Open Letter to David Plouffe: When Fighting an Entrenched Status-Quo, Don’t Stop at Transportation

August 20, 2014

(Guest Post by A.D. Motzen)

Dear Mr. Plouffe,

Congratulations on your new position as senior vice president of policy and strategy at one of my favorite companies, Uber.  Ever since I spent 35 minutes waiting for a cab outside of LaGuardia airport, I’ve become a dedicated Uber customer.

Before you get too settled in at your new office, however, I would like to offer you a position at my new start-up. I call it UberEd.

You were recently quoted as saying that you would work “to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation.”

Presumably you were hinting at the challenge you will face from an entrenched monopoly which doesn’t like competition. Rather than improve their product and meet the needs of their customers and employees, your adversaries will spend millions of dollars on political donations and lobbyists to ensure that laws and regulations will be written to keep out the competition.

But you and Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, apparently believe in transportation choice. While perhaps not a Constitutional right (yet), transportation is one of the most basic needs of every American citizen, especially for those who live or work in urban areas. By providing choices and flexibility you will be able to offer a better product that meets the needs of individual customers at a lower cost. Why, even the employees will be happier! Most importantly, even the competition – those dreaded yellow taxi unions – will ultimately be forced to compete and either lower their prices or improve their service.

My start-up is based on those same principles, so it should be a good fit with your philosophy. Rather than working “to ensure drivers and riders are not denied their opportunity for choice in transportation,” my idea would ensure that parents and children are not denied their opportunity for choice in education. My motto would be “everyone’s private or public school.”

It’s a simple concept that was already Beta tested in more than a dozen states using “experiments” such as charters, vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and now education savings accounts. In all of those vehicles, parents have a choice on how to get their child from point A to point B – traditional public, charter, or private school.

Using UberEd, a parent can check which schooling options are available for their child simply by pressing a button on a smartphone. The name of the closest schools (or alternative program) come up on the screen and by clicking on the school icons, the parent can find out information about each option. Parents don’t have to worry about tuition bills as the app is set up so that the state funding allocated to that specific child would be credited to their spending account. Just tap the payment button and the school will get the money through a third-party without having any access to your personal bank account. If a parent wants a more expensive school they can always  choose UberEd Xtra and supplement the state-allocated funds with their own personal resources. Schools could be rated by a parent based on any number of criteria so that other UberEd users would know what to expect.

I could go on, but I don’t want to give up too much information just in case someone actually goes out and files a patent (I haven’t) and raises some venture capital before I do.

Uber was recently valued at $18 billion because it will completely redefine and improve transportation as we know it. UberEd (a.k.a. school choice) is radically changing education as we know it. Education is the uber-vehicle to a brighter future for our children. Isn’t that priceless?

But as you probably figured out by now, I can’t offer you a job just yet. Parents first need more states to actually allow school funding to follow the child. Maybe I’ll give you a call at that point and you and Mr. Kalanick can help me build that app.

In the meantime, I wish you all the luck in the world.

Together with millions of parents across the country, I am hoping that your arguments of opportunity and choice will prevail against the status quo. We are hoping that your former boss, President Obama, and elected officials across the country will take heed and be forced to choose a side.

Entrenched status quo or innovation, opportunity, and choice?

Choose one. Then tap on the UberEd app.

A. D.

Chicago Teachers Union President Declares Jay Was Right

August 15, 2014

(Guest post by James Shuls)

It wasn’t long ago that Jay and Marcus Winters asked the question, “How much are public school teachers paid?” Rather than compare the annual salary of teachers and workers in other professions, Jay and Marcus compared salary based on how many hours and weeks the workers actually put in on the job. Not surprisingly, public school teachers fared well when their relatively short work year was factored into the equation.

Of course, Jay and Marcus’ analysis was roundly criticized. You simply cannot claim that teachers are decently paid. The audacity!

Now it seems, an unlikely ally has taken up the Jay and Marcus mantle on teacher pay – Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Recently, it was announced that Lewis is considering a run for Mayor of Chicago. As with any political race, this led to a closer examination of Lewis’ finances. The Chicago Sun-Times reports Lewis makes more than $200,000 in combined compensation from the Chicago Teachers Union and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, where she serves as executive vice president. Here’s the good part:

When she first ran for CTU president four years ago, Lewis promised not to make more than the highest-paid teacher.

“How can you criticize [the CPS CEO] for making $230,000 a year during these hard times if you’re making so much more than your members?” she told the Chicago Reader then.

