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:


Scottsdale Unified Needs an Appetite for Disruption

October 16, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Update from the Arizona Republic on Scottsdale Unified enrollment trends. I am a SUSD taxpayer and have taken a look at SUSD from time to time as a microcosm of how school choice programs interact. Scottsdale faces a good deal of competition from charters and to a lesser degree private schools, and also has been unusually open to open enrollment transfers for a fancy district.

So first the good news: SUSD academic performance continued to improve with the release of the 2018 AZMerit scores:

A previous district sponsored study found that the top issue identified by families living in the Scottsdale district but sending their students elsewhere was “academic rigor.” This seems to be trending in the right direction.

Now for the not so good news: as touched upon in the Republic story: looking past scandals, investigations and resignations the district has a very large amount of empty space and declining enrollment. The district also has up to $229,000,000 to spend on facilities, a source of said scandals, investigations and resignations. District enrollment is down 4,800 from the peak in 2002 and trending down. A 2012 Auditor General report found the district utilizing only 65% of capacity and the projections are for still lower enrollment. $229m is a lot of money to spend on a 22,000 and falling enrollment count and district leaders should ponder long and hard the factors that influence enrollment decisions, such as those revealed by their previous survey (“lack of academic rigor” is not easily mistranslated into “building not spiffy.”)

The Republic article details an agonizing set of choices facing the Scottsdale Unified board- spending money on facilities with declining enrollment runs the risk of needing to close the facility regardless at some future point. Without increased enrollment, closures will become inevitable. Communities don’t react well to school closures, but Scottsdale parents have been voting with their feet. A potential best strategy going forward was reported on in the Republic story:

Board member Kim Hartmann challenged the board to think about ways schools can improve to make them more desirable.

Hartmann called attention to Cheyenne Traditional School, with 955 students, which has high AzMERIT scores and has captured students from outside the district through open enrollment.

Scottsdale Unified has enough empty space to open a dozen or more Cheyenne Traditional Schools, or (better yet) a mix of other specialized programs. Who should decide which Scottsdale Unified campuses should remain open? Why not leave the decision up to parents? If the district can give more parents what they are looking for, fewer campuses will need to close-expand rather than shrink the pie. Why not give the opportunity for declining enrollment SUSD schools to specialize? Why not co-locate micro-school concepts in half empty campuses? Why not lease empty space to charter school operators to generate revenue?

The best Arizona districts are not sweating competition-they are beating it with a club. There will always be a Scottsdale Unified, however it do well to adapt to a new era and seize the opportunities afforded by it. SUSD has the potential to produce higher levels of parental satisfaction and student achievement by increasing the diversity of approaches to education. If the SUSD board would like to avoid endless hours of painful and emotional hearings on school closures (and who wouldn’t?) they would do well to delegate the decision on which campuses to close to Scottsdale parents and educators, who just might choose “none of the above.” The board should imo give educators the opportunity to specialize their schools and seek new enrollment, and create a minimum enrollment/space standard for closure. Let parents sort out the rest.

 

 


Is the Charter School Movement Dead or Mostly Dead?

September 19, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So what should we make of this:

The above chart comes from Robin Lake’s Education Next piece on the slowdown in charter school growth in the Bay Area. This article focused on three culprits: facility challenges, internal challenges and political backlash. There were several interesting nuggets in the “internal challenges” section, for instance:

Charter advocates in the Bay Area seem to subscribe to a “survival of the fittest” ethic, which holds that because running a successful charter school requires so much capacity, if potential operators are scared off from pursuing an application without a lot of handholding, it’s probably for the best. This was a reasonable strategy in the early days when the supply of savvy entrepreneurs was plentiful and charters were booming, but it may be time to look deeper for quality operators and provide more support.

Translation: I had my legal department cut and paste from their last 700 page charter application, if you don’t have a legal department too bad.

Then:

Meanwhile, the funding community is not sufficiently supporting these smaller players to make it worth their while. In interviews, many leaders told us they believe that the Bay Area’s supply of effective schools is limited today by the philanthropic funding strategies used in the past. In particular, there is a consistent perception that single-site schools and school leaders of color who are not tied into local funder networks have historically not been connected to dominant funding channels.

Translation: It’s easier for large philanthropic foundations to write big checks to other big organizations than to seed mom and pop operations.

Further hampering growth, the charter leaders we interviewed said that start-up dollars are the hardest to come by in the communities they consider most viable for charter school expansion. Operators are finding it easy to access philanthropic funding in urban Oakland and San Francisco, but see those places as “over-saturated” and gentrifying. By contrast, in the less urban area of western Contra Costa County, there are more available facilities and a growing population of students that match most charter schools’ target populations—but fewer opportunities to access philanthropic dollars to start up new schools.

As one charter-school operator said, “People are moving farther and farther away from cities [because they can’t afford to live there] and into poor-performing school districts. An organization like KIPP—if they want to double in the next five years—they’ll need to go in these areas. But charters are not going there because there is no funding there.”

Translation: America is morphing into Paris, France whereby the wealthy people live in the city and the not-wealthy in the suburbs or exurbs. Philanthropists have yet to appreciate just how quickly this is happening.

Like any complex phenomenon, the charter school slow down certainly has more than one explanation. None of these factors would seem to explain why the last few states to pass charter laws have opened few to no charter schools, why the highly ranked Indiana law that passed in 2001 still hadn’t met the minimum subgroup reporting requirements for NAEP in 2017 (you can often get scores for male Asian students as a point of reference) etc. In other words Lake’s look into the SF area was informative, but perhaps not fully revealing.

As a determined optimist, I’m going to say that the charter movement is only mostly dead, which means it is partially alive. Let’s get him to Miracle Max quickly however because it doesn’t look good…