How About More “Very Nimble” District Schools?

September 21, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Republic ran a quote from my state Senator, Kate Brophy McGee, that scores high on the unintentionally hilarious meter. A left of center organization issued a report complaining about procurement rules governing Arizona charters. Senator Brophy McGee stated:

State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, a Republican from Phoenix, said charter schools should be held to the same standards as public schools because both deal with public money.

“We’ve given district schools more and more regulation, while not requiring the same of these very nimble charters, and we wonder why the public schools aren’t as successful,” McGee said.

I have what I think is a better idea- one of these two sectors should become more like the other, but based on what we see in the academic data it is the districts who should become more like the charters, rather than the other way around. Last session for instance Governor Ducey called for districts to have similar freedom in hiring to charters. It, ah, seems to be working out really well for charters. This makes all the sense in the world, but reactionary elements of the district establishment acted like it was some sort of ghastly mistake. As the Prime Minister of the UK might say “I refer the honourable gentlemen to the red columns in the above chart.”

If the Grand Canyon Institute or anyone else has evidence of lawbreaking, they should refer these to the appropriate authorities. The State Board for Charter Schools is for instance empowered to investigate complaints. More importantly, Arizona parents are absolutely brutal in punishing schools that fail to deliver- they have other options and can vote with their feet. This is real accountability as opposed to the faux bureaucratic variety.



There Will Always be a Scottsdale Unified

September 18, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Here on the JPGB I’ve been keeping an eye on Scottsdale Unified, as the district makes for an interesting microcosm of several issues in parental choice. In Arizona’s relatively liberal charter laws, Scottsdale parents have taken a shine to some of our home-grown charter schools.

To the extent that parents care about test scores, those charters do very well on everything from PISA (eat our dust South Korea) to AZMerit, to the Arizona Board of Regents tracking of post-graduate results. A 2012 report of the Arizona Auditor general found Scottsdale Unified at only 65% capacity, and this despite taking in thousands of open enrollment students from out of district. Judging from the wait lists of these schools, some (well deserved) philanthropic support could force Scottsdale Unified to close additional campuses. As it is, there is a multi-building 127,000 sq ft. campus that sits vacant, and the Auditor General concluded that Scottsdale Unified could move $3.8m per year into the classroom if it would make more rational use of facility space. “Everything is grim, we need to dial back this parental choice business before we destroy public education!” goes the battle-cry of many.

That’s a scary story, but fortunately it is demonstrably wrong.

We should judge school districts by outcomes above all else. On this front we have three years of comparable academic data for Scottsdale Unified from AZMerit, and just like the statewide trend results in 2016 were better than 2015, and the results from 2017 were better than 2016. A survey conducted by a demographer on behalf of Scottsdale Unified identified “academic rigor” as a major issues for transfers out of Scottsdale Unified. Scottsdale Unified might have indeed faced big problems without academic improvement, but lo and behold that improvement is underway.

Things look to be trending in the right direction academically. They might do so at a faster pace if those $3.8m were directed into the classroom, but that is a decision for the school board to make. Scottsdale Unified gets more total public funding per pupil than their charter school competitors, nothing is stopping them from moving into a more choice-based system similar to what we see in districts such as Phoenix Union and Vail through specialized magnet programs. The era of big-box schools appearing at the top of performance lists, even in highly demographically advantaged areas, has drawn to a close. Perhaps some of those 1/3 empty Scottsdale Unified big boxes could become full campuses hosting multiple schools.

The Great Recession took a toll on Arizona’s finances. Eventually real cuts to K-12 funding hit. Enrollment growth stalled for the first time since WWII, and high-quality charters seized the opportunity to obtain properties. It was a rough time to be running a school district. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and all indicators show that Arizona has a better performing public school system now than ever. Enrollment growth, funding per pupil and most important of all academic performance are all up.

It would be mathematically impossible for Arizona to have been leading in statewide NAEP gains without the improvement of district scores. We need to keep it going, but AZMerit indicates that it kept rolling after the 2015 NAEP. #WeneedtoWinMOARRRRR

Diversity and Community on Campus

September 15, 2017


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Just in time for the Ben Shapiro non-Ragnarok in Berkeley, OCPA’s Perspective carries my article on diversity and community on campus:

The dominant group, on the political Left, learns from these episodes that getting offended brings power. Stigmatizing people and destroying their lives pays off. By crushing their victims, they establish themselves as the people who must be kept happy if peace is to be maintained.