Chicago Public Schools’ payroll records show no teacher makes as much as Lewis’ $136,890 CTU base salary.

In an interview Tuesday, Lewis said she didn’t break her promise not to make more as union president than Chicago’s highest-paid teacher makes, saying her CTU salary is for working the full year, rather than a 39-week school year. (emphasis mine)

What Lewis is saying, is that teachers in Chicago are making the equivalent of $136,890 or more. They just work fewer weeks. Now, where have I heard that before?

It’s almost as if Karen Lewis is saying…

Karen Lewis




James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and a Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute. Follow on Twitter @Shulsie

Kill Us Both, Mike

August 15, 2014

kill us both, spock

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I’m not sure what alternate universe this version of Mike Petrilli is visiting from. Here on Earth Prime, we already have all the tools we need to evaluate our schools using high standards. That was sort of the whole point of my article.

Wait, it gets better. The tools I used in my article compare the US to other countries, measuring how we’re doing against our global peers and competitors. That’s the kind of comparison we need most, for a variety of reasons. Common Core isn’t internationally benchmarked; its standards were cooked up in smoke-filled rooms by politicians and their cronies, not by education experts. So to the extent that political power forces us to pay more attention to CC and thus less attention to the tools we’re using now, we will know less than we did before about how we’re doing relative to other countries.

Beam me up, Jay, there’s no intelligent life down here.

Worse Than You Think

August 14, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The most recent OCPA Perspectives carries my article on how public schools in Oklahoma (like everywhere else!) are worse than people think. I discuss some of the reasons that might lie behind the persistent tendency of the public to think that schools in their own neighborhoods are fine, and it’s always somebody else’s school that has problems:

Local pride creates an irrational bias to think that “our” schools must be good. Even more, it’s because parents would feel guilty admitting they’re sending their kids to schools that aren’t as good as they ought to be…This problem is itself one reason it’s horribly perverse to give government a school monopoly. It makes us feel like we can’t admit the system is failing without being failures ourselves.

These problems may be exacerbated in Oklahoma because it’s a relatively white and rural state. Our cultural image of “failing schools” seems to have been set in stone way back in the 1980s with movies like “Lean on Me.” It’s only the poor, black, inner-city schools that fail. White schools don’t fail. Suburban and rural schools don’t fail…Education reformers, unfortunately, have spent decades reinforcing this prejudice. We’ve typically used only one measurement of what counts as success in education reform: reducing the “achievement gap” between white, suburban schools and minority, urban schools. The unconscious assumption is that if a school is white and suburban, it must be succeeding. That kind of school must represent the best that American education is capable of. But why? Because it’s white and suburban?

I cite data from the new Harvard study “Not Just the Problems of Other People’s Children” and also data from the Global Report Card, put together by some guy I know. Check it out.

Tribe Joins Discommendation of Unconditional Tenure by Progressives

August 14, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Lawrence Tribe has joined the NY tenure reform lawsuit, just more evidence of:

Atlantic Analysis of Private School Attendance-A View from the Cactus Patch

August 13, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Atlantic has a fascinating analysis of private school attendance by state and city making use of real estate data from Trulia and public school quality data from Great Schools. Go read the whole thing.

Like now…

Back already? Ok good.  So here is one strand to take away from this from the perspective of someone who is accused on being out to “destroy public education” here in my pleasant patch of cactus. So let’s start with the stunning unsurprising fact that private school attendance is heavily skewed towards high-income families:

Atlantic 1

Mmmm hmm, but those nasty school choice programs are killing public schools in Arizona by draining money and students off to private schools right? Eh, not so much:

Atlantic 2

Arizona is a relatively low-income state with the wealth concentrated among largely empty-nester retirees. If it were not for our private choice programs, Phoenix might make the list for the Top 10 metropolitan areas with the lowest private school enrollment. Oh, wait…

Atlantic 4


So we came in at #6 despite our choice programs. The Atlantic analysis demonstrates a positive correlation between higher rates of private school attendance with lower levels of public school performance. This might fail to show up in Arizona, despite some of the lowest NAEP scores in the country, if no one can afford it and the state’s grading system hands out A and B grades like a tipsy krewe in a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade:

Atlantic 5


But gosh, there sure are a lot of people in Arizona who seem convinced that private schools are just killing the public school system. Sure relatively low spending might really have much more to do with living in a relatively poor state with a tax system designed to be friendly to snow birds (charging them low residential property taxes and effectively no income tax if they are even modestly careful with their time) but why let little pesky “facts” get in the way of a good story?

