Responding to the President on Choice Media

February 24, 2014

ResponseToObamaVoucher

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Recently, the president claimed that “every study” shows voucher programs aren’t highly effective. Choice Media has posted a short clip in which a legend in the field (Paul Peterson), the leader of voucher research conducted by the president’s own department of education (Pat Wolf), and a modest chorus in the background (yours truly) contest the president’s claim.


Read ‘Em and Weep Edureactionaries

November 14, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

There is a great deal of interesting material in the Hanushek, Peterson and Woessmann study on international/American state academic achievement. Below however is the chart from the Ed Next version that I found most interesting:

Focusing on the 4th Grade Mathematics exam between 1992 and 2009, the authors found that increasing spending does not have a strong relationship with improved student learning. Par for the course.

Take a close look at the top of the chart however in terms of the states making large gains and how much additional revenue per pupil they spent to get them.

The states showing the top gains (in order) are Maryland, Florida, Delaware and Massachusetts. MD, FL and DE essentially tie with MA slightly behind.

Notice however that the inflation adjusted spending per pupil increase in Florida between 1992 and 2009 was $1,000. In Delaware it was $3,000. Maryland looks near the midpoint between $4,000 and $5,000 so lets roughly call it $4,500. Massachusetts looks to be $5,000.

So Florida managed first class gains with a much smaller increase in funding. If I were to go and look up the numbers, we would find that Florida’s smaller increase also came from a smaller base- MD, DE and MA were all likely to have been outspending Florida in 1992 and then really outspending them in 2009.

It is also worth noting that Florida faces considerably greater demographic challenges than MD, DE or MA- far more free and reduced lunch eligible children, more ELL kids, and to the extent you want to factor race/ethnicity into the equation it is a far more diverse state with a majority-minority student population.

So conflict-adverse state policymakers with extra billions of dollars burning a hole in their pocket and very wealthy and pale complected students should study MD, DE and MA for clues on how to improve their student outcomes.

If however you live in a state with average or above student diversity, real budgetary constraints on the amount you can spend on K-12 and strong competing demands for any additional revenue you are likely to scrape up, you should study Florida. In fact you should study Florida regardless unless you lack the guts for a good tussel.

P.S. Notice that NY and WY both had gigantic spending increases (an inflation adjusted $6k per student) only to achieve average and below-average gains respectively. At least WY is just wasting money they are pumping out of the ground. NY seems intent to drive their citizens out of state. Taxpayers and especially students are the losers in both cases.


Gloom and Gloomier

February 1, 2011

The editors at Education Next have two essays on the state of education reform that remind me of Woody Allen’s never-delivered university commencement speech:

More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

In one essay, Paul Peterson, Marci Kanstoroom, and Chester Finn reject my rosy assessment of progress in the war of ideas about education reform, saying “It’s way, way too early to declare victory. Atop the cliffs and bastions that reformers are attacking, the opposition has plenty of weapons with which to hold its territory…. It’s dangerous to think a battle is over when it has just begun.”

In the other essay, Frederick Hess, Martin West, and Michael Petrilli go even further in their gloom, arguing not only that the war has hardly begun, but that the reform warriors are really the enemy:

First, reform “support” resides with a mostly uninformed, unengaged public—one that isn’t especially sold on their ideas and that, in any event, is often outmatched by well-organized, well-funded, and motivated special interests. And second, and more unfortunately, many reformers are eagerly overreaching the evidence and touting simplistic, slipshod proposals that are likely to end in spectacular failures. In short, some forces of reform are busy marching into the sea and turning notable victories into Pyrrhic ones. To quote that wizened observer of politics and policy, Pogo: We’ve met the enemy, and he is us.

That’s funny.  I thought the enemy was a monopolistic, bureaucratized 19th century school system propped up by teacher unions and their allies who place the interests of adults over the needs of children.  I guess I was wrong in not understanding that it is really the opponents of that system who are the problem.

In truth, I don’t really disagree with much of what either essay has to say.  It is all just a matter of emphasis and framing. In my declaration of victory I was careful to acknowledge that the war over policy has barely begun and reformers have a long and difficult road ahead:

We won!  At least we’ve won the war of ideas.  Our ideas for school reform are now the ones that elites and politicians are considering and they have soundly rejected the old ideas of more money, more money, and more money.

Now that I’ve said that, I have to acknowledge that winning the war of ideas is nowhere close to winning the policy war.  As I’ve written before, the teacher unions are becoming like the tobacco industry.  No one accepts their primary claims anymore, but that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to be powerful and that people don’t continue to smoke.  The battle is turning into a struggle over the correct design and implementation of the reform ideas that are now commonly accepted.  And the unions have shown that they are extremely good at blocking, diluting, or co-opting the correct design and implementation of reforms.

