Welp.

July 22, 2020


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Bad idea, hoss. Baaaaaad idea.

Feds unconstitutionally shoving school choice down the states’ throats three years ago, permanently associating choice with a racist, misogynist, illiberal reprobate game-show host president, would have be ruinous for the long-term legitimacy of choice. Doing it in the middle of a pandemic and a national reckoning with the legacy of slavery and segregation? Words fail me.

Lots of other arguments against this folly here and here.

Looking forward to the retractions and apologies from all the right-wingers who opposed Common Core on federalism grounds.

Including – gosh, will you look at that! – one of this bill’s primary sponsors.


Federal Choice Folly

July 10, 2020

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The arguments against a school choice program imposed on the states by the federal government, including by indirect means, remain as strong as they ever were, and we now stand to lose more from such a move than we would have three years ago, when it would have been merely a disaster rather than a catastrophe.

When the president decided to make the reopening of schools a culture-war football, no doubt with his own reelection in mind and obviously caring nothing about what will serve students well – or even what would be a tactically smart way to increase the chances that schools do reopen – a more skilled politician than Betsy DeVos might have been able to find a way to keep her job without beclowning herself. The threat to withhold federal funds from districts that didn’t reopen was obviously empty. Congress has appropriated the funds, and in spite of Arne Duncan’s best efforts, the secretary of education is not the dictator of U.S. schools. Look how much trouble the administration got into by attempting very briefly to hold up congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine, and in that case you had far fewer people watching (at least in the U.S.!), and you didn’t have one of the nation’s largest and strongest special-interest coalitions on the other side.

I don’t apportion DeVos a huge share of blame for having stumbled in this regard – she’s kept her head down and done good work for much longer than most high officials in this administration. That she has been demonized by all the right people for doing good policy work far outweighs this misstep.

But the new gesture in the direction of turning this flub into the springboard for a federal school choice program, if taken seriously, would be a significant danger to the school choice movement. Let’s hope this is just an inartful way of confusing the headline-writers long enough to make the story go away and not a serious initiative.

Imposing choice on states that don’t want it, including by the constitutional equivalent of crawling in through the air ducts, is a bad idea any time. To do it in the middle of an explosive culture-war meltdown involving everything from how much risk of disease we’re willing to tolerate for our children to how we handle the legacy of our greatest national sins . . . well, words fail me to describe the catastrophic loss of legitimacy the movement would suffer.

Legitimacy matters more than short-term power. Much more. One might even say that legitimacy is just another word for long-term power.

The arrogant child-progressives who have taken over the big ed-reform foundations are not the only people who need a copy of Political Science for Ed Reform Dummies.


Huge Win for Kids and Religious Liberty

June 30, 2020

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The legacy of James G. Blaine, “Continental Liar from the State of Maine,” is finally dead. Good riddance!

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in Espinoza v. Montana finally puts a stake in the heart of the ugly and bigoted legacy of the Blaine Amendments (the history of which Justice Alito details at length in a concurring opinion). It represents a decisive win for families seeking to exercise school choice and for religious liberty.

No doubt this will be a case that launches a thousand op-eds and analyses, but for now I’d like to highlight a few excerpts that get to the core of the issue. If the decision were to be boiled down to its essence, it is this:

“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

That’s the whole game. As Chief Justice John Roberts explains at greater length in the majority opinion:

Here too Montana’s no-aid provision bars religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools. The provision also bars parents who wish to send their children to a religious school from those same benefits, again solely because of the religious character of the school. This is apparent from the plain text. The provision bars aid to any school “controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.” […] The provision’s title—“Aid prohibited to sectarian schools”—confirms that the provision singles out schools based on their religious character. […] And the Montana Supreme Court explained that the provision forbids aid to any school that is “sectarian,” “religiously affiliated,” or “controlled in whole or in part by churches.” […] The provision plainly excludes schools from government aid solely be- cause of religious status. [citations omitted]

The chief justice was at pains to explain that the case hinged on discrimination on the basis of “religious status”:

This case also turns expressly on religious status and not religious use. The Montana Supreme Court applied the no-aid provision solely by reference to religious status. The Court repeatedly explained that the no-aid provision bars aid to “schools controlled in whole or in part by churches,” “sectarian schools,” and “religiously-affiliated schools.” […] Applying this provision to the scholarship program, the Montana Supreme Court noted that most of the private schools that would benefit from the program were “religiously affiliated” and “controlled by churches,” and the Court ultimately concluded that the scholarship program ran afoul of the Montana Constitution by aiding “schools controlled by churches.” […] The Montana Constitution discriminates based on religious status just like the Missouri policy in Trinity Lutheran, which excluded organizations “owned or controlled by a church, sect, or other religious entity.” […]

