Education Paternalists: Choice Is Only for Us

November 10, 2015


Googled “paternalism” and found this – seemed appropriate!

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Education paternalists are bending over backwards to shame philanthropists who support school choice, and they show their true colors as the new Bull Connor. Check this out:

“Choice makes sense to so many of us in positions of privilege, who direct philanthropic investments and public policy. Markets have worked for us: we have the financial and social capital to choose the supermarket we want to shop in, the kind of work we want to do or where we want to live,” [Lori Bezahler] writes. “However, unless we examine the relationship between privilege and access to markets, we will ignore the constraints that many families face in a market driven education system.”

Therefore, she concludes, those who are not elites should not be given a choice!

If government is going to expand access to services for the poor – as it sometimes should, and education is one of those cases – giving them a subsidy and then sending them into the marketplace is precisely the way to break down “privilege” and elevate the poor to equal standing. The contrasting models here are food stamps or Section 8 housing vouchers (which allow the poor to walk into the same marketplace as everyone else and get served as a customer alongside everyone else) versus public housing or government-run medical “insurance” cartels (which trap the poor in an alternate universe, cut off from the mainstream cultural world within which that precious “social capital” Bezahler claims to be worried about is available).

There is definitely someone who should be ashamed here, but it isn’t philanthropists who support school choice.

HT Jason Bedrick

Matching Method and the Gold Standard

November 9, 2015

Anna Egalite and Matthew Ackerman have a new study out that examines whether the matching methodology used by CREDO to evaluate charter schools is “a reasonable alternative when the gold standard is not feasible or possible.”  They conclude that it is.  Using data from FL, they consider and rebut a series of common criticisms that have been made against the CREDO methodology.

They find that using multiple students when matching does not change results much from using a single match.  They also find that matching on administrative classifications, like special education and English language learner, also does not distort results much even though those classifications are systematically different across sectors.  And they find that more rigorous methodologies, like using exogenous instruments, yield similar results in FL to using CREDO’s matching method.

Anna and Matthew have done excellent work and convincingly demonstrated their case.  Since Anna is a former student, who is now an Assistant Professor at North Carolina State (via a post-doc at Harvard), and another former student of mine, James (Lynn) Woodworth, is a researcher at CREDO and author of reports using this methodology, this superb analysis of CREDO’s approach fills me with pride in their accomplishments.

But I’m concerned that they or others may over-interpret what this study finds.  It does not demonstrate that matching generally gives you the same result as randomized experiments or other gold standard methodologies.  All that it demonstrates is that matching yielded similar results in this particular context.  In this circumstance, the selection of students into charter schools did not produce important differences between treatment and control students on unobserved characteristics.  And in this case, systematic differences in how charter and traditional public schools classify students into special ed, ELL, and free lunch did not bias the result.  But the next time we use a matching methodology, the situation could be completely different.  In the next matching study, the types of students who attend charters may be significantly different in unobserved ways and administrative classifications could produce strong bias.

People have a very bad habit of declaring that matching or another observational method is just as good as gold-standard research designs whenever the two produce similar results.  They did this after Abdulkadiroğlu, et al produced their Boston charter results.  But declaring that both methods are just as good ignores why we have gold-standard research in the first place.  The bias of observational methods is typically unobserved.  And those biases certainly exist some of the time even if they are not present all of the time.  Finding similar results for matching methods in one circumstance does not erase this fact.

To their credit, Ackerman and Egalite are careful to emphasize that matching should only be considered when more rigorous approaches are not available.  My strong preference is that we should avoid sub-par methodologies, especially when the same policy has been subject to at least some gold-standard evaluations.  We don’t need a study on every charter school in every state.  We should rely on the rigorous research where we have it and then extrapolate those results to other schools and states.  I’d rather be guided by theory supported by rigorous evidence than demand sub-par evidence for all things.  Demanding evidence for every school in every state gives us a false sense of confidence that we really know how each state and school are doing.

Unfortunately, in their drive to make “evidence-based” decisions and feel “scientific,” ed reform policymakers and leaders have demanded that evidence be produced  for each school in each state.  Some have gone so far as to demand evidence on the effectiveness of each teacher.  We can’t produce rigorous evidence all of the time, so these demands for evidence are driving us toward lower quality research designs.  That may produce unbiased results some of the time, but it certainly won’t all of the time.  So, in the desire to be evidence-based and scientific we are likely to undermine the quality of evidence and science.  Let’s stick to gold-standard work for policy questions where we have those studies.

“Testing” Is Not a Synonym for Common Core

November 6, 2015

[Guest Post by Jason Bedrick]

Over at the Cato-at-Liberty blog today, I dissect the results of BAEO’s recent survey of black voters’ views of education policy. BAEO is a fantastic organization, but this isn’t their best work. Although their question about school vouchers was straightforward (when asked “Do you support school vouchers/scholarships?” more than 60 percent answered in the affirmative), the survey question that they claim shows support for Common Core actually does no such thing.

BAEO claims the survey “indicated solid support among Black voters that believe educational standards such as Common Core and its related assessments is essential to holding education stakeholders responsible for student learning outcomes.”

It does not. As I explained at the Cato blog:

If the wording of the survey question was identical to how it appears on their website, then it says absolutely nothing about black support for Common Core. The question as it appears on their website is: “Do you think that testing is necessary to hold schools accountable for student achievement?” The question doesn’t mention Common Core at all. For that matter, it doesn’t mention standardized testing specifically, nor explain how the testing is meant to “hold schools accountable.” Perhaps it means publishing the score results so parents will hold schools accountable. Or perhaps it means the state government will offer financial carrots or regulatory sticks. Or maybe it means whatever the survey respondent wants it to mean.

If Acme Snack Co. asked survey respondents, “Do you like snacks that are delicious and nutritious?” and then claimed “two-thirds of Americans enjoy delicious and nutritious snacks such as Acme Snack Co. snacks,” they would be guilty of false advertising. Maybe the survey respondents really do like Acme Snacks–or Common Core–but we can’t know that from that survey. Just as some people may enjoy carrots (delicious and nutritious) but find Acme Snacks revolting, lots of parents may support some measure of testing while opposing Common Core testing for any number of reasons.

“Testing” is not a synonym for Common Core. Supporting the former does not imply supporting the latter. (Just ask the Pioneer Institute.) If BAEO wanted to ask about Common Core, they should’ve asked about Common Core. Instead, they asked about mere “testing.” Making any claims about support for Common Core based on this question is irresponsible. BAEO can do better.

The Wild West is Best put your NAEP scores to the Test

November 6, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’m going to use my Professor X powers to read your mind…you are thinking “Alright Ladner enough with the Arizona NAEP scores- won’t you give it a rest?”

No I will not. There’s a party going on right here-it’s a celeNAEPtion and it lasts throughout the year.

I’ve anticipated some of the possible objections to celebrating Arizona NAEP scores. Maybe those dastardly charter schools may have been circumventing their random assignment admission lottery legal requirements to load up on rich white kids! Maybe they don’t have many English Language Learners, special education students, Hispanic students, etc. District schools have to take everyone who can afford to buy a home in their attendance zone so comparisons aren’t fair…

Well some find this a very useful story, but we can actually examine it in the data. Let me note from the outset that variations in student demographics and special program status do exist between schools and school systems, achievement gaps between such student groups are a well-established phenomenon and that some accounting for such differences should be (carefully) made if our goal is to judge the effectiveness of a system. The best way to test this sort of thing is with a well done random-assignment study, but sadly we don’t have one.

I reported earlier that Arizona charter schools essentially tied Massachusetts (the highest scoring state) and the private school national average scores on the NAEP 8th grade reading test in 2015. What happens if we only look at the scores of general education students whose family income make them eligible for a free or reduced lunch? If those dastardly charter schools have been carefully avoiding special needs and ELL students it isn’t going to help them with this comparison.

AZ Charter 8m ranking

Let’s just put it on the table that free and reduced lunch eligible is going to translate to a higher proportion of Hispanic students in Arizona charter schools, but that was not a problem hombre. Do you notice anything similar about all those states (slightly) ahead of Arizona charter schools? Let me give you a hint…

Oh and…

CeleNAEP Good Times-C’MON!

November 5, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

My #Shadowfaction partner in crime Lisa Graham Keegan and I hit the pages of the Arizona Republic to celeNAEP good times in Arizona. Teaser trailer:

NAEP has given 40 exams on mathematics and reading to representative samples of Arizona students in various years since the early 1990s. As a low-income state with more than its share of student challenges (high poverty and non-native English speaking rates), Arizona has never met or exceeded the national average score – until now.

Arizona’s eighth-graders edged out the national average in mathematics and only narrowly missed doing the same in reading. Therefore, Arizona’s Class of 2019 carries a special distinction in state history – one that future classes can both match and exceed. Achievement has improved substantially since the last pre-recession measures in 2007.

Of notable attention are Arizona’s charter-school students, who matched the scores for the highest-scoring states on the 2015 NAEP. On eighth grade mathematics, for instance, Arizona charter students scored in a statistical dead heat with Massachusetts, the highest scoring of the 50 states.


The For-Profit Boogieman

November 4, 2015


Check it out, he’s even GREEN! What more proof do you need?

(Guest Post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s Perspective carries my column on the blob’s hypocritical allergy to profit in education:

A typical post from the blog of the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) provides a window into this mindset. Posted near Christmas, it darkly warns that instead of Santa, a “sinister sleigh” was approaching Oklahoma, “being pulled by those whose intent is to devalue public education and then turn education into for-profit businesses…Alas, their motives are far from good. The bottom line for them is profit. Profit made at the expense of our children’s education.”

The great irony is that this educational blob is itself dependent upon profit in numerous ways. It’s a story as old as history: “It’s different when we do it.” In fact, the problem is not the existence of profit, but how the profit is made and who – government or parents – has the authority to decide when it’s being made at the expense of education.

I go over the various ways in which the teacher and staff unions are dependent on profit, culminating with this:

My favorite example comes from education labor reporter Mike Antonucci. He pointed out that teacher-union conventions – where rhetoric about the evils of profit is always abundant – are in fact a big business. Any large gathering of people is an advertising opportunity, and the unions have never been in the least shy about monetizing that opportunity. Try to reserve an exhibit booth at the next big union convention by paying only what it costs to provide the booth; if they turn you down, ask them how they justify such profiteering!

As always, your comments are welcome!

Arizona charter schools rocked the 2015 NAEP so hard that…

November 4, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

,,,they scored the same as the nationwide number for private school students on the NAEP 8th grade math test in 2013 and 2011 (no new private school number in 2015). I’m not sure what to say about this other than:


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