Rick Hess correctly demonstrated how important design and implementation are almost two decades ago in his books, Spinning Wheels and Revolution at the Margins.   And it is always useful for him and others to remind reformers of the dangers that lurk in those union-infested waters.  But for a moment can’t we just bask in the glow of our intellectual victory — even if our allies are a new crop of naive reformers?

Yes, there is a danger in thinking that the policy war is over when it has barely begun.  And yes, there is a danger in over-promising and over-simplifying reform ideas.  But there is also a danger in reform burn-out.  The struggle over school reform has been going on for decades and will almost certainly take several decades more.  Donors have grown frustrated and advocates have jumped to ill-conceived quick fixes that would set the cause of reform back significantly, like adopting national standards and assessments.  If we don’t periodically note our policy progress and intellectual victories, we will have great difficulty sustaining the reform movement.

My view does not really differ substantially from the two essays in Education Next except that they see a greater danger in over-confidence and I see a greater danger in burnout.  And I don’t mind being used as the straw man for their arguments.  The Straw Man had a brain.


Peterson and West on the NAACP and Charters

August 3, 2010

Paul Peterson and Marty West have a great piece in today’s WSJ showing how increasingly popular charter schools are among African-Americans.  Despite that fact, the NAACP continues to oppose charters.

Given that 64% of African-Americans surveyed stated that they supported the formation of charter schools (up from 49% last year), Peterson and West remark that: “It’s time civil-rights groups listened to their communities.”

Unfortunately, Peterson and West tell us, the NAACP has picked their political allies in the teacher unions over their constituents:

By casting their lot firmly with teachers unions, the leadership of the NAACP and the Urban League hope to preserve their power and safeguard their traditional sources of financial support. Not only is this is a cynical strategy, it ignores where African-Americans and Hispanics are on the issue. Thankfully, the Obama administration is paying attention to the needs of low-income, minority communities and not to their purported leaders.

You can read more about the survey over at Education Next.


Why are we having this fight again?

June 16, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Could the adoption of common core standards lead to substantial academic gains, even if somehow developed and kept at a high level in some imaginary Federal Reserve type fortress of political solitude and kept safe from the great national dummy down?

I ran NAEP numbers for all 50 states and the District of Columbia and calculated the total gains on the main NAEP exams (4th and 8th grade Reading and Math) for the period that all states have been taking NAEP (2003-2009). In order to minimize educational and socio-economic differences, I compared the scores of non-special program (ELL, IEP) children eligible for a free or reduced price lunch.

I then ranked those 50 states, and the table below presents the Top 10, along with the total grades by year for the strength of state proficiency standards as measured by Paul Peterson. Peterson judges state assessments by comparing scores on the state exam to those on NAEP.

To my eyes, it looks as though either nothing or next to nothing is going on here. The top three performers (FL, DC and PA) have unremarkable standards vis a vis NAEP.  Russ Whitehurst has written that some commercially available curriculum packages have shown good results in random assignment studies.

Jolly good- I suggest states adopt them rather than this politically naive common core standards effort.

NAEP Gains in 4h and 8th Grade Math and Reading for FRL, Non-IEP, Non-ELL students, 2003-09 for the Top 10 states (FL=1, NY = 10) compared to State Standards Grades by Peterson and Lastron-Adanon
2003 2005 2007 2009
FL C C C+ C

DC

C C
PA C C C C
MA A A A A
VT B- B B+
Hawaii B B+ B+ A
Md C+ C C D+
NV C C C
NJ C C C B
NY C C C+ D

NAEP Gains in 4th and 8th Grade Math and Reading for FRL, Non-IEP, Non-ELL students, 2003-09 for the Top 10 states (FL=1, NY = 10) compared to State Standards Grades by Peterson and Lastron-Adanon
2003 2005 2007 2009
FL C C C+ C

DC

C C
PA C C C C
MA A A A A
VT B- B B+
Hawaii B B+ B+ A
Md C+ C C D+
NV C C C
NJ C C C B
NY C C C+ D

…but hold the class size amendment.

May 17, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Paul Peterson details research showing that the class size amendment was ineffectual in improving student achievement in Florida . These findings are entirely consistent with the substantial empirical literature on class size reduction as an education reform strategy.


Peterson on Charters

March 16, 2010

Paul Peterson has an excellent piece on charter schools and the merits of competition on education in today’s WSJ.