The oppressed minority group, on the political Right, is also incentivized to escalate the conflict. Increasingly, conservative students conclude that they are desperately besieged, and fighting back with equally divisive tactics is the only realistic response to their oppressed state. Worse, conservative websites and activists make big bucks circulating stories of on-campus outrage for clicks and donations.

I dissent from criticism of Harvard’s “black graduation” on the Right:

It was a student-run, unofficial event that took place two days before the official ceremony, and thus did not affect it. Anyone was permitted to attend the event.

In other words, a private student group held its own event on campus, celebrating something it wanted to celebrate—its positive sense of its own identity and achievements. That’s a perfect example of what happens in real communities. It’s no more a threat to the solidarity of the broader, multiethnic university than a “Kiss me, I’m Irish” button.

Thankfully Harvard hasn’t done anything monumentally stupid in the meantime that might make me regret defending them.

I also offer thoughts on how colleges can strengthen both community and free speech. Your free speech in response is welcome!

No Arizona Charters We’ve Got to Win MOARRRRR!!!!

September 14, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

After the release of the 2017 AzMerit, the Arizona Charter School Association reported that 97% of the top 100 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) in terms of percentage passing the English Language Arts AzMerit exams were charters. I decided to check out the data for myself.

This however may actually be “too much winning” given that most of the charter LEAs are individual schools, whereas a school district like Catalina Foothills is a multi-school district. I’ll let you ponder that holy mystery for yourself, but I ran the same numbers for individual campuses. The top 100 individual campuses were almost evenly split between districts and charters-51 district schools and 49 charters.

In 2012-13 (the last time NAPCS had data) charters only made up 24.5% of Arizona public schools, so it is plenty of winning to make up almost half of the top schools by ELA passing rate. I’m thrilled that scores continue to improve for both district and charter schools.

I’ve been CHAITED, been MISTREATED, when will wildly successful low reg charter sectors be loved?

September 7, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

HT to Asness on the title

I stopped reading Jonathan Chait’s piece on charter schools when I came across this:

The most successful charter systems tend to be highly regulated, with controls to require high-quality operators and close down low-performing schools.

This statement is the precise opposite of the truth. High regulation charter sectors seem extremely adept at preventing charter schools from opening, but not much else. Meanwhile we have multiple examples of states with low NACSA scores for their charter laws but very promising student outcomes (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah).

Let me help you out JC:

The most successful charter systems tend to be highly lightly regulated, with controls competition to require high-quality operators and close down low-performing schools.

Happy to be of service. Carry on.

Arizona Low-Income Scores in Both Districts and Charters are Moving On Up

September 7, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The improvement in AZMerit scores looks broad and inclusive across subgroups. Economically disadvantaged students for instance show academic gains across school sectors in Arizona. Here is a look at the trends for 4th grade district students:

Here are the 4th grade trends for low-income students attending Arizona charter schools:

Arizona students made larger academic gains on NAEP between 2009 and 2015 than any other state under very trying circumstances. The AZMerit data indicates that they kept making progress in 2016 and 2017. This is a great accomplishment for our students, our teachers and our policymakers, and hopefully…

2017 AZMerit Scores Improve, AZ Charters Continue to Rock

September 6, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Longtime Jayblog readers may vaguely recall something about Arizona charter schools rocking the 2015 NAEP, might have seen a post or two about Arizona’s statewide results leading the nation in NAEP gains from 2009 to 2015. I mean, you know, maybe you saw a thing or two here along these lines.

Ring a bell?

Okay good. So today the Arizona Department of Education released the 2017 AZMerit exams, and by the look of things results have continued to improve statewide. The below chart shows all tests for all students at all grade levels for both districts and charters:

Based upon how AZMerit lined up with the NAEP in 2015, Arizona charter schools may have improved from merely world class to somewhere in the realm of supercalafragilisticexpealadocious. In the chart below, the blue columns are from 2015, and the AZ Merit passing rates that year landed Arizona’s majority-minority modestly funded charter sector in the same NAEP neighborhood as New England states on scores. Judging by AZMerit, the improvement did not stop in 2015. Here for instance is 4th grade Math and ELA for AZ charters:

Here are the 4th grade numbers for Hispanic charter students. Again bear in mind that the 2015 numbers hit the very high end on NAEP compared to statewide averages:

There is no guarantee that the AZMerit improvement will translate on NAEP. It is possible that some of the improvement we see is a testing familiarity effect. Having said that, based on the statewide and charter school improvement seen in the AZMerit data, I’m looking forward to the release of the 2017 NAEP in January. For now: