Governor Brewer signs two small ESA expansions

April 23, 2014

 

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The 2014 Arizona session is winding up, and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed two bills to improve the ESA program today.  Collectively these bills will keep the dependents of military children if their parents are killed in the line of duty, will make it easier for pre-school aged special needs children to enter the program without enrolling in a public school, and will make the siblings of eligible children eligible to participate in order to make it more possible for families to send their children to the same or at least nearby schools. The 2014 session marks the last rodeo for Governor Brewer, who is term limited.

Governor Brewer signed the ESA and a number of improvements into law, several tax credit program improvements into law, called for the creation of A-F school grades and fought hard for an earned promotion policy on literacy. She also vetoed a few choice measures here and there including a small tax credit measure today. She hammered through a temporary three-year sales tax ballot measure to increase to stabilize K-12 funding, but then stayed true to her word and stayed out of it while the alphabet soup groups made a complete hash of trying to create a permanent tax increase. Governor Brewer began Arizona’s first steps towards funding results rather than just seat time.  Let’s hope that further steps will materialize.

It’s been an incredibly difficult and tumultuous five years- the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” springs readily to mind. Several of the K-12 initiatives Governor Brewer supported remain a work in progress, making it feel strange to think that someone else will be exercising the duty of governor next year.  There has been a great deal of political blood spilled over some very difficult issues, but in my book, Governor Jan Brewer got far more right than wrong in K-12 reform.


Use the Force MOOC! A 2013 retrospective

December 26, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The after-Christmas but before New Year period is always dominated by “Year in Review” retrospectives, so why not join in on the fun? Here at the Jayblog we dig new options for students and parents, so let’s take a look back at 2013.

Digital learning continues to surge. No one has yet established the free online degree that some nutball predicted in 2009, but events are moving in that direction. Dhawal Shah of EdSurge leads us off with a review of the progress of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in 2013. Shah includes MOOCilicous charts like:

MOOC 1

 

and…

MOOC 2and…

MOOC 3

All of this is quite impressive given the first MOOC rolled out in 2011. Shah provides analysis and 2014 predictions, so go read the article. Events seem to be conspiring to take a very sharp pin to a higher education tuition bubble. One cannot help but wonder how long we will go on debating public funding for online high-school courses when, ahhh, Stanford is giving them away for free and you can, well, get college credit for them.  The logical side of Kevin Carey’s brain (the one that writes about higher education) turned in a useful refutation of the hand-wringing over MOOC completion rates.

Remember where you heard it first- the day is coming when more people will be watching university lectures online than Baywatch reruns.

Please note: I did not say it would be any time soon…

On the K-12 front, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools published an evaluation of state charter school laws finding widespread improvement between 2010 and 2013. Bottom line: break out the bubbly. Thirty-five states improved their laws, only one law regressed. Seven states “essentially overhauled” their laws with major improvements-Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Indiana, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Colorado. Ten more states-Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio made “notable improvements” in their charter law.

Here at Jayblog we have our annual measure of success in the private choice movement the Forster vs. Mathews school choice dinner bet. Greg either doubled or tripled the standard in 2011, and followed up by easily surmounting it once more in 2012.

In 2013, ooops Greg did it again!  Three-peat!  Two new states (Alabama and South Carolina) joined the school choice ranks, North Carolina went BIG on reform, including two new voucher programs, Ohio and Wisconsin passed new statewide programs, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana and Utah improved existing programs.

So 2013 was a fine year overall for choice, grading on the curve of comparing it to past years. Compared to the needs of the country, this is all still painfully slow, so…


Wolf and Witte Slam Ravitch on Milwaukee School Choice

January 18, 2013

Dwight Howard winning the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest.

