Happy Belated Presidents’ Day

February 19, 2015

Here is a musical tribute:

Parental Choice Reporting in Refuto-Vision! (TM)

February 18, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So a few years ago Jay was in downtown Austin with an evening to kill. He called me and asked me what he should do. I of course said “Go to the Alamo Drafthouse!!!”

So he looked up what was playing at the Alamo that night and told me “Hmmm, it says ‘Indiana Jones 4 in Heckle-vision.’ What is ‘hecklevision?’

I said “I don’t know but it doesn’t matter, just GO!”

So he went. Hecklevision turned out to be a system whereby you could text messages on the screen while you watched an awful movie (Indy 4 certainly qualifies). Jay reported that the experience was hilarious.

So in the same spirit of fun, we decided to create something called Refuto-Vision! (TM) here at the Jayblog.  A few introductory comments-one of the ongoing challenges of the school choice debate is the ongoing practice of having choice opponents simply fear things, regardless of whether those fears have any empirical basis, and have them printed as grave concerns. “School choice is going to make kids grow a radioactive third eye” doesn’t (quite) get printed (yet) but many things just below that in plausibility routinely find their way into print. Reporters work on tight deadlines and (on a good day) attempt to present a balanced story, balanced in the sense that they have spoken to both sides and have their point of view presented in the story.

Jason Bedrick and Greg Forster volunteered to serve as Refuto-Vision (TM) reviewers on just such a conventionally balanced story-the recent Politico article on ESA programs. We could have chosen any number of straight up opinion-piece screeds to try this out (stay tuned!) but a news story seemed like a better place to start. For the record we have all seen (bad day) news stories far less balanced than this.

Due to the technical limitations of this almost-free blog and the even greater limitations of its user, this Refuto-Vision comes in the form of a pdf file, downloadable in the below link. Ladies and Gentlemen I present to you Refuto-Vision (TM) 1 in magnificent 2D:

Refuto-Vision 1


Destruction of Public Education or Pressure Release Valve? You Make the Call…

February 16, 2015

AZ enrollment trends

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

This is what the “destruction of public education” looks like in extremist, wild west Arizona…oh….wait…what? The increase in district enrollment is greater than the growth in charter school students since the creation of the law charter law in 1994 and 2012-176,989 to 128,427?

Yeah, but…

What is that you say? Even if you combine all of Arizona’s private choice students with all the charter school students, the increase in district enrollment still outstrips the increase in choice enrollment 176,989 to 159,014?

Ok but if those choice programs didn’t exist, the number of students and the amount of money going to districts would be higher than it is now. So…

High demand schools surrounded by portable buildings? C’mon that would never happen! Already common in Texas? Arizona has been broke since 2007, unable to afford much new district building space eh? Well we could just raise taxes…what? Arizonans raise millions of private dollars to finance charter and private school spaces? Census Bureau projects hundreds of thousands more students over the next 15 years? Already high elderly population set to vastly expand too?

Ok, sign me up.


Arkansas Should Drop PARCC for an NRT Next Year

February 14, 2015

Below is my oped in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette on how Arkansas should drop the PARCC test next year and switch to a nationally normed referenced test to reduce teaching to the test, avoid unproductive fights over standards and testing, and stop bossing local schools and teachers around. It would also cost a lot less.

Opportunity arises

State has chance for better tests

Posted: February 14, 2015 at 1:58 a.m.

The Legislature is considering a number of proposals to alter the state’s current requirement that public schools administer the PARCC test, one of two federally funded tests aligned with the Common Core standards. These proposals are motivated by a variety of concerns, some of which are legitimate and reasonable and some which are not.

Whatever its legitimacy, the current debate is an excellent opportunity for Arkansas to reconsider why it requires testing and what kind of test would best serve these public purposes.