To be eligible for government aid under the Montana Constitution, a school must divorce itself from any religious control or affiliation. Placing such a condition on benefits or privileges “inevitably deters or discourages the exercise of First Amendment rights.” […] The Free Exercise Clause protects against even “indirect coercion,” and a State “punishe[s] the free exercise of religion” by disqualifying the religious from government aid as Montana did here. [citations omitted]

While joining the majority opinion in full, Justice Gorsuch casts a gimlet eye on the “religious status” versus “religious use” distinction (as he did previously in Trinity Lutheran), noting that:

In its very first decision applying the Free Exercise Clause to the States, the Court explained that the First Amendment protects the “freedom to act” as well as the “freedom to believe.”

As Justice Gorsuch explains, the distinction between “religious status” and “religious use” is constitutionally meaningless:

Most importantly, though, it is not as if the First Amendment cares. The Constitution forbids laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion. That guarantee protects not just the right to be a religious person, holding beliefs inwardly and secretly; it also protects the right to act on those beliefs outwardly and publicly.

Bingo. Justice Gorsuch continues:

At the time of the First Amendment’s adoption, the word “exercise” meant (much as it means today) some “[l]abour of the body,” a “[u]se,” as in the “actual application of any thing,” or a “[p]ractice,” as in some “outward performance.” […] By speaking of a right to “free exercise,” rather than a right “of conscience,” an alternative the framers considered and rejected, our Constitution “extended the broader freedom of action to all believers.” […] So whether the Montana Constitution is better described as discriminating against religious status or use makes no difference: It is a violation of the right to free exercise either way, unless the State can show its law serves some compelling and narrowly tailored governmental interest, conditions absent here for reasons the Court thoroughly explains. […]

The First Amendment protects religious uses and actions for good reason. What point is it to tell a person that he is free to be Muslim but he may be subject to discrimination for doing what his religion commands, attending Friday prayers, living his daily life in harmony with the teaching of his faith, and educating his children in its ways? What does it mean to tell an Orthodox Jew that she may have her religion but may be targeted for observing her religious calendar? Often, governments lack effective ways to control what lies in a person’s heart or mind. But they can bring to bear enormous power over what people say and do. The right to be religious without the right to do religious things would hardly amount to a right at all. [citations omitted]

In what really should have been the majority decision, Justice Gorsuch concludes:

Montana’s Supreme Court disregarded these foundational principles. Effectively, the court told the state legislature and parents of Montana like Ms. Espinoza: You can have school choice, but if anyone dares to choose to send a child to an accredited religious school, the program will be shuttered. That condition on a public benefit discriminates against the free exercise of religion. Calling it discrimination on the basis of religious status or religious activity makes no difference: It is unconstitutional all the same.

That, it seems, is a fight for another day.

Regardless, this is a huge win. Advocates for children and religious liberty should be very pleased. Bravo to Dick Komer, Erica Smith, Tim Keller, Michael Bindas, David Hodges, Gretchen Embrey, and all the legal eagles at the Institute for Justice for their landmark victory!

The ugly legacy of Blaine is dead. Long live religious liberty and educational choice!


Happy 90th Birthday, Dr. Sowell!

June 30, 2020

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Dr. Thomas Sowell–economist, public intellectual, author of more than 50 books, and living legend–turns 90 today, just days after releasing his latest book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies. Schools of choice like charter schools are, in Sowell’s view, the best way to wipe out educational disparity.

As he notes in his new book, Sowell’s research into what makes schools successful, particularly for minorities, began decades ago. In 1974, The Public Interest published Sowell’s article, “Black Excellence: The Case of Dunbar High School,” on how a school run by members of the black community for children of the black community attained great success.

Sowell experienced such schools firsthand: he grew up in Harlem but got, in his view, a great education. He went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard followed by a graduate degree at Columbia and a doctorate in economics at the University of Chicago, where he studied under the great Nobel laureate economist, Milton Friedman. (Although a Marxist at the time, Sowell’s views evolved and he eventually came to support free markets. He and Friedman became friends and Sowell is currently the Rose & Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution.) Although relatively poor and persecuted, Sowell’s research found that the black community was able to provide a high-quality education for their young when given the opportunity.

