We Win Pop Culture! Also, a Podcast on Win-Win

May 2, 2013

Sci-Fi fest poster

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In a major news development, today the Heartland Institute described JPGB as a “widely read education reform-pop culture blog.” After all these years of struggling for recognition as a major voice in the pop culture world, at long last our toil and struggle has been vindicated.

Oh, and they have this podcast I did on the Win-Win report showing that the research consistently supports school choice. If you’re, you know, into that kind of thing.

Win-Win 3.0 chart

In case you forgot what that column of zeros on the right looks like, here it is again.

Third Edition of “Win-Win” Adds a Third Win

April 17, 2013

Win-Win 3.0 cover

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

This morning, the Friedman Foundation releases the third edition of my biannual report summarizing the empirical research on school choice. As in previous years, I survey all the available studies on academic effects – both for students who use school choice and for public schools. Hence the title “A Win-Win Solution” – school choice is a win for both those who use it and those who don’t.

New in this edition of the report, I also survey the impact of school choice on the democratic polity in three dimensions: fiscal impact on taxpayers, racial segregation and civic values and practices (such as tolerance for the rights of others). Guess what it shows? School choice is not just win-win, it’s actually win-win-win. It not only benefits choosing families and non-choosing families; it also benefits everyone else through fiscal savings and the strengthening of social and civic bonds.

Here’s the most important part of the report – that unbroken column of zeros on the right remains as impressive as it ever was. Do please read the rest if you’d like to know more!

Win-Win 3.0 chart

The Book on Rhee’s DC tenure: Pretty Good, Let’s Move On

November 4, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the 2011 NAEP would be the first real book on Michelle Rhee’s tenure running DCPS. The 2009 NAEP was a little early, and the 2013 numbers and those going forward will be owned increasingly by those in charge after Rhee, for better or worse.

So this morning I tried to devise a rough and ready analysis that would be informative (if certainly not definitive) and that I could run before making breakfast for the kids (Mrs. Ladner is off on a well-deserved vacation, daddy is gasping for air).

Here is what I came up with: Rhee took command in 2007, so I use the 2007 NAEP scores as the baseline. We all know the level of academic achievement is terrible in DC, but it was when Rhee got there as well, so I decided to focus on growth in scores.

Finally, DC has experienced a good amount of gentrification in recent years, so I chose to focus on the growth of free and reduced lunch eligible children on all four main NAEP exams (4R, 4M, 8R, 8M) for the 2007-2011 period.

Here’s what came out:

That’s pretty close to the top. Rhee’s critics will be quick to note that DC’s gains between 2003 and 2007 were also large. We of course can never know the counterfactual DC’s scores may have been due for a stall, or they may have kept up the same pace whether Rhee had shaken the District up or not. We’ll never know.

The most important point is: DC scores are still a disaster despite the large gains before, during and after Rhee. Rhee has moved on, but the rotten scores are still there.

DC policymakers, in my opinion, should now look to take a deeper dive on reform. Why does the District’s budget continue to swell when the enrollment continues to shrink? If money were allowed to truly follow the child, you’d see an even more robust charter school movement in the District.

When will the District finally clean up the special education disaster? Many blame it on the lawyers, but go and look at the scores in the post below: these guys are shooting fish in a barrel. Special needs vouchers could play an important role in a comprehensive plan to clean up the special needs mess in DC (no litigation, no ultra-Cadillac placements).

While the needle is moving in the right direction in DC, I believe that the Cool Kids came out of the experience sadder, wiser and undeterred. That’s for the best.

Fear the Win-Win!

March 25, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

At the beginning of a very kind column praising my new report on the empirical evidence on vouchers, Jay Mathews indicates that for some strange reason, he’s afraid of me and my school-choice posse:

Do I really want to get beaten bloody again by school vouchers devotees?

Come on, Jay. I’m not a dangerous man. I would never beat anyone bloody. I’m soft and harmless. I’m a perfectly ordinary bunny rabbit. A cute, fluffy, harmless bunny rabbit.

Well, okay, I have been known to bite. With big, sharp, pointy teeth. But just to stretch my repertoire, I’ll take the soft approach this time.

Jay acknowledges the evidence:

Greg Forster, a talented and often engagingly contrarian senior fellow at the Foundation for Educational Choice, has expanded a previous study to show that nearly all the research on vouchers, including some using the gold standard of random assignment, has good news for those who believe in giving parents funds that can be used to put their children in private schools. Students given that chance do better in private schools than similar students do in public schools, the research shows. Public schools who are threatened by the loss of students to private schools because of voucher programs improve more than schools that do not have to worry about that competition, the research also shows.

Yet he thinks we shouldn’t support vouchers because . . . well, I’ll let him explain:

I see nothing morally, economically or politically wrong with vouchers. I have never thought that they drained public schools of vital resources. I think a low-income family that gets the chance to choose a private school that suits their child should do so.

But I think such programs have limited growth potential because there are never going to be nearly enough empty spaces in private schools to help all the students who need them. Forster and other voucher advocates say this will change when voucher programs become universal. Then, entrepreneurs will be able to convince investors that they can create a new generation of private schools with the new wave of voucher students.

I think they are wrong about that. The young educators who have led the robust growth of charters prefer to work in public schools. Many voters will continue to resist sending their tax dollars to private schools, particularly with the pressures to cut back government spending that are likely to be with us for many years.

So that’s two arguments. Entrepreneurial startups won’t attract talented education refomers, and voters won’t support the programs.

It’s true that the leading-edge school reformers, the people Matt calls “the cool kids,” prefer to work in public schools. As I’ve written before, you can already see how that strategic choice is leading to dead end after dead end. The school choice movement needs to start building bridges to these people and showing them that in the long run, only school choice can provide the institutional support they need to sustain the kind of reforms they want.

As for politics, school choice has always polled well (for a discussion of the research and methodological issues, see here). The American people are not, in fact, uncomfortable with allowing religious institutions to participate in publicly funded programs on equal terms alongside other institutions. There was a time when they were (see “amendments, Blaine”) but that bigotry has receded.

Oh, and as for pressure to cut spending, school choice saves money. Tons and tons of it. That has always been one of our biggest assets in the political fight – that’s why the Foundation for Educational Choice produces state-focused fiscal studies year after year, to show each state how school choice would save taxpayer money while delivering better education.

The political obstacle to choice has never been the public at large. It has always been the blob, with its huge piles of cash fleeced indirectly from taxpayers, and (perhaps more important) its phalanx of highly disciplined volunteers and voters. A minority of the voters can control the outcome if they are single-issue voters when the rest of the public takes into account the whole panoply of problems confronting the body politic. And when you threaten to derail a gravy train, it tends to make the passengers into single-issue voters.

But the tide is changing. The cynical selfishness of the blob is more and more visible to more and more people. Reform has already won the war of ideas. That does not mean the ground war is won. The unions are still big, rich, and powerful. But they are no longer sacred. They have lost their mystique. No one thinks the unions speak for kids anymore; no one even thinks the unions speak for teachers anymore. And in the end, that’s what counts.

As Jay has put it, the unions are now the tobacco lobby. Or, as I have put it, they’re Bull Connor. That’s why school choice is now poised for a series of big political wins.

Jay is skeptical – pointing to the greater success of charters, he thinks vouchers won’t make big gains this cycle. As readers of JPGB know, the answer to the charter argument is that vouchers make the world safe for charters. As for whether vouchers make big gains this year, we’re about to find out.

Tell you what, Jay. Let’s make a bet. You say there won’t be “a wave of pro-voucher votes across the country.” Me and my posse at FEC will go back and count up the number of school choice bills (private choice, not charters) that passed state chambers in 2008-2010. Then we’ll set a mutually agreed on bar for the number of voucher bills passing chambers this year. If we hit the bar, you have to buy me dinner at a Milwaukee restaurant of my choice. But if we don’t hit the bar, I buy you dinner at a DC restaurant of your choice. That’s pretty lopsided in your favor, dollar-wise. How about it?


