Arizona Republic: Wet Streets Cause Rain

May 2, 2019

Image result for wet streets

The Republic’s crack team of reporters have determined that the above streets caused a major rainstorm.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Brother Matt’s takedown of the Arizona Republic’s absurdly erroneous and biased reporting reminds me of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, a concept identified by author Michael Crichton:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them. In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

The Republic had its own “wet streets cause rain” moment recently when it claimed that Arizona copied its education savings account (ESA) legislation from model legislation at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In fact, as Ladner points out, the reverse is true: ALEC’s model legislation was based on Arizona’s law.

Indeed, as Ladner details, the Republic’s “reporting” on “copycat legislation” suffered from several other flaws, including but not limited to the following:

  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as unusual and nefarious when actually it’s commonplace and banal, a tool used across the political spectrum since the late 1800s.
  • The Republic portrayed the use of model legislation as a particularly right-wing plot but excluded all the model legislation from the older and larger left-of-center National Conference of State Legislatures.
  • The Republic hid the fact that only 1% of the bills they analyzed were based on model legislation.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Republic’s “reporting” is that it wasn’t really reporting. Had they any real interest in ascertaining the truth, there are any number of individuals and organizations in Arizona that could have provided them with accurate information had they asked. But they didn’t.

Indeed, their “Gaggle” podcast did not interview anyone from the pro-school choice side. They repeatedly used inferences to determine their “real” motives instead of just, well, asking.

Sadly, this is a part of a longstanding pattern. When the Goldwater Institute’s Matt Beienburg detected some serious flaws in the Republic’s award-winning “reporting” on charter schools, he brought it to their attention but they ignored him. He then wrote about it publicly and one of their most vociferous anti-choice advocates, Craig Harris, personally attacked him rather than engage in any substantive defense of their advocacy piece “reporting”:

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As I noted to Harris, if you add two green apples plus two red apples plus two oranges and get six apples, the math is right but the answer is wrong. Beienburg wanted to know if the Republic had inappropriately included certain schools in its data set when calculating graduation rates (e.g., a school that only serves students through grade 9, or another school that had been closed for two years), but Harris merely insulted him, claimed his math was wrong (without offering any proof) and then stonewalled any public debate.

For weeks afterward, Harris simply ignored any public questions about their reporting — though I know that privately, his team has admitted that they had done exactly what Beienburg had suspected. However, they have still refused to publicly correct their error, demonstrating a complete lack of intellectual honesty or journalistic integrity.

The Republic’s Gaggle podcasters also let their journalistic mask slip with numerous biased statements posing as neutral facts. For example, they claimed that Arizona lawmakers filed at least three ESA “expansions” that all “clearly went against the will of the voters” who rejected Prop 305. First, only one of those bills (making ESAs available to victims of bullying or abuse) was a clear expansion. The others were mere clarifications of existing eligibility categories that would have had a tiny effect on ESA enrollment. For example, students with disabilities are eligible for an ESA if they are entering kindergarten, but the Arizona Department of Education denied children who were age 6 (reading the law the allow only 5 year olds) so the legislation clarified that incoming kindergarteners could also be age 6. To call that an “expansion” is ludicrous, but the anti-ESA group Save Our Schools declared it such and advocates posing at journalists at the Arizona Republic and elsewhere took their side.

Moreover, it’s not at all clear what the “will of the voters” was. They rejected Prop 305, which expanded ESA eligibility to all students but also imposed a cap of about 30,000 ESA students. Some pro-school choice groups that support ESAs, like the American Federation for Children, opposed Prop 305 because it would effectively set the 30,000-student cap in legislative stone (requiring a supermajority to change it due to the Voter Protection Act). Is it the “will of the voters” that they want a universal ESA without a cap? And even if the majority of “No” votes opposed universal expansion, that does not at all imply that the majority of voters oppose, say, expanding ESAs to victims of bullying. To pretend that we can know the true “will of the voters” is sophistry at best. To make such claims as a supposedly neutral journalist is laughably absurd.

It’s time to stop treating the Republic as a neutral journalistic institution. They are openly advocating for one side, and they aren’t even letting the truth get in the way of their agenda. Let’s not let media amnesia make us forget it.


