Riding on the Trainwreck of New Orleans?

November 15, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Peter Cook brought bad news about the latest test scores from New Orleans, and used the term “train wreck” to describe the results. This was ironic as the other day I saw a quote from David Osborne’s book that claimed that states that close charter schools have charter school sectors that substantially outperform district schools. In previous looks at NACSA state charter law rankings that came out before the most recent NAEP data, something like six of the top 10 states had too few charter schools to have made it into the NAEP sample, with the top two states in the rankings (Indiana and Nevada) included in the no-scores club despite have charter laws for many years. Of the top 10 rated states, Louisiana looked to be the best of the bunch, and they were towards the bottom of the top 10.

The figure below puts state charter sectors into context by comparing their 2015 NAEP 8th grade math score against their 2011 to 2015 cohort gain in scale points, and also includes all “Wild West” charter sectors. Unlike Nevada, most western states got middling to very low grades from NACSA, but can console themselves with the fact that they actually have “charter schools” generated by their “charter school law.”

Yes, okay, so well that happened. Don’t be looking for many westerners to be dropping everything their doing to emulate either Louisiana or Nevada. I remain a fan of the Louisiana RSD, as in my mind it was a very successful play to leverage the only thing New Orleans had left after the hurricane (empty school buildings) and get a system up and running. However, there is a lot of space between saying that and rushing to embrace the concept as the solution to our all of our problems.

Well, perhaps the reading results are more promising…

Nope- the reading results look very consistent with the math results. New Mexico charter school leaders just filed a petition with the Department of Cosmic Justice to protest Louisiana charters receiving much more hype but less demonstrable academic progress.

So my mutant mind reading power is reading objections in one or more of your minds. These comparisons aren’t fair! Only three of those Wild West sectors (Arizona, California, NM) have majority minority student bodies…given what we know about achievement gaps, we would not expect Louisiana charters to land on the right side of these charts. True enough unless you had a very high rate of improvement. Note that Louisiana charters demonstrate rates of improvement in both reading and math that weren’t bad, but also wasn’t either very high, or very different from the host state.

Again, this does not mean that RSD is bad. It seems to have been brilliant for New Orleans after the hurricane. That is a different question from “has it been so successful that everyone should rush to adopt them?” It is also a different question from “is this model politically sustainable in the face of predictable push-back?” or “what if Katrina hit Houston instead of New Orleans- are there that many TFA kids in the entire country?” or the question “is it possible that RSD would have been more successful without the benevolent guidance of a central command?” or most important of all “wouldn’t we be better off if we got to the point where parents rather than technocrats took the lead in closing schools?”

Some additional problems include the fact that a series of focus groups I saw earlier this year made it clear that people detest the idea of having the government shut down schools based on test scores. Oh, then there is the decisive rejection of an RSD by Georgia voters. The demos do not seem to be buying what the technos want to sell. Then there is the small matter of more recent state scores, which Peter Cook describes as a “train wreck” for RSD. Then the steady and insidious effort to essentially convert RSD back into a normal school district that seems to be going quite well for the reactionaries so far. I’m not sure about the train-wreck take, but I’m also confident that RSD is not a magic carpet made of steel, er, a solution we are likely to see politically sustained at scale.

Wild West and Loving It

November 9, 2017

NACSA you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The chart below plots the 2015 8th NAEP grade math scores against the 2011 to 2015 NAEP math cohort gains. The below charts include state averages and the numbers for state charter school sectors in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah. In the NACSA ratings of state charter school laws most proximate to these data, I recall all of these states with the exception of New Mexico received single digit scores out of a possible 30 something points, clustering towards the bottom of the rankings. New Mexico still ranked pretty low. Generally these states lost points for not having default closure and similar type provisions. How did the charter schools in these state manage?

The high performance/low NACSA phenomenon looks to be a western trend. These charts are not stone tablets handed down from the mountain, but I can’t think of any reason they would systematically favor charter sectors. Those “Wild West” charter sectors look, ah, really good at math. If you recall the international comparisons, Massachusetts ranks up there near the best European and Asian countries. Let’s take a look at the reading results:

Well there you have it- AZ, CO, ID and CO all have Massachusetts like results, and it appears that when it comes to spurring reading gains, New Mexico charters are the ultimate power in the universe…I suggest Enchantment State parents use it.

Please do me a favor and email this post to the next five people you hear use the term “Wild West” as a term of derision in an education conversation. Bless their little hearts, but they generally have not bothered to look at empirical data in order to see whether it can be squared with their regional/ideological prejudices.



NAEP Cohort Gains in Scale Points

November 6, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Quick post just to note that the outlines of the story remains broadly similar whether you measure cohort NAEP gains as percentage increases or simply as scale points gained: AZ statewide still leads the field, AZ charters still beats the field like what Clubber Lang did to Rocky in their first encounter in the ring, Michigan charters still edge Louisiana charters, Maryland still needs to invest in ammo and a fortified island complex in hopes of surviving the nuclear zombie apocalypse. The main storyline here is that like the Credo report finding Detroit and New Orleans neck and neck, NAEP finds a similar result in 2011 to 2015 cohort gains for Louisiana and Michigan charters.

The question of which measure is better seems debatable imo so it is easier to simply present both.

Michigan Charters Continued

November 5, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

When Doug Harris took to the pages of the New York Times to denounce Michigan charter schools as “the biggest school reform disaster in the country” he might have profited from an honest reading of the research literature and 10 minutes looking at NAEP data. For example, it took about 10 minutes to calculate the above chart. Michigan charters must be the fastest improving “disaster” yet seen.

