Sending a Message

September 20, 2018

JOKER_burning_money_3_0600

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

As of FY15, school choice had already saved state and local taxpayers a cumulative total of $3.2 billion.

While improving educational outcomes across all metrics.

Pictured above: Marty Lueken, contemplating the government school monopoly.

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Is the Charter School Movement Dead or Mostly Dead?

September 19, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So what should we make of this:

The above chart comes from Robin Lake’s Education Next piece on the slowdown in charter school growth in the Bay Area. This article focused on three culprits: facility challenges, internal challenges and political backlash. There were several interesting nuggets in the “internal challenges” section, for instance:

Charter advocates in the Bay Area seem to subscribe to a “survival of the fittest” ethic, which holds that because running a successful charter school requires so much capacity, if potential operators are scared off from pursuing an application without a lot of handholding, it’s probably for the best. This was a reasonable strategy in the early days when the supply of savvy entrepreneurs was plentiful and charters were booming, but it may be time to look deeper for quality operators and provide more support.

Translation: I had my legal department cut and paste from their last 700 page charter application, if you don’t have a legal department too bad.

Then:

Meanwhile, the funding community is not sufficiently supporting these smaller players to make it worth their while. In interviews, many leaders told us they believe that the Bay Area’s supply of effective schools is limited today by the philanthropic funding strategies used in the past. In particular, there is a consistent perception that single-site schools and school leaders of color who are not tied into local funder networks have historically not been connected to dominant funding channels.

Translation: It’s easier for large philanthropic foundations to write big checks to other big organizations than to seed mom and pop operations.

Further hampering growth, the charter leaders we interviewed said that start-up dollars are the hardest to come by in the communities they consider most viable for charter school expansion. Operators are finding it easy to access philanthropic funding in urban Oakland and San Francisco, but see those places as “over-saturated” and gentrifying. By contrast, in the less urban area of western Contra Costa County, there are more available facilities and a growing population of students that match most charter schools’ target populations—but fewer opportunities to access philanthropic dollars to start up new schools.

As one charter-school operator said, “People are moving farther and farther away from cities [because they can’t afford to live there] and into poor-performing school districts. An organization like KIPP—if they want to double in the next five years—they’ll need to go in these areas. But charters are not going there because there is no funding there.”

Translation: America is morphing into Paris, France whereby the wealthy people live in the city and the not-wealthy in the suburbs or exurbs. Philanthropists have yet to appreciate just how quickly this is happening.

Like any complex phenomenon, the charter school slow down certainly has more than one explanation. None of these factors would seem to explain why the last few states to pass charter laws have opened few to no charter schools, why the highly ranked Indiana law that passed in 2001 still hadn’t met the minimum subgroup reporting requirements for NAEP in 2017 (you can often get scores for male Asian students as a point of reference) etc. In other words Lake’s look into the SF area was informative, but perhaps not fully revealing.

As a determined optimist, I’m going to say that the charter movement is only mostly dead, which means it is partially alive. Let’s get him to Miracle Max quickly however because it doesn’t look good…

 

 


Teachers Value More than Money

September 18, 2018

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I have a new blog post at OCPA reflecting on the fact that private school teachers are more satisfied than public school teachers, even though they get paid less, because on almost every other metric their jobs are better:

There’s a lesson in this for how we improve education. Unionization has raised teacher salaries, benefits, and job protections. But, in schools as in factories, unionization seriously hinders organic cooperation in the workplace, not only between the line workers and their supervisors but also between the line workers themselves. Workplaces begin to run much more by arbitrary rules than by what gets the job done. I remember being in a state legislative committee hearing once where a principal was asked why she quit running a district school to run a charter school. “Because I can hold a meeting” was her reply—union rules had prevented her from asking teachers to attend meetings when needed in her district school.

However, there’s also a lesson for school choice. The choice movement has historically invested far too much in the rhetoric of markets, competition, and material incentives. People are not money-maximizing robots. They care about getting their job done for the sake of the job, not just for the sake of the paycheck or to grow the size of their organization. School choice works because it sets parents, and teachers, free to focus on working together to get the job of education done in the way that works best for them. Yes, incentives matter, and we can say so. But let’s put the emphasis on cooperation, community, and freedom.