Past testing has been motivated primarily by two goals: providing transparency and directing the behavior of educators. The evidence is now clear that transparency has meaningful benefits for parents, communities and policymakers, but attempting to use testing to drive what educators teach and how they teach it has been counterproductive. Starting next academic year, Arkansas should switch to using a norm-referenced test that provides transparency but does not attempt to control how schools and teachers do their job.

The PARCC test, which Arkansas plans to administer this spring, is a criteria-referenced test, which is the type of test that tries to drive what educators teach. It is aligned with a set of standards–in this case, Common Core–and rewards schools and teachers that emphasize teaching the particular content covered by the test and expected by those standards.

Criteria-referenced tests cause three serious problems. First, because they are aligned with a set of standards, schools and educators are able to “teach to the test.” But it is also possible for educators to focus too narrowly on the content covered in the test. All criteria-referenced tests are inherently gameable. In trying to tell schools and teachers what they should teach, they also provide educators with a road map for how to drill students in the particular content of the test to raise scores artificially. This undermines the transparency benefit of testing by pushing schools to manipulate results through an inordinate amount of test preparation. It also causes schools to narrow their curriculum to coach tested content to the exclusion of other important content and subjects. The arts, history, and sciences all suffer from criteria-referenced testing in math and reading.

Second, because criteria-referenced tests are aligned with a particular set of standards, they invite a perpetual and destructive struggle over what those standards should be. I have no opinion about the merits or defects of the Common Core standards, but I do know that Brookings Institute scholar Tom Loveless and others have shown that states with “better” standards have fared no better on independent measures of academic achievement than states with what are considered lousy standards. It isn’t so easy to know what the right standards should be, and it’s even harder to push educators in productive ways to teach those standards. Given how the quality of past state standards has made no difference in student outcomes, why should people bother to fight to impose a set of standard and aligned testing over the objections of many who have legitimately different opinions about what educators should teach?

Third, criteria-referenced tests are trying to use a crude instrument from a great distance away to get schools and educators to do what state or national policymakers think is best. Even if those remote elites are well-intentioned–and sometimes they are not–schools are still run best by local educators and communities.

There is a different type of test that Arkansas could administer that avoids these dangers of excessive and narrow test prep, unnecessary political fighting, and centralized control over education. Norm-referenced tests are not aligned with any particular set of standards, but can still provide general measures of how well students are performing academically. They meet our reasonable goal of wanting transparency about how students are progressing in school. But because they are based on a generic curriculum rather than a particular set of standards, it really isn’t possible for schools to game them by focusing exclusively on a narrow set of content.

In addition, because norm-referenced tests are not pushing a particular set of standards and content, they do not invite political struggles. They also don’t boss around local schools and teachers because they aren’t trying to make them teach particular content or in a particular way.

There are plenty of already-developed norm-referenced tests from which Arkansas could choose. Because they can be bought off the shelf and do not have to be customized to Arkansas, they would also be cheaper than trying to develop another Arkansas-specific criteria referenced test. It is probably wisest to go ahead with PARCC this year, given how late in the process we are, but a change to a norm-referenced test could be made for next school year.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the federal government requires us to adopt PARCC or some other criteria-referenced test. Education is the prerogative of states, and federal law prohibits the national government from mandating specific tests or curriculum, despite the fact that it has taken steps in that direction. Arkansas needs political leaders with the courage to stand up and do what is best for Arkansas.


Jay P. Greene is the 21st Century Endowed Professor in Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, where he is head of the Department of Education Reform.

Editorial on 02/14/2015

Road Trip Heads to Oklahoma

February 12, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over on the Ed Fly blog I have a post on the age demography challenge in Oklahoma from Turn and Face the Strain. Spoiler alert: if Oklahoma’s K-12 system has a next 15 years similar to the last 15 years they will be adding to what looks to be already looks to be a very considerable challenge in 2030.

Oklahoma strain



Mississippi Senate Passes ESA

February 11, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Congrats to Senator Nancy Collins on passing Senate Bill 2695.






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