Interstate Mobility and Family Empowerment

May 1, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So states like Arizona and Florida are crushing the ball on interstate mobility– incoming outnumbering outgoing approximately 2 to 1.  Ergo it must follow that Arizona is “draining” California of people and money, and Florida is doing the same to New York. Perhaps we should tear up the interstate highway system- this whole freedom thing is messy and it hurts the feelings of those losing taxpayers. To the contrary- I argue we should embrace what Hesiod called “good strife” or what Craig Barrett termed “tension in the system” over at RedefinED.

In education tension in the system can nudge system of schools mired in allegations of corruption to encourage better performance, like for instance this:

Granted you’ll have some in California, burdened as they are with all of that magnificent coastline and almost every other natural advantage imaginable, complain about having to compete with the likes of our humble patch of cactus. You see a similarly disturbing tendency for the advantaged to cry foul when the upstarts do well in education and elsewhere. There is a school of thought that holds that the practice of “amateur sports” was motivated by a desire on the part of British toffs not to be humiliated by working class heroes back in the day.  If California prefers to bemoan the cosmic injustice of people seeking happiness rather than putting their own house in order, I say to opportunity seekers-welcome to Arizona! Or as my cajun friends might paraphrase Hesiod: laissez la bon combat rouler chere!


Teaming with Goldwater’s New Improved Matt to Tackle the Subject of AZ District Space Glut

February 12, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce Foundation and I teamed up with the Goldwater Institute to create a white paper on vacant district space. Arizona has one of the fastest growing student populations but oddly finds itself with a large glut of underutilized district space.

How large is it?

Ah well no one really knows because of severe flaws in reporting but the statewide floor starts at 1.4 million sq feet but the Arizona Auditor General found more than that in a single district by poking around a bit so the ceiling is much much higher. In any case Arizona’s district space increased by 2004 and 2017 by 22.6 million square feet—a 19 percent increase—despite a student enrollment increase of only 6 percent during this same period. Arizona not only has a glut of underutilized district space it appears to be growing.

Research from MIT of co-location of charters within district space demonstrates both financial and academic benefits to districts-specifically in increasing district resources and classroom spending in districts. Arizona has tens of thousands of students stranded on waitlists at high demand district and charter schools, millions of square feet in underutilized district space, and a need to increase resources for classroom use. Mutually beneficial arraingements are there for the taking between high demand schools with waitlists and districts with underutilized space. The scale of these gains are of a scale that Goldwater’s Matt Beienburg and I swallow our pride to point to legislation in California and New York (someone just yelled “get a rope and find a big cactus!) to serve as possible models.

Anyhoo- check it out here. It’s fun to be back writing with GI again.

 


Creating and Managing Schools = Feature Not a Bug

February 6, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at the Chamber Business News I pose a few questions to charter opponents who want to force Arizona charter management organizations to competively bid out the management of new schools. Questions for the hive mind: can anyone think of a reason this should be done to charters but not districts? I mean you know given stuff like this:

…wouldn’t most reasonable people take a look at that dot on the top right, learn that it has a majority-minority student population, gets only a modest level of funding, and take in kids from districts in their state with below average test scores and conclude “hmmm these schools seem to be pretty well managed?” Given Arizona’s growing school population, am I nuts to think such a provision would stop new school construction dead in its tracks if applied to either districts or charters? I’m trying to imagine either CMOs or districts raising millions to build a new school only to RFP off the management of that new school, and I’m coming up empty trying to imagine a case to build the new school. Maybe you can help me out in the comments.


Miscellaneous post holiday links

November 26, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Paul Peterson interviews Justice Clint Bolick on the 2018 elections and school choice,Brett Kavanaugh and other topics. Quick note on the AZ Prop 305 vote: we have something called Voter Protection in Arizona, which means that the legislature has a severely limited ability to alter something passed at the ballot. As Clint explained, it was the ESA eligibility expansion rather than the program that was on the ballot in November. Because the expansion contained a statewide cap (30k students statewide) many pro-choice groups chose not to engage in support of the expansion as it would have voter protected a cap that would have been practically impossible to alter. We had wildly conflicting polls up until the end but Arizona voters decisively chose not to expand eligibility, which means that the program continues with the current eligibility pool (Students with Disabilities, foster care children, children attending D/F rated public schools, military dependents and orphans and siblings of eligible students) and (given this result) no participation cap starting in 2019, but with the more limited eligibilty pool described earlier. Efforts now should focus on improving the administration of the program.

