Alaska House Passes Scholarship Tax Credits and A-F School Grading

April 9, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I was already madly in love with Alaska after having visited in 2006.  Now United States Senate candidate Mead Treadwell (great guy) had me up and gave me some great advice. My flight left at something like 2:30 am (they like to have planes leave Alaska late and fill up in the lower 48 early) and so Mead advised me to go up to Talkeetna and recruit some climbers to do a flight seeing tour of Mount McKinley.  The first guy I found had a ZZ-Top style beard and was from Vermont, and then I found two yuppies from Boulder who were heading up to camp and climb for a week. We landed on the glacier and the whole scene looked like another planet, let’s call it “Hoth.”

The pilot reassured us that we had picked the right time to come (May) because the cold had snapped but the Grizzlies were still hibernating. Best $100 I ever spent.

Anyhoo, now I somehow love Alaska even more because last night the House passed both a scholarship tax credit program and A-F school grading.

 


Kansas Lawmakers Create Scholarship Tax Credit Program

April 7, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

HB 2506 made it through the Kansas House and Senate last night and contains some significant education reforms, including a scholarship tax credit program, curbs on teacher tenure abuse and alternative teacher certification.  Congratulations to Kansas lawmakers and education reformers.  The “never say die” crew at the Kansas Policy Institute Dave Trabert and James Franko have earned a:

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!

for their dedicated, determinedly fact-based efforts to improve Kansas education outcomes.


I’ll Have a Dose of Confirmation Bias, Heavy on the Bias

March 24, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So how do private school students do in Science compared to public school students.  I wasn’t sure, so I went to the NAEP data explorer to find out.

Private school students outscore public school students, but private school students tend to be more affluent than public school students, and there can be differences in special need and language profiles. Fortunately the NAEP data explorer allows you to take such factors into account.  To maximize the comparison, we will only look at the NAEP science scores of children eligible for a Free or Reduced priced lunch under federal guidelines, and who have neither a special education nor an English Language Learner designation.  This is about as close to apples to apples comparison you can hope for in NAEP data.

So NAEP changed the framework of their Science exam in 2009, making the 2009 and later exams incomparable to those given before 2009. The comparison of general education poor children between public and private schools is sporadically available in both NAEP science frameworks.  You can’t compare old NAEP science to new NAEP science, but you can compare public and private school scores within each year.  So let’s start with 4th grade:

NAEP Science 4

 

Private school generic poor children outscored their peers in the public schools 2 out of 3 tries. Let’s look at 8th grade scores:

NAEP Science 8

Private school generic poor children outscored their peers three out of four times in 8th grade.  Let’s have a look at 12th grade science:

NAEP Science 12

So for those of you scoring at home, in 8 possible comparisons, private school general education poor children outscored six times.  It was close (within the margin of sampling error) a few times but every time the result was lopsided it was lopsided in favor of the private school children.  Quite frankly science scores should be higher in both public and private schools for low-income kids, but the available evidence does show an overall private school advantage. Unless you happen to be Stephanie Simon working through a sizable case of confirmation bias, in which case this is what you saw:

Taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, including hundreds of religious schools that teach Earth is less than 10,000 years old, Adam and Eve strolled the garden with dinosaurs, and much of modern biology, geology and cosmology is a web of lies.

Gosh, a billion dollars-that sounds scary! At least until you think of it as less than 80 percent of the Dallas Independent School District’s budget.  Still, this is an outrage! We should put a stop to it immediately!

Except…how is it that these kids at hillbilly flat-earther private schools keep managing to score about the same or more often better than their public school peers on the NAEP Science exams? Does the NAEP science framework ask a battery of questions on the Book of Genesis?  Does learning how to play Duelling Banjos wire the mind for multiple choice science exams?

Um, no. Not so much. Private schools just do a better job teaching science overall.  Ms. Simon has written a hyperbolic story about a crisis that does not exist.  The available evidence suggests that if we eliminated all funding for choice programs that it would result in a net decrease in knowledge of science.

If Ms. Simon wants to pull the funding for private schools based on science achievement, the river needs to flow both ways and we will have to pull the funding for an even larger number of public schools on the same basis.  In the meantime, if Ms. Simon doesn’t like private schools, she always has the option of not enrolling her children in one. As an added bonus, her kids can learn science on Khan Academy if she happens to choose one of the many that do a poor job of teaching science.


Who’s “We,” Fordham-Sabe?

January 20, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Before he had a sitcom, Bill Cosby used to have a series of Lone Ranger jokes in one of his old stand-up acts. In one part of the routine, the Ranger tells Tonto something like, “They outnumber us ten to one, so we’re going to ride down the hill full speed, we’re going to cut across right through their sights, then we’re going to engage them hand to hand. Any questions?”

