Bipartisan Senate Groups Asks Duncan to Reverse Good Friday Massacre

April 29, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


“Forward” our Motto?

April 29, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The MacIver Institute, Wisconsin’s new think-tank, released a report today by yours truly comparing the NAEP scores of Wisconsin and Florida. Let’s just say that UW-Madison would have probably fared better against the national champion Florida Gators in football last year.


Florida spends considerably less per student than Wisconsin and has a student profile considerably more challenging. Despite that fact, Florida surpassed Wisconsin overall on 4th grade reading (although within the margin of error) on 4th Grade Reading scores in 2007.

Most impressively, this gain was driven by much larger gains among traditionally underperforming student groups. The figure above shows the progress among Free and Reduced lunch kids in Florida and Wisconsin. In 1998, Florida’s low-income students were an average of 13 points behind their peers in Wisconsin. In 2007 however they had raced 8 points ahead.

Among African American students, Florida and Wisconsin once shared space near the bottom in reading achievement. Wisconsin is still there. Florida’s African Americans students now outscore their peers in Wisconsin by 17 points.


wisconsin-african-americanOne finds the same pattern among children with disabilities. In 1998, Wisconsin students with disabilities scored 18 points higher than those in Florida. In 2007, it was 4 points lower.


The problem isn’t that Wisconsin’s scores are low, it is that they are flat.   When the Fordham Foundation found that Wisconsin had the lowest NCLB standards in the country it hinted that the state had not been vigorous in pursuit of broad K-12 reform.

Wisconsin of course was a trailblazer in parental choice with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The learner has surpassed the master however with two statewide parental choice programs- one for low-income children, and one for children with disabilities. If anyone can explain why a low-income child in Milwaukee deserves an opportunity to attend a private school, but a similar child in Racine does not, I’d love to hear why. Florida also has a stronger charter school law.

Rather than sporting the lowest NCLB standards in the country, Florida doggedly pursued top-down accountability with the FCAT and grading schools A to F, and creating real consequences for school failure.

Florida embraced genuine alternative teacher certification, Wisconsin has not.

I am open to correction by my Cheesehead friends, but my distant view from the far-away desert leads me to wonder if Wisconsin may have become complacent when it comes to education reform. Coasting on their demographics, avoiding the tough calls and controversy necessary to improve public schools.

If so, perhaps inspiration can be drawn from the state song:

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Grand old Badger State!
We, thy loyal sons and daughters,
Hail thee, good and great.
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Champion of the right,
“Forward”, our motto,
God will give thee might!

Time will tell whether progressive Wisconsin will take this lying down. Will “Forward” or “comfortably stalled” be a better fitting motto for Wisconin in the next decade?

Rock Star Pay for Rock Star Teachers Part Deux

April 29, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last year I was reading the comments section of a newstory online, and came across a comment from a public elementary school teacher. She was complaining that she had 34 students in her classroom.

So let’s do the math. The statewide average spending per pupil in the state: $11,000. Total revenue generated by this classroom = $374,000. Let’s assume the teacher gets a total compensation package of $60,000 including benefits. The question becomes- what did they do with the other $314,000?

Ah, that was what the teacher was really angry about. Her elementary school had 8 teachers in “non-classroom assignments.”

I don’t have a problem with 30 some odd kids in a classroom. It’s been done, and is being done. Remember?


Many insist that the period depicted by this photo constituted the “good ole days” of education. Jay and Greg have felt compelled to dispel the myth of the lost golden age of public education, back in the good ole days, when public schools were far more effective than they are today. The truth, of course, is that NAEP scores for 17 year olds are flat as far back as you can take them.

What has not been flat- public school spending- adjusted for inflation per pupil has steadily increased even while test scores have stagnated, even while Americans have become wealthier and poverty has declined.

Of course, there is no single explanation for this trend, but certainly the national obsession with lowering average class sizes must be viewed to have been an enormously expensive academic failure. Consider the international evidence:




Really big classes in Asia, really small in the United States. However, when it comes to achievement:


The average South Korean seventh-grader scores 21 percent higher than the average American on seventh-grade mathematics, despite having much larger average class sizes. While a variety of factors contribute to the relative deficiency of American public schools, many scholars are beginning to suspect the main factor is the relatively inferior average quality of American teachers.

In How the World’s Best Performing Schools Come Out on Top, the international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company point squarely at teacher quality as a key variable in explaining variation in international academic achievement. In its findings, McKinsey quoted a South Korean policymaker who noted, “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”


McKinsey found that the top-performing school systems around the world recruit their teachers from the top third of each graduating cohort. Moreover, South Korean schools draw from the top 5 percent of college graduates. Larger class sizes create the resources to pay South Korean instructors much higher salaries.


