School Landscape in New Orleans, which presents a detailed assessment of the current state of public high schools in New Orleans and the extent to which they are preparing our students for college and careers.  Most high schools, especially the lowest performing ones, have demonstrated significant academic gains in the past few years. Yet, graduation rates, the percentage of students passing graduate exit exams, and the state-determined School Performance Scores indicate that public high schools in New Orleans have much work to do to improve outcomes for all students.  It is our hope that this report will serve as a tool for education leaders, students and their parents, community members, and other stakeholders to evaluate the performance of high schools in New Orleans today.  Click here to download the report.


NOLA by the Numbers

The Cowen Institute launched the NOLA by the Numbers series in October 2010. This series aims to provide journalists, policymakers, community leaders, and the public with a timely and comprehensive analysis of state‐released data on public schools in New Orleans. Click here to view and download all reports in the NOLA by the Numbers series.


Louisiana Charter School Authorizer Excellence Project

In August 2010, the Office of Parental Options (OPO) at the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) held a conference that gathered national experts and local leaders in charter authorizing and the charter school movement to consider ways to improve the state’s laws and policies governing the charter authorizing process.  The Louisiana Charter School Authorizer Excellence Project conference was held in New Orleans over two days. This report, which was written in collaboration with the Office of Parental Options at the Louisiana Department of Education, is an accounting of the topics discussed by participants over both days, including the strengths and weaknesses they identified, their recommendations for changes to policy or law, and the questions that still remain.  Download the paper here and the presentation here.


The State of Public Education in New Orleans: Five Years after Hurricane Katrina

In August 2005, New Orleans was devastated by flooding due to levee failures in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  The storm and the subsequent flooding killed over 1,000 people, displaced the entire city’s population, and created billions of dollars worth of damage to public and private property.  The hurricane also changed the political landscape of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, allowing different group to push for change.  The new political landscape created by the hurricane had a major effect on the city’s public school system, which was one of the lowest performing in the country.  This report explains and illustrates the evolution of this radical change in the public education landscape of New Orleans.  The city’s residents and the state government face a number of open questions about the future of public education in New Orleans including: Who will govern and operate schools?  Who will teach?  How much school choice is optimal?  We hope that this document will continue to inform our community as we seek to answer these questions.  Click here to more read about and download the report.


Ensuring Transparency and Accountability in the Charter School Renewal Process

As one the state’s charter school authorizers, BESE periodically evaluates and considers the renewal of charter school contracts.  2010, however, is the first in which the board will consider the renewal of Type 5 charter schools (the low-performing schools taken over by the Recovery School District and chartered by BESE).  It also marks the beginning of a number of upcoming years in which many Type 5 charter schools will come up for renewal.  With these critical decisions approaching, the Cowen Institute has released a brief titled Ensuring Transparency and Accountability in the Charter School Renewal Process in which we review national best practices and compare Louisiana’s laws and policies to what well-respected national organizations recommend.  We also describe the current year’s renewal policies and offer observations about how BESE’s policies have or have not been implemented.  Lastly, we make recommendations for how the process can be improved for schools that will be applying for charter renewals in the coming years.  To read an excerpt or the full brief, see this blog post.  We welcome your comments about the paper and our recommendations.


Managing Innovation: Models for Governing the System of Public Schools in New Orleans

Tulane University’s Cowen Institute and the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) have released Managing Innovation: Models for Governing the System of Public Schools in New Orleans.The report presents five potential models for governing public schools in New Orleans and discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each. To read more and download the report, click here.

Currently, New Orleans is in the midst of a sweeping reform movement, the scale of which has been seen in few cities. Two efforts, in particular, have defined the movement: the state takeover of most public schools in New Orleans and an explosion in the number of public charter schools. New Orleans has proportionately more charter schools than any other school system in the nation. Harnessing the potential of the reform movement and addressing the challenges created by the current complex system requires a new approach to education governance.

Most discussions relating to school governance focus on issues of control, such as the method of selecting board members. Managing Innovation goes beyond the traditional line of inquiry to a more fundamental issue: How should the school system in New Orleans be structured to allow the reforms under way to succeed and prosper?


2010 State of Public Education in New Orleans Report

The 2010 State of Public Education in New Orleans report provides a comprehensive survey of quantitative data and public opinion about what is working and not working in our public schools – sharing the voice of the educators, parents, and voters. It is important that decisions affecting public schools and students in New Orleans be informed decisions, based on research and the needs and desires of the people most impacted. The report also offers a set of successes that schools have achieved over the past two years as well as key challenges that still face public education in New Orleans.

In addition to explaining how the current system emerged after Hurricane Katrina, the report gives detailed information on student demographics, school facilities, school finances, school choice and human capital. The 2010 State of Public Education in New Orleans report also provides detailed student achievement data by school and survey results from a recent public opinion poll on school governance. For more information and to download the report, click here.


K-12 Public Education Through the Public’s Eye: A Survey of the New Orleans Community

The Cowen Institute has released the results of its second annual public opinion poll called K-12 Public Education through the Public’s Eye: A Survey of the New Orleans Community. The opinion poll surveyed New Orleans voters to assess their opinions about recent public education reforms and the future direction of public schools in New Orleans. This is the second year the Cowen Institute has provided the community a platform to express their opinions about public school reform and governance since Hurricane Katrina

Few communities have the opportunity to think through the organization of their public school system in a way that the city of New Orleans has had and will continue to have over the next few years. As part of the Cowen Institute’s work on informing the educational transformation that is taking place in New Orleans, providing the community a voice is crucial to sustaining positive change. For more information on this opinion poll including full voter survey results, please click here.


Creating a Governing Framework for Public Education in New Orleans

This is the first three reports in a series of papers on public school governance. The series is the first of its kind in New Orleans to look at governing framework options for all public schools in New Orleans. The overall goal of the study is to lay out options for the roles and responsibilities for all governing entities in public education in order to support a system of high-performing public schools. With a mayoral race, a legislative session, and federal Race to the Top applications coming up, this information is critical and timely – not only for New Orleans but to public school districts across the country. Under state law, the Recovery School District must make a recommendation in 2010 as to whether some or all of the schools it took over after Katrina should return to local control. The citizens of New Orleans must now begin to consider the long-term structure that ensures that every child has access to a high-performing public school. The purpose of this series is to inform that dialogue. Click here to read more.


Research Grants Given to Tulane Faculty and Graduate Students

Tulane faculty and graduate students were given funding for research that will contribute to the understanding of the problems that impede the emergence of a high-performing system of public schools in New Orleans.  Click here for more on the projects funded by these grants.

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