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.

Bedrick: Get Your Charter Law Off Me You Dirty Ape!

July 15, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Okay so the title is a bit of an exaggeration but what the heck, there is a new Planet of the Apes movie out and we believe in giving our audience what they pay for around here at the Jayblog. What’s that you say? You guys read this blog for free? Oh yeah, that’s right. We write it just to entertain ourselves, I forgot.

Anyhoo, Cato’s Jason Bedrick raises questions worth debating about the new Friedman Foundation study by Andy Smarick over at Education Next.

Burke: 44% of DC Students attend charter schools, DC officals are knocking on doors

July 14, 2014


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Lindsey Burke on the lay of the land in the District of Columbia Public Schools, which inches ever closer to having a majority of charter school students and which is leading the nation by a wide margin in academic gains, led by charter schools. Oh and where district school principals have taken to the streets to sell their schools to parents in search of students.

What do you make of all of this Chewie?


Yeah, me too.



SBoE Response to Dallas Crisis? Drop the Bucket and Grab a Shot Glass Partner!

July 3, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams decided to override the State Board of Education to allow Great Hearts to open a school in Dallas, bringing to mind an old Arizona cowboy story. In 1911, the rough and tumble miner/cowboy frontier town of Prescott suffered a terrible fire.  Patrons of the Palace, a favorite watering hole on Prescott’s Whiskey Row to this day, took note of the burning buildings outside and decided to take collective action.  They gathered round the bar you see above, picked it up and moved it across the street to the grounds of what had been the territorial capitol (now the county courthouse).  Having saved the bar and its contents, they sat at the relocated bar and drank their whiskey, watching Prescott burn to the ground.  You can see what remained of the Palace in the below photograph taken after the fire.

This story came to mind when I read this story about the Texas State Board of Education’s attempts to protect the children of Dallas from the option of attending a Great Hearts charter school.  Really it is not fair for me to think this though, because at least Prescott’s cowboys tried to do something in response to their emergency, and they didn’t spend their time trying to thwart the fire fighters.

The 2013 Trial District Urban Assessment revealed that 51% of Dallas Independent School District students scored “Below Basic” in Reading, while only 16% scored Proficient or better.  Dallas parents need as many alternatives as they can get.  The idea of the SBOE wringing its hands about the fact that charter schools in Arizona (or elsewhere) don’t provide transportation, charge fees for certain activities (district and charter schools both do this as permitted by state statute) and solicit donations from parents (district schools get more taxpayer money and still solicit from parents btw) staggers the imagination.

Whoa there fellas- all that noise is making it hard for me to drink…

“I have no confidence, really, in the Great Hearts organization,” board member Mavis Knight said during the SBOE’s debate over initially denying the Dallas charter.  Fair enough- a classics approach is not everyone’s cup of tea.  I hope Ms. Knight will exercise her freedom of association rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and not send her children to the Dallas Great Hearts school if that is her preference. It won’t shock me however when hundreds of families decide that the school is a good fit for the needs of their child, and if the Arizona experience is any guide many hundreds more will sit unhappily on the wait list.

A great many Dallas parents have no confidence in DISD (Exhibit A: endless North Dallas suburbia). Those trying to make a go of it in the city deserve options and the right to make their own decision free of Ms. Knight’s guidance.



Poetic Justice on NYC Charter Schools

June 9, 2014

This is my apprentice, Darth de Blasio. See if you can help him find a way out of the charter school fiasco that he created for himself…

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The story just keeps getting better in NYC as the chickens come home to roost. From Chalkbeat New York:

The new law requires the city to provide new charter schools with free space inside the city’s own buildings or public funding to cover rent in a private facility. The legislation is a rebuke from state lawmakers of de Blasio’s criticism of charter schools during the mayoral campaign and his early months in office.

One challenge the law poses for de Blasio is that it makes financial sense to keep charter schools in city buildings. If the city doesn’t provide space, the law provides for charters to receive an extra funding allowance for each student, which in 2015 would be $2,775, from the city.

Thirteen charter schools have already been approved to open that year, serving 2,000 students at first and 5,800 at full capacity. Private space for those schools would cost as much as $5 million in the 2015-16 school year and $16 million once they are all at capacity, based on enrollment estimates.

In addition, the city is planning to spend $5.4 million next year for three displaced  Success Academy schools, which will have fewer than 500 students next year, to operate in Catholic school buildings.

So basically de Blasio is now hostage to a trumped-up grievance industry on co-locations that he helped to whip up but also financially on the hook for providing charter school facilities.  The bill on this is only going to grow unless the Mayor would like to discover the virtues of co-location. Memo to Sith apprentices: think twice before attacking decentralized education reforms enjoying broad support.


Centralized and Decentralized Reform Longevity in NYC

May 14, 2014

This is my apprentice Darth de Blasio. He will deal with your beneficial retention policy….

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jay’s important post on choice programs developing a stronger constituency than many other types of education reform has an obvious recent example in Mayor de Blasio’s New York City. New York City has a earned promotion policy for improving literacy instruction. The program demonstrated strongly positive results, including not one but two positive evaluations from the RAND Corporation using advanced statistical analysis.  Sadly when this worthy retention policy ran up against Darth de Blasio the result was:

The unfortunate reality is that the earned promotion policy, while demonstrably effective, has a limited constituency to defend it.  A large population could benefit from the continuation of the policy but lacks organization. One of the most basic laws of politics is that organized interests defeat disorganized interests 99 times out of a hundred trials, or thereabouts.