“Just one, Kemo Sabe.”

“What’s that?”

“Who’s ‘we,’ Kemo Sabe?”

That’s also the right answer to Fordham’s insistence that choice students must take state tests because, as Jay summarizes it, “we’ve got to do something!” That’s an accurate summary of the presupposition coming out of Fordham – you aren’t in favor of reform unless you think that you are the one to dictate what a good education looks like.

Yes, “we” have to do something to invent better ways of educating students. But who’s “we”? Having government standards to measure the government’s school system can be good, even if Common Core is not. However, even when government standards are good, and even when they’re applied only to the government system, they are not the way to reinvent education, because government – by its very nature – is not well designed to 1) innovate effectively, 2) persuade people that the innovations are effective, or 3) build institutions where the institutional culture accepts the innovations as good.

What government does do well is to create the structures of social transaction within which effective innovators and entrepreneurs can operate. The key strategy for education reform should not be to devise the innovations we need but to create structures that enable innovators and entrepreneurs to do so. The more we get caught up in devising the innovations ourselves, the further we move away from creating the conditions necessary for those who really can devise the innovations to do so.

Choice programs today are very poorly designed to support entrepreneurs. They ought to provide universal choice, a generous allotment of funds (though less than what we spend on the behemoth of government schooling) and freedom to innovate with minimal interference. Entrepreneurs need three things to succeed: clients, capital and control. You need a customer base of people who want your service because it makes their lives better. You need those customers to be willing and able to pay you; that’s what sustains the organization that delivers the service. And you need to be free to provide the service according to your own entrepreneurial vision and the needs of your clients, not according to standards devised by politicians and bureaucrats.

See the study I did for Friedman on The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice for much, much more, including data on the impact choice programs are having (or, more frequently, are not having) on the composition of the private school sector.


It’s Not Just Government, It’s Schools, Too

January 15, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Responding to Fordham’s latest straddle, here on JPGB Matt has pointed out that we shouldn’t trust the job of judging school quality to government, and no one knows this better than Fordham (some of the time, anyway). At Cato, Andrew Coulson and Jason Bedrick point out that the existence of school choice programs inevitably crowds out non-choice-participating private schools, so if choice programs become engines of uniformity, we can kiss educational entrepreneurship and innovation goodbye. First Fordham demands state tests must bow to Common Core, then it demands private schools must bow to state tests, all the while insisting Common Core both is and is not a powerful tool for reshaping curriculum!

At the Friedman Foundation’s blog, Robert Enlow points out that Fordham is also playing both sides of the fence on whether the tests will have to be given only to choice students or to all students in the school:

Fordham even implicitly shows how its testing approach will eventually impact non-voucher private school students: “[i]f a private school’s voucher students perform in the two lowest categories of a state’s accountability system for two consecutive years, then that school should be declared ineligible to receive new voucher students until it moves to a higher tier of performance (emphasis added).”

If a private school accepting voucher students loses those students because of their low performance on state tests, how can it rejoin a school choice program without forcing all of its students to take, and perform well, on the state test?

Here’s another issue that I haven’t seen raised yet. Fordham backs up its position by pointing to the results of a survey of private schools that don’t participate in choice programs. State testing requirements came in seventh on the list of reasons why they don’t participate; demand for universal eligibility and higher choice payments were the top answers.

Once again, Fordham is operating out of a top-down, anti-entrepreneurial mindset. Existing private schools are not the voice of entrepreneurial innovation. They are the rump left behind by the crowding out of a real private school marketplace; they are niche providers who have found a way to make a cozy go of it in the nooks and crannies left behind by the state monopoly. They are protecting their turf against innovators just as much as the state monopoly.

Milton once used the analogy of hot dog vendors. If you put a “free” government hot dog vendor on every street corner, the real hot dog vendors will all vanish. The same has happened to private schools. If we extend the analogy, we could say that a few hot dog vendors might survive by catering to niche markets – maybe the government hot dog stands can’t sell kosher hot dogs because that would be entanglement with religion. But the niche vendors would not be representative of all that is possible in the field of hot dog vending.

And the private schools that don’t participate in choice programs are probably the least entrepreneurial. Notice, for example, that their top complaint is that choice isn’t universal. Why would that prevent them from participating in choice programs? Wouldn’t they want to reach out and serve the kids they can serve, even as they advocate for expansion of the programs to serve others? The private schools participating in choice programs are doing so; they may not be paragons of entrepreneurship, but they are at least entrepreneurial enough to want to help as many kids as they can. The demand for bigger choice payments is also not a sign of hungry innovation on their part (even if the choice payments are paltry in may places).

Basically the attitude revealed by the Fordham survey of non-choice-participating private schools is “we want choice, but only if it doesn’t require us to change.” Funny thing; the public monopoly blob gives us pretty much the same line.


Fordham vs. Fordham on Private Choice Transparency

January 14, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Fordham Institute has a new white paper out on accountability in private choice programs.  The headline will be that Fordham supports requiring students participating in voucher and tax-credit programs to participate in state accountability testing.  Adam Emerson, the author of the study and the new charter school chief in Florida (congrats btw Adam) wrote:

Surely there are risks associated with drawing private schools into public accountability systems, but empirical evidence shows that
downsides can be mitigated if policymakers are smart about how they design results-based accountability in choice programs of this kind.

The two key words in this sentence: risk and if.

Emerson believes that the risk of self-defeating homogenization of the school offerings available to parents can be managed by state officials being smart. Even the most insulated policymakers on the planet (say the Federal Reserve Board, which can more or less print its own budget) make decisions on far more than a technocratic basis. Even to the extent they do stick to their best judgement, they sometimes get things wrong in a spectacular fashion. Democratically elected lawmakers drift in and out of what Edmund Burke described as delegate and trustee roles of representation. The results, far from smart, are sometimes very messy and even counterproductive.

To gain an appreciation of the limited influence of technocrats in K-12 testing policy, I would suggest reading some of the Fordham Institute’s voluminous work making the case of what a complete hash a great many states have made of their testing systems for public schools. Here is a useful quote from the Proficiency Illusion:

Standards-based education reform is in deeper trouble than we knew, both the Washington-driven, No Child Left Behind version and the older versions that most states undertook for themselves in the years since A Nation at Risk (1983) and the Charlottesville education summit (1989). It’s in trouble for multiple reasons. Foremost among these: on the whole, states do a bad job of setting (and maintaining) the standards that matter most—those that define student proficiency for purposes of NCLB and states’ own results-based accountability systems.

Something far more than the I.Q. of policymakers seems to be at work here. The theme goes on in another brilliant Fordham report, the Accountability Illusion (emphasis added by yours truly):

As currently implemented, NCLB is not a discriminating system. A tremendous amount of money and energy has been spent to create the impression that there is accountability, and there are large numbers of schools throughout the United States that are in some phase of sanctions. But the accountability is not coherent. We found states where most schools failed to make AYP and others where nearly every school made it. We found demonstrably good schools that failed to make AYP far too often, and some pretty mediocre ones that slide by in some states.Thus what seems like accountability is an illusion. Good schools get sanctioned, bad schools get off, and ultimately students get shafted, since maintaining this illusion has a cost. When good schools get sanctioned, resources are wasted and we risk causing quick-fix, panic driven, counterproductive change in schools that may ultimately hurt students. When bad schools get off, their students are denied opportunities (what we unfortunately now call “sanctions”) that might lead to a better education, including the chance to attend a different school, or receive supplemental services, or simply obtain assurance that the workings of a perennially dysfunctional school will be addressed and corrected.

If those policymakers had been “smart” then thing may not have turned out this way. Many of the state testing systems that Fordham is now anxious to impose on private choice students have been previously described as costly frauds by, well, Fordham itself.

I don’t have a problem with private schools choosing to take the state test if it is done voluntarily.  Personally I wouldn’t want anything to do with a private school that lacked the self-confidence to have their own curriculum, but to each their own.  I like national norm reference testing as a light-touch method of providing transparency while leaving curricular choices up to schools.  If policymakers are so inclined, using such data to exit bottom-feeder schools could be undertaken without imposing state tests.

The whole idea of creating a parental choice program however is to provide parents with the broadest possible array of meaningfully varying options so that they can choose a great fit for the needs of their child. Accordingly, we should never make the mistake of viewing the job of a private school participating in a choice program as teaching the state’s curriculum or giving their tests. Rather their job is to satisfy the individual needs of the student to the satisfaction of parents. Parents will find schools following the state’s curriculum and giving the state’s test in abundant supply.  The whole purpose of private choice options is to create a diversity in the menu of choices available to parents and students.

It isn’t the lack of I.Q. that created the mess in state testing systems, rather the natural limitations of technocrats operating within a pluralistic democracy.   We would be wise to recognize these limits and to craft our choice programs accordingly.


Use the Force MOOC! A 2013 retrospective

December 26, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The after-Christmas but before New Year period is always dominated by “Year in Review” retrospectives, so why not join in on the fun? Here at the Jayblog we dig new options for students and parents, so let’s take a look back at 2013.

Digital learning continues to surge. No one has yet established the free online degree that some nutball predicted in 2009, but events are moving in that direction. Dhawal Shah of EdSurge leads us off with a review of the progress of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in 2013. Shah includes MOOCilicous charts like:

MOOC 1

 

and…

MOOC 2and…

MOOC 3

All of this is quite impressive given the first MOOC rolled out in 2011. Shah provides analysis and 2014 predictions, so go read the article. Events seem to be conspiring to take a very sharp pin to a higher education tuition bubble. One cannot help but wonder how long we will go on debating public funding for online high-school courses when, ahhh, Stanford is giving them away for free and you can, well, get college credit for them.  The logical side of Kevin Carey’s brain (the one that writes about higher education) turned in a useful refutation of the hand-wringing over MOOC completion rates.

Remember where you heard it first- the day is coming when more people will be watching university lectures online than Baywatch reruns.

Please note: I did not say it would be any time soon…

On the K-12 front, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published an evaluation of state charter school laws finding widespread improvement between 2010 and 2013. Bottom line: break out the bubbly. Thirty-five states improved their laws, only one law regressed. Seven states “essentially overhauled” their laws with major improvements-Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Indiana, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Colorado. Ten more states-Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio made “notable improvements” in their charter law.

Here at Jayblog we have our annual measure of success in the private choice movement the Forster vs. Mathews school choice dinner bet. Greg either doubled or tripled the standard in 2011, and followed up by easily surmounting it once more in 2012.

In 2013, ooops Greg did it again!  Three-peat!  Two new states (Alabama and South Carolina) joined the school choice ranks, North Carolina went BIG on reform, including two new voucher programs, Ohio and Wisconsin passed new statewide programs, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana and Utah improved existing programs.

So 2013 was a fine year overall for choice, grading on the curve of comparing it to past years. Compared to the needs of the country, this is all still painfully slow, so…


What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Rawls and Understanding Update on RedefinED

November 11, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I updated the “forced reincarnation with the chance to pick your state” thought experiment with NAEP 2013 data over at RedefinED.

Bonus Elvis C:


“You shall not deny the Blogger.”

November 8, 2013

Strongbad using technology

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

T.S. Eliot and I would like to welcome a new blog, launched by my colleagues at the Friedman Foundation. They’ve decided to start out with something relatively simple and uncontroversial: the foundation’s stance on Common Core. Robert “The Barbarian” Enlow lays it out:

School choice is a far more effective way to improve educational outcomes than centralized standards imposed from above. A main concern with Common Core is that it could restrict entrepreneurship in education, so that parents will have fewer and less diverse choices. By contrast, universal school choice can provide a more vibrant system of schooling so that parents will have numerous and more varied high-quality options.

Check the blog next Wednesday for Friedman’s new report on how private schools use standardized tests in response to parental demand: “More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools.” As Robert comments:

Do we need to ensure our children are competitive in a global economy? Definitely. Do we need to test our children to help parents understand their proficiency and growth? Most parents think so, and that’s why virtually all private schools use privately developed, voluntary standardized tests.

And keep your eyes on the blog for regular updates on the latest data, developments and derring-do. Embarrassing childhood photos are a free bonus.


Jeb Bush Drops School Choice – I Wonder Why

August 19, 2013

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Jeb Bush’s big speech about education reform has made it onto NRO this morning. He does not include school choice as one of the four key components of education reform. I can’t imagine why Jeb would no longer view school choice as having been an important part of the Florida formula for success. Oh, wait, yes I totally can.

I am for standards. But choice must succeed before standards can succeed. By dropping school choice from his list of must-have reforms, Jeb is undermining the necessary path to success for standards.

Granted, he does turn aside at one point, under his section on digital learning, to tangentially mention school choice. But then, weirdly, he immediately feels the need to insist that “accountability is the cornerstone of reform.” Why is he suddenly going back to the subject of accountability when he’s already discussed that in a previous section? It’s a total non sequitur for him to bring it back up here – unless, that is, he shares my view that school choice is ultimately at odds with the technocratic, “trust us, we’re experts” spirit of Common Core.

He also asserts CC won’t hurt school choice – but his own defensive rush to demand that “accountability is the cornerstone of reform” after merely mentioning school choice undermines confidence in that assertion.

If anyone wants to contest my read of this speech I would request their responses to two questions: Why isn’t school choice one of Jeb’s four must-have reforms? And why does he suddenly rush to insist that “accountability is the cornerstone of reform” right after working in an anodyne mention of school choice?

One last point: We who prioritize school choice did not pick this fight. It was the CC crowd who came out with guns blazing, demanding that all schools must be judged on their yardstick (not parents’ yardsticks) and spitting on anyone who questioned their orthodoxy. We did not pick this fight. But we will not roll over just because the CC folks have all the money and power. A decade ago, the unions had all the money and power. We survived them, and we’ll survive Common Core as well, because we’re right.


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