Why is the man with the goatee smiling?

October 16, 2014

It might have something to do with this new report from MDRC showing a 9.4% increase in graduation rates in NYC in the “small high-schools” initiative. Students attending small high schools attended college at an 8.4% higher rate as well.

So just to review, Gates FF had a winning strategy on their hands- it had a plausible theory but not much empirical support. Sadly they dropped this strategy before waiting for empirical evaluations, which continue to pile up and have strongly positive results. The siren call of central planning lured them into an endless quagmire that also lacks empirical support (see Hanushek and Loveless) and also lacks a plausible theory of change. Small schools now lacks neither of these things.

There’s one obvious solution to all of this- he’s tan, rested and ready and he’s bringing back socks and sandals! Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he is bringing in socks and sandals for the first time. Regardless- bring back Tom Vander Ark!

 

 


Long Term Trends in the Fight for Choice

September 22, 2014

Disco Stu trends

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Funny Matt should choose this morning to post thoughts about the future of charters and private school choice. My article on long-term trends in the fight for private school choice was just published by OCPA’s Perspectives. [Update: Oops, link added.]

The most important omen for the long term, though, is the war of ideas and moral legitimacy. Nobody takes the school unions and other guardians of the status quo seriously any more. The mask is off; everyone knows they’re all about the gravy train. Moreover, in milder forms like charter schools, the principle of choice has been almost universally accepted on both sides of the political aisle. How long can people go on supporting charters but opposing private choices, especially as it becomes clear charter schools don’t have enough freedom to reinvent education?

As Matt Ladner likes to say, these days the “cool kids” in education are the entrepreneurs who invent radically new kinds of schools. A few years ago, everyone was atwitter about the revolutionary potential of these “greenfield” experiments. Recently, though, the bloom is off the rose. People are beginning to realize that the world of tomorrow isn’t going to be so easy to build. Where will they turn for the tools they need to truly reinvent education? Universal choice is looking better and better.

Pop culture aficionados are invited to submit their judgment on the quality of my references to Doctor Who.

A shorter version of the article was published as an op-ed in the Edmond Sun.


The Future of Private Schooling, if any

September 22, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Neerav Kingsland has a fun post over at relinquishment noting that at below current rates of student growth that charter schools take over public education before 2050 through the magic of compound interest. Kingsland notes:

Clearly, I could give many reasons why the charter school sector won’t maintain this growth.

I could also give many reasons why the charter school sector could grow much faster.

Charter schools face natural limits to growth, primarily in the need for facility funding. The only way for me to imagine a much faster rate of growth would be to have a general recognition of the fact that school buildings represent a massive investment of public resources that are often misused to the detriment of children and taxpayers. Then we would need policymakers to develop a mechanism for increasing the educational ROI for those investments on behalf of children and taxpayers within a new context of public education that gets away from the 19th century heavily politicized geographically defined factory model.

Who could imagine such a thing?

We are a long, long way from charters displacing districts as the dominant form of public education. A couple of decades trending in that direction however might be enough, all else being equal, to greatly diminish private education.  Charter schools hit private schools much harder than the districts, so the question arises: is the current pace of private choice program growth sufficient to keep private school education viable?

Charter vs. Private Choice enrollment

I cobbled together the above chart from a number of different data sources, including NCES, AFC, NAPCS etc.  Let’s just say that the current trends do not look promising for traditional private schools on a national level.  Part of the story here is that charter schools are making progress in the big population states (CA, TX, NY) that the private choice world has yet to crack. The real question then becomes how many states, if any, have funded private education on an equitable basis with charters? When you factor in the rise of not only charter schools, but also home-schooling (which also draws from a universe of parents looking for an alternative to district schools) how viable does private schooling appear in the long run state by state?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I suspect careful consideration of the available data would deliver a fairly grim answer from the perspective of private education, even in leading private choice states.  Here in Arizona, one of the leading private choice states, our choice programs at most seem to be saving private schools from extinction, but treading water as a fairly small niche.  It is kind of hilarious to watch the school district advocacy industrial complex foam at the mouth about private choice programs while charter schools continue to steadily gain market share. Mongo is easily distracted by shiny objects, but I digress. Private choice scholarship amounts routinely trail funds provided to charter schools across the country. Once you fill up empty seats at existing private schools, you create a huge incentive for school operators to open new charter as opposed to private schools with the much higher rates of per-student funding offered.