As I’ve said before, I’m trying to avoid writing about Diane Ravitch because I think it’s now clear to all sensible people that she has gone completely nuts, lacks credibility, and was probablnever much of a scholar.  But I just can’t resist posting a link to the editorial my colleagues Pat Wolf and John Witte wrote today in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  Wolf and Witte are responding to an earlier op-ed by Ravitch in which she declares:

Milwaukee needs one public school system that receives public dollars, public support, community engagement and parental involvement.

Vouchers and charters had their chance. They failed.

Wolf and Witte actually review the evidence on Milwaukee’s choice programs, including their own research.  They conclude:

Our research signals what likely would happen if Ravitch got her wish and the 25,000 students in the Milwaukee voucher program and nearly 8,000 children in independent charter schools were thrown out of their chosen schools. Student achievement would drop, as every student would be forced into MPS – the only game in town. Significantly fewer Milwaukee students would graduate high school and benefit from college. Parents would be denied educational choices for their children.

That’s not a future we would wish for the good people of Milwaukee.

There’s no point in trying to persuade Ravitch or her Army of Angry Teachers, since they abandoned rationality a long time ago.  But Wolf and Witte have done an excellent job of equipping sensible people with evidence that could help inform their views about school choice in Milwaukee.  Angry blather and bold (but false) declarations cannot compete with actual facts.

[Edited to correct typo in title.]


Anrig’s Premature Epitaph Four Years Later

June 27, 2012

 (Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Some of you will recall Greg Anrig’s Washington Monthly article combining a teacher union talking point reading of the evidence on school choice with some grousing in the school choice ranks to declare school vouchers as “An Idea Whose Time Has Gone.”

Having trouble remembering? Fortunately the Century Foundation. Mr. Anrig’s employer, has quite helpfully preserved a record on youtube. You can be the 125th or so person to watch the video:

Hmmm….”grinding to a halt…” But wait, there is more-part deux!

There’s even more video on youtube, but these two constitute plenty of rope. I’ve never met Anrig, but I’d be willing to bet that he’s a decent chap who loves his mother, his country and his alma mater. He isn’t the first person nor will he be the last to make a bold but utterly mistaken prediction. I almost feel bad about writing this post.

Almost but not quite…

After all, Andrew Rotherham sagely predicted at the time that Anrig would regret writing the article. So here is a map of the states with private choice programs on the date of Anrig’s Washington Monthly piece:

After the win in New Hampshire yesterday, the map looks something like the one below. Mind you, this underestimates the progress of the parental choice movement, as several states created multiple programs.


More on Milwaukee School Choice Research Results

March 5, 2012

I wrote last week about the release of the final research results from Milwaukee’s school choice program.  On Sunday the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel devoted its entire editorial page to a discussion of those results.  Check out the succinct summary of the findings by Patrick Wolf and John Witte.

Also be sure to check out the response from the head of the teachers union, Bob Peterson.  His rebuttal consists of noting that many students switch sectors, moving from choice to traditional public schools as well as in the opposite direction.  He thinks that this undermines the validity of Wolf and Witte’s graduation rate analysis, but he fails to understand that the researchers used an intention to treat approach that attributes outcomes to students’ original selection of sector regardless of their switching.  And on the special education claim he simply reiterates the Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) faulty effort to equate the percentage of students who are entitled to accommodations on the state test with the percentage of students who have disabilities.

For more on how DPI under-stated the rate of disabilities in the Milwaukee choice program by between 400% and 900%, check out the new article Wolf, Fleming, and Witte just published in Education Next.  It’s not only an excellent piece of research detective work on how DPI arrived at such an erroneous claim, but it is also a useful warning to anyone who thinks that government issued claims provide the authoritative answer on research questions.  Government agencies, like DPI, can lie and distort as much or more than any special interest group.  They just do it with your tax dollars and in your name.


