Between the Promise of his greener days and these he masters now

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I was looking at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Dashboard on state charter school sectors trying to figure out how the Arizona Charter sector managed to put it all together to rock the 2015 NAEP like a rock star on an epic hotel room thrashing bender. Just as a reminder, Arizona has long been known as a Wild West of charter schooling- liberal authorizing, relatively light-touch state oversight, etc. Just the sort of thing that a central planner hates. In addition, the sector is not generously funded by national standards, pulling in about $8k per student from all sources, and educates a majority-minority student body. Moreover the Credo analysis from a few years ago held its nose at AZ charter results. And yet, the 2015 NAEP comes in and shows AZ charter students scoring like a New England state in all four exams and these results are backed up by the state AZ Merit exam. What gives?

One possible factor- maturation:

AZ charter sector age

Paul Peterson noted years ago that the Credo analysis of charter test scores had not controlled for two potentially important factors- let’s call them shakedown cruise and transfer effects. Like any social enterprise, a school is unlikely to be at peak effectiveness in the early going.  In 2005-06 Arizona charter schools in years 1-3 outnumbered those that had been operating for 10 or more years three to one. Let the clock run a bit however and by 2013-14 old timers outnumber newbies by more than two to one. As far as transfer effects go, some brand new schools will have nothing but transfers, whereas established schools will typically be breaking in a new class of their youngest grade covered and some transfers. So we waited things out in Arizona and eventually we were rewarded with results like:

8m 2015 AZ Hispanic charter

Well AZ charters- you are growns up, you’re growns up and you’re growns up!

Next factor: churn.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools notes that between 2010-11 and 2014-15, 215 new charter schools opened. During the 2010-11 to 2013-14 period 96 Arizona charter schools closed. So factoring in life cycle performance, those 215 that opened may have looked pretty meh when Credo checked in on them as youngsters, but perhaps they were just out having an ale with Falstaff and the gang figuring a few things out getting their sea-legs under them as young organizations.

Let’s assume further that those 96 schools that closed actually were worse than meh on average. Arizona grants 15 year charters, so the oldest of the lot did not start coming up for renewal from the Arizona State Charter School Board until 2010. Charters of course sometimes close due to factors other than state action as well, and academically fantastic schools will be greatly under-represented in this subset. So you open about twice as many schools as you close over the last few years but the ones you open are sorting things out and getting better, while the ones you closed just couldn’t cut it results in:

Florida’s charter sector also rocked the 2015 NAEP. How much did they rock the 2015 NAEP you ask? Well this much:

Hey it’s cute Vermont almost tied Florida charter schools on the reading NAEP, especially since they are 92% Anglo and spend $15,500 per kid. Florida charters btw: 76% minority student body. I’m not going to look up the spending number but it is far less than $15,500. How’s that for closing the achievement gap? If you don’t believe it go and run the numbers for yourself here.

Florida charters seem to be doing something right. Possible maturation factor here as well? I’ll take “Sure Looks that Way to Me” for a thousand Alex:

Florida charter schools age

The National Alliance shows about 300 new charters opening and 101 closing in Florida in recent years. You let parents pick schools that are good fits for their kids, open a new bunch of schools on their way to improving, and close sub-meh, guess what your majority minority sector can rock the NAEP like a New England state.

Now not every charter sector, even among the long-standing ones, sees these kind of results. Many factors can and will influence such scores besides those discussed here. For instance, Michigan charter schools look pretty bad at first blush, but a concentration in Detroit may have something to do with that. The ability to slice and dice the NAEP data has definite limits and multiple factors can be simultaneously at play.  Minnesota however has the nation’s oldest charter law and seems to notably lack the sort of grand-slam ability of the Arizona, Colorado and Florida sectors. A lack of dynamism may be contributing while the average age of Minnesota charter schools has increased, very few new schools have been opening, and very few established schools closing- almost as though charters have their little niche but have been safely contained.

Last month Neerav asked “Is School Supply F***ing Everything?” Maybe so. Keep those new schools coming, let parents sort them out, and if parents don’t torpedo the low-performers don’t renew their charters. Otherwise sit back and enjoy!

7 Responses to Between the Promise of his greener days and these he masters now

  1. Greg Forster says:

    I’d be interested to know who closed those 96 schools: dissatisfied parents walking away or those omniscient regulatory shamans I keep hearing about who can divine all cosmic secrets by looking at math scores and chicken entrails. Given the deplorable “Wild West” I’ve always heard about in Arizona, I don’t feel like I need to check the chickens to know.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Ask and ye shall receive:

    Hit the “Click here” and you get an excel spreadsheet. Lots of “voluntarily surrendered” and “lack of enrollment” and only one “charter revoked” on the list.

  3. matthewladner says:

    I would assume that a good portion of those “voluntarily surrendered” were voluntarily surrendered because the prospects for renewal were not good. Kind of like the Wildcat School started by the University of Arizona College of Education:

  4. Jason Bedrick says:

    If, as Neerav Kingsland has come to realize, school supply is really, really, really important, then perhaps we should be careful not to impose gov’t regulations that significantly reduce school supply? Hmmm….

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