Deep down in places they don’t talk about at parties, suburbanites want that wall, but broad choice can take walls down

June 12, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Important new study from the Fordham Institute on open enrollment in Ohio. The map above shows dark blue show districts not participating in open enrollment, and they just happen to be leafy suburban districts who are both higher income with student bodies that tend to be pale complected that also happen to be near large urban districts with many students who are neither of these things. Feel free to reference this map the next time someone claims that public schools “take everyone.”

Many moons ago I wrote a study for the Mackinac Center about the interaction between charter schools and open enrollment in Michigan. I found a very clear pattern among some of the suburban districts whereby charter schools provided the incentive for early open enrollment participants to opt-in. After one district began taking open enrollment transfers, and some additional charters opened, it created an incentive for additional nearby districts to opt in- they were now losing students to both charters and the opted in district. Through this mechanism, the highly economically and racially segregated walled-off district system began to:

Not every domino fell however. I interviewed a superintendent of a fancy inner ring suburb who related that they saw their competitors as elite private schools, not charter schools. When I asked him why his district chose not to participate in open enrollment, he told me something very close to “I think historically the feeling around here is that we have a good thing going, so they want to keep the unwashed masses out.”

Contrast this as well with Scottsdale Unified in Arizona, which is built for 38,000 students, educates 25,000 students, 4,000 of whom transferred into a Scottsdale Unified school through open enrollment. 4,000 transfer students would rank Scottsdale Unified as the 9th largest CMO in Arizona, and they are far from the only district participating in open enrollment in a big way. Why is Scottsdale willing to participate unlike those fancy Ohio districts? They have 9,000 kids living within their boundaries attending charter and private schools.

Why haven’t choice programs torn down the Berlin walls around suburban districts? Sadly because they have been overly focused on urban areas. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Dashboard shows that 72.6% of Ohio charter schools operated in urban areas. The voucher programs likewise started in Cleveland, and then expanded out to include failing schools (and children with disabilities statewide). More recently a broader voucher program has begun the process of phasing in slowly on a means-tested basis, but the combination of adding a single grade per year and means testing promises to unlock a very modest number of walled off suburban seats.

These programs have benefits, but they will not provide an incentive for fancy suburban districts to participate in open enrollment any time soon. Informal conversations I have had with Ohio folks related to me that Ohio suburban and rural dwellers- aka the people who elect the legislative majorities-tend to look at charter schools as a bit of a “Brand Ech” thing for inner city kids. Rest assured that the thousands of Scottsdale moms sitting on BASIS and Great Hearts charter school wait lists do not view charters as “Brand Ech.” Likewise these folks probably see themselves as paying most of the state of Ohio’s bills through their taxes and just might come to wonder why the state’s voucher programs seem so determined to do so little for their kids and communities.

A serious strategic error of the opening act of the parental choice movement was to look out to places like Lakewood Ohio or Scottsdale Arizona and say “those people already have choice.” This point of view is both seriously self-defeating in terms of developing sustaining coalitions, it also fails to appreciate the dynamic interactions between choice programs. Arizona’s choice policies include everyone and have created a virtuous cycle whereby fancy districts compete with charter and private school options for enrollment. This leads to a brutal crucible for new charter schools in Arizona whereby parents quickly shut many down because they have plenty of other options. Educators open lots of schools and parents close lots of schools-leading to world-class Arizona charter scores. Arizona’s charter NAEP score triumph was more or less mathematically inevitable once this process got rolling. Did I mention the part about Arizona leading the nation in statewide cohort NAEP gains since 2009? That too but Ohio not so much.

I’m open to challenge in the comment section from any of my Ohio friends or anyone else, but by contrast to these eyes Ohio’s choice programs look to be mired in an urban quagmire and they need the leafy suburbs to play in order to win. Current policies not only have