The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development measures relative teacher pay by comparing the average salaries of teachers with 15 years of experience with a nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. A high salary compared with per capita GDP suggests that a country invests more of its financial resources in teachers and suggests a relative prestige of the profession. By definition, the average person in each of these countries will earn a ratio of 1. Figure 3 compares teacher-salary-to-per-capita GDP for the United States and South Korea.


An experienced South Korean schoolteacher makes a relatively impressive wage compared with teachers in the rest of the world. In South Korea, teaching is an honored profession—not just rhetorically but in compensation as well. In the United States, meanwhile, a teacher with a college degree and 15 years of experience makes a salary relatively close to the average GDP per person. Not surprisingly, there are many qualified applicants for each open teaching position in South Korea.


McKinsey quotes the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce to contrast the United States with those countries having more successful education systems: “We are now recruiting our teachers from the bottom third of high-school students going to college…. [I]t is simply not possible for students to graduate [with the skills they will need] unless their teachers have the knowledge and skills we want our children to have.”

More Teacher Union Sock Puppetry

April 29, 2009

Henson and Kermit.jpg

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Recently we had a lot of fun with the Leo Casey/UFT “cue card check” story. But one fact that I don’t think got a lot of attention (here or elsewhere) is that this is far from the first instance of teacher union sock puppetry.

In this week’s Communique, ALELR highlights another one – the NEA’s longtime practice of setting up dummy organizations that are entirely controlled by the union, but conceal this fact and present themselves as independent voices. This week he highlights ROVE (Republicans Opposing Voucher Efforts), which, from the evidence ALELR presents, sure looks a whole lot like it has the NEA’s arm sticking out the bottom.

Apparently their strategy is to pay a whole chorus of voices to sing out of the union songbook, while hiding the singers’ union connections.

Say, I think I feel a song coming on myself…

Why are there so many songs about unions?
And choruses on their side?

The singers are honest and independent
And they have nothing to hide

So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong, wait and see
Someday we’ll find it – the union connection
The reformers, the reporters, and me!

Rock Star Pay for Rock Star Teachers!

April 28, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Goldwater Institute released a new study today titled New Millennium Schools: Delivering Six-Figure Teacher Salaries in Return for Outstanding Student Learning Gains. In this report, my coauthors Mark Francis, Greg Stone and I argue that the United States has made a tragic error in emphasizing teacher quantity (through efforts to limit average class size) rather than teacher quality. The growing literature on student learning gains clearly demonstrate that teacher quality trumps the impact of class size variation by a wide margin.

The value added literature has revealed stunning equity issues. We don’t attract enough high ability teachers into the profession, we quickly lose many of those we do to frustration or administration, and we distribute most of the remainder to the leafy suburbs. I don’t have a problem with incentive “combat pay” but let’s face it: it is not enough to simply redistribute the limited number of high quality teachers. We need to attract many more of them.

After exploring foreign and domestic examples of systems that make the opposite choice, we propose a solution: a school model which not only employs value added assessment to identify high achieving teachers, but also splits the additional revenue for students after the 20th with the teacher. We propose a 2/3 teacher, 1/3 school split for the 21st student and beyond. This works out to a $5,200 bonus per child.

With this split, our school delivers a six figure teacher salary at 32 students based upon Arizona’s relatively modest funding for charter schools. A class size of 32 students is hardly outside of the historical practice for American public schools, or even the current practice entirely.

There are many practical issues to consider, and variations on the basic model, so please read the study. I’ll write more about the study in the coming days, but the most important point is this: there is plenty of money in the public school system to treat teachers like true professionals and reward them for excellence.

UPDATE: Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuck points out that principals already covertly increase class sizes for additional pay.

WaPo: Why deny D.C. children what special-needs students get?

April 28, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Washington Post editorial page weighs in again on choice, this time in the context of the Forest Grove vs. T.A. case pending before the United States Supreme Court.

The WaPo raises an interesting question: if special needs students have a right to a private school remedy in cases where the public schools have failed to provide an appropriate education, why shouldn’t other children poorly served by public schools enjoy the same right? Kids like those attending DC public schools. A strong case can be made that public schools have horrendous track record in educating both inner city children and children with disabilities.

Of course you wouldn’t want to clog the courts with lawsuits like the special needs law created.  A voucher program with a voucher amount less than the total spending per pupil would be far more equitable and efficient.

Systemic Effects of Vouchers — Updated 4/27/09

April 27, 2009

(This is an update of a post I wrote on August 25, 2008.  It now includes the new Milwaukee study.)

In an earlier post I listed all analyses of the effects of U.S. vouchers on program participants using random-assignment experiments.  Those studies tell us about what happens to the academic achievement of students who receive vouchers.  But we all recognize that expanding choice and competition with vouchers may also have significant effects on students who remain in traditional public schools.  Here is a brief summary of the research on that question.

