(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
The world has a funny way of not behaving according to expectations. Michigan charters came under withering fire last year despite the fact that basically every bit of formal research available found that they produce better learning gains. Never you mind that whole “outcomes” business, Michigan charters were “Wild West” in nature and thus not to be trusted. Louisiana charters have been touted as a national model- properly gardened and/or quarterbacked etc. Some but certainly not all fans of Louisiana charter policies were also critics of Michigan charter policies.
The chart below constitutes the longest period that NAEP has data for LA charters on all four tests. Instead of the customary state flags, we’ll use the NFL logos of the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints:
Back in 2011 Louisiana charters tied Michigan charters on one of the four tests and had higher scores on the other three. The 2017 scores for MI charters on 4m, 8m, 4r and 8r were: 232, 272, 218 and 259 respectively. The 2017 scores for LA charters on the same exams for Louisiana: 214, 264, 197 and 254. Whether based upon scores or over time improvement, it seems odd indeed to hold that Michigan has awful policies to avoid at all cost while simultaneously holding that the rest of the country should drop what they are doing to emulate Louisiana.
The NAPCS dashboard that keeps track of such things is currently down but last I checked both LA and MI charters had tough student demographic profiles. We cannot know what role average school quality plays in these trends, so it is barely possible that statistical noise is consistently bouncing the way of Michigan charters over and over again (the 2015 exams also favor them) and consistently bounce against Louisiana charters repeatedly (the 2015 results were also trending down). Multiple formal studies of state scores in Michigan showing positive results leans heavily against such an already unlikely conclusion, as do similar negative trends in state charter scores in Louisiana.
I’m open to the fact that the world is complex. Perhaps there is some complicated reason why Michigan charters appear to be improving steadily, and some equally complex reason why Louisiana charter scores appear have declined. Just maybe Michigan charters deserved some of the criticisms they received, and perhaps Louisiana charter policies are not quite as terrible as the state and NAEP scores would seem to indicate. Occam’s razor may cut against such explanations, but no one is making an effort to offer them at all.
Using the Jonathan Haidt framework, my elephant is inclined to believe that “Wild West” is under-rated, and technocratic gardening is over-rated. My elephant believes that like the Dauphin of Shakespeare’s Henry V, opponents of relatively free-wheeling charter sectors “come over us with our wilder days, not measuring what use we made of them.” The rider of my elephant continues to bring me further reasons to believe this. He’s good at that. He’s also pretty good at finding flaws in the arguments of opponents, but Haidt has persuaded me that he is not to be fully trusted.
I could be wrong, but if so it will require the hate Michigan/love Louisiana tribe to poke holes in my theory/evidence as solid reasoning is a communal activity, not to be left to mere individuals.
If statistical noise consistently bounces the same way, it’s not statistical noise.