Let me know what you think!


But…his intentions were good!

September 18, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Reason hosted a debate between Stiglitz and Easterly on the role of markets in reducing poverty. A questioner from the audience asks Professor Stiglitz to address his endorsement of Hugo Chavez in 2006 and 2007 in a respectful but direct fashion around minute 51. Eventually after a fumbling attempt to claim that some aspects of the Chavez program were good, Stiglitz admits that in the end while Chavez rhetorically embraced higher and more inclusive rates of economic growth, in the end “he didn’t know how to do it.”

Venezuela sits atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves but production is in free-fall along with the overall economy. Starvation and hyper-inflation run rampant, and the country’s economy dives ever deeper into a humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, a group of Texas wildcatters have a single region outproducing the country with the largest proven reserves despite the fact that we’ve been drilling in that region for a century. Friedman once said that if you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara they would produce a shortage of sand. This was not alas much of an exaggeration.

 

 

 


Want More Art Ed? Decentralize School Control

September 14, 2018

I just came back from the National Convening of the Arts Education Partnership.  It was a fantastic gathering of arts advocates, researchers, and practitioners.  I was particularly struck by the comments during the opening session made by Eric Martin, who leads Music for All .  He noted that parents and communities tend to want more arts education than their schools often provide.  I suspect he’s right about that, but that raises a puzzle: if parents and communities want more art, why are their schools not providing what they want?

You might think the answer is a lack of funds, but that can’t really explain it.  The arts are not that expensive and if schools were more responsive to parental and community preferences, they would give greater priority to the arts in their budgets and schedules.  And then it dawned on me… schools are not more responsive to parent and community preferences regarding the arts because parents and communities no longer really control their schools.  Schools are increasingly answerable to distant bureaucrats in state or federal departments of education rather than to the parents and communities they serve.

This situation is a disaster for the arts.  Even if distant bureaucrats valued the arts as much as many parents and communities do, bureaucrats cannot give priority to the arts because that is not the basis by which the success or failure of their distant management is judged.  The only systematic, easily available information we have on schools is math and reading test scores.  Narrowing the focus of schools on math and reading test performance is inherent in the effort to manage those schools from a distance.  Parents and communities do not have to rely on math and reading test scores to judge school performance because they are close enough to gather a large amount of contextual information.  By contrast, the state superintendent has no access to this information about quality and is inevitably judged completely on the few bits of test score data we do have about all of the schools in their charge.

If this is correct, the most promising strategy for arts advocates to pursue to expand arts offerings in school would be to favor decentralization of control over schools to parents and communities.  If we want more art, let’s get out of the way of parents and communities that want more art.

The irony is that most of the people at this week’s Arts Education Partnership meeting are very focused on lobbying for policies at the state and federal level that they hope would advance the arts.  There was a lot of discussion of the importance of states adopting a set of national standards regarding arts education.  There were pleas for more funding and support from state departments of education.

All of these measures are sincere efforts by good people working hard on behalf of the arts.  But I suspect that the more arts advocates strengthen centralized control over schools, even if in the name of advancing the arts, the less likely we are to see priority given to the arts in education.  Centralized control requires evaluation by centrally collected metrics, which means an emphasis on math and reading test scores.  This is true no matter how many arts standards are adopted, how many state arts initiatives are adopted, or how many speeches in favor of the arts state officials give.

Arts advocates may want to shift their attention toward strengthening parent and community control over their own schools so those schools are more likely to deliver the arts education that folks really want.


Grand Canyon Institute Makes Vast Decisions Based on Half-Vast Data and Analysis

September 10, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The double-plus good propaganda generators are at it again here in the Cactus Patch- in the latest edition of the two-minute hate, the Grand Canyon Institute claims each private choice student is costing the state general fund more money than the public school students. In the instant-classic turn of phrase by Robert Pondiscio however, it is important not to make vast decisions based on half-vast data.

You can watch a public affairs show interview with the author here. In the author states that the analysis supports abolishing private choice programs. Just how half-vast is the Grand Canyon Institute analysis? Well they’ve basically done a two variable regression analysis with private school enrollment as the dependent variable, and they’ve hung their entire estimate on one of the two regression coefficients. The first problem, which sinks the entire analysis by itself, is that their dependent variable for Arizona private school attendance is unreliable.