Harris went on in the piece not just to trash Michigan, but to boast of the wonders of New Orleans charters. Harris used New Orleans to contrast as the Happy Hunting Grounds of charter schooling in contrast to the Detroit hellscape:

The New Orleans results have been impressive. In the decade after the reforms, the city’s standardized test scores have increased by eight to 15 percentile points and moved the district from the bottom to almost the state average on many measures. High school graduation and college entry rates also seem to have improved significantly, even while suspensions, expulsions and the rate of students switching schools have all dropped. Detroit and New Orleans represent radically different versions of school choice — and the one that seems to work is the one that uses the state oversight that Ms. DeVos opposes.

Well that sounds awfully impressive, but it perhaps less so when you check the only common metric testing data available in both Michigan and Louisiana charters-NAEP. When you plot the cohort gains of Louisiana and Michigan charter schools against state averages, it looks something like:

NAEP cohort gain calculations have their limitations, but the reader should note that similar findings to these were found in research on trends in state test scores. Perhaps someone will be kind enough to provide a link to the Credo dot chart showing nearly indistinguishable growth performance between Detroit and New Orleans in the comment section, but it was reminiscent of this chart as I recall.

Ironically, Harris also denounced Detroit charters as a “Wild West.” Just for the record- here is what a real Wild West charter sector’s results looked like between 2011 and 2015:





The LINE to apologize to Michigan CHARTER SCHOOLS forms to the LEFT!

November 4, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Regular Jayblog readers may recall the tizzy that some worked themselves into about Michigan charter schools after Betsy DeVos was nominated to serve as Secretary of Education. Oh they are horrible, terrible, no good, “Wild West” etc. Max Eden and others attempted to set the record straight, noting Credo studies and other evidence showing stronger performance for Michigan charters. Not everyone much cared to consider any of that evidence business, and rumors of horrible Michigan charter school performance linger on to this day.

Well it turns out that NAEP cohort gains reinforce the conclusions of the Credo study and two other studies finding positive charter results. Those look like respectable math gains and very strong reading gains for “the biggest school reform disaster in the country” to these eyes. NAEP cohort gains are not perfect or infallible measures, but they are pointing in the same direction as the studies. Moreover, cohort gains rank above merely looking at raw scores as measures of school quality, which is **ahem** precisely one of the mistakes that critics made.

If Michigan charters are a catastrophic failure, what are we to make of the majority of state education systems (aka the blue dots)? Maryland is getting nervous with all of this disaster talk. If Michigan charters are a reform disaster then the Maryland school system just might qualify as a non-reform post-nuclear zombie apocalypse extinction event.

Maryland need brainnnns…and SPF 50,000 sunscreen!

If Michigan’s charter school skeptics would like to take a crack at explaining the above data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the three studies showing positive results the comment section courteously awaits your visit. Otherwise the line to offer an apology to educators running Michigan charters and the students making academic progress in them forms to the left.



Orlando for Chief Technocat

November 3, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Back in 2013 Forbes ran a contest between a group of financial services professionals, a group of school children and a cat named Orlando to see who could do the best job investing in stocks. “While the professionals used their decades of investment knowledge and traditional stock-picking methods, the cat selected stocks by throwing his favorite toy mouse on a grid of numbers allocated to different companies.”

Orlando’s victory ought to have come to the surprise of approximately no one. Stock picking chickens began defeating money managers decades ago. Recently the Wall Street Journal ran a long article demonstrating that the mutual funds rated five stars by the Morningstar service rarely hold on to that rating for very long.

So other than the obvious (buy index funds rather than pay for “expert” advice) what does this have to tell us about a panel of experts donning their lab coats in order to predict which schools will either perform well or flounder?

Things get even more complex with regards to schools when compared to stocks. Stocks have a very straightforward metric of value- a price. A well-meaning panel of school experts lacks a comparable metric, with enrollment trend and wait lists being the closest available analogies to prices. Such panels tend to rely on test scores, but past test scores may not only fail to predict future test scores, K-12 test scores often fail to predict future success in life.

Metrics for instance used to decide chartering and charter renewals in New Orleans for instance failed to predict future test score growth. In other words…

Alas Newt the Alien apocalypse survivor died in a really unwatchable sequel, but Orlando the Cat might be available to make life and death decisions for New Orleans charter schools. Apparently, just as with finance, panels of “experts” are not to be trusted with this task. Even if such metrics did predict future test score growth, we ought not to feel overly assured as the relationship between K-12 test scores and future success seems somewhere on the weak to tenuous spectrum in the currently available research literature.

Now if you don’t like the idea of a cat dropping a toy mouse on a numbered grid to decide which charter schools get approved and which close, we might decide to leave this task primarily to the collective judgments of parents. We’ve been earnestly assured that we can’t do such a thing because it didn’t work out in Cleveland or in X, but given the complete inability of humans to forecast the future, expert panels doesn’t have much of a chance to add value anywhere over the long run.

Rather than flattering itself with the notion that their expertise has prepared someone to exercise technocratic authority properly, the reform movement should spend time investigating the conditions under which bottom-up accountability succeeds and the conditions under which top-down accountability fails. Such an investigation could move the discussion beyond stale polemics such as should the government ever close a school and towards an investigation of the sorts of conditions that lead to success. How many options do parents need before they can effectively take the lead in closing schools?

I’m guessing the answer to this last question requires more than “zoned district school and young urban charters.” Turns out that the howling wind of purifying creative destruction story is a bit much when your only options are your zoned district inner city school and a handful of young inner city charter schools. Here in Arizona zoned district school, suburban district schools, tons of other charters and private school choice seems to be putting down new charters in a mere four years despite the fact that they have a 15 year charter from the state. A large majority of closed charters aren’t lasting long enough to reach a renewal process.

The benefits of such a system as opposed to heavy reliance on a panel of experts or even a cat seem both abundant and apparent.