Arizona Charter and Magnet Schools Top the List for College Attendance of 2015 Graduates

September 26, 2016


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

‘Nuff said…

John Oliver Has it All Wrong- We WANT ineffective schools to close

September 22, 2016


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I went through the Arizona Board of Regents report on college graduation by high-school some more, and looked this time at the bottom to see whether charter schools were over-represented at the bottom as well as the top. A few caveats I eliminated alternative high schools from the list, as these schools are basically dropout recovery programs. Second, there is a lot of missing data for a lot of high schools, so this may not be the actual bottom 10, more like the bottom 10 for the schools we have data on. Another * goes to Metro Tech which is teaching career and technical skills which might keep graduates gainfully too busy to finish college in a six-year span (although many CTE students do eventually earn college degrees).  Metro Tech may be great or it may leave a lot to be desired but I would not conclude much of anything from their place on this list.

My method for eliminating alternative schools was to look at the oldest available list from the Arizona Department of Education, having said that when you look at the website for the International Commerce High School it mentions serving adult high school students and my spidey sense tells me that it is an alternative school. The other charter school on the list (delightfully imo) closed.

Regular ole district high schools dominate the bottom of the list even more than charter schools dominate the top.  John Oliver should do a segment on how horrible it is that bottom dwelling schools flounder indefinitely without any fear of closure.



Arizona Board of Regents Releases High School Graduate College Tracking Study for the Class of 2009

September 21, 2016


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Board of Regents released their annual college attendance/completion study for Arizona public high schools for the Class of 2009.  The aggregate numbers continued to inch up- the total percentage having been 18.6% of the Class of 2007 earning a four year degree in six years, 19.4% of the Class of 2008, and 20.8 percent for the Class of 2009. When you include two year degrees the numbers improved from 25.8% to 27.9%.

Now if you would happen to like to send your child to a school that beats the living daylights out of a statewide one in five college completion in six years rate, we’ve got what you are hankering for in the form of charter schools, magnet schools, and leafy suburban district schools. I’m happy to say that the Ladner kids are attending the #2 and the #5 schools on the list.

Tempe Prep was the prototype for the Great Hearts system, so special kudos to my band of great books happy warrior nerds for effectively capturing the top two spots!


The 2016 AZ Merit: Improving but Meh versus Mehssachusetts

September 19, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Department of Education released 2016 AZMerit data last week, and charter school students show an across the board advantage.


Breaking down the data by subgroups consistently show charter advantages as well. Let’s start with Anglos:


Move on to Hispanic students:


African-American students:



Native American students:


Asian students:


Special education students (btw the percentages of special education students among district and charter schools were roughly equivalent among tested students):


Economically disadvantaged students, but with an *.  A high percentage of Arizona charter schools do not participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program, and about 85% of alternative (dropout recovery) schools in Arizona are charter schools. Having said that, charter schools score higher again:


This next chart required me to dust off my algebra skills and use the existing data to solve for X:


What we can take from this: while differences in student populations explains some of the differences between overall charter and district scores, when the charters lead in each and every subgroup it does not explain anything close to all of the difference. Every difference across every subgroup counts, and in the end the add up to:


For those of you squinting at your Ipad, that is the statewide averages for Massachusetts (the highest scoring state) on the left, Arizona charters in the middle, and Arizona Districts.  MA of course is much wealthier and spends a great deal more than AZ, but when you break down the subgroups Arizona charter students outscore like students from Massachusetts, which makes me want to CeleNAEP good times here in the cactus patch:

Math Gains by State Charter Sector

September 9, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So just for fun I decided to calculate the cohort math gains for states and state charter sectors in NAEP. Note that on the charter side there are considerable sampling issues in deriving an estimate for a relatively small group of students, making it a really great idea to check a secondary source of data rather than accepting an 8th grade NAEP score for charter students as written on a stone tablet by a higher power.  Various other caveats also apply- high gain scores are not the same as high scores, for instance. The number one gainer below (MN charters) does not have an especially high average 8th grade math score, and in fact lags about ten points below the statewide average for Minnesota. The opposite is true of the number two gainer (AZ charters) which have significantly higher overall scores than their statewide average and high scores overall. Charter sectors dominated by lots of new schools getting their sea legs full of students taking an academic hit getting used to a new school can create an optical illusion in a snapshot, such as those provided by NAEP. Many of these sectors may be on their way to improving in other words as ineffective/undesirable charters close, new ones open and survive, etc.

