That’s No Way to Run a Railroad, Subway or School System

November 20, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’d suggest reading this fascinating article from the New York Times about how New Yorkers spend an obscene amount of money but get a subway system that is trending towards barely functional. The story is basically that the system has been mismanaged and plundered by various politicians and political interests and safety and reliability is in steep decline. The problems go much deeper than the below excerpt, but in the end the below excerpt encapsulates the overall problem:

According to a former union president, John Samuelsen, the organization has secured better deals over the past eight years than any other public labor group in New York.

“I look back with satisfaction on what, together, we have accomplished,” Mr. Samuelsen said in a September letter announcing that he was becoming the union’s international president.

Each of three deals signed from 2009 to 2017 cost more than the M.T.A. anticipated, forcing it to take money from other parts of the budget. The 2014 deal, which cost $525 million, was funded by tapping into a pay-as-you-go account that was intended to pay for capital work, former officials said.

Subway workers now make an average of $170,000 annually in salary, overtime and benefits, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the federal Department of Transportation. That is far more than in any other American transit system; the average in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington is about $100,000 in total compensation annually.

The pay for managers is even more extraordinary. The nearly 2,500 people who work in New York subway administration make, on average, $280,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. The average elsewhere is $115,000.

Nearly 2,500 people make $280,000 per year for administering a system in deep decline. Nice work if you can get it. So if you run your school system too much like MTA runs the subway, and other states do less of that, slowly but surely you might see something like this, even if you spend twice as much per pupil:

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Riding on the Trainwreck of New Orleans?

November 15, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Peter Cook brought bad news about the latest test scores from New Orleans, and used the term “train wreck” to describe the results. This was ironic as the other day I saw a quote from David Osborne’s book that claimed that states that close charter schools have charter school sectors that substantially outperform district schools. In previous looks at NACSA state charter law rankings that came out before the most recent NAEP data, something like six of the top 10 states had too few charter schools to have made it into the NAEP sample, with the top two states in the rankings (Indiana and Nevada) included in the no-scores club despite have charter laws for many years. Of the top 10 rated states, Louisiana looked to be the best of the bunch, and they were towards the bottom of the top 10.

The figure below puts state charter sectors into context by comparing their 2015 NAEP 8th grade math score against their 2011 to 2015 cohort gain in scale points, and also includes all “Wild West” charter sectors. Unlike Nevada, most western states got middling to very low grades from NACSA, but can console themselves with the fact that they actually have “charter schools” generated by their “charter school law.”

Yes, okay, so well that happened. Don’t be looking for many westerners to be dropping everything their doing to emulate either Louisiana or Nevada. I remain a fan of the Louisiana RSD, as in my mind it was a very successful play to leverage the only thing New Orleans had left after the hurricane (empty school buildings) and get a system up and running. However, there is a lot of space between saying that and rushing to embrace the concept as the solution to our all of our problems.

Well, perhaps the reading results are more promising…

Nope- the reading results look very consistent with the math results. New Mexico charter school leaders just filed a petition with the Department of Cosmic Justice to protest Louisiana charters receiving much more hype but less demonstrable academic progress.

So my mutant mind reading power is reading objections in one or more of your minds. These comparisons aren’t fair! Only three of those Wild West sectors (Arizona, California, NM) have majority minority student bodies…given what we know about achievement gaps, we would not expect Louisiana charters to land on the right side of these charts. True enough unless you had a very high rate of improvement. Note that Louisiana charters demonstrate rates of improvement in both reading and math that weren’t bad, but also wasn’t either very high, or very different from the host state.

Again, this does not mean that RSD is bad. It seems to have been brilliant for New Orleans after the hurricane. That is a different question from “has it been so successful that everyone should rush to adopt them?” It is also a different question from “is this model politically sustainable in the face of predictable push-back?” or “what if Katrina hit Houston instead of New Orleans- are there that many TFA kids in the entire country?” or the question “is it possible that RSD would have been more successful without the benevolent guidance of a central command?” or most important of all “wouldn’t we be better off if we got to the point where parents rather than technocrats took the lead in closing schools?”

Some additional problems include the fact that a series of focus groups I saw earlier this year made it clear that people detest the idea of having the government shut down schools based on test scores. Oh, then there is the decisive rejection of an RSD by Georgia voters. The demos do not seem to be buying what the technos want to sell. Then there is the small matter of more recent state scores, which Peter Cook describes as a “train wreck” for RSD. Then the steady and insidious effort to essentially convert RSD back into a normal school district that seems to be going quite well for the reactionaries so far. I’m not sure about the train-wreck take, but I’m also confident that RSD is not a magic carpet made of steel, er, a solution we are likely to see politically sustained at scale.