Well, maybe this is a good reason:

Arizona facility needs

So estimates for the increase in the 5-17 year old population increase between 2010 and 2030 range from just under four times the current private choice program population at the extreme low-end to almost 22 times on the high-end.  It’s worth noting that 4 year olds are eligible to receive public assistance for preschool in Arizona, that many 18 year olds are still in school, and that some students start school younger and stay in the public school system until age 21, but that is mostly just piling on. The state spent $2,650,000 between 1999 and 2008 on new district spaces despite the private choice and charter programs, and can no longer afford to do so. Mind you that $2,650,000 built more space in one of the lower performing public school systems in the nation if you judge by NAEP scores, but even this is really no longer financially feasible.

Someone explain to me how a system, like Arizona’s ESA program, that allows kids to choose their method of schooling with only 90% of the state funding, with the hapless and overcrowded districts keeping their local funding, is such a terrible idea.  How exactly is this going to “destroy public education” etc?



Work Hard. Do Your Research. Does KIPP steal the best students?

August 8, 2014

(Guest Post by Collin Hitt)

KIPP schools demand a certain kind of student – a student who is willing to put in long hours and put up with very strict rules. KIPP has been shown to substantially increase student test scores. But critics argue that the culture at KIPP has major effects on recruitment and retainment. KIPP schools attract better students and are more likely to weed out low performing students, the argument goes. If this is true, KIPP students who persist in school are more likely to have a high-achieving peer group – and the effects of simply being in a peer group are really what explain any positive effects at school. A new study from Mathematica destroys this critique.

At its core, the critique of KIPP is a restatement of larger questions facing the charter school sector. Do charter schools cream the best students from nearby schools? And, compared to surrounding schools, are the lowest performing students at charter schools most likely to leave? Two rigorous studies reviewed here at JPGB answer an unequivocal “no.” But KIPP is a crucial case. The average charter school might take all the students it can find and do anything to keep those students. But surely if anybody engineers the makeup of their student body, it would be a school like KIPP, right?

So, does KIPP cream the best students (or at least better-than-average students) from nearby schools? The following chart shows, clearly not.

Entering KIPP students perform the same or worse than students in surrounding schools. But does KIPP then take exceptional efforts to push low performers back into surrounding schools. Again, clearly not.

Students transfer out of KIPP schools at the same rate as surrounding schools. And the students who transfer perform the same on standardized tests. So the only manner that KIPP may in some way create a measurably different peer group is through the quality of students in later grades who replace the KIPP students who transfer out. In this respect, the students who later transfer into KIPP are higher performers on average than students who transfer into district schools, according to the Mathematica study. But this, of all the ways to create a higher-performing peer group, is the least likely to have any meaningful impact on the performance of students who enter KIPP early on. The high performing peer group wouldn’t even be formed until students’ time at KIPP was almost over.

With their typical class, the Mathematica authors give their critics a charitable hearing, in fact constructing the strongest possible case for the peer-effect hypothesis. So, do peer effects explain KIPP’s impact on test scores? From the Mathematica study itself:

“One way to estimate the possible size of peer effects at KIPP is to combine our findings with other research on how peers’ prior scores affect student achievement. Unfortunately, published estimates of the effect of peer ability on student achievement range widely, from close to zero to nearly half a standard deviation impact for each standard deviation of difference in peer achievement. Even if the largest estimates of peer effects are correct, however, the improvement in peers’ prior test scores would appear to benefit KIPP students’ achievement only by about 0.07 to 0.09 standard deviations after four years at KIPP. KIPP’s cumulative impacts in middle school are three times that size, so even the largest estimates of the size of peer effects suggest that they are unlikely to explain more than one-third of the cumulative KIPP impact.

“Moreover, the best available evidence shows that KIPP produces large impacts on students in their first year at a KIPP school—before late-entering students could possibly have any effect. Consequently, the true peer effect resulting from late entrants is likely to be substantially below the back-of-the-envelope estimate of 0.07 to 0.09 standard deviations.”

The peer-group critique of KIPP essentially says this: anybody could get KIPP’s results if they had KIPP’s students. This simply isn’t true. KIPP is getting better results because of the work being done by teachers and staff. Rather than wonder, if only other schools could have students like KIPP’s, perhaps we should wonder why other schools don’t have adults like KIPP’s. (And, for that matter, why don’t other think tanks have scholars like Mathematica’s?)



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