Pssst…NACSA…Size DOES matter

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I was looking at NACSA’s 2014 ratings for state charter school laws, as these would have been the most relevant before the most recent NAEP. Hailing from the out west, I noticed that Nevada had a score (26) nearly three times the score of both Arizona (9) and Colorado (9).

Longtime readers of JPGB of course will be aware that charter school students in both Arizona and Colorado rocked the 2015 NAEP exams like nobody’s business. Nevada on the other hand has had a very difficult experience with charter schooling. A decade ago or so ago I wrote a study for the Nevada Policy Research Institute that basically concluded that Nevada was missing out on high quality schools and the opportunity to relieve overcrowding in the public schools, and so should follow the example of their Arizona neighbor and get in the game. I wrote one of the earliest Jayblog posts on the subject called Fear and Loathing in Carson City:

Nevada, by comparison, has been hesitant in expanding parental options. In the five states surround Nevada (Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon and Utah) and these states have 482, 710, 30, 81 and 60 charter schools respectively, collectively educating hundreds of thousands of students. With only 22 charter schools, Nevada is the tortoise of the region.

On November 30 of 2007, the Nevada Board of Education voted 8-0 to impose a moratorium on the approval of new charter schools. Board members told the press that the freeze was necessary because the state Education Department is being “overwhelmed” by 11 charter applications.

Arizona’s State Board for Charter Schools oversees 482 Arizona charter schools with a staff of 8. Nevada’s board overseeing cosmetology currently has 14 full-time employees.

The fear and loathing in this case referred to the sad fact that many in Carson City obviously feared and loathed charter schools. Imagine then my surprise to see a national charter school organization rank the same law a few years later as nearly three times higher than laws in nearby Western states that had produced far more opportunities for kids. Out of curiosity, I decided to check the 2015 NAEP scores for Nevada charter students.

NAEP yielded no information: the Nevada charter sector remains too small to reliably sample.

Now to give you some perspective on this, NAEP lists 5.6% of students in Nevada as Asians, and the data explorer will give you a number for male Asian students taking the 8th grade math exam in 2015 (Nevada’s Asian males did well on 8th grade math btw) but nothing for charter students of all sorts. NAEP cannot reliably sample charter students in Nevada because in 2013-14 they still only had 34 charter schools according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Those numbers for Arizona and Colorado btw were 605 and 197 respectively. Presumably the Nevada law would eventually like to have some “charter schools” result from their “charter school” law?

Next I decided to check out the 2015 rankings. The top 10 state charter sectors did not exactly cover themselves in 2015 NAEP glory. Indiana and Nevada tied for first place in their rankings, but neither state would yield NAEP estimates for performance. Alas Indiana’s 75 charter schools were not yet getting the job done in terms of scaling into the NAEP. The Nevada law passed in 1997 and Indiana in 2001. Hopefully this will get better in the future but for now:

The third ranked state (Ohio) has scores reported but those scores are consistently low, but Ohio’s NACSA score only recently increased. NACSA gets a Mulligan on that one, but continuing down the top 10 list however one fails to gain confidence regarding Ohio’s future prospects. Alabama ranks fourth, but is a relative newcomer to charter schooling so also cannot report scores. The Texas charter law ranks fifth on the NACSA 2015 list but has charter scores on NAEP that have yet to impress. I am a Texan who became an Arizonan and I would not swap charter laws with Texas even if they threw a shale formation into the bargain. In the vast majority of Texas schooling is still “take it or leave it” from the districts, whereas in Arizona even our Beverly Hills type districts are anxious for you to open enroll from outside the boundaries.

The same applies to seventh ranked Minnesota- the nation’s oldest charter law. You can get NAEP scores in MN, and I can’t thank them enough for inventing charter schools, but the feeling I get from MN charters is that they are safely contained rather than dynamic. The last three states in NACSA’s top 10-Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina- all lack enough charter students to meet the minimum NAEP reporting requirements as well. Louisiana comes in 10th.

If you are scoring at home, NACSA’s top 10 is composed of six states with charter sectors that can charitably be described as “wee-tiny” and three others that have yet to flourish like an Arizona or Colorado, and then Louisiana. Tenth rated Louisiana’s charter sector does well in the NAEP, so bully for them, but they obviously have a unique charter history. Notably absent from NACSA’s top 10- very healthy charter sectors like Florida and Washington D.C.

Not to jump to any premature conclusions, but it appears that NACSA’s rating may be overly concerned with bureaucratic compliance rather than performance- either of the academic sort, or the “actually produces charter schools” kind. Arizona and Colorado produced hundreds of charter schools with NAEP scores that compare favorably to New Hampshire (and sometimes Massachusetts) with a 9 score from NACSA. I for one would like to see what they could do with, say, a five score from NACSA. What’s that you say? Three? Ok fine let’s try it out if you insist!

Now maybe I am missing something here, and that is why the comment section is open. I’ll leave you with the following question to consider- Nevada public schools suffer from catastrophic overcrowding. Public education in Las Vegas for a great many students involves sitting in a portable trailer being taught by yet another long-term substitute teacher. Clark County starts each school year with thousands of open teaching spots they are desperate to fill, and their officials told the New York Times they could build 23 new elementary campuses and they would be overcrowded on day one. The United States Census Bureau sees no end in sight for enrollment growth.

Please tell me why any Nevadan in their right mind would prefer Nevada’s charter law to what we see in Arizona and Colorado. I mean maybe scale and great results is not everyone’s cup of tea, but any port in a storm right?

 

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5 Responses to Pssst…NACSA…Size DOES matter

  1. About Nevada: School Report Card 2015-2016 shows 8th grade math with 17.6% of students proficient. … Clark County which enrolls 5/7 of all Nevada students had 15.2% of 8th grade students proficient in math. …. Which administrators in NV wish to take credit?

  2. Greg Forster says:

    In the great shakeout that will eventually drive the technocratic reformers and the parent/local power reformers apart, it will be interesting to see who in the charter sector lands where. One thing is clear: the choice people assumed for too long that everyone in the charter sector was on their side.

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