(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Bob Bowdon interviews David Osborne and around the 8 minute mark the discussion raises the topic as to whether parents can lead the way in school closure. Osborne claims that parents cling to schools for non-academic reasons and should not be trusted with this task. Bowden raises Arizona as a counter-example, and Osborne cites research from five years ago that found Arizona charter schools had less than stellar results.
Osborne is correct that research from five years ago found less than stellar results. What one must appreciate however is that in a sector as dynamic as Arizona charters those results are ancient history. Charter schools are constantly opening and closing in Arizona. The studies referenced by Osborne have data that ended in 2012. In 2013 Arizona educators opened 87 new charter schools and closed 18 other schools. This alone was enough to mean that the Arizona charter school sector of 2013 was a different animal than the 2012 sector, but it was hardly the only change to happen that year. In addition to schools, teachers, students and administrators moved in and out of Arizona charter sector. Younger schools gained a year of experience, moving out of their shake down cruises. A professional football team can win the Superbowl in one year and fail to make the playoffs the next year, and there is a greater degree of year to year continuity in sports than in Arizona charters. Fortunately all the available indicators (NAEP and AZMerit) show over time improvement in Arizona charters.
And then, it all happened again in 2014…and 2015…and 2016…and right now. Any look into academic results in a constantly changing Arizona charter sector is merely a snapshot. This makes it entirely possible for analysts like CREDO and Marty West to have found meh results in 2012 but for NAEP to show this in 2015:
This river of course runs both ways- the 2015 NAEP is just a snapshot as well. Fortunately Arizona’s charter results were also strong in the 2015 AZMerit, got better in the 2016 AZMerit and better still in the 2017 AZMerit.
Although Arizona law requires admission lotteries and Arizona charters educate a majority minority student body, there is obviously room for multiple factors to explain the above chart. Nevertheless, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Arizona’s AZMerit exam also shows large advantages for charter school students. In addition, school data of the sort CREDO and West relied upon five years ago is quite messy , especially when it comes to free and reduced lunch status. I won’t go into details but let’s just say that the record keeping at the Arizona Department of Education doesn’t always cover itself in glory and in addition many Arizona charter schools do not participate in the federal program at all. The use of Free and Reduced Lunch as an independent variable has grown increasingly questionable over time, but has been problematic for a long time in Arizona.
So in conclusion, Arizona charters are crushing the academic ball without the benevolent guidance of heavy handed technocrats. The same is true is several other Western states that show either high scores, high over time progress or else both of these things:
If Mr. Osborne would care to explain why westerners should abandon what they are doing to emulate Louisiana, I’m all ears but data from five years ago is of little more than historical interest to discussions of prospective policy.