While NAEP has sampled the same cohort of students as both 4th and 8th graders, they are not of course testing the same students. Students move around, both between states and between district and charter schools. I don’t expect that many states are losing their high performing math students at high rates and having them replaced by low performing math students. In other words, at the state level kids moving around probably does not amount to much because things average out in the aggregate. I’m less confident of this being the case at the charter sector level. There are other caveats that could be dwelt upon, but that would start to violate the Prime Directive.

So okay you’ve been warned- each of these gain scores needs to be viewed in a broader context- far more context than I am going to be able provide here. Having said all of that:


Charter sectors cover both the top and the bottom of the chart- 7 out of the top 10, and the top four overall gains.

Down at the bottom of the chart alas we see the bottom five spots covered by charter sectors. So, Pennsylvania charters, we need to talk.  The NAEP listed your 2011 average 4th grade math score as 241, and your 2015 average 8th grade score as 249. I **ahem** double checked the numbers just to be sure I hadn’t made some mistake. The district numbers for Philadelphia in the TUDA- 225 for 2011 4th graders, 267 for 2015 8th graders.  Both of those scores are catastrophically terrible, but the second one is at least meaningfully higher than the first one. Something goofy with these NAEP numbers? PA charters dominated by dropout recovery programs? Who let the dogs out?

As stated above, no hard and fast conclusions should be drawn from this little insomnia driven exercise, but PA charters might want to turn up the water pressure:

Charters Are a Halfway House: Union Slip-Up Edition

September 8, 2016


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

America’s Last Education Labor Reporter proves once again why America needs to have at least one education labor reporter. He points out that a recent bureaucratic victory for the blob, in which the NLRB declared charter schools subject to unionization under federal labor law, also implies that if teacher unions attempt to organize charters they will be subject to financial disclosure and other restrictions under that same federal labor law:

If you think this would be a small price to pay, remember that when the Bush Administration’s Labor Department tried to reinterpret the LMRDA to include 32 NEA state affiliates, the union filed suit, calling the revision “unfair” and “motivated by an ill-will toward unions in general, and NEA and its affiliates in particular.”

A mixed victory for the unions, but it’s also a reminder of the problem built into the design of charter schools.

Charters are, in the final analysis, government schools, and thus can never be more than a halfway house to real (i.e. private as well as public) school choice.

As Reagan said in Berlin: “A bird on a tether, no matter how long the rope, can always be pulled back.”

It’s a thought that Common Core supporters would also do well to ponder.

The Education of High Performing Students

September 6, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Fordham released an interesting report last week making the case for including high performing students as a subgroup in state accountability systems. Like most of you who spend your time reading obscure blogs written by wonks on a continuing mission to entertain themselves, I am sympathetic to the needs of high achieving students. In fact, recently a person who served as an official in the administration of Janet Napolitano when she was Governor of Arizona told me that gifted education was THE issue when they took office in 2003. The parents of gifted students were up in arms that there was very little to nothing to meet the needs of their children, and elected officials were hearing about it non-stop.

Then, I was told, the parents discovered BASIS charter schools. Things quieted down.

Arizona had badly over-exposed testing items in those days, and the dreaded worksheets drilling to those over-exposed items were too much in evidence once students reached the 3rd grade (the first year of state standardized testing). I experienced this first hand as a parent, and have heard the tale repeated many times in conversations with other parents during the sad, dying days of the AIMS exam. We called it “the 3rd grade wall.”  One of the priorities for those concerned with the education of high achieving students should be to maintain the integrity of the state testing system (aggressively curtailing item exposure and excessive district test prep) imo.

So anyway, I don’t have a problem with including high-achieving students as a subgroup, but I also don’t see it as strong tea.  The NAEP seems to suggest likewise. I ran cohort gains on 4th (2011) to 8th grade math (2015) for a relatively generic group of relatively high performing students- non-FRL eligible students in the general education program. Fordham identified four states as leaders in high-achieving subgroup accountability: Arkansas, Ohio, Oregon and South Carolina.

Math general ed non FRL

So putting on my social science cap, let me note that I have no idea what drives these numbers. One can certainly speculate with some confidence that socio-economics has something to do with it. Massachusetts and New Jersey top the list for instance, and just happen to be two of the four states with an average family income for a family of four in the six figures. DC also did well, but remember this is a very select slice of DC- the part that is knocking the ball out of the park. To the extent that policy has an impact on this (unknown) we should expect lags, etc. so try not to get too excited.

It’s hard to draw many conclusions from this, other than Arkansas’ dead last ranking seems to indicate that states need to do a great deal more than put high-achieving students in as a subgroup. My advice for Arkansas from the Cactus Patch (we are nipping at the heels of MA and NJ despite being much less wealthy and spending far less per pupil than either state btw) is, ah, see about passing some strong choice programs. Also, get BASIS on line one, stat.