By Dr. Matthew Ladner, the Director of the Arizona Center for Student Opportunity at the Arizona Charter Schools Association

Stanford University’s Educational Opportunity Project linked state academic exams across the country to allow apples-to-apples comparisons of schools, school districts and counties nationally. During the period currently covered by the Project (2009-2016) Arizona lead the nation in academic improvement on national exams. New Orleans also became a reform hot spot during this period, as post-Katrina all Orleans Parish schools transitioned to becoming charter schools. Through the magic of the Opportunity Project’s data explorer, we can place Orleans Parish into the same chart as the counties in Arizona. How does Orleans Parish stack up against Arizona counties?

Not bad, but Orleans Parish is not yet Santa Cruz County.

Santa Cruz County stands on the border with Mexico, south of Tucson. The City of Nogales is the seat of the county, which has just over 47,000 residents. Of the counties in Arizona, Santa Cruz is the closest to Orleans Parish in terms of student socio-economic status.

The above chart, from the Project’s data explorer, the horizon measures the socio-economic status of the students (students on the right are advantaged, on the left disadvantaged). The vertical axis is for the rate of academic growth- above the axis represents academic growth above the national average. The chart above compares the academic growth rates for low-income students in Arizona counties and Orleans Parish. Santa Cruz County Arizona is marked 1, Orleans Parish is marked 2.

Orleans Parish did quite well with regards to academic growth for low-income students, 12% higher than the national average. Santa Cruz County however came in at 21% above the national average in academic growth for low-income students. Consistent with a higher rate of academic growth, Santa Cruz County outshines Orleans Parish in the overall level of academic achievement as well.

The chart below plots academic growth and proficiency for all public schools in Arizona, with high-growth San Carlos schools high-lighted. Note that the dashed horizontal line denotes the national average for growth. The highlighted Santa Cruz County schools grew at a rate 22% to 98% above the national average during this period.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan once joked that state performance on academic exams correlates strongly with proximity to the Canadian border. If states want to improve, they should simply pick up and move close to Canada. Arizona educators came up with a better plan to crush the academic ball near the border with Mexico.