What happened when de Blasio went after charter schools? Oh yeah…

So how did the assault on charter schools turn out for the Darth Randi’s apprentice?

Does this mean we should avoid all top down policies like the plague and focus only on promoting choice? Not in my book, but it is worth noting that policies enjoying little support outside a small group of supporters can be easily reversed. Developing a base of support is essential to policy longevity.  I don’t think that choice is the only K-12 policy reform that has the potential to develop broad support, but it is an equation that few other policies have solved.

Mediocre is Closer than it Appears, MUST GO FASTER!

March 27, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In Mediocre May Be Closer than it Appears, Jonathan Butcher cross listed the Arizona Board of Regents Report showing massive, widespread failure of the Arizona High School Class of 2006 to graduate from college by 2012 with the state’s A-F grading system.  He found that 75 percent of graduates of A rated schools did not complete a BA in six years.

Outside of a few islands of excellence, how close is mediocre in AZ? Try 2:40 through 2:45 close:

Note for the record that there have been conversations about raising the standards of the grading system, but right at the moment we have no idea even what test the public schools will be using for accountability purposes next year.  The AIMS statue is long overdue for demolition so that the townsfolk can beat it with their shoes, but we sadly have a few things to sort out before making adjustments to the grading system.

Meanwhile, T-Rex will continue to feed on T-Gen employees, blood sucking lawyers and unfortunate kids who are not getting the education they need to succeed in life.

The school choice tribe has been getting a great deal of grief in Arizona, as if we were the cause of the funding declines here in our pleasant patch of cactus. Despite rumors to the contrary, we did not induce the housing crash to go on a rampage to gleefully cut public school budgets. Charter schools for instance have never received as much total funding per pupil as the district schools and they have had to suffer along with the districts.  Say what you will about Arizona conservatives in the legislature, but it is a simple mathematical fact that last year’s Medicaid expansion will do more to constrain growth in K-12 district spending once the temporary federal bonus money runs out than the ESA program ever will.

It’s also worth noting that public school groups went to the ballot with an initiative that would have prevented cuts. The accounts I have heard of the enterprise had prominent business leaders abandoning the effort in disgust during the formative stage. Various interests, most notably the road construction guys, log-rolled their way into the package and well-meaning but inexperienced people played prominent roles in the campaign. It wasn’t exactly a shock when the voters soundly rejected the measure. A lack of confidence that the money would make it into the classroom seemed decisive.

I can see why people might suspect that school choice sleeper agents infiltrated this effort in order to sabotage it from the inside, but I can assure you that this did not in fact happen.

Meanwhile, second by second by minute by minute Arizona continues to get older, our dependency ratio gets larger, and our prospects for growth dimmer.

A grand bargain might look something like this: a revamp of the state’s tax system to ditch the income tax and replace it with consumption taxes.  This would address the fact that two large groups- Snowbirds and undocumented immigrants-have ways of avoiding income taxation but still consume state services.  You could hope to get this to be pro-growth and thus pro-revenue.  If anyone in Arizona thinks they don’t need a top-notch tax system to compete, look over there, I saw Texas holding hands with your girlfriend.  She was gazing admiringly into his eyes with a blissful expression on her face while gently brushing his cowboy hat.

The second part of the grand bargain would be to tie increased funding to quantifiable improvement.  Florida’s program to provide a $700 bonus to schools and teachers that get a child to pass an Advanced Placement exam for instance seems like a great idea for a state in which only 19% of the Class of 2006 earned a BA degree.  I think many Arizonans would be willing to invest more in public education. I am potentially one of them, and I am potentially willing to pay higher taxes to do it, but many of us are not willing to simply pay more for the same bad results.  Some pilot programs that show improvement associated with increased funding could be the only realistic place to start.  At the moment, many don’t want to put more water into what they regard as a leaking bucket.

Finally there are some fundamental questions that the public school groups need to confront.  Such as: why can charter schools receiving $1600 less per student often crush the results of nearby district schools with more money and similar student demographics?  Two main reasons: charter school kids are all there by choice and have bought in to the culture of the school. Second these schools efficiently remove ineffective instructors from the classroom in a way that most district schools do not.

The hour is later than most realize and we do need to embrace improvement strategies beyond expanding choice.  Everything should be on the table and we need to get serious.



New Yorkers Prefer Team Cuomo to Team de Blasio

March 20, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Voters give de Blasio low marks on his handling of public education. The Mayor’s decision to spend his honeymoon period crushing high performing charter schools for low-income children for no apparent reason is looking worse all the time.

Charter school co-locations are terrible because, ummmm, well….errrr

March 18, 2014

“This is my apprentice, Darth de Blasio. He will help you harass poor children in charter schools.” “Yes Lord Weingarten!”


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Marcus Winters on the Phantom Menace of charter school co-locations in NYC.  Punchline: if charter school locations are as awful as Mayor de Blasio claims, it is odd that you can find no trace of it in student test scores.


Reason Foundation on de Blasio’s War on Charter Kids

March 11, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute also provides an interesting analysis in Cuomo Schools de Blasio.  The NYC chancellor has begun to make noises about finding alternative space for Success Academy, so let’s see what happens next.

UPDATE: NYT on de Blasio’s plan to charge rent to charter schools, WaPo editorial board weighs in, de Blasio goes on Morning Joe.


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