Sowell returned to this theme in a 1981 debate about education on Firing Line with William F. Buckley. Nearly four decades later, it’s amazing how little the objections to school choice have changed. After Sowell proposed empowering families with school choice via any of several mechanisms (vouchers, open enrollment, tuition tax credits), his interlocutor immediately objected that “uneducated” parents would be unable to choose wisely for their children–an objection recently echoed by elitist politicians and professors alike. Sowell punctured this paternalism with a history lesson (how freed slaves who had been forbidden to learn to read ensured that the next generation was educated) and his own personal history. “I think you’d have very few blacks who finished college, including myself,” he explained, “if they had to have college-educated parents to send them there.”

In a 1986 debate (alongside Friedman and Buckley), Sowell addressed an assertion by Al Shanker of the American Federation of Teachers that what the education system needed was basically more of the same just with more money–essentially the same tune AFT has been singing ever since (even though the racial achievement gap that Shanker claimed would narrow has actually widened despite a massive increase in per-pupil spending). Sowell wasn’t buying it, pointing to the narrower racial achievement gap in the private schools. Debater Bill Honig retorted that a study had found that when private and public schools employed the same methodologies, the results were the same. Sowell immediately countered that this proved his point:

I don’t think there’s any magic about the institutional nature, I think the magic is about competition… If you’re saying to me that the private schools and public schools get the same result when they do the same thing, and you’re saying to me that the private schools close the gap between blacks and whites more, then you’re saying to me that the public schools aren’t doing what they should be doing.

In other words: incentives matter. On net, schools that do the same things with similarly situated students will have similar results no matter the sector. What matters is what schools do, and what they do is a function of who decides. As Sowell wrote in Intellectuals and Society, “The most important decision is who makes the decision.” When parents get to decide where their children attend school, their priorities will be reflected in the school system. When politicians and distant bureaucrats decide, the system will reflect their priorities instead. When parents get to decide, change can happen immediately if they decide to switch schools. When politicians and bureaucrats decide, change happens on their timeline.

Then as now, opponents of parental choice want parents to be patient. “Just give us more time and more money and we’ll get this fixed for you right away!” At the end of this exchange, Sowell channeled the frustration and righteous anger of parents with this “wait and see” approach:

You mention these various horrible things that are going to happen… if we have privatization, and that we should never resort to that until we have exhausted all forms of change in the public schools — how many thousands of years will it take to exhaust all possible forms of change in the public schools?

More than three decades later, most families are still waiting.

There are many more choices available today than in the 1980s, but options still remain elusive for too many families, especially low-income families of color. Untold numbers of children are on waitlists for charter schools or scholarships, options that should and would be available but for political opposition.

Fortunately, there are signs of progress. Even with state legislatures being shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah passed a new tax-credit scholarship for students with special needs and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis just signed into law the largest expansion of a school voucher program in the nation’s history.

Let us hope that by Dr. Sowell’s 100th birthday, all families will have access to the learning environments that work best for their children.


The Ravitches of Libel

June 19, 2020

Ravitch in the Schoolhouse Door

Diane Ravitch stands in the schoolhouse door to block children of color from accessing a charter school their parents chose.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

I’ve generally avoided engaging with Diane Ravitch over the last several years as her writing and followers often seem more like a form of primal-scream therapy than substantive discourse. However, her recent smear of Robert Pondiscio and Eva Moskowitz demands rebuttal.

For those who don’t know Pondiscio, he’s one of the most decent men you could meet. Many moons ago, he left a prestigious and lucrative career in media (TIMEBusinessWeek) to teach fifth grade at a public school in the South Bronx serving a very low-income population, mostly people of color. Since then, he has dedicated his life to improving the lot of the less fortunate by advocating for reforms he believes will improve the quality of education and expand opportunities. He still splits his time between his think tank work (he’s a senior fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute) and teaching high school civics at Democracy Prep, a charter school network based in Harlem.

Recently, Pondiscio wrote a book, How the Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, and the Battle Over School Choice, for which he embedded himself in Success Academy, a charter network run by Eva Moskowitz that has not only closed the racial achievement gap, it has reversed it. As Thomas Sowell notes in today’s Wall Street Journal, Success Academy’s “predominantly black and Hispanic students already pass tests in mathematics and English at a higher rate than any school district in the entire state, [including the] predominantly white and Asian school districts where parental income is some multiple of what it is among Success Academy students.”