In general, the evidence on systemic effects (how expanding choice and competition affects the performance of traditional public schools) has more methodological limitations than participant effects studies.  We haven’t been able to randomly assign school districts to increased competition, so we have more serious problems with drawing causal inferences.  Even devising accurate measures of the extent of competition has been problematic.  That being said, the findings on systemic effects, like on participant effects, is generally positive and almost never negative.

Even in the absence of choice programs traditional public schools are exposed to some amount of competition.  They may compete with public schools in other districts or with nearby private schools.  A relatively large number of studies have examined this naturally occurring variation in competition.  To avoid being accused of cherry-picking this evidence I’ll rely on the review of that literature conducted by Henry Levin and Clive Belfield.  Here is the abstract of their review, in full:

“This article systematically reviews U.S. evidence from cross-sectional research on educational outcomes when schools must compete with each other. Competition typically is measured by using either the HerfindahlIndex or the enrollment rate at an alternative school choice. Outcomes are academic test scores, graduation/attainment, expenditures/efficiency, teacher quality, students’ post-school wages, and local housing prices. The sampling strategy identified more than 41 relevant empiricalstudies. A sizable majority report beneficial effects of competition, and many report statistically significant correlations. For each study, the effect size of an increase of competition by one standard deviation is reported. The positive gains from competition are modest in scope with respect to realistic changes in levels of competition. The review also notes several methodological challenges and recommends caution in reasoning from point estimates to public policy.”

There have also been a number of studies that have examined the effect of expanding competition or the threat of competition on public schools from voucher programs in Milwaukee and Florida.  Here are all of the major studies of systemic effects of which I am aware from voucher programs in the US:


Martin Carnoy, et al “Vouchers and Public School Performance,” Economic Policy Institute, October 2007;

Rajashri Chakrabarti, “Can Increasing Private School Participation and Monetary Loss in a Voucher Program Affect Public School Performance? Evidence from Milwaukee,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2007; (forthcoming in the Journal of Public Economics)

Caroline Minter Hoxby, “The Rising Tide,” Education Next, Winter 2001;

Jay P. Greene and Ryan H. Marsh, “The Effect of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program on Student Achievement in Milwaukee Public Schools,” School Choice Demonstration Project Report, March 2009.


Rajashri Chakrabarti “Vouchers, Public School Response and the Role of Incentives: Evidence from Florida  Federal Reserve Bank of New York Staff Report, Number 306, October 2007;

Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, “Competition Passes the Test,” Education Next, Summer 2004;

Cecilia Elena Rouse, Jane Hannaway, Dan Goldhaber, and David Figlio, “Feeling the Heat: How Low Performing Schools Respond to Voucher and Accountability Pressure,” CALDER Working Paper 13, Urban Institute, November 2007;  

Martin West and Paul Peterson, “The Efficacy of Choice Threats Within School Accountability Systems,” Harvard PEPG Working Paper 05-01, March 23, 2005; (subsequently published in The Economic Journal, March, 2006)

Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, “The Effect of Special Education Vouchers on Public School Achievement: Evidence From Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program”  Manhattan Institute, Civic Report Number 52, April 2008. (looks only at voucher program for disabled students)

Every one of these 9 studies finds positive systemic effects.  It is importantto note that Rouse, et al are ambiguous as to whether they attribute the improvements observed to competition or to the stigma of Florida’s accountability system.  The other three Florida studies perform analyses that support the conclusion that the gains were from competitive pressure rather than simply from stigma. 

Also Carnoy, et al confirm Chakrabarti’s finding that Milwaukee public schools improved as the voucher program expanded, but they emphasize that those gains did not continue to increase as the program expanded further (nor did those gains disappear).  They find this lack of continued improvement worrisome and believe that it undermines confidence one could have in the initial positive reaction from competition that they and others have observed.  This and other analyses using different measures of competition with null results lead them to conclude that overall there is a null effect  — even though they do confirm Chakrabarti’s finding of a positive effect.

I would also add that Greg Forster and I have a study of systemic effects in Milwaukee and Greg has a new study of systemic effects from the voucher program in Ohio.  And Greg also has a neat study that shows that schools previously threatened with voucher competition slipped after Florida’s Supreme Court struck down the voucher provision.  All of these studies also show positive systemic effects, but since they have not undergone external review and since I do not want to overstate the evidence, I’ve left them out of the above list of studies.  People who, after reading them, have confidence in these three studies should add them to the list of studies on systemic effects.

The bottom line is that none of the studies of systemic effects from voucher programs finds negative effects on student achievement in public schools from voucher competition.  The bulk of the evidence, both from studies of voucher programs and from variation in existing competition among public schools, supports the conclusion that expanding competition improves student achievement.

(edited to add study by Greg on post-voucher FL and Jay’s study on McKay vouchers for disabled students)

(Updated 4/27/09 to include the new Milwaukee study)