I have no nostalgic attachment to private education but in a country with so few high quality options available it seems foolish to thoughtlessly discard an entire sector of schooling. If we want to put things on a more equitable footing to let parents sort things out without financially nudging them into one sector over another, we will need broader and better designed private choice programs.

 


Bustin’ Makes Butcher Feel Good

August 24, 2014

ghostbusters butcher

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So if the above picture looks like a sloppy attempt at photo editing by someone goofing around with a program for the first time, it is only because it is in fact just such an attempt.

So Arizona voters passed an initiative long ago that provided for inflation adjustments to K-12 spending. During the bubble years spending went up faster than inflation, but during the catastrophic collapse of the economy it went down less. The AZ school district non-profit industrial complex eventually sued to get the funding restored, and they recently won, sticking lawmakers with a $317,000,000 bill. Arizona is broke and unlikely to find that sort of change in the sofa, and requires a 2/3 vote of each chamber to raise taxes. So, what happens next?

The Goldwater Institute’s Jonathan Butcher went to the pages of the Arizona Republic to suggest a couple of ways to recoup the money. First- stop funding ghost students. Districts get paid on last year’s student count, charter schools on this year’s count. Ergo every time a child transfers from a district to a charter school the state pays for them twice for a year. This is a pure waste of money that will continue to grow with Arizona’s charter school sector. Butcher estimates this could gain the state $125m of the needed $317m. If I were Arizona’s higher education community I would jump on the Ghostbuster bandwagon because otherwise that $125m is likely to come out of higher education spending sooner rather than later.

Second Butcher proposes that some of the base funding for schools be conditioned on kids actually learning something. With half the high-schools in the state having 5% or less of the graduating Class of 2006 finish a Bachelor’s degree in six years, this sounds like a promising if tricky idea.  The taxpayers ought to be getting an ROI from Arizona public school spending dominated by student learning, not by mere babysitting.


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.


Arizona charter schools and the new report card rankings

August 6, 2014

(Guest Post by Jonathan Butcher)

The new A-F report card rankings are up for Arizona public schools, and the news is good—if you’re sending your child to a charter school. Last year, 40 percent of Arizona charter schools earned an A, compared to 28 percent of traditional schools.

Now that Arizona has four years’ worth of A-F rankings, a year-to-year comparison of charter and traditional schools reveals that charter schools’ success over time is what we hope would have happened to all public schools: more charters are earning A’s and fewer are earning D’s as the years go by (note: Arizona managed to make it so hard to earn an F that few schools have done so).

2010-11 Arizona A-F Letter Grades, Charter v. Traditional

 Butcher 1

2011-12 Arizona A-F Letter Grades, Charter v. Traditional

Butcher 2

 

2012-13 Arizona A-F Letter Grades, Charter v. Traditional

Butcher 3

2013-14 Arizona A-F Letter Grades, Charter v. Traditional

Butcher 4

Between the 2010-11 school year and 2012-13 school year, charter schools occupied the two ends of the A-F distribution, with higher percentages of schools earning A’s and D’s than traditional schools.

This year, however, charter schools own the “A” category, while the percent of charters earning D’s has been cut in half—and, for the first time, is lower than the percent of traditional schools earning D’s. True, the percent of traditional schools earning A’s crept up each year, but not as quickly as charter schools. And the percent of traditional schools earning D’s was relatively consistent.

Nothing is held constant here, so I’ll be the first to admit the limits to these charts. Plus, data from the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) reports that Arizona high schools are not preparing students for college, so the achievement reflected in these report cards is decidedly less impressive than it should be.

But to the extent that these school grades reflect student success (see here for how the report cards are calculated), charter schools are leading the way—and at a per student cost of $1,500 less than traditional schools. And there’s something to be said for charter schools’ unique designs, whether it’s hybrid classrooms, college prep, or career and technology centers for at-risk students aged 14-21.

Clearly there’s a reason why charters are the fastest-growing sector of the public school system.


The Atlantic Article that Should Have Been Called “Why Poor Students Should Not Have to Attend Dysfunctional School Districts”

July 16, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

A fascinating article in the Atlantic about the lack of textbooks in Philadelphia district schools would have been even more illuminating if the author had discovered that the district spends $20k per student per year.

The blindingly obvious conclusion to draw from this article is that plenty of money exists to get these students all the textbooks they need, but that the district simply has other priorities.  The district spends the money, they just spend it on something or someone else, and mysteriously classroom learning never makes to the top of a priority list.  These are not “poor schools” but rather wealthy schools that are poorly run and victimizing poor students in the process.


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