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.


Told You So!

August 28, 2014

Casablanca - Shocked!

I am shocked – shocked! – to discover that

nationalization of education is going on in here!

Casablanca - Your Winnings

Your NCLB subsidies, monsieur.

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Common Core is not federally driven!

We repeat, Common Core is not federally driven!

Crimethink doubleplusungood!

It’s too bad nobody predicted this would happen – oh, wait, hang on:

Could we now at least ask for a moratorium on the silly “we can quit any time we want!” argument? I mean the assertion that once states have been forced to sign up for Common Core, the fact that they remain signed up rather than dropping out somehow counts as evidence that they’re really “voluntarily” on board. Leave aside the fact that it basically boils down to saying it’s OK for state political leaders to be prostitutes and destroy children’s lives for money as long as they then come out after the fact and admit openly that that’s what they were doing all along. Does anyone really think that strongarming is something that happens only once? I mean, if your corner grocery gets a visit from Guido and Rocco and immediately thereafter signs up as a member of the Legitimate Businessmen’s Neighborhood Business Protection Society, does its membership count as “voluntary” because it stays in the society year after year even though Guido and Rocco never set foot in the place again?

Suppoose the LBNBPS people swear – cross their hearts and hope to die – that they’ve fired Guido and Rocco and have gone totally legitimate? Would anyone believe them? Would businesses feel free to leave?

This part seems strangely relevant, too:

I get the sense that conservatives who like Common Core want a do-over. They want to disengage from their former allies among the nationalizers and reposition themselves as champions of high state standards.

Fine! Step one to getting a do-over is to actually do it over.

Common Core is irreversibly associated with nationalization. It already was before the latest word about NCLB waivers; that news doesn’t create, but merely confirms, the permanent link between CC and nationalization of education.

You want genuinely state-driven common standards? Create some.


Florida Teachers are Poorly Represented by the Offensive Actions and Attitudes of the Florida Education Association

August 28, 2014

FEA protestors

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Florida Education Association already filed a lawsuit against an expansion of the Florida tax credit program and the Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts on procedural grounds. In so doing, the FEA leadership broadly and Vice President Joanne McCall in particular engaged in utter hypocrisy as they had used an identical procedure to get a large teacher pay raise the session before. In the process a FEA official described the special needs students who could benefit from participation in the Personal Learning Scholarship Account program as “collateral casualties.”

So well, if referring to children with disabilities as casualties wasn’t revealing enough about where the well-being of children fall on the priority list of the FEA, today we have a new example from Florida FEA Vice President Joanne McCall. The FEA joined with the Florida School Boards Association in a legal attack on the Florida tax credit program. The families of 60,000 low-income Florida children use this program to finance their education. As mentioned earlier the program has generated a variety of positive evaluations.

Parents feel very strongly about outside groups trying to force their child out of the school they have selected to best meet their needs. Their child’s learning and their network of friends is all being put under assault by this incredibly callous action by the FBSA and FEA.  In a move that should shock no one, a group of these aggrieved parents have protested the FEA’s action outside of their headquarters in Tallahassee.

Here is the response from Twitter for Florida Education Association VP Joanne McCall:

FEA

 

I can’t imagine a more revealing statement. First children with disabilities were “collateral casualties” to the absurd and misguided fears and hatred of the FEA. Now low-income parents who simply want to exercise the same freedom that higher income families take for granted to choose the best school for their child are “hit dogs.” Perhaps it is necessary to dehumanize your victims in your mind before making them into a casualty.

These children and these parents of course are human beings-people with hopes, dreams and aspirations. The only thing accurate about the statement is that the FEA has indeed struck these people. They have cruelly and needlessly introduced fear and uncertainty into their already difficult lives. McCall and her entire organization should be ashamed of what they have done.


BOOOOOOOOOM! New Hampshire Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Tax Credit Program

August 28, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Instant analysis from Jason Bedrick.  Ironically enough the Florida School Boards Association and other members of the public school non-profit industrial complex filed suit again the Florida tax credit today. Florida judges would do well to apply the question of harm (and thus standing) to these litigants, because the reality is that Florida public schools have far more money, more students, and employ more people today than before the Florida tax credit passed. The state appointed academic evaluator (and others) have found that part of the source for the remarkable improvement in public schools originated from the tax credit program.  The districts would have higher enrollment in the absence of the program, but they have local funding to cover their fixed costs and have been dealing with enrollment growth for decades and will deal with more in decades to come.

I’d love to hear a coherent claim of harm in any of this. The New Hampshire Supreme Court was wise and just in drawing this conclusion, and thousands of low and middle income children will have greater options because of it. I hope that Florida’s judges will prove equally adept.


Florida School Boards Association Prepares to File Suit Against Tax Credit

August 27, 2014

Florida census

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Despite the wishes of the parents of 69,000 low-income children, despite the fact that Florida districts improved outcomes substantially during an era of increasing parental options, despite positive third-party academic evaluations of the tax credit program, and despite Census Bureau projections that show that Florida’s district schools will likely face a severe overcrowding problem, the word is out that the Florida School Boards Association is set to file suit against Florida’s tax credit program.  As you can see from the post below, Florida is one of the lower-income states. As you can see from the chart above, both the youth and elderly populations of Florida are set to substantially grow over the next decade and a half.  Elderly people already consume a majority of Medicaid funding, and when your population of 65+ projects to grow from 3.4m to 7.8m you’ve got a huge problem on your hands.