GCI uses a federal source for private school attendance by state. That source however does not have anything like a 100% response rate (see the appendix) and lists 320 private schools in Arizona. If one however goes to the Arizona Department of Revenue report on private school tax credits, you find tax credit scholarship tax credits going to 362 different private schools. The list of 362 may or may not be exhaustive. So CGI has a flawed dependent variable on their hands- the reality is that we don’t know the number of students attending Arizona private schools- we don’t even know the number of schools.

Second off a regression analysis with two independent variables (% of students attending charters and private choice dollars, respectively) would likely a grade of incomplete in an Introduction to Statistics class-if the instructor wanted to encourage the student and was feeling generous. The universe of other factors which influence private school attendance. A quick google search for instance revealed an analysis testing 14 separate variables– many of which were statistically significant. Arizona’s economy crashed during the period examined in the CGI analysis for instance, and the above analysis finds family income explains variance in private school attendance. Considering that the entire GCI analysis rests on a regression coefficient, failure to control for more than two variable would be deeply suspicious even if they had a valid dependent variable, which they don’t.

In short, the Grand Canyon Institute’s elephant went in search of a way to claim that Arizona’s private school choice programs were bad, and sure enough they (predictably) found it. The analysis reveals much more about CGI than private choice programs in the end.


Arizona Props 127 and 305: a fine pair of misfits

September 7, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Fall has arrived in an even-numbered year, which means that in addition to football there are also elections. Here in the Cactus Patch our political conversation has been even more boisterous than usual. Back in 2016 an individual deep in the council of left-of-center Arizona politics told me that the plan was to make the 2018 election about K-12 education and to run David Garcia for Governor. Garcia did indeed win the Democratic Party’s nomination (the Arizona Education Association announced their endorsement for Garcia at a RedforED rally last spring) and K-12 does indeed look to be the major election issue, so mission accomplished on both fronts. Ballot propositions may however have a much larger impact on school funding than the officeholder races, but not in the way commonly supposed.

Hysteria reigns supreme in the K-12 discussion. A steady stream of reports from the ACLU, the Grand Canyon Institute and the Arizona Republic’s ongoing Two-Minute Hate series on charters and choice programs appear to have been coordinated with impressive precision. Each of these things deserve to be addressed on their own merits (or lack thereof-it’s a mixed bag on substance imo with a spectrum ranging from good points to shallow propaganda) but as far as multi-organizational timed to an electoral calendar efforts go:

In the midst of all this political mosh-pit I saw something that struck me the other day- a Twitter avatar that said “No on 305/Yes on 127.” These reference two ballot propositions on the November ballot-Proposition 127 would require the state to generate half of it’s energy from renewable sources by 2030, while Prop. 305 will ask voters to either confirm or reject the expansion of the ESA program that passed in 2017.

The No on 305/Yes on 127 combo struck me because it seems extremely likely that Prop. 127 would take more money out of Arizona district classrooms than 305, and by a very wide margin. I claim no expertise on energy policy, but I found the take of the Washington Post and of Peter Zeihan in the Accidental Superpower on the subject to be compelling. So first off, some good news:

Things are headed in the right direction and it is mostly because natural gas is cheap, cleaner and is replacing the use of coal in generating electricity.

The Washington Post, not of anthropomorphic climate change denial fame, rightly celebrated this trend. Noting that natural gas reduces emissions by half the Post editorial board noted:

True, half the emissions does not mean no emissions. But the United States does not have to eliminate its carbon footprint all at once, nor should it. Doing so would cost far too much. Instead, natural gas can play a big role in transitioning to cleaner energy cheaply.

When something is far too expensive for the Washington Post editorial board’s tastes, it is a good idea to pay close attention. Peter Zeihan also addressed this topic in the Accidental Superpower. He generally buys the notion of anthropomorphic climate change, but noted that the next generation of power generation plants were being built to use natural gas due to market forces, that this was considerably cleaner than coal burning, and that the life span of these new plants would be about 30 years. Sometime in the next 30 years Zeihan reckons that one or more of the many possibilities for alternative energy will pencil out in terms of economic viability-we just don’t know which one(s) yet.

