One two three four! One two three four! Gabba Gabba Hey- Blast Through an important study today! (Thank you, goodnight!)

September 30, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So the second greatest rock band of all time invented Punk Rock by taking 1950s do-wap songs and speeding them up to under two minutes, added a splash of psycho. The Friedman Foundation has gotten in on the act with these cool info-graphic slide shows that you can blast through a study in under two minutes, and like the Ramones, it is also awesome. Check it out here.

 


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.

 


National School Choice Litigation Week?

August 29, 2014

(Guest Post by A.D. Motzen)

By Friday, school choice advocates were beginning to ask themselves, “what color scarf does one wear during National School Choice Litigation Week?” No, that’s not an official date on the calendar, but it sure seemed like that this week.

The biggest news of course, was the lawsuit filed on Thursday by the Florida teachers union and others to take away the scholarships of 67,000 low-income students. The scholarship tax credit program, enacted in 2001, is the largest in the country and has support of many African American and Hispanic Democratic legislators and community leaders. An overwhelming majority of participants are minority students and the attempt to end a longstanding, successful and popular program makes the lawsuit a highly unusual tactic in the battle of school choice.

Agudath Israel of Florida director, Rabbi Moshe Matz traveled to Tallahassee and spoke at a press conference in opposition to the lawsuit. Rabbi Matz called the lawsuit “shameful” and argued that the program should be lauded and expanded, not litigated.” More than 1000 students attending Jewish day schools are at risk of losing their scholarship if the lawsuit prevails.

On a positive note, the New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling which had prevented the state’s new scholarship tax credit program from being used at religious schools. The court found that the plaintiffs had no standing and could not show how they were harmed by the program.

In other states however, our opponents are not giving up easily. In North Carolina, school choice supporters and lawmakers petitioned the State Supreme Court on Monday to allow students to receive scholarship funds from the Opportunity Scholarship Program while the case is litigated. The case has bounced back and forth between Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood, the North Carolina Court of Appeals and the North Carolina Supreme Court.

Finally, in Oklahoma County District Court on Thursday, a judge ruled against students using the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities (named after the daughter of Democratic Governor Brad Henry who signed the original legislation into law) to attend a religious school. Thankfully, State Attorney General Scott Pruitt promised to appeal the ruling.

So is school choice at risk? Lawsuits are never good. They scare parents and schools from participating in these programs. They waste valuable resources which could have been better used helping promote the programs passed by legislators. However, the reason we see more lawsuits is because more programs are being passed around the country as the movement gains momentum. These lawsuits, especially ones litigating established programs such as in Florida and Georgia, are acts of desperation by those opposed to giving choices to families.

Around the country, more than three hundred thousand students are attending a private school thanks to a scholarship program. Parents, we need you to speak up. Let your legislators and your local news media know that you support these vital programs. With your help we will prevail.


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.


“Dr. Zaius, Dr. Zaius! Oh, Ohhhh, Dr. Zaius!”

July 24, 2014

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Andy Smarick’s proposal for private choice school authorizers deserves a closer look. I can understand why at first it might prompt smart people like Jason Bedrick to cry out, as Matt put it, “get your charter law off me, you dirty ape!” But in the original report, Smarick doesn’t flesh out the idea in detail, and we all know who’s in the details. There are certainly some ways of designing such authorizers that would lead me to join Jason’s outcry against them. But there are also possible ways of designing them that would make me say, “I can siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!”

Authorizers could improve rather than hinder the regulatory regime of private choice schools, if a few key points were observed:

  1. The creation of authorizers must be accompanied by the removal of the arbitrary, meaningless restrictions on school startups that currently prevail in many choice programs. In Louisiana, you have to have already been operating for three years before you’re eligible! Why not just stick a sign in the window that says “No Startups Need Apply”? These restrictions are put in choice programs to protect existing private school systems from healthy competition. They’re one of the worst problems with existing school choice programs, because the ability to attract educational entrepreneurs who create new kinds of schools, not just another iteration of the same mediocre systems we have now, is the real key to advancing education through choice. If there is any kind of sanity in the process (I know, I know) the creation of authorizers must be accompanied by the removal of all these outrageous restrictions. Protecting us from fly-by-night shysters is what we have the authorizers for.
  2. While we’re at it, if we create authorizers we should also be able to get, in return, programs that are more broadly designed to attract entrepreneurs rather than simply to service the existing private school system. No more $1,000 scholarships that do no more than grease the wheels for people to attend existing private schools.
  3. It would be critical to have multiple authorizers, the more the better. School startups that get turned down by one could go to another. Meanwhile, the blob would have great difficulty neutralizing or colonizing more than a handful of the authorizers, so the majority would remain free.
  4. Combining #1-3, there should be several authorizers whose specific mission is to attract entrepreneurs who want to create new kinds of schools. By all means, let the diocese be an authorizer. But there should also be authorizers tasked with attracting and approving responsible entrepreneurs.
  5. There should also be a process for creating new authorizers that doesn’t require new legislation. That way the pool can be regularly refreshed with new choice-friendly authorizers every time the friends of choice are in power. The optimal plan is not so much to prevent the authorizers from being neutralized or colonized, though we should do that if we can, as to make it easy for people who support choice to create a raft of new authorizers every time they’re in power.
  6. Authorizers should be a locus of brand identity, and thus choice-based accountability. Everyone should know which schools are authorized by whom, so parents can reward the good authorizers and punish the bad ones. The more we encourage that, the less coercive accountability we will need.

And, of course, there is no need for the authorizer route to be strictly alternative to the traditional route. It could be both/and – schools are admitted to choice programs in the traditional way if they meet the traditional (ridiculous) requirements, but authorizers are added on as an additional way to approve schools for participation if they don’t meet those requirements.


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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