On Recovery School Districts and Stronger State Education Agencies: Lessons from Louisiana

June 2011

In May 2011, state education agency representatives from New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee attended a series of workshops and briefings organized by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE). The sessions described the changes that have taken place in Louisiana over the past six years, including the creation of the Recovery School District (RSD) that redeveloped unproductive schools in New Orleans and elsewhere, the restructuring of the LDOE, and efforts to create a new performance-based organizational culture in state and local education agencies.

Presenters included LDOE staff, RSD administrators, academic observers, nonprofit service partners, and education stakeholders. There was a candid discussion of the LDOE’s overall school improvement goals, steps taken to achieve those objectives, and in some cases missteps made in the effort to dramatically turn around a large number of schools in a relatively short time and to prompt improvements in all schools across the state.

Officials from other states requested these sessions, hoping to extract lessons from the Louisiana experience to be adapted for use elsewhere. This working paper documents the results, so that others interested in making similar changes in their own states can learn and benefit.

Attendees felt they learned a great deal from the materials and ideas presented, but they had more questions that could be answered only via additional analyses and case studies. This paper concludes with a “wish list” of further resources that state leaders thought would help them in efforts to improve schools, districts, and their state education agencies.

This working paper is part of a new multi-year initiative on on how states can become more capable, especially in moving big city districts toward bold experimentation and rapid improvement.