Smarick on the Quiet Revolution of Charter Schooling

October 14, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Good read from Andy on charter schooling at the quarter century:

All these particular issues, however, underscore a basic point: Chartering has quietly revolutionized public schooling. It didn’t happen through clever, technocratic administrative fixes or a gigantic, rapidly passed omnibus legislative package. Nor did it humbly take for granted longstanding arrangements or merely tinker with the mechanics of existing programs. Instead, chartering took the long view. It trusted families and communities, carved out space for a new approach, and then allowed civil society to slowly create and change the new system. The result has been more individual empowerment, educational options, respect for pluralism, competition, civic-sector activity, innovation, and entrepreneurialism.

That is indeed how charter schooling looks like out here in the Cactus Patch- a long term bet on self-determination that paid off in an absolutely spectacular fashion. Well, I mean, if you consider getting a large majority-minority student population to score near the average student in Massachusetts for about half the per pupil funding given to schools in that high-income and pale complected state spectacular. I mean I guess it really depends on where you put the bar and all.  Little Ramona for instance doesn’t like it because the sector isn’t as prone to regulatory capture in ultra low turnout elections dominated by organized employee interests governed by school districts.

I also see much wisdom in the incremental gradualism that has marked the first 25 years of charter schooling, but also a ton of reasons to speed things up.

Small Schools 18, Big Box 2

October 4, 2016
Why is this man smiling? Read on MacDuff...

Why is this man smiling? Read on MacDuff…

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So last week I used an Arizona Board of Regents Report to show you the top AZ high schools year after graduation college attendance:


So now let’s take the chart immediately above, and rather than emphasize school type, let’s instead look at the number of high school students. The above chart still ranks the same 20 schools by their 2015 college attendance rates, but simply provides attendance rates.


The two large high-schools that made the list (Chaparral and Catalina Foothills) may be the most leafy of leafy suburban schools in Scottsdale and Tucson respectively. The other 18 schools in the top 20 are small charter and magnet schools. Of course a score of 18 to 2 is merely suggestive, but rigorous evaluations of small schools in New York City point to a similar conclusion: good outcomes come with small schools.


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: