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!



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.

Fix Voucher Regulations with This One Weird Trick!

May 30, 2014

Public Rules on Private Schools

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

One of the big controversies surrounding school choice programs is whether they tend to increase government regulation of private schools. Big, sweeping claims have been easy to come by; serious scholarship studying the question, while not nonexistent, has been rare. Today the Friedman Foundation makes a major new contribution by releasing the study “Public Rules on Private Schools.” It is one of the most careful, methodical analyses to date on this question.

The big revelation for me in this study is that government regulations associated with voucher programs (as distinct from other types of school choice programs) is disproportionately made up of paperwork and other compliance requirements. Programs can largely nullify the effects of these regulations by adding some additional funding to cover compliance costs. Some programs do this already. This seems like a no-brainer for legislators to start including in future bill design.

So for the most part the war between voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs seems to me to be blown way out of proportion. Top up the voucher for compliance costs and the differences become unimportant.

Check out this awesome slideshow for tons of information plus author Drew Catt’s spot-on demonstration of what “nerd hipster irony” looks like.

Taste the ABC Rainbow!

January 23, 2014


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The new edition of the ABCs of School Choice is out – now available in a rainbow of colors, showing that Friedman provides the full spectrum of data on school choice programs.

No red, though? I’m disappointed.

It’s a Blowout: Tom Vander Ark 4, New Gates PLDD Strategy 0

August 29, 2013

The research evidence continues to pile up that the old Gates strategy of promoting small schools of choice has proven effective according to rigorous random-assignment design studies, while the new Gates PLDD strategy of building a national system of standards, assessments, and consequences has virtually no rigorous evidence to support it.

Under Tom Vander Ark’s leadership the Gates Foundation not only pursued an agenda based on a plausible theory of school improvement, but also initiated a series of high-quality studies to assess the results.  Even though Gates has largely abandoned its old strategy, those results are now pouring in.  We previously saw positive outcomes from a study by Lisa Barrow, Amy Claessens, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of small schools in Chicago.  A non-Gates-funded analysis by my students, Anna Egalite and Brian Kisida, showed the same advantage for smaller schools in a national sample.  And in New York City, MDRC also demonstrated significant gains from small schools of choice.

Now MDRC has an updated analysis confirming that the benefits discovered earlier were extended and endured.  Randomly assigning students to small high schools “continue[s] to produce sustained positive effects, raising graduation rates by 9.5 percentage points.”  In addition, “more students are graduating ready for college: the [small high] schools raise by 6.8 percentage points the proportion of students scoring 75 or more on the English Regents exam, a critical measure of college readiness used by the City University of New York.”

What evidence do we have to support the new Gates PLDD strategy?  Umm, well, I’m sure Fordham can gather some of their friends together and give higher letter grades to states implementing the Gates PLDD strategy.  Over $6 million can buy some really good grades.

This is what the Gates Foundation has been reduced to — an organization that used to commission the most rigorous evaluations of their reform theory now invests overwhelmingly in the marketing and spinning of their new reform theory.  And they couldn’t even stick with the old reform theory of promoting small schools of choice long enough to see whether the rigorous evidence supported it.

Small schools?!?  That is like so 2007.  I think I’ll tweet my friends all about it, since Gates is now more interested in Twitter counts than random-assignment research.  Can Gates please put a grown-up in charge, like bringing back Tom Vander Ark?

[UPDATE -- An alert reader notes that the score is actually 5-0.  I forgot this study of small schools designed as early college.  Also, note the comment I added clarifying the nature of my concern with the $6 million given by Gates to Fordham.]

Less Sex, Drugs and Crime. Religious Private Schools, Better Roads, and School Choice.

June 26, 2013

(Guest Post by Collin Hitt)

Attending a private religious school lowers the likelihood that students will use cocaine, have sex or get arrested. That, according to a new study from David Figlio and Jens Ludwig.

They find that decreased sexual activity is found primarily among females, accompanied by a decreased likelihood of “fecundity.” Decreased cocaine use and arrests were found primarily among boys, who were also less likely to smoke tobacco.

Overall, private schools had little effect on adolescent drinking and marijuana use. This might be due to the fact that while some students were led to avoid drugs and alcohol altogether, students who otherwise would have used hard drugs instead just smoked pot and drank booze – in my view.

Figlio and Ludwig’s data comes from the late 1980s and early 1990s. They find that the effects of private school were focused primarily in two-parent households. They also find that the effects were concentrated in the suburbs, though the definition of suburb in their dataset is overly broad, which unnaturally decreases the accuracy of their estimates in urban areas.

Studies of private schools are typically fraught with selection problems: students who select into private schools might have selected, in the case at hand, to avoid hard drugs and have less sex no matter where they attended school. Figlio and Ludwig eliminate this bias from their study by using a clever instrumental variables model in which transportation infrastructure differences between cities are shown to have an effect on the likelihood that parents will send their children to private religious schools.

Figlio and Ludwig point to character education in religious private schools. I can’t think of a better explanation.

Religious private schools are often organized with family life in mind. They seek to help families raise children who will be good parents and good citizens; their definitions of good parenting and citizenship are, of course, colored by their varying religious beliefs. All religions are not the same. But most religious schools share the overlapping belief that students should abstain from sex and should not use drugs. Figlio and Ludwig show that they’re doing a better job than public schools and non-religious private schools at achieving those goals; is this because religious schools have more rigorous abstinence and drug resistance programs than public schools? I doubt it. Private religious schools largely were established with a private community purpose in mind – which is very different from a public policy purpose. They are able to make broader pleas to their communities.

Perhaps most importantly, private religious schools are less afraid to discuss the consequences of bad, selfish behavior. They encourage kids to think over the long-term, the very long-term.

Some States are Serious about K-12 Reform, Others Shirley

June 19, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

John Chubb and Constance Clark have a very interesting new study out from Education Sector called The New State Achievement Gap: How NCLB Waivers Could Make it Worse or Better.

Chubb and Clark examine NAEP data and find that states are diverging into leaders and laggards. In the relative blink of an eye between 2003 and 2011 they found the gap between the performance of students in the best and worst performing states grew to 60 percent of the size of the White-Black achievement gap on the combined NAEP exams (4th/8th reading and math).

Note that part of what has happened here is that the White-Black gap shrank a bit. Note however that it is still sickeningly large-keep in mind that 10 points roughly equates to a grade level worth of average progress on NAEP- so 105 points across four tests is quite disgusting. The state achievement gap meanwhile grew steadily.

Chubb and Clark’s paper would have benefitted from examination of the gory details about how some states are playing fast and loose regarding NAEP inclusion standards for special needs and English language learners- especially in the case of Maryland and Kentucky. These details do not however take away the broad point- some states are improving and some are getting left behind.

The study gets even more interesting as the authors compare the NCLB waivers, accountability systems and standards choices of states with strong and weak NAEP gain performances. Included among these is a comparison between Florida and South Carolina. The referee needs to step in and wrap up Maryland before he pummels West Virginia to death. “Self-reflection” for teacher evaluation Mountaineers? Surely you can’t be serious…

In a not-quite-elliptical fashion, Chubb and Clark note a clustering of states with a recent history of weak NAEP gains with unconvincing NCLB waiver promises and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. I’m shocked…

Chubb and Clark have turned in a very interesting piece- go read it.


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