Tulane Associate Economics Professor Douglas Harris has recently been awarded grants totaling $3.3 million from three national foundations to research New Orleans education reform.
One of the grants, $3 million from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, is the largest received by a School of Liberal Arts professor so far this year. The other two organizations that awarded Harris grant money are the William T. Grant Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation. Tulane’s Murphy Institute is also providing financial support.
Harris’ research will have an impact that far exceeds New Orleans, according to School of Liberal Arts Dean Carole Haber. “The grants reflect the innovative way that New Orleans schools could serve as a model to school systems in other cities,” Haber says.
In the nine years since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans public schools have undergone the most radical overhaul of any school district in the country over the past century. Harris, the University Endowed Chair in Public Education, founded the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (Era-New Orleans) to study that reform.
“We’re tremendously excited about the work you all are doing,” Tulane Provost Michael Bernstein told Harris and his team recently at a meeting in Haber’s office to discuss the grant. “Your work will help frame public discussion about how we strengthen public education.”
When the hurricane closed many New Orleans public schools, alternative forms of public education, such as charter schools, were established to fill the void. That transition shifted control from the Orleans Parish School Board largely into the hands of parents and a state agency, the Recovery School District.
“This really is completely unprecedented reform, and it’s already being assumed a success,” says Harris, explaining the importance of collecting and analyzing data to determine how well reforms have worked. “There are so many questions that need to be answered.”
Era-New Orleans has built a staff of 10 people, under Harris’ leadership, to conduct research. His organization will spend the next several years building a comprehensive data warehouse that includes information preceding Katrina.
In addition to data collection and analysis, the group will also do a comprehensive survey of parents, students, and educators in order to understand what is happening within schools. Harris’ team will create a New Orleans Education Laboratory to design and study solutions to school problems, based on deficiencies observed in the first two years of the study and input from local practitioners.
One unique feature of the work is that a national research team of leading scholars will meet periodically to contribute to the project.
“I’m excited,” says Harris “about what this research will mean for New Orleans and for school reform nationally.”
Learn more: http://educationresearchalliancenola.org