Teaming with Goldwater’s New Improved Matt to Tackle the Subject of AZ District Space Glut

February 12, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce Foundation and I teamed up with the Goldwater Institute to create a white paper on vacant district space. Arizona has one of the fastest growing student populations but oddly finds itself with a large glut of underutilized district space.

How large is it?

Ah well no one really knows because of severe flaws in reporting but the statewide floor starts at 1.4 million sq feet but the Arizona Auditor General found more than that in a single district by poking around a bit so the ceiling is much much higher. In any case Arizona’s district space increased by 2004 and 2017 by 22.6 million square feet—a 19 percent increase—despite a student enrollment increase of only 6 percent during this same period. Arizona not only has a glut of underutilized district space it appears to be growing.

Research from MIT of co-location of charters within district space demonstrates both financial and academic benefits to districts-specifically in increasing district resources and classroom spending in districts. Arizona has tens of thousands of students stranded on waitlists at high demand district and charter schools, millions of square feet in underutilized district space, and a need to increase resources for classroom use. Mutually beneficial arraingements are there for the taking between high demand schools with waitlists and districts with underutilized space. The scale of these gains are of a scale that Goldwater’s Matt Beienburg and I swallow our pride to point to legislation in California and New York (someone just yelled “get a rope and find a big cactus!) to serve as possible models.

Anyhoo- check it out here. It’s fun to be back writing with GI again.



Class Sizes, Again

February 6, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on class sizes:

California enacted a big class-size reduction policy in 1996. It sounded easy when it was pitched to voters, but it ended up costing the state billions of dollars. And it produced no measurable improvement in any education outcomes—not test scores, not graduation rates, nothing.

Alas, the lesson was not learned. Florida enacted an even more ambitious class-size reduction policy in 2002. It cost the state $20 billion to implement as it was scaled up over eight years, and costs between $4 billion and $5 billion to maintain every year. And it produced no positive effect on education outcomes.

Let me know what you think!

Only Retributive Justice Is Restorative: Plummeting Outcomes Edition

February 6, 2019


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Rand reports that a big randomized trial of super-lax discipline policies in Pittsburgh schools had negative effects on student achievement and big negative effects on African-American student achievement. Of course, Rand buries the negative finding under mountains of politically palatable pablum, but if you dig (search for “not all PERC impacts were positive”) you can find it just barely acknowledged. Or, if you grok geek, check out Table 6.7 on p. 56.

Via this thread, which reviews other studies with similar findings in LA and Philly. Backfill from Max Eden at (sigh) Fordham.

As I’ve written before on JPGB, the most destructive aspect here is that advocates have chosen to label the loosey-goosey discipline policy “restorative justice.” They accept a false and outrageous distinction between “restorative” and “retributive” justice, and cling to the absolutely unsupported prejudice that lax policies will be more restorative, while it is the desire for retributive justice that produces harsher policies. The reality is that in most cases, justice must be both retributive in intention and strict in application to be truly restorative. There is a place for mercy, but not too much and not too often. Nothing ruins young people more effectively, or prevents their “restoration” more completely, than lax discipline.

This is destructive because the lesson most people will take from their failures is that justice should not be restorative if we want it to be either retributive or effective:

The increasing tendency of some to dehumanize criminals and demand harsher and harsher treatment of them cannot be fought by advocacy of lax punishments in the name of “restorative justice.” It is directly caused by advocacy of lax punishments in the name of “restorative justice.”

Only retributive justice, which affirms that punishment is not an arbitrary tool of social control but a just and necessary consequence of the crime that the criminal is morally obligated to suffer, can be effective in restraining the abuse of criminals – and promoting their genuine restoration.

As C.S. Lewis once said, I plead for retributive justice not primarily for the sake of society, or for the sake of crime victims, but for the sake of the criminal.

Creating and Managing Schools = Feature Not a Bug

February 6, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at the Chamber Business News I pose a few questions to charter opponents who want to force Arizona charter management organizations to competively bid out the management of new schools. Questions for the hive mind: can anyone think of a reason this should be done to charters but not districts? I mean you know given stuff like this:

…wouldn’t most reasonable people take a look at that dot on the top right, learn that it has a majority-minority student population, gets only a modest level of funding, and take in kids from districts in their state with below average test scores and conclude “hmmm these schools seem to be pretty well managed?” Given Arizona’s growing school population, am I nuts to think such a provision would stop new school construction dead in its tracks if applied to either districts or charters? I’m trying to imagine either CMOs or districts raising millions to build a new school only to RFP off the management of that new school, and I’m coming up empty trying to imagine a case to build the new school. Maybe you can help me out in the comments.

“Get Me Roger Stone”

January 26, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I do as much as I can to avoid paying any attention to Washington DC. The House passes bill with full knowledge that the Senate won’t do anything other than greet themselves in the mirror each morning as “Good morning Mr./Madame President.” It’s a unique combination of pointlessness and vanity imo. Anyway I had never heard of Roger Stone until CNN was there with a news camera to arrest him on something to do with Russiagate. I heard something about him having a tattoo of Richard Nixon’s face on his back. A friend strongly recommended that I watch “Get Me Roger Stone” on Netflix, which I did this morning.