Yours truly teamed up with David Lujan, former state lawmakers and Director of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress in support of ASU Prep charter school., a high performing charter in downtown Phoenix threatened by a demand for a large increase in rent from the Phoenix Elementary School District. In combination the district and charter schools of the area scored at the 99th percentile of academic growth, which as both righties and lefties like Mr. Lujan and I both agree is something well worth preserving, so hopefully the grownups work something out.

Lots of interesting discussion going on about standardized testing. I remain in favor of lighter footprint testing but man oh man we’d better be coming up with ways to lower the perceived costs and increase the perceived benefits.

 

 


Baby Baby DARLING You’re the WEST!

October 22, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


So I decided to see how the charter sectors of the Top 10 rated charter laws in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools would look in a cohort gain chart compared to the Cactus Patch. The top ten (in order) are Indiana, Colorado, Washington, Minnesota, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine, DC, Florida and Kentucky. The above chart shows 4th grade math and reading scores from 2013, and then 8th grade math and reading scores from 2017-when the 4th grade cohort from 2013 were 8th graders.

Sadly of these states NAEP only reports charter student scores for Colorado, DC, Florida and Minnesota. You have to have a minimum number of students before the NAEP will report scores, and mind you that you can find male Asian scores in some states. It’s a mixed bag with the non-reporting states- some of the laws are old and just not very active in producing “charter schools” (Indiana) and others are young and not very active at producing charter schools (Washington, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine and especially Kentucky). When they do open schools they are going to be AMAZING– as in I’ll have to extend the axis scales on these charts. For now I’ve included them clearly in the above charts as very dark dots. What? Can’t see them? Not to worry just squint hard and use your imagination.

I’m fond of the charter sectors in all of the remaining top 10 states (i.e. the four with actual schools) in different ways. Colorado is a fellow member of the Wild West, Florida is an honorary member, DC charters clearly do better than DC districts despite getting about half of the funding and few of the families with both parents having law degrees, and Minnesota kicked off the charter school movement.

I think that all of these charter sectors have majority minority student populations with the exception of Colorado. I’ll let you decide whether Colorado’s higher 4th grade scores or Arizona larger gains and higher 8th grade scores qualifies as most impressive, but either way darlings you’re the west best!


Arizona Charter Students Aren’t Left Handed Either Part Deux

October 18, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So out riding my bike on the canal this morning I had the idea for a new visualization for cohort NAEP gains. Here’s what it looks like:

So a bit of explanation: the shotgun blast at the lower left part of the chart are 4th grade math and reading scores for states in 2013, with Arizona charter school students included. Arizona charter school students didn’t blow anyone away with their math and reading scores as 4th graders in 2013, but this is in the range of what many would expect from a majority minority school system operating with very modest funding.

Fast forward the clock to 2017 and those kids were 8th graders, which are the shot gun blast of dots on the upper right. Lo and behold, that majority minority student population is **ahem** outscoring states that spend more than twice as much per pupil and have the advantaged end of the achievement gap stick. Arizona charter students pulled this off despite spotting such states a head start in the form of higher 4th grade scores.

Wait…I’m picking up a disturbance in the Force. I can feel you thinking “Ok but students come and go from charter schools and this must explain some of those gains.”

Actually kids do come and go from charters, but to the extent this is happening Arizona charters are sending out kids with higher levels of academic achievement and bringing in kids with lower levels of achievement. From the Center for Student Achievement:

So if numeracy and literacy are an important part of what you are looking for in a school for your child, you might want to move to Arizona. Once here you can consider enrolling your child in one of our pluralistic charter school offerings which focus on everything from the arts to equestrianism to the classics. As far as I can tell, it’s the finest system of public education in the country, and it is available to you free of charge delightfully without a crushing level of taxation. Plus…bring your golf clubs: