Pssst…NACSA…Size DOES matter

March 16, 2017

(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?

 


We are but warriors for the working day, but our hearts are in the trim

March 14, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Republic was kind enough to run the below letter to the editor from yours truly this morning in response to this editorial. If you are feeling the least bit skeptical, feel free to look these numbers up for yourself. The Republic’s editorial claims that now is not the time to expand parental choice because district schools are vulnerable. My claim is that Arizona district schools have never performed at a higher level than now and that we should in the immortal words of Darrel K. Royal “dance with the one that brung ya” which is to say stick with the strategies that brought success. Letter follows:

On the most recent Nation’s Report Card, Arizona 8th graders tied the state of Maryland in math, and outscored many states including Rhode Island, Delaware and North Carolina. These states spend far more per pupil than Arizona. None of these states has a majority-minority student population (Arizona does) but fortunately our students didn’t get the memo that they weren’t supposed to win. Instead they have been leading the nation in academic gains.

Arizona’s charter schools get still less money overall but scored higher than the statewide averages of 49 states on the same test. Arizona charter schools educate a majority-minority student population, but scored a single point lower than the highly funded and demographically advantaged Massachusetts-the nation’s long-time state academic champion. Again, the “you are supposed to lose” memo apparently went to Arizona’s spam folder, and our students and educators achieved an unprecedented academic triumph.

Arizona is never going to win a spending contest, but that is not the purpose of our investment. Our goal must be to maximize opportunity, not spending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Arizona Charter Leaders Should Feel Confident About the 2017 NAEP

March 2, 2017

azmeritnaep

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So the 2017 NAEP is underway as we speak. As the NAEP released all six 2015 exams a cornucopia of good news spilled out for Arizona as a whole and (especially) for Arizona charters. Statewide Arizona has been leading the nation in 4th to 8th grade cohort gains since 2009. That’s a pretty good measure of overall school quality for those grades, as the demographic profile of the cohort isn’t likely to change much for a cohort between (for instance) the time when they were 4th graders in 2011 to when they were 8th graders in 2015. Kids will come and go of course, but absent a DC level of gentrification the academic ability of those coming and going should not skew heavily in a particular direction. You also have a measured amount of sampling error in both the 4th and 8th grade measures, but these are quite modest.

Arizona’s charter schools rocked all 2015 NAEP exams in the fashion of a New England state. This is quite impressive given the very modest level of per-pupil spending in Arizona charters, the majority minority student population etc. Sampling error is a bigger issue with regards to charter schools, but as you can see in the figure above, the state’s AZMerit exam tells us a story very similar to NAEP, and does not involve sampling. AZMerit in short provides backup to the findings in NAEP.

The figure above should lend confidence to Arizona charter leaders that they are likely to rock the NAEP again in 2017. The figure shows 4th and 8th grade NAEP scores from 2015 (proficiency rates) and then the proficiency rates for districts and charters from 2016 on AZMerit. These tests are not scaled exactly the same so you would not expect them to match up exactly, but the similarity in the pattern provides confidence that 2015 was not a fluke. Some of the differences between Arizona charters and districts can be attributed to differences in student demographics, although not nearly so much as sometimes are imagined, but New Hampshire doesn’t have any excuses for losing out to Arizona charter schools.

On the final set of columns on the right, for perspective, Arizona charters scored just a smidge below the highest performing state (MA) while Arizona districts would be right around the national average. Drawing random samples of students leaves room for goofy variation in subgroup scores, but there isn’t any reason to believe such goofiness would skew the same way in six different samples unless one wants to believe the NAEP is stacking the deck for charter schools in Arizona for some nefarious reason. While they were at it, the same conspirators would have to have infiltrated the AZMerit as well.

Absent goofiness and based on what we see in the AZMerit, I’m expecting Arizona charter students to CeleNAEP Good Times again in 2017. The statewide trend will be of even greater importance. Let’s see what happens next.

 


How to Turn Your Leafy Suburban School Districts into Defacto CMOs

February 27, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Tom Patterson on Friday. Patterson was a crucial legislative supporter of both the Arizona charter and scholarship tax credit laws that passed in 1994 and 1997, respectively. Dr. Patterson related to me that in his first run for the state legislature in 1988, he attended a candidate forum at Arcadia High School, a Scottsdale Unified School District school to which I am zoned. At the time he was campaigning on an open-enrollment law (which came to pass in the 1990s), an idea that his opponent denounced as “crazy.”

A close look at Scottsdale today demonstrates that Dr. Patterson was crazy- crazy like a fox. In fact, without open enrollment Scottsdale Unified would be in trouble today. I came across an interesting power point presentation prepared by demographers for the Scottsdale Unified School District in 2014. Lots of interesting stuff in the document but when I came across the figure that Scottsdale Unified takes in 4,000 out of district transfers, it occurred to me that this was probably a large enough transfer population to get Scottsdale Unified to compare favorably to the state’s larger charter management organizations. Sure enough:

4,000 out of district transfer students would rank Scottsdale Unified as the 9th largest CMO in the state, if it were a CMO. Arizona law requires districts to adopt open enrollment policies, but gives district schools an free hand in deciding which students to accept.

Sadly no one collects statewide data on open enrollment these days, but my spidey-sense tells me that it is underrated here in the Cactus Patch. Based upon a report from the Arizona Auditor, Scottsdale should have a fairly acute interest in open enrollment transfers, as the Arizona Auditor General reports that the district was using 65% of facility capacity in 2012:

The higher cost was primarily caused by the District maintaining a large amount of excess school building space, which was likely not needed because many of the District’s schools operated far below their designed capacities. In fiscal year 2012, Scottsdale USD had total school building capacity of about 38,000 students but only had about 25,000 students enrolled, or in other terms, the District was using about 66 percent of its building capacity. Maintaining more building space is costly to the District because the majority of its funding is based on its number of students, not the amount of square footage it maintains. Had Scottsdale USD maintained a similar amount of school building space per student as its peer districts averaged, it could have saved approximately $3.8 million, monies that the District otherwise potentially could have spent in the classroom. Although the District closed one school campus at the end of fiscal year 2014, in light of its large amount of excess building capacity, the District should continue to review options to further reduce excess space.

Factors other than choice impact Scottsdale enrollment, including an aging population, higher home prices, etc. but choice is playing a role. The demographic report noted that while Scottsdale gained 4,000 students from open-enrollment that they had 9,000 school age children living within their district boundaries not attending Scottsdale Unified schools. Choice programs in other words interact with each other in a dynamic fashion. Many prominent figures in the parental choice movement have argued that Scottsdale kids “already have school choice” but it turns out that when you give them more meaningful school choice, you free up spots for other kids.

The report also includes an analysis of transcript requests as a method for tracking where kids are going. About half of requests came from charter schools-with BASIS and Great Hearts in the lead, another 29% came from private schools, and the remainder came from online schools.

The Arizona Republic wrote up a story about the presentation of the report to the school board, which included a question from a member of the school board as to why an online charter was the largest single recipient of transfer requests when the district had started their own online learning program. “These are kids who, essentially, most of them would be dropping out,” came the reply from an Associate Superintendent.

Two notes on this comment- an online charter was not only the largest recipient of transcript requests, another such school was the third largest single recipient. Not the best look if they were “kids who were going to drop out anyway.” Second, the possibility of negative selection bias may call for a far more careful look at the results of online charters. “Demographic twins” may or may not work out in a rough and ready fashion when we don’t suspect selection bias, but when we do have reason to suspect it..but I digress.

4th-grade-science-gains-charter

The overall picture in Arizona is one marked by robust accountability (losing students and money) rather than double secret probation accountability. The state turned off the A-F accountability system two years ago to revamp it in light of new tests. Word has reached my ears that the State Board recently had the opportunity to consider a formal written proposal to include student vegetable consumption in the school A-F grading formula.

No I’m not making that up. I also heard they decided not to move forward with the proposal. I’m comforted by the widespread use of the Greatschools website, which has their own ranking system and parent reviews. Overall the Cactus Patch has a vibrant bottom up accountability system (vrai pas faux) while still having to go through the motions on what appears to these eyes to be a relatively dysfunctional system of normal compliance activities amounting to…I’m not sure just what.

So it is great to have Scottsdale Unified competing in the choice mix. It makes me happier to pay my taxes than I otherwise would be. Should Arizonans want still more parental choice?

 

 

 

 

 


Parents to Technocrats-mind if I cut in?