I’m still trying to process it.

If you mix Forrest Gump’s proclivity for being around big events with a Denny Crane scale ego and a large dash Idiocracy politics, that maybe kind of sorta is a starting place, but only a start. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. It is both profoundly disturbing and occasionally hilarious, and it leaves people like me politically homeless living in a VAN down by the RIVER.

Go watch it. Like now! And then see if you can console me in the comments section. This is all going to be ok like somehow right?



The Hour is Later than Osborne Thinks

January 22, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at RedefinED I make the case that David Osborne’s fears of universal education savings accounts have in fact already come to pass with universal public schooling. Osborne opposes universal ESAs because he fears that wealthy families would top-off, well, guess what has been going on since the early 1970s:

The age of multi-vendor education dawned for upper income families decades ago. John Stuart Mill made a respectable case that government should restrict education activity to providing subsidies for the poor, but the justice and political viability of such a system seems deeply suspect given that no one has ever been told they can’t attend a education institution because their parents paid too many taxes. The best solution imo is to provide broad access with a significantly higher level of subsidy, but consider this your invitation to read the piece and reveal the flaws in thinking in the below comments section.

Texting Nudges Harm Degree Completion

January 17, 2019


When behavioral nudges using text messages became the flavor of the month a few years ago I expressed some serious reservations. In general, I was concerned that nudges substitute the preferences of distant experts for those of people who may understand their own situation better, thereby pushing people to do things against their better judgement.  These interventions may appear successful in the short run, especially when we examine near-term outcomes that are over-aligned with the intervention, but they may harm people over the long run.

In particular, I was responding to texting nudges being advocated by Ben Castleman and others to reduce “summer melt” by getting students to complete the FAFSA and enroll in college.  I wrote:

…even if sending text messages is successful at getting more low-income students to complete the FAFSA and enroll in college in the fall, it is unclear whether this ensures a positive outcome. Students who start college but then fail to finish may be hurt by forsaking employment and other training opportunities and taking on significant debt for a credential they never earn. The students who are accepted to college but then decide not to enroll may have just been deterred by an intimidating form, as Castleman suspects, or they may know things about themselves that made them rationally decide not to pursue a degree they are unlikely to complete. The 160-character solution may unwittingly push students into making decisions that are against their better judgment and end up harming them. Castleman has not reported retention and graduation rates from the texting intervention, so we do not know whether this behavioral nudge is helping or hurting students in the long term.

Well, Ben Castleman and Lindsay Page have finally released results on the longer-term effects of their “summer melt” texting nudge and they are pretty clearly negative.  That is, students randomly assigned to receive texts to remind them to complete the FAFSA while they are seniors in high school are significantly less likely to complete an AA or BA degree than those who were not nudged into completing the forms necessary to get financial aid and enroll in college.  As can be seen in Table 10, the treatment group was 1.7 percentage points less likely to complete a BA degree in 4 years (p< .01).  The treatment group was also .8 percentage points less likely to complete an AA degree after 2 years and 1.0 percentage point less likely to complete an AA after 3 years (p < .1).

Castleman and Page then focus on the subset of subjects who were in the uAspire program and for whom they had outcomes after 6 years.  At the end of 6 years the students who were randomly assigned to receive texting nudges were 2 percentage points less likely to have earned an AA degree (p < .1) and they were no more likely to have earned a BA degree. (See Table 12).

Castleman and Page also report results on whether students already enrolled in college are more likely to complete their degrees if they are randomly assigned to receive texts reminding them to renew the FAFSA so they can continue receiving financial assistance.  As shown in Table 18, students reminded to renew the FAFSA are no more likely to complete an AA or BA degree.

So, the longer-term results of these texting nudges are generally null or negative despite initially encouraging results that the intervention got more students to complete a form and enroll in college.  The problem is likely to be exactly what I suspected.  Students were being pushed into doing things that were against their own better judgement.

Researchers and foundation officials may think everyone should enroll in college but they don’t know each student’s circumstances and are very poorly positioned to know what is best for others.  Students and the advisors (family, counselors, educators, etc…) who know them and with whom they have authentic relationships understand the context better and are more likely to make good decisions.  Technocrats are inclined to manage things from afar, but this approach is very likely to end up hurting students.

The early, positive results for texting nudges received an enormous amount of attention, including an endorsement from Bill Gates and being featured on NPR’s Hidden Brain. Given that we now know that this type of nudge intervention may harm students, I hope there is a comparable amount of attention given to the release of the longer-term negative results.  There is no shame inherent in an intervention failing, but there are serious problems if we only tout temporary successes while ignoring long-run damages.

To their credit, Castleman and Page appear to be turning their attention in their newer research to “higher-touch” interventions that may cost more but may also have a better chance of providing guidance better suited to each student’s situation.  Higher-touch interventions also seem to acknowledge that success for students typically requires much more than a reminder or some information.  To succeed students need character traits that will help them make better decisions for themselves over and over as life presents an endless string of challenges.  To shape character requires human interaction and meaningful relationships.  That’s something that a “bot” or text message simply cannot do.