Success’s successes have rankled defenders of the traditional district school system, which looks pretty terrible by comparison. They’ve leveled a host of critiques of varying merit, and Pondiscio himself was not shy about illuminating Success Academy’s warts in his very thoughtful and nuanced book. (You can listen to interviews Pondiscio gave about the book here and here.)

Thoughtfulness and nuance, however, are not Ravitch’s jam. Piling on a recent controversy in which Moskowitz was accused of racism for merely Tweeting about the “horrific, senseless deaths of innocent black men and women” like “George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others who have died for no other reason than the color of their skin” using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter rather than issuing a press release, Ravitch decided to crank the unhinged libel up a notch on her blog:

The exchange between Moskowitz and a first-year teacher set off a debate about institutional racism in Success Academy and its harsh no-excuses methods. Those draconian disciplinary methods were defended by Robert Pondiscio of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who is white, and by Moskowitz, who is also white. Black children need harsh discipline, they argued. [emphasis added]

Pondiscio, naturally, took umbrage at this blatant mischaracterization of his views:

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In response, Ravitch pointed to a Chalkbeat article in which Pondiscio said the following:

But Moskowitz has vigorously defended her network’s strict approach arguing that exacting behavior expectations that are consistently enforced provide a necessary condition for student learning. And network leaders argue it works: Success’ students, the vast majority of whom are Black or Latino, typically outperform much whiter and more affluent districts on state tests. Parents of color continue flocking to Success, and network leaders are honest about what will be expected of them and their children.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there is a significant appetite among low-income parents for exactly the flavor of education that Eva Moskowitz offers,” said Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the conservative-learning Fordham Institute who spent a year observing a Success elementary school in the South Bronx and wrote a book about it. “It just does violence to reality to pretend that this is some kind of pedagogy that’s being imposed on families of color.”

If you’re puzzled as to how anything in that quote can be construed as arguing that “black children need harsh discipline,” that’s because you don’t have access to the Ravitch’O’Matic Meaning Translator™. Fortunately, I have an older model that still works which I have dusted off. I’ve entered the quoted text above and we’re off the races!

  1. “the flavor of education that Eva Moskowitz offers” = “harsh discipline”
  2. “a significant appetite among low-income parents” = “black children are in need of”

If you’re still confused, that’s because you’re sane.

Whether the disciplinary practices at Success Academy and other “No Excuses”-style charter schools are “harsh discipline” or not is a matter of debate, but Ravitch only operates within an ideological echo chamber so she cannot fathom that there are people (like, for example, Pondiscio and most of the families who choose those schools) who disagree with that characterization. But even if the characterization is fair, it’s not fair to portray it as though it were Pondiscio’s characterization. It is not.

Even more inflammatory and unfair is the second of Ravitch’s rhetorical leaps. “Some parents of color choose X” simply cannot be translated as “all children of color must be subject to X” under any sane understanding of the rules of language. This charge is simply insane.

Daniel Willingham tried to gently and patiently explain this to Ravitch in the comments section, but she replied with circular and obtuse nonsense: “I relied on the words in the Chalkbeat article” and whined that Pondiscio took to Twitter to defend himself against her public calumny instead of emailing her. She continued:

I am unsure what Robert objects to. He has my personal email. Why doesn’t he write and tell me what he finds objectionable? Does he oppose “no-excuses” disciplinary policy? Does he think it is not “harsh”? Did he object to my describing it as harsh? I am totally confused about what he wants me to change.

Is she really that obtuse?

Perhaps. She even doubled down with a subsequent blog post. Senior scholars are generally owed some amount of deference and respect, but Ravitch is sacrificing any claims to such deference by her abhorrent behavior. There are at least three possible explanations for her mischaracterization of Pondiscio’s views:

  1. She lacks the basic faculty of language comprehension. If we take her at her word, she honestly cannot decipher statements in plain English and is left absolutely befuddled when people try to explain it to her using small words. Indeed, as has been documented extensively at this blog, her recent “scholarship” ranges from sloppy to shoddy, she is prone to make outlandish and self-aggrandizing statements, and she has even engaged in conspiracy theorizing that’s downright hillbilly nuts. If so, then people shouldn’t take her seriously.
  2. She knows what’s she’s doing and she’s mendacious. If she does actually possess the mental faculties to comprehend basic English, then she is intentionally twisting Pondiscio’s words in a particularly mendacious way. She knows how damaging a charge of “racism” (merited or not) is, especially in this climate, and has no compunction smearing someone simply because they hold different policy views (or, perhaps, because he criticized her book). If so, then people shouldn’t take her seriously.
  3. She is a racist and she is projecting. Pondiscio spends his time trying to empower black families with the ability to choose a high-quality education for their children. Ravitch spends her time, like George Wallace, standing in the schoolhouse door trying to block black families from accessing the schools they want to choose. To deflect attention from her own racism, she points at someone else who holds different policy views and hopes no one will notice. If so, then people shouldn’t take her seriously — and, indeed, she should be run out of polite society.

Ravitch might reasonably object that these three characterizations of her motives are unfair, but all three are infinitely more fair and supported by evidence than Diane’s Ravitchian reading of Pondiscio’s views.

She owes him an apology.


The Wile E. Coyotes of Ed Reform Strike Again!

June 1, 2020

I was raised on a steady diet of watching Looney Tunes. Sitting inches away from the screen every Saturday morning, bathed in its blueish glow, I learned how to recognize the Wile E. Coyote-types who have become too common in the Ed Reform movement.  Overconfidence in their own genius inevitably leads to the backfiring of the convoluted schemes they concoct.

After going all-in with a progressive strategy of courting Democrats by heavily regulating charter schools, we’ve seen Democrats completely unswayed by this courtship.  The party’s standard-bearer, Joe Biden, recently declared, “If I’m president, Betsy Devos’ whole motion, from charter schools to this, are gone.” Despite this failure, Ed Reform keeps doubling down on its progressive, heavy regulation approach.  As Robert Pondiscio cheekily observed, “What I learned today on Twitter: Joe Biden could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot a charter school and not lose any ed reform voters.”

If having the presumptive Democratic nominee threaten to shut-down charter schools was not enough, perhaps this  study just published in Urban Education by Ian Kingsbury, Robert Maranto, and Nik Karns might have some effect.  They examine whether higher levels of charter regulation differentially reduce the likelihood that Black and Latino applicants are granted charters. That is, increasing burdens to entry to operating a charter school may make it significantly harder for minorities to lead charter schools, just as greater licensure barriers disproportionately keep minorities out of various occupations, from medicine to hair-braiding.

Kingsbury and colleagues use the National Association for Charter School Authorizers’ (NACSA) rating of the charter approval process as a proxy for how heavily regulated it is.   They then examine every charter application in eight states and New Orleans between 2010 and 2018 to see if higher regulatory burdens have a discriminatory effect.  They do.  In general, tougher charter regulation reduces the likelihood that Black and Latino charter applicants will have their proposals approved and be allowed to operate a charter school.  This is true even controlling for the educational attainment and selectivity of higher education institution applicants attended.  That is, minority charter applicants who are equally qualified on these observed dimensions are significantly less likely to be allowed to operate charter schools when the authorizing process is deemed by reformers to be tougher and “higher quality.”

As the researchers conclude:

Regulation imposes significant barriers to entry for standalone applicants, African Americans, and Latinos aspiring to open charter schools. The former could be by design: CMOs and EMOs pose less risk of failure, at least as regards test scores. Yet generally, higher levels of regulation of authorization may pose costs regarding representation, and ultimately legitimacy (Meier & Rutherford, 2017; Morel, 2018; Pitkin, 1997). Given researching indicating the benefits of teacher-student and principal-student race-matching, this lack of representation may have additional educational costs (e.g., Crow & Scribner, 2014; Egalite, Kisida & Winters, 2015; Lomotey & Lowery, 2014). In short, as with other services, higher barriers to entry in the provision of charter education favor those with greater resources to negotiate those barriers, and those who resemble the regulators, with substantial and likely unintended costs.

It should also be emphasized that there is no evidence that raising the barriers to entry for charter operators improves their quality for students.  Ed Reformers thought that pushing the “best practices” favored by NACSA would lead to better outcomes while reducing political risk with charter opponents.  Instead, charter authorizing processes favored by NACSA make no difference for educational outcomes and harm political support by excluding minority community leaders from operating charter schools.  This reform strategy feels like a contraption Wile E. Coyote could have built.


We Regret to Inform You…

May 31, 2020

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

…that this is correct.

So is this, of course, but you knew that.


Pass the Clicker: Cults of Various Kinds

May 20, 2020

Like many of you, we at Casa Verde have been watching our share of streaming entertainment.  We are watching the entire Star Wars canon, in chronological order within the Star Wars Universe.  We have our Israeli/Jewish shows, like Fauda and the Plot Against America.  But in case you are looking for something different to try, let me recommend a few series we’ve come across about cults of various kinds.

The first is a fictionalized limited series on the Waco stand-off and assault involving the ATF, FBI, and followers of David Koresh.  The series is remarkably sympathetic to Koresh’s followers and to the efforts of the FBI negotiator who attempted to avert bloodshed.  It raises interesting questions about what, if anything, distinguishes a cult from other religious movements, and about the dangers of getting on the wrong side of government force.

The second is a documentary about followers of Baghwan Shree Rajneesh who settled in a rural area of Oregon, coming into social and political conflict with the nearby town of Antelope and the broader political establishment of Oregon.  Things escalate rapidly and in unexpected ways.

The third is a documentary about a completely different kind of cult — the sunny optimism of post-war corporate America.  A writer for the Letterman show comes across records and footage of Broadway-style shows created and performed for industry conventions and corporate retreats.  They’re hilarious, but also endearing.  The musical is the American art form and musicals about how to improve corporate profits is the most American of that American art form.

Enjoy!


What Have You Spun for Me Lately?

May 18, 2020

Who is Dance Dance Dance judge Tina Landon? What videos did she ...

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Look, I know Jeb did one important thing for school choice over twenty years ago, but at some point when you turn in stuff this dumb, it no longer cuts it to say, “hey, I did you a favor in 1999.”

Jeb is the nominal author of an article on NRO about how states should use funds from a new $3 billion federal education bailout. It’s adapted from a big policy report produced by his organization, which he links to.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that the article calls on states to use this cash to push really big, “transformational” changes, whereas $3 billion cut fifty ways doesn’t actually add up to much as a share of the public school budget (over $700 billion a year nationally). We spent $6 billion on Reading First and got nothing to show for it, and Jeb is now pushing early reading intervention and radical new use of digital learning and a big new “workforce preparedness” somethingorother and payouts to private schools for only $3 billion. Someone said something fifteen years ago about the uselessness of the “buckets into the sea” approach to education reform, but people who have the wrong goals just can’t see past the dollar signs in their eyes.

Where was I? Oh yeah, let’s leave all that aside.

In this article, Jeb once again drops school choice. Last time, at the height of his all-in, head-first dive into Common Core (Hey, remember Common Core? Good times!) Jeb dropped choice from his list of four must-have reforms. But he at least mentioned choice in the article, in a way that sort of suggested it might be a good idea, so long as it bent the knee to Common Core.

This time, Jeb drops choice from the list even when his own organization was trying to put it back on. And he doesn’t even mention it in the article.

The policy report, in one of its four recommended items, specifically recommends protecting, expanding and creating school choice programs. But somehow, between the report and Jeb’s article, this item on support for choice magically transmogrified into “stabilizing private schools.”

A government subsidy for private schools is not school choice, any more than a government subsidy for grocery stores would expand people’s food choices. On the contrary, it would narrow them. Just look at how government subsidies for higher education and medical care have fantastically empowered people with more and more access to more and more viable choices!

And what is Jeb’s argument that government should subsidize private K-12 schools in the same way it has so successfully subsidized universities?

Finally, governors could help to stabilize private schools, which are responsible for roughly 10 percent of America’s K–12 students. Private schools, especially faith-based schools, often operate on shoestring budgets, yet in many cases their students are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college. With the impacts of COVID-19, many of these schools are at a breaking point. Families may have less money to pay tuition, and financial aid will be stretched thin. It’s worth a reminder that these schools are part of our education system. They employ teachers, buy textbooks, and educate students who would otherwise fill desks in public schools. They provide alternatives to parents whose needs aren’t being met by the public schools. Helping cash-strapped parents who were paying out of their own pockets to send their child to a great school seems like a simple way to invest in education — and it would keep a vital and successful part of our education system going well into the future.

Why, they’re part of the status quo! How could we possibly not subsidize them?

He even specifically says that his goal is to support families who were already paying for private school – “parents who were paying out of their own pockets” – as opposed to creating new choices for parents who need them!

The point is not parent empowerment that would incentivize better education. The point is to subsidize the status quo forever.

The real head-scratcher here is that school choice programs are a superior way to preserve private education, even if that’s really all you care about. That shouldn’t be what you care about; you should care about better education, which comes from real accountability, which comes from giving power to parents – and not from any other approach. But if what you care about really is just floating the status quo in private schools, why not argue for school choice programs? Why advocate direct subsidies to private schools that will only kill the one thing that private schools really have going for them to make them attractive and keep them vibrant – the fact that they answer to parents?

I can think of one possible reason.

PS Figuring out why “subsidize private schools to serve students already enrolled there!” would be a huge political loser, where “empower parents with new choices!” has been the only – the only – long-term political winner in the history of the education reform movement is left as a Political Science for Ed Reform Dummies exercise for the reader.


California’s Common Core Apologia

May 14, 2020

(Guest Post By Ze’ev Wurman & Williamson Evers)

His first point goes to the fidelity of NAEP as a measuring tool, since it is not perfectly aligned with Common Core. Indeed it is not—purposely! NAEP was not designed to be aligned with any particular state standards and that has been true for decades. This hasn’t blocked states from exhibiting improvements over time, sometimes smoothly, sometimes in spurts. But the results on NAEP almost never—never!—declined.

Under Common Core, in the 2015, 2017, and 2019 administration of NAEP scores broadly and significantly declined across most states, including California.

Then Dr. Kirst turns to argue that California has made significant improvement since Common Core.  His evidence? A 10% improvement in grades 3 and 4 over four years of SBAC administration. What was politely glossed over is the fact that half of this change occurred between the first administrations, when young students first confronted new ways to answer computer-based items with new formats and a new interface, and the second administration when they had an opportunity to practice and adjust to them. If we remove the first SBAC administration, the change from 2015 to 2019 are rather unimpressive 5-6% in early grades that declines to essentially zero or even slightly negative by grades 8 and 11.

Independent Institute
Source: Independent Institute

Yet this raises another question. Is SBAC test even valid, both facially (do its items sample actual subject matter content?) and psychometrically (does item format allows us to reliably interpret the results, give the new fancy and untested formats introduced by it?). The answer is nobody knows, as no external experts were given access to validate that test.

Here is the little we do know–since California abolished under Common Core almost any continuous measure of achievement.

During Common Core, California students taking Algebra I in grade 8 dropped from 54% in 2013 just before Common Core started, to 18% by 2019. A two thirds drop in six years!

And here are California NAEP scores for that period. With the exception of fourth grade reading, the results are flat or negative.

Independent Institute
Source: Independent Institute

Incidentally, we also know that successful Black AB Calculus takers dropped by almost half between 2014 and 2018, and successful Black BC Calculus dropped by one third. That is what we know about California achievement from objective sources since Common Core took over in 2014.

We don’t know how many students successfully took Algebra 1 in middle and high schools—that test was eliminated in Calfornia under Common Core. We don’t know how many students successfully took Geometry or Algebra 2—those tests were eliminated under Common Core. We don’t know how many students are truly ready for the California State University System—that customized test for CSU was replaced by some arbitrary passing score on SBAC.

So we don’t know a lot. The public can no longer track what is really occurring in California education. Clear test-based accountability has been replaced by meaningless colorful dashboards based on the single unvalidated test: the SBAC.

So this is California reality, rather than the tiny improvement sliver Dr. Kirst attempts to present as the whole picture. But what about the future? Kirst promises that things will just get better, instructional materials exist (well, they existed at least since 2014, many of them free), and the future is bright.

Is it?

In 2011, the authors of this article talked with Dr. Kirst to make sure he understood the problems with the Common Core validation by David Conley, and that the previous California standards were judged superior. Nothing was done.

In 2013 Kirst was informed by us in detail as to why the New Generation Science Standards were inferior to the then-current California science standards. This was at the time of a scathing report in June 2013 from the Fordham Institute showing the NGSS to be, effectively, content-empty. Kirst assured us that he was aware of these drawbacks and that California would not adopt NGSS.

In September 2013 Dr. Kirst presided over the adoption of NGSS for California.

Today in California, after 8 years of Dr. Kirst’s state board presidency, we have a system that has no external accountability, where everything is being based on an internal secret test. We have inferior science standards and a system that has seemingly declined in performance. Denigrating NAEP, the only external measure left, is not a very good argument.

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Ze’ev Wurman is a former senior adviser at the U.S. Dept. of Education.  Williamson Evers is a senior fellow at Independent Institute and director of its Center on Educational Excellence.