The tax credit program will not begin to solve this problem by itself, but nothing will.  Florida is going to need a series of policy innovations to improve state outcomes while lowering costs to get through this.  Innovations with results **ahem** like the tax credit program.  The average scholarship amount is about half of the public school spending rate. Better still, the third-party academic evaluations by Northwestern economist David Figlio found academic gains for both participating students and for public schools facing higher levels of competition.

If the Florida School Boards Association has a plan to deal with the age demographic storm on the horizon, which includes a projected million plus increase in the size of the K-12 population while the state ages, I would like to know what it is.  Stamp out successful reforms and then cover the playgrounds with trailers and hope for the best?  School districts are always going to be the backbone of the education system in Florida. Funding for education is guaranteed by the Florida Constitution and supported by the public.

Nevertheless, Florida urgently and badly needs improvement and innovation in the public sector, especially in K-12.  This lawsuit represents a step in the wrong direction and more worrying still speaks to a complete lack of either awareness or seriousness about the challenges facing Florida’s future.


Is Ed Reform Tripping with a Testing High?

August 27, 2014

Marty West and colleagues have an incredibly important study described in Education Next this week.  It’s based on a piece published earlier this year in Psychological Science, a leading psychology journal, but the Ed Next version is probably easier for ed reform folks to access and grasp.

At its heart, the study applies well-established concepts from cognitive psychology to the field of education policy, with potentially unsettling results.  Intelligence, or cognitive ability, can be divided into two types: crystallized knowledge and fluid cognitive skills.  Crystallized knowledge is all of the stuff you know — facts, math formulae, vocabulary, etc… Fluid cognitive skills are the ability to think quickly, keep things in memory, and solve new problems.  The two are closely connected, but there are important distinctions between the two types.

West and his colleagues collected data from more than 1,300 8th graders in Boston, including some of the city’s famously high-performing charter schools to see how these schools affected both types of cognitive ability.  The bottom line is that schools believed to be high-performing are dramatically improving students’ crystallized knowledge, as measured by standardized tests, but have basically no effect on fluid cognitive skills.  That is, Boston’s successful charter schools appear to be able to get students to know more stuff but do not improve their ability to think quickly, keep things in memory, or solve new problems.

Perhaps we should be happy with the test score gains and untroubled by the lack of improvement in fluid cognitive skills.  Chetty et al suggest that test score gains are predictive of later success in life, so who cares about those other skills?  Maybe.  But maybe the students in Chetty experienced improvements in both crystallized knowledge and fluid skills, but he only has measures of the former.  It could still be the case that both types were essential for success.

There are worrisome signs that graduates from schools like KIPP are struggling in college despite impressive test score improvement in K-12.  Perhaps the mis-match between improved crystallized knowledge and stagnant fluid skills cannot produce sustained success.  Perhaps these products of successful ed reform know more of the high school curriculum but are unable to do things, like think quickly and solve new problems, that are important for later life accomplishment.  E.D Hirsch and his followers have been convinced that gains in crystallized knowledge would translate into improved fluid skills, but that appears not to be the case — at least not in these model charter schools in Boston.  

If fluid skills really matter, ed reform is in a serious pickle.  First, we almost exclusively measure crystallized knowledge with our reliance on standardized tests.  If anything, we appear to be increasingly emphasizing (and measuring) crystallized knowledge to the exclusion of fluid skills.  So even when we manage to produce test score gains, we are more likely to neglect fluid skills.  

Second, no one really knows how to improve fluid skills in a school setting.  There are some laboratory experiments that have successfully altered fluid skills, but those effects are often fleeting and have never been replicated in a school environment.  It’s taken us decades to devise some effective strategies for improving test scores.  It may take us decades more to devise strategies for schools to affect fluid skills, even if we start caring about and measuring those outcomes.

Educational success probably requires addressing student needs and abilities on multiple dimensions.  Large, technocratic systems built around standardized test results have a hard time focusing on more than the one dimension of test scores.  The research by West, et al suggests that not all dimensions of academic progress necessarily move in sync.  The unattended dimension of fluid skills may spoil the progress on the attended dimension of crystallized knowledge by undermining later-life success.


Alaska on top (for now) while the Euro Zone, Alabama, Britain and Mississippi bring up the rear

August 27, 2014

GDP

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Readers of a certain age will recall the days when European films got over 10% of the American box office. I recall being told that this was the thing to do, but being fairly consistently disappointed with the products. European governments are apparently willing to subsidize bad films on an ongoing basis, but I was not. Eventually the American public also found better ways to spend their entertainment dollars, and European film-going shrank in America.

It looks to me like the devotion of some Americans to European economic policies deserve the same fate. Even our versions of small population/big oil territories (Alaska and North Dakota) beat the stuffing out of their version (Norway). Germany is the economic titan of Europe but finds itself sandwiched between Montana and Arizona. Move an American state with a large population and high-end GDP per capita to Europe (say New York or Texas) and there would be a new sheriff in town.

Read the WaPo for more.  Someone explain to me again why the PISA rankings would look so much different than the economic rankings. Don’t bother trying to say that there is poverty in Alabama but none in the Euro zone because I’m not buying it. The last per student spending rankings I saw had Alaska (the top state at GDP per head) at $18,000 per year per kid and NAEP says 42% of the 4th graders score below basic in reading. It would be a great idea to concentrate on getting bigger bang for the buck because, ahem, well…


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