Vouchers Are a Win-Win Solution – Updated Edition

March 23, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Foundation for Educational Choice has just released my new report, “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers.” It’s an updated edition of my 2009 report providing a comprehensive overview of, well, the empirical evidence on school vouchers. In addition to incorporating new studies, this edition also expands the scope. The first edition only looked at the evidence on how vouchers impact public schools; this new edition also includes how vouchers impact the students who use them.

As before, I summarize the research with one striking chart. Or, now, two charts – one on how vouchers impact participants, and the other on how they impact public schools:


(Note: This image has been corrected; an earlier version transposed Milwaukee and Florida in Table 2. I apologize for the error.)

I’m not sure I can improve on what I wrote here on JPGB when I posted the first edition two years ago:

Worth a thousand words, isn’t it? I mean, at what point are we allowed to say that people are either lying, or have been hoodwinked by other people’s lies, when they say that the research doesn’t support a positive impact from vouchers on public schools?

There’s always room for more research. What would we all do with our time if there weren’t? But on the question of what the research we now have says, the verdict is not in dispute.

The report surveys all the random-assignment research on participants, and all the research (using all methods) on public school impacts. Readers of JPGB are probably familiar with the reason for this difference: random assignment is so far superior to other methods that when a large body of random assignment research exists, it ought to be given priority. However, since it’s not possible to do random-assignment research on how vouchers impact public schools, we have to cast a wider net – and the research methods being used in this field have been improving over time. Yet the results have remained consistent – how about that?

Here’s the executive summary of the new report:

This report collects the results of all available empirical studies using the best available scientific methods to measure how school vouchers affect academic outcomes for participants, and all available studies on how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers do not benefit participants and hurt public schools, the empirical evidence consistently shows that vouchers improve outcomes for both participants and public schools. In addition to helping the participants by giving them more options, there are a variety of explanations for why vouchers might improve public schools as well. The most important is that competition from vouchers introduces healthy incentives for public schools to improve.

Key findings include:

  • Ten empirical studies have used random assignment, the gold standard of social science, to examine how vouchers affect participants. Nine studies find that vouchers improve student outcomes, six that all students benefit and three that some benefit and some are not affected. One study finds no visible impact. None of these studies finds a negative impact.
  • Nineteen empirical studies have examined how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Of these studies, 18 find that vouchers improved public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical studies find that vouchers harm public schools.
  • Every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.
  • Only one study, conducted in Washington D.C., found no visible impact from vouchers. This is not surprising, since the D.C. voucher program is the only one designed to shield public schools from the impact of competition. Thus, the D.C. study does not detract from the research consensus in favor of a positive effect from voucher competition.
  • The benefits provided by existing voucher programs are sometimes large, but are usually more modest in size. This is not surprising since the programs themselves are modest — curtailed by strict limits on the students they can serve, the resources they provide, and the freedom to innovate. Only a universal voucher program could deliver the kind of dramatic improvement our public schools so desperately need.

Wonk Action Shots!

January 27, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I just returned from a series of events put on by the Kansas Policy Institute and the Foundation for Educational Choice. Long suffering readers of JPGB might possibly recognize the topic if they turn their intuitive discernment nob to “11”:

Need another hint? Well, okay….

I met great people in Kansas, and had them ask very good questions. The NAEP shows that on average Kansas schools are good when compared to American states. The scores for disadvantaged student populations, including the growing Hispanic population, must improve if Kansas is going to go from good to GREAT.

Story in the Wichta Eagle here and a television news report here.

Reason TV

January 24, 2011

I don’t find much on regular TV that I want to watch, especially since Lost went off the air.  But there is almost always new, exciting stuff on Reason TV, especially when I’m on it.