February 9, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mike Petrilli published a piece on charter school authorizing and oversight in response to Jason and Jay. Before the fun starts, let’s just note the following:

  1. State authorities are going to occasionally close charter schools whether I, Mike, Jay, Jason or anyone likes it or not. Let’s therefore not worry about whether or not we should close a charter school caught having students sacrifice goats to Baal out on the playground- it’s going to happen.
  2. Whether or not this is going to happen or even should happen is not terribly relevant. Mike cites a 3% estimate for charters closed by authorities over academics. I’m personally comfortable with a far higher closure rate. So long as parents take the lead, I’m not going to sweat some authority jumping in front of the parade to close the Baal school.
  3. Ultimately therefore the debate should be about how to get to a policy environment where parents are taking the lead on quality control.

The reasons for this are ultimately very practical. Technocrats make mistakes and many do not develop the close relationships and sweat the details behind test scores the way Mike describes. More to the point all of these schools have access to the legal system, can lawyer up, engage in delaying tactics, get their parents riled up to resist closure etc. It is genuinely worth asking whether the juice is worth the squeeze in many cases.

Meanwhile, when parents close a school there is no resistance, no lawsuits, no delaying tactics. This is the most potent and brutally efficient form of accountability by a very wide margin. Now…breather deeply…

…close your eyes…

…channel your inner Rick Hess and think broadly about what sorts of policies and practices can get you there…

…do you see it?…yes….

Now…you are back on the green…nicely done….yes and now you are doing it again…

Good…very good…yes both of those states scored a 9/33 on NACSA’s ratings but rocked the 2015 NAEP like an 80s hair band trashing a hotel room suite that had it coming. Breathe even deeper…do you see a role for an all-powerful command and control technocrat in this vision?

No? Good-me neither. Light touch stuff inevitable, heavy-handed stuff risky and counterproductive, parent lead highly desirable. I don’t think there is a whole lot to argue about.

Okay open your eyes now. I think we have this all sorted out!


Good reads

February 3, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The WSJ detects the Stockholm Syndrome of the six-inch Dark Lord of Nightmares MA Charter School Association and Eli Broad.

Derrell Bradford earns a BOOOOOOM! by explaining to the charter school bear that the hunter has plenty of bullets left for them.

So does Max Eden by exposing the NYT phony “analysis” of Detroit charter data.

Mike McShane joins the fun by explaining how our notions of accountability need an update.

Rick Hess cautions choiceniks to be careful what we wish for from the feds.


Patty Hearst and the Ed Reform Left

January 19, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So yesterday Elizabeth Warren read the six-inch Dark Lord of Nightmares’ letter at the DeVos confirmation hearing, and it got me to thinking about Patty Hearst. In the early 1970s heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by a radical left-wing terrorist organization, kept blindfolded and bound in a closet for weeks. She suffered terrible abuse. Eventually she grew sympathetic with the views of her captives, changed her name, and joined them in bank robberies and the creation of propaganda, eventually leading to her arrest and imprisonment in 1975. Hearst came to mind because MA charters are now effectively trapped, but have begun attempting to curry favor with their captors. President Carter commuted her sentence in the late 1970s and then someone bought a Bubba pardon for her on Ebay President Clinton pardoned her in 2001.

To my progressive friends in the education reform movement, let me respectfully suggest that this is not an example you wish to follow.

So Donald Trump will take the oath of office to become President of the United States tomorrow. I’m still shocked to write such a thing. To put things delicately, he’s not my cup of tea either. The American people however chose to elect him. They had other options available and the rules of the game regarding the Electoral College were known to all players in advance. I don’t know who hacked Podesta’s email but I’m pretty sure they didn’t force Hillary to avoid visiting Wisconsin and Michigan. Nor did they inexplicably direct millions of dollars to television ads in states like Arizona, Georgia and Texas in preference to more GOTV and efforts in the real swing states of MI and PA. If you are looking for the folks who lost this election for HRC, search Brooklyn rather than Moscow.

In 2008 I found myself attempting to assure my conservative friends that life would in fact go on despite the election of Barack Obama. Don’t get me wrong- I was no fan at the time and never became one. The world ended again in 2012…except it didn’t. I had liberal friends that were ready to move to Canada in 2004. I told them that I survived 8 years of Bill Clinton and that they would survive 8 years of Dubya. Sure enough they did. While Trump is unique in many ways, let’s try to remain open to the idea that the Founders prepared for scoundrels in high office and that this too just might pass.

Fear, loathing, triangulaton, whatever-Stockholm Syndrome is always bad look imo.