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.

Momma Ain’t Happy

May 9, 2013

If Momma Aint Happy(Guest post by Greg Forster)

My colleagues at the Friedman Foundation have released a big new survey of mothers of school-age kids. And let me tell you, momma ain’t happy:

  • 61% of school moms say education’s on the wrong track; just 32% say it’s on the right track.
  • Watch out, Common Core test consortia: 79% of school moms rate the federal government’s handling of education as fair or poor; only 17% said good or excellent.
  • 82% of school moms gave an A or B to their local private schools, compared to 43% for public schools. (Momma ain’t unhappy enough!)

The study also surveyed non-moms, so you can compare and contrast. Unsurprisingly, the differences aren’t large – because if momma ain’t happy…


We Win Pop Culture! Also, a Podcast on Win-Win

May 2, 2013

Sci-Fi fest poster

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In a major news development, today the Heartland Institute described JPGB as a “widely read education reform-pop culture blog.” After all these years of struggling for recognition as a major voice in the pop culture world, at long last our toil and struggle has been vindicated.

Oh, and they have this podcast I did on the Win-Win report showing that the research consistently supports school choice. If you’re, you know, into that kind of thing.

Win-Win 3.0 chart

In case you forgot what that column of zeros on the right looks like, here it is again.

Third Edition of “Win-Win” Adds a Third Win

April 17, 2013

Win-Win 3.0 cover

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This morning, the Friedman Foundation releases the third edition of my biannual report summarizing the empirical research on school choice. As in previous years, I survey all the available studies on academic effects – both for students who use school choice and for public schools. Hence the title “A Win-Win Solution” – school choice is a win for both those who use it and those who don’t.

New in this edition of the report, I also survey the impact of school choice on the democratic polity in three dimensions: fiscal impact on taxpayers, racial segregation and civic values and practices (such as tolerance for the rights of others). Guess what it shows? School choice is not just win-win, it’s actually win-win-win. It not only benefits choosing families and non-choosing families; it also benefits everyone else through fiscal savings and the strengthening of social and civic bonds.

Here’s the most important part of the report – that unbroken column of zeros on the right remains as impressive as it ever was. Do please read the rest if you’d like to know more!

Win-Win 3.0 chart


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