More Regulation and Less Diverse School Options

November 14, 2017

(Guest Post by Corey A. DeAngelis and Lindsey Burke)

The first experimental evaluation to find negative impacts of a voucher program on student achievement was released to the public over two years ago. Since then, education scholars and public officials have debated whether the initially large negative effects in Louisiana could be explained by the program’s burdensome regulations. While some education policy analysts argued that the state-testing mandates and open-admissions policies deterred higher-performing private schools from participating, others contended that the program might have performed even worse without the rules in place to ensure that parents only chose high-quality educational institutions.

The discussion heated up again three months ago with the release of the Louisiana Scholarship Program’s (LSP) third-year reports showing that students using a voucher caught up to their public school peers on test scores. Just after the public release, John White, Louisiana’s superintendent of education, reasoned that “it may very well be the regulation itself – the accountability system – that is the thing that has promoted the performance.”

However, one of the third-year reports released by researchers at the University of Arkansas addressed this very issue and concluded that the heavy regulatory environment in Louisiana may have driven away higher-quality private schools from participating in the program at all.

Likewise, we just released an analysis examining whether school voucher environments in Louisiana, D.C., and Indiana affected the specialization of the private school market overall. We found that when individual private schools switch into highly-regulated voucher environments such as Louisiana, they are less likely to self-identify as specialized or nontraditional educational institutions.

Theory

Since the voucher programs in question are funded by taxpayers, the public has a legitimate interest in understanding the impact of regulations on private school function and structure. When publicly funded private school choice programs are introduced, most public officials have good intentions when attempting to guarantee that families have access to high-quality educational institutions. In a well-meaning attempt to control levels of school quality and institutional equity, policymakers require that private schools comply with regulations associated with academic quality, financial viability, and access.

Nonetheless, efforts to ensure “accountability” through regulations mirror the various policies governing traditional public schools. If government officials decide to regulate private schools operating within a voucher environment in the same way traditional public schools are regulated, the supply of schools in the private market is expected to become similar to public schools over time. Obviously, private schools that participate in a voucher program will behave more like public schools if they are required to do many of the same things: focus on state standardized tests, fill out supplementary paperwork, and conform admissions processes to the government model.

We expect that private schools in the most-heavily regulated program, the LSP, will be the most likely to experience reductions in specialization. After all, only a third of the private schools chose to participate in the LSP, while between 70 and 78 percent of private schools participated in the programs in D.C. and Indiana. The unusually low LSP participation rate may be because the program is targeted to the least advantaged children in Louisiana and requires students to take the state’s standardized tests and schools to have an open-admissions process.

Results

Every other year, private school leaders provide information about their institutions using the nationally representative Private School Universe Survey (PSS). For our analysis, we examine changes in responses to question eleven which asks school leaders to check one box that best describes their private institution. We examine whether switching into voucher program environments influences the relative likelihoods that private school leaders report that their institutions are regular, specialized, or alternative schools.

As shown in our study, three out of the four effects that were statistically different from zero were in Louisiana. After switching into the voucher program environment in Louisiana, individual private school leaders were around 4-percentage points, or about a tenth of a standard deviation, more likely to identify as regular schools. Furthermore, private school leaders in Louisiana were around 2-percentage points, or about a fifth of a standard deviation, less likely to identify as schools with a “special program or emphasis,” and about 2-percentage points, or around a tenth of a standard deviation, less likely to identify as “schools that offer a curriculum designed to provide alternative or nontraditional education.”

In addition, we found that private school leaders in the nation’s capital were about 10-percentage points, or over a half of a standard deviation, less likely to report that they were alternative schools. This may be because the D.C. voucher program was the only one that required teachers in core subjects to have a bachelor’s degree. It may be that D.C. private schools that provided a nontraditional or alternative education relied more heavily on a robust supply of diverse teachers.

No statistically significant impacts were detected in Indiana, the more lightly regulated voucher program of the three. Although Indiana private schools participating in the state voucher program are required to take the state test, the fact that most did so prior to the introduction of the voucher program in order to be eligible for the high school athletics association may have mitigated the effect such a regulation would have otherwise had on school participation.

But why does this matter? What does this mean for the education of children going forward?

Since individual student needs, learning abilities, interests, and desires are all unique, specialized services ought to lead to improved outcomes. Conversely, access to schools that mimic the district system may not offer much additional choice at all. Consequently, homogenization in the supply of schooling options could have led to the recent negative experimental impacts revealed in Louisiana.

While a hearty set of program regulations may be tempting to policymakers, especially since they give well-intentioned public officials the illusion of quality-control, the disheartening result may be a less meaningful set of choices for parents and their children.

Our results suggest that burdensome packages of regulations likely limit schooling choices in an unfortunate way. Policymakers and school choice advocates interested in establishing a robust universe of education options that are responsive to family needs and preferences should limit red tape and enable private schools to retain their unique identity and character.

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Corey A. DeAngelis is an Education Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

Lindsey Burke is the Director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy.


How Soon Will Self-Driving Cars Take Kids to School?

November 13, 2017

Waymo’s self-driving cars are now driving through the Phoenix metro area without anyone in the front seat.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Waymo recently announced that it will launch a fleet of self-driving taxis within the next 18 months. I can personally attest that I’ve seen self-driving cars from Waymo, Intel, Uber and others passing my house with great regularity over the last two years (thanks, in large part, to Arizona’s solidly pro-innovation governor, Doug Ducey).

Self-driving cars are going to dramatically change society. The question is no longer “if” but “when.” Some changes will be obvious: fewer accidents, fewer deaths, faster travel, more productive use of commute time, etc. Some second order effects are less obvious but highly likely. For example, once it becomes cheaper to order a Waymo or Uber whenever needed than to own a vehicle, people will be able to convert garages into usable living space and businesses will be able to get rid of parking garages and most parking lots.

Self-driving cars will also change how we get our kids to school. As I wrote a few years ago, self-driving cars will eventually make it safe and efficient to send multiple children to multiple different schools — and with cars able to travel faster, the number of schools within a commutable distance will dramatically increase. That would greatly expand the educational options available to families.

How soon should we expect this change? That’s not clear. As Robert Pondiscio has noted, the technology is changing faster than the culture. It might be a while before families feel comfortable putting their child in a vehicle with no adult supervision. On the other hand, advances in GPS, video monitoring, and even bracelets that detect medical episodes can make future rides in self-driving vehicles safer than anything we grew up with.

In the spirit of the Forster-Mathews bet, Robert and I are putting our money where our mouths are. Although I expect that in five years, few people will be sending their kids to school in autonomous vehicles, I predict that at least 25 percent of children in the Phoenix area will get to school via a self-driving car by the 2022-23 school year. This may sound overly exuberant, but with self-driving cars already on the Phoenix streets and Waymo launching its taxi service, I expect high demand for the safety that self-driving cars offer. Moreover, the autonomous vehicle companies are already branching out into services like trucking — it won’t be long before they’re operating school buses as well. Unlike bus drivers, self-driving cars don’t get drunk, lose their temper, get distracted, fall asleep, or not show up for work. As soon as it is safer and more cost-effective for school districts to switch to self-driving vehicles, I expect the shift to be rapid.

The loser owes the winner a beer. And if I’m right, we’re taking a self-driving car to the bar.


Hispanic NAEP Scores by Cohort Gains

November 13, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So what jumps out here to me is the presence of CA, NM and NV in the bottom left quadrant- never the place to be, and the futures of these states will rest in no small part on getting out of this quadrant with these students. Between Nevada’s charter school law that hasn’t produced many “charter schools” and the state’s failure to fund the ESA program, they’ve essentially decided to continue putting Las Vegas Hispanic kids into portable buildings with substitute teachers. Not to worry though- they’ll have a professional football stadium to visit in a few years!

TX has been known to play fast and loose with ELL inclusion standards in the past, so I am going to give them a mental * on this until I dig around in an obscure pdf appendix. Sorry Tex, love you, but you don’t get the benefit of any doubt on this. Northern Virginia gentrification effect? Something else?


Wild West and Loving It

November 9, 2017

NACSA you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The chart below plots the 2015 8th NAEP grade math scores against the 2011 to 2015 NAEP math cohort gains. The below charts include state averages and the numbers for state charter school sectors in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah. In the NACSA ratings of state charter school laws most proximate to these data, I recall all of these states with the exception of New Mexico received single digit scores out of a possible 30 something points, clustering towards the bottom of the rankings. New Mexico still ranked pretty low. Generally these states lost points for not having default closure and similar type provisions. How did the charter schools in these state manage?

The high performance/low NACSA phenomenon looks to be a western trend. These charts are not stone tablets handed down from the mountain, but I can’t think of any reason they would systematically favor charter sectors. Those “Wild West” charter sectors look, ah, really good at math. If you recall the international comparisons, Massachusetts ranks up there near the best European and Asian countries. Let’s take a look at the reading results:

Well there you have it- AZ, CO, ID and CO all have Massachusetts like results, and it appears that when it comes to spurring reading gains, New Mexico charters are the ultimate power in the universe…I suggest Enchantment State parents use it.

Please do me a favor and email this post to the next five people you hear use the term “Wild West” as a term of derision in an education conversation. Bless their little hearts, but they generally have not bothered to look at empirical data in order to see whether it can be squared with their regional/ideological prejudices.