Kevin Carey Gets the Facts Wrong

January 30, 2012

(Guest post by Patrick J. Wolf)

In The Atlantic Online resident cool-kid Kevin Carey sings the “vouchers-are-all-bad-but-charters-are-all-good” song that is the official anthem of the beltway crowd of education reform hipsters.  Carey repeats some points from my own research that school choice results would be even better if parents had more extensive information about schools (but see here for how the mere availability of choice improves parent knowledge about schools) and the supply of choice schools was of consistently higher quality.  Fine.  Carey also claims that private school administrators are rapacious (tell that to the nuns that still run many Catholic schools) and politicians who support school vouchers do so for “obviously partisan reasons” while Mr. Carey only cares about the children.

Unlike Kevin Carey I don’t purport to possess the ability to look inside of people’s souls and conclusively discern their true motives.  Still, his broad-brush claim that all voucher backers are merely trying to “club Democrats” (his words) seems demonstrably inconsistent with the behaviors of voucher supporters such as retiring Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, Senator Diane Feinstein (yeah, she loves to club Democrats), former Democratic Mayor Anthony Williams, Wisconsin State Representative Jason Fields (yet another African-American Democrat who supports vouchers), etc.  I really could go on and present a much longer list, but Kevin Carey only uses single examples to make sweeping generalizations so I’ll simply outperform him by using multiple counter-examples to disprove his universal and unqualified claims.

What disturbs me more than Carey’s reckless accusations is his lack of knowledge of the basic facts surrounding school vouchers.  For example, he states casually that, “To this day, vouchers are only available to small handful (sic) of students.”  The facts are that 27 different voucher or tax-credit funded voucher-like programs serve over 210,000 students.  Even Paul Bunyan’s hands couldn’t hold that many kids.

Carey goes on to state boldly that, “Unlike private schools that pick and choose their pupil (sic), charters are open to all students and allocate scarce openings via lotteries.”  The facts are that many voucher programs do not allow private schools to discriminate in admissions.  In Milwaukee, for example, private schools participating in the voucher program must admit students by lottery but public charter schools in the city can pick and choose their pupils — the exact opposite of what Carey claims.

The D.C. voucher program is “a small, benign, and not particularly effective effort that at its core is nothing more than its name suggests: a program that awards scholarship (sic) to a small group of poor families to partially offset the cost of attending private school”, according to Kevin Carey.  Ignore the fact that this is yet another grammatically incorrect sentence from Mr. Carey.  Is it true?  Well, I know a few things about the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program, having served as the U.S. Department of Education’s independent evaluator of the program and having written six detailed reports on our nation’s only federally-funded school voucher initiative.

Did the D.C. voucher only “partially offset the cost of attending private school” for families, as Carey claims?  In over 99 percent of cases, the D.C. voucher of up to $7,500 was accepted by schools as full payment from the family.  The private schools accepted less than half the per-pupil government resources allocated to D.C. public schools and either provided a highly efficient education to voucher students or, in many cases, covered the extra costs themselves.  Wait a second, I thought Kevin Carey said that private school operators are greedy and avaricious?

Is the D.C. voucher program “not particularly effective”?  Our gold-standard experimental evaluation concluded that the voucher program increased the high school graduation rate of students by 12 percentage points from the mere offer of the voucher and 21 percentage points if a student actually used it.  That makes the D.C. voucher initiative the most effective drop-put prevention program ever evaluated by the U.S. Department of Education.  The same Milwaukee evaluation that Carey references as showing no net achievement benefits for voucher students also reports that Milwaukee voucher students are graduating from high school and enrolling in college at higher rates due to access to private schools through the program.

President Obama proposed in his State of the Union address that teenagers be compelled to remain in school until they turn 18 or graduate.  Who needs such Big-Brother-like compulsion?  When the government provides more students with access to private schools through vouchers the kids stay in school willingly.