Here’s the money quote:

[Ravitch] offers a naïve and static view of markets. “It is in the nature of markets that some succeed, some are middling, and others fail,” she wrote.

Twentieth century economist Joseph Schumpeter saw it another way. In his view, it is in the nature of markets that middling firms are “creatively” destroyed by good firms, which are themselves eventually eliminated by still better competitors. Ignoring this basic economic principle, critics of charter schools and other forms of school choice see no hope for competition in education. These critics ask us to leave public schools alone apart from creating voluntary national standards—speed zones without traffic tickets, as it were.

Yet few doubt that public schools today are troubled, as the president noted on Saturday. What the president left out is that the performance of American high school students has hardly budged over the past 40 years, while the per-pupil cost of operating the schools they attend has increased threefold in real dollar terms. If school districts were firms operating in the market place, many would quickly fall victim to Schumpeter’s law of creative destruction.

Ms. Ravitch and other critics of school choice reverse causation by blaming the sad state of public schools on events that occurred long after schools had stagnated. They point, for example, to President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law (enacted in 2002), mayoral governance of schools recently instituted in some cities, and the creation of a small number (4,638) of charter schools that serve less than 3% of the U.S. school-age population.

To uncover what is wrong with American public schools one has to dig deeper than these recent developments in education. One needs to consider the impact of restrictive collective bargaining agreements that prevent rewarding good teachers and removing ineffective ones, intrusive court interventions, and useless teacher certification laws.

And then he delivers the evidence:

To identify the effects of a charter education, a wide variety of studies have been conducted. The best studies are randomized experiments, the gold standard in both medical and educational research. Stanford University’s Caroline Hoxby and Harvard University’s Thomas Kane have conducted randomized experiments that compare students who win a charter lottery with those who applied but were not given a seat. Winners and losers can be assumed to be equally motivated because they both tried to go to a charter school. Ms. Hoxby and Mr. Kane have found that lottery winners subsequently scored considerably higher on math and reading tests than did applicants who remained in district schools.

In another good study, the RAND Corp. found that charter high school graduation rates and college attendance rates were better than regular district school rates by 15 percentage points and eight percentage points respectively.

Instead of taking seriously these high quality studies, charter critics rely heavily on a report released in 2004 by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT is hardly a disinterested investigator, and its report makes inappropriate comparisons and pays insufficient attention to the fact that charters are serving an educationally deprived segment of the population. Others base their criticism of charters on a report from an ongoing study by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (Credo), which found that there are more weak charter schools than strong ones. Though this report is superior to AFT’s study, its results are dominated by a large number of students who are in their first year at a charter school and a large number of charter schools that are in their first year of operation.

Credo’s work will be more informative when it presents findings for students in charters that have been up and running for several years. You can’t judge the long-term potential of schools that have not amassed a multi-year track record.

To identify the long-term benefits of school choice, Harvard’s Martin West and German economist Ludger Woessmann examined the impact of school choice on the performance of 15-year-old students in 29 industrialized countries. They discovered that the greater the competition between the public and private sector, the better all students do in math, science and reading. Their findings imply that expanding charters to include 50% of all students would eventually raise American students’ math scores to be competitive with the highest-scoring countries in the world.

 What makes charters important today is less their current performance than their potential to innovate. Educational opportunity is about to be revolutionized by powerful notebook computers, broadband and the open-source development of curricular materials (a la Wikipedia). Curriculum can be tailored to the level of accomplishment each student has reached, an enormous step forward.

If American education remains stagnant, such innovations will spread slowly, if at all. If the charter world continues to expand, the competition between them and district schools could prove to be transformative.


Blog Envy

December 4, 2009

I’m suffering from blog envy.  Other blogs have had some great posts — much better than what I’ve come up with recently.  If I can’t beat them I might as well link to them and poach their material.

First, Brian Kisida has a superb post at Mid-Riffs on the predictable waste and banality of consultant reports in the political and education arena.  He demonstrates this using as his examples a “curriculum audit” that the Fayetteville school district has commissioned from Phi Delta Kappa for $36,000 as well as a “visioning” report that the City of Fayetteville commissioned from Eva Klein & Associates for $150,000:

To be sure, the report that Phi Delta Kappa comes up with won’t look exactly like the same ideas the community gave them.  They’ll be re-written in such a way that any resemblance or lack of substance will be obfuscated by consultant-speak gobbledy-gook.  For example, when the Rogers School District hired Phi Delta Kappa to conduct an audit, one of the recommendations they received was:

Develop and implement a comprehensive curriculum management system that delineates short- and long-term goals, directs curriculum revision to ensure deep alignment and quality delivery, and defines the instructional model district leaders expect teachers to follow in delivering the curriculum.