Google around a bit and you will read about experiments in everything from artificial leaves to fuel producing microbes to crystal encased nuclear waste fueled batteries to clean coal fuels. Which of these-or something else- becomes economically viable is anyone’s guess, but it is not likely to happen on a deadline adopted by Arizona voters in 2018. How much sense does it make to make a massive investment in alternative energy technologies before any of them pencil out, especially when some of them eventually will?

So back to Arizona, Prop. 127 and education. The conversion from coal to natural gas is already happening in Arizona. This is good because right now the Texas oil fields are simply flaring off natural gas as a waste product until the pipeline infrastructure is built to collect and sell it. In fact you can see the flaring from outer space:

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote that there was enough natural gas being flared off to power a small state-one million dollars worth per day. I volunteer Arizona to be that state rather just have them burn it off without generating any power and having us burn coal to generate our electricity. The transition from coal to natural gas has already begun in Arizona, and happily it is being driven by market forces rather than mandates.

Prop. 127 however will force the renewable issue and the companies that generate the state’s power have detailed the enormous costs to such a move. Consumer rates are estimated to double in price. Since the initiative does not define nuclear power as “renewable” so opponents claim Prop. 127 would necessitate the closure of the nation’s largest nuclear power plant which produces **ahem** zero carbon emissions and probably (I’m guessing) cost the GDP of a small country to build.

Given what would be a mad scramble to create renewable energy, one additionally suspects that it would damage the ongoing conversion of coal burning plants to natural gas. Converting coal burning plants to natural gas can be done but it takes time and money-but there is a payoff in the form of low natural gas prices-it pencils out, and is cleaner.  Natural gas capacity would not help meet the mandate so the time and effort to convert to natural gas seems very likely to be diverted on a snipe-hunt of utility scale alternative energy sources ready for prime-time.

Between the increased cost of electricity and the foregone taxes from plant closures, the Arizona Public Service Electric Company estimates a loss of $670,000,000 to Arizona education providers in their service area by 2030. The expensive rates would not stop in 2030. That’s a big hit to education budgets and is not a statewide figure, with APS serves only part of the state.

So let’s compare Prop. 127 to Prop. 305. The ESA expansion under voter consideration contains a cap on the total number of participants of 30,000. Arizona has about 1,200,000 students and often gains 30,000 kids annually. We’ve also learned in recent years that the number of district open enrollment students is approximately twice as high as charter school students, and charter school students outnumber private choice students ~3 to 1. So from the perspective of an individual district campus with enrollment loss, other district schools are the primary competition, charter schools a secondary source of competition, and private schools a distant third. Centrist Arizona Republic columnist Joanna Allhands pointed this out in a column shortly after the ESA expansion passed. Allhands is not a fan of the ESA program but she sees through boogy-man stories:

Arizona’s voucher-expansion bill isn’t going to ruin public education as we know it.

But first, before you start trolling me on Twitter:

Yes, public schools need more resources. Senate Bill 1431 does nothing to help them find it.

And no, I wouldn’t actually call this meaningful reform. It doesn’t address student achievement gaps or fund district, charter and private schools more equitably.

But it won’t be the death knell to your neighborhood district school. In fact, I’m not sure many will even notice a difference.

Allhands went on to posit that charter schools were already scratching much of the Arizona school choice scratch itch, and that there was no reason to expect a mad rush to private schools even with broadened ESA eligibility. She could have added by the way that while there are 4,500 ESA students statewide, Scottsdale Unified has 4,000 open enrollment students from out of district, and it is only one of Arizona’s 230 school districts. “Scottsdale is DRAINING MONEY from nearby school districts-we’ve got to STOP THIS!!!!” said no one, ever, oddly enough. The ESA expansion can serve as an important tool for families looking for the right-fit education for their child, but the program is nothing near the threat to school budgets as doubling their utility costs.

So my friends on the Arizona left are actively supporting a massive drain of funding out of Arizona classrooms (what you spend on air-conditioning cannot be spent on teacher salaries). Meanwhile they have also invested a large effort in putting another ballot measure up because in large part they fear that it will have a large impact on district finances but it won’t. Churchill told us that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other ones that have been tried. I remain hopeful that voters will exercise good sense in all of this, but…