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What Effect Did the New Orleans School Reforms Have on Youth Crime?

A new study from Stephen Barnes, Douglas N. Harris, and Lan Nguyen examines how the post-Katrina school reforms affected youth conviction rates.

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What Effect Did the New Orleans School Reforms Have on Youth Crime?

by Stephen Barnes, Douglas N. Harris, Lan Nguyen

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Almost two decades have passed since the start of the post-Kat­ri­na school reforms. Dur­ing this time, a large body of evi­dence has shown the pos­i­tive effects of these reforms on aca­d­e­m­ic out­comes — includ­ing test scores, high school grad­u­a­tion rates, col­lege entry, and col­lege grad­u­a­tion. How­ev­er, we know lit­tle about oth­er pos­si­ble out­comes out­side the class­room. This brief exam­ines how New Orleans’ series of school reforms may have affect­ed a sig­nif­i­cant non-aca­d­e­m­ic out­come: youth crime. Specif­i­cal­ly, our analy­sis com­pares trends in crim­i­nal con­vic­tions and juve­nile adju­di­ca­tions in New Orleans to sim­i­lar dis­tricts through­out the state of Louisiana, using data from the state jus­tice sys­tem on stu­dents enrolled in pub­licly fund­ed schools from 2001 – 2018. We use con­vic­tion data for two dif­fer­ent sam­ples of stu­dents along­side matched com­par­i­son groups and ana­lyze these data using mul­ti­ple sta­tis­ti­cal analy­ses. We also col­lect­ed data from media reports, pub­lic reports, focus groups, and inter­views to ensure that our quan­ti­ta­tive analy­ses tru­ly iso­late the effects of the school reforms. From the com­bi­na­tion of these analy­ses, we draw two main con­clu­sions: The New Orleans school reforms did not increase youth crime and prob­a­bly reduced youth crime among stu­dents attend­ing pub­licly fund­ed schools. We find par­tic­u­lar­ly con­sis­tent con­vic­tion rate reduc­tion effects in the prop­er­ty crime and crimes in oth­er cat­e­gories, and less clear effects on vio­lent and drug crime. We say that the reforms prob­a­bly” reduced youth crime due to fac­tors that make this kind of analy­sis com­plex. First, our data only allow us to observe crimes that result­ed in adju­di­ca­tions or con­vic­tions — a com­mon prob­lem in stud­ies of crime. Sec­ond, we had to sep­a­rate the effect of the reforms from oth­er fac­tors affect­ing crime in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na. We addressed these prob­lems by com­par­ing youth adju­di­ca­tions and con­vic­tions to those of adults. To fur­ther address pos­si­ble dif­fer­ences between con­vic­tions and crime itself, we also inter­viewed com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers with exper­tise in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. While our analy­ses gen­er­al­ly sug­gest that the changes in con­vic­tions and adju­di­ca­tions reflect changes in crime due to the school reforms, the com­plex­i­ties involved in this type of analy­sis lead us to be some­what cau­tious in our con­clu­sions. Despite some uncer­tain­ty about the effects, this analy­sis is impor­tant because it helps to get beyond com­mon met­rics like test scores to under­stand schools’ wide-rang­ing effects on stu­dents and their communities.

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