Translation: Establish a system to set and achieve goals. And make it a good one.

Here’s another recommendation from the Rogers audit:

Research, identify and implement strategies to eliminate inequities and inequalities that impede opportunities for all students to succeed.

Translation:  Do what you and every other school district has already been doing (or should have been doing) for decades.

I’m willing to bet Fayetteville’s audit will contain many of the same recommendations given to Rogers.  These types of consultant groups have stock boiler-plate language that they recycle time and time again.  I also expect to see some of the views of the community rewritten in consultant-speak.  Here’s some of the comments and concerns the Northwest Arkansas Times picked up from teachers and parents at one of the focus groups:

  • Weaknesses in foreign languages
  • lack of flexibility, especially at the high school level
  • poor communication about special programs
  • lack of strong leadership in some schools
  • the need for more vocational classes, including in middle school
  • too many different intelligent levels in the classroom
  • special needs and at-risk students need more technology
  • need more literacy coaches, especially one at the high school
  • more coordination in all programs
  • need more time for physical activity
  • need more writing in classrooms
  •  I got this list from the newspaper, which cost me fifty cents–a whopping $35,499.50 less than Phi Delta Kappa is going to charge for repackaging these ideas in consultant-speak.

    I don’t know exactly why organizations pay money to outside consultants, like when the city paid Eva Klein & Associates to tell us that the University was one of our strengths, and that the perception that Fayetteville was anti-business was one of our weaknesses.   Don’t we already elect and pay people to think about these things and have a vision for what we need to do?  So why are they sub-contracting out their duties?

    Wow.  Great blogging!

    And Paul Peterson is hitting his stride as a blogger over at the Education Next Blog.  There he notes the political difficulty posed by teacher union financial might for President Obama and Secretary Duncan’s efforts to turn Race to the Top rhetoric into reality:

    The National Education Association (and its local affiliates) gave $56.3 million dollars to state and federal election campaigns in 2007 and 2008, more than any other entity. That’s what we learn from the recently released report issued by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) together with the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

    The much smaller American Federation of Teachers tossed in another $12 million dollars into political campaigns….

    The money is wrested directly from teacher paychecks as an add-on to their monthly dues (unless teachers specifically object), a power granted unions by school boards as part of collective bargaining deals.  So the NEA’s slush fund is in fact built by taxpayer dollars, which flow directly to the NEA instead of into the teacher’s own bank account.  Yes, some individual teachers object and don’t make the political contribution, but unions typically collect the money by default.

    With all that cash in hand, unions are in a position to tell state legislatures what to do, if they want campaign dollars next time around.  Significantly, over $53 million of the $56.3 million dollars went for state-level expenditures, a clear indication that unions know that the action is not in Washington but in state capitols.

    This enormous cash nexus that swamps anything any business entity has contributed creates a huge problem for President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who is asking states and school districts to put merit pay into place.


    Moe and Peterson on DC Vouchers

    March 19, 2009

    Research Round-Up

    February 10, 2009

    The U.S. Department of Education released a study on how alternatively certified teachers affect student achievement.  The bottom line is that they find: “students of teachers who chose to enter teaching through an alternative route did not perform statistically different from students of teachers who chose a traditional route to teaching.  This finding was the same for those programs that required comparatively many as well as few hours of coursework. However, among those alternative route teachers who reported taking coursework while teaching, their students performed lower than their traditional counterparts.” 

    I’m sure that the headlines will be:  “Alternative Certification Fails to Improve Student Achievement.”  But they will have it backwards.  The real headline should be: “Years of Teacher Education Coursework Yields No Benefits for Student Achievement.”

    Besides, the real question is whether the alternatively certified teachers are better than the traditional certified teachers districts would have hired if they were constrained to hire only certified teachers.

    And in other research news, the forthcoming issue of Education Next has an article by Paul Peterson and Matthew Chingos comparing student achievement in Philadelphia’s for-profit managed schools versus district-managed schools.  The find: “the effect of for-profit management of schools is positive relative to district schools, with math impacts being statistically significant. Over the last six years, students learned each year an average of 25 percent of a standard deviation more in math — roughly 60 percent of a year’s worth of learning — than they would have had the school been under district management. In reading, the estimated average annual impact of for-profit management is a positive 10 percent of a standard deviation — approximately 36 percent of a year’s worth of reading. Only the math differences are statistically significant, however.”


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