Does Kevin Carey ignore the clear and large graduation rate benefits of the D.C. and Milwaukee voucher programs because he thinks it isn’t desirable for low-income minority children to graduate from high school?  If so, then human compassion and a wealth of research proves him wrong.  More likely, Carey ignores the compelling evidence that school vouchers help disadvantaged students go further in school because it is an inconvenient fact that undermines his argument.  He doesn’t want to admit that voucher programs are effective at promoting the most important student educational outcome there is, and he certainly doesn’t want to share that uncomfortable information with his readers.  Move along, nothing to see here.

After lauding school choice only through public charter schools, Carey states that, “…the market will still require strong oversight from public officials to grant the ‘approved’ status Friedman envisioned over a half-century ago–and the willingness to revoke that approval when performance is sub-par,” which is exactly how the Milwaukee voucher program is designed and operates.

Doesn’t Carey read anything?  A report released last year documented that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the government agency that oversees the Milwaukee voucher program, has kicked 35 schools out of the program since 2006.  The average student performance in those schools was dramatically lower than the achievement numbers for the schools allowed to remain in the program.  Voucher programs in the U.S. have exactly the kinds of government accountability mechanisms that Carey falsely claims are missing from them, plus market accountability to boot.

After Kevin Carey’s litany of factual errors, he grandly proclaims the path forward for people, like himself, who actually care about the children.  “We can start by purging the worst rhetoric from the school choice conversation.”  Well, Mr. Carey, before you criticize the splinter in your brother’s eye you might want to work on removing the log from your own.  Meanwhile, readers who want accurate information about school vouchers should, like the Titanic, steer clear of The Atlantic.


Verdict in the WSJ: “School Vouchers Work”

May 3, 2011

Wall Street Journal columnist, Jason Riley has a must-read piece in the WSJ today.  The piece features the work of my University of Arkansas colleague, Patrick Wolf, JPGB’s very own Greg Forster, as well as a reference to the competitive effects study that Ryan Marsh and I conducted in Milwaukee.  There are too many highlights, but here is a (big) taste:

‘Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement,” said the White House in a statement on March 29. “The Administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.” But less than three weeks later, President Obama signed a budget deal with Republicans that includes a renewal and expansion of the popular D.C. program, which finances tuition vouchers for low-income kids to attend private schools.

School reformers cheered the administration’s about-face though fully aware that it was motivated by political expediency rather than any acknowledgment that vouchers work.

When Mr. Obama first moved to phase out the D.C. voucher program in 2009, his Education Department was in possession of a federal study showing that voucher recipients, who number more than 3,300, made gains in reading scores and didn’t decline in math. The administration claims that the reading gains were not large enough to be significant. Yet even smaller positive effects were championed by the administration as justification for expanding Head Start….

The positive effects of the D.C. voucher program are not unique. A recent study of Milwaukee’s older and larger voucher program found that 94% of students who stayed in the program throughout high school graduated, versus just 75% of students in Milwaukee’s traditional public schools. And contrary to the claim that vouchers hurt public schools, the report found that students at Milwaukee public schools “are performing at somewhat higher levels as a result of competitive pressure from the school voucher program.” Thus can vouchers benefit even the children that don’t receive them.

Research gathered by Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice also calls into question the White House assertion that vouchers are ineffective. In a paper released in March, he says that “every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.” Mr. Forster surveyed 10 empirical studies that use “random assignment, the gold standard of social science,” to assure that the groups being compared are as similar as possible. “Nine [of the 10] studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected,” he writes. “One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.”

Such results might influence the thinking of an objective observer primarily interested in doing right by the nation’s poor children. But they are unlikely to sway a politician focused on getting re-elected with the help of teachers unions.

“I think Obama and Duncan really care about school reform,” says Terry Moe, who teaches at Stanford and is the author of a timely new book, “Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America’s Public Schools.” “On the other hand they have to be sensitive to their Democratic coalition, which includes teachers unions. And one way they do that is by opposing school vouchers.”

The reality is that Mr. Obama’s opposition to school vouchers has to do with Democratic politics, not the available evidence on whether they improve outcomes for disadvantaged kids. They do—and he knows it.


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