Sigh…Another Diamond….

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So today we get yet another random-assignment study showing that a choice program produced significant student gains for those lucky enough to get into it. This time it is Harlem Success Academy– a mere 13 to 19 percent test score improvement associated with winning the lottery to attend there.

What’s that you say? Yes, true, that is far larger than the average test score differences between Massachusetts and Mississippi on NAEP, so yes, I am excited. Or I’m trying to be.

It’s just that we’ve crushed a piece of coal with our gauntleted hand to produce a diamond so many times now, that it has lost something of its charm. The other side will trot out their non-random assignment studies and reporters will mistakenly continue to use the adjective “mixed” to describe the research.


I’m still waiting for any random assignment evidence that these programs do any harm by the way.

8 Responses to Sigh…Another Diamond….

  1. allen says:

    We’ve got the Sarah Ferguson Academy here in Detroit. Big deal. It’s been in operation for quite a while and there’s been zero effort to replicate its success.

    There are really two problems:

    1) understanding what goes into making a terrific school
    2) understanding why no one in public education much cares

    Of the two, two is obviously more important then one.

  2. Matthew Ladner says:


    If the state of Michigan would lift the cap on university charter schools, pass private choice laws, and provide truth in advertising by grading schools A-F based on a solid formula, I predict that you’d see a fire lit.

  3. allen says:

    Well, yes and no. It wouldn’t be instantaneous because markets rarely work that way. Takes time for the positive feedback effects of a free market to get up a real head of steam.

    So yeah, eventually demand would result in distinctly better schools but in the shorter run we’d get some percentage of mutts who open a charter school but don’t know how to run a good school. As long as they’ve got a district as execrable as the Detroit Public Schools to be better then they’ll get by but that’s a pretty low standard.

    But you don’t have to have charter schools to have good schools as Sarah Ferguson and magnet schools, prove.

    The question is, why don’t those schools force other schools to improve? I’ve already stated my opinion on the reason but I rarely hear/read anyone else even asking the question.

  4. Matthew, do you still have your steak dinner Moynihan challenge going? I’d like to pose a similar challenge here in Canada as we are fighting an uphill battle for choice.

  5. Matthew Ladner says:


    Go for it!

  6. Thanks, I’m going to reference your 2006 original essay on the topic on our School for Thought blog. Has anyone ever met the challenge?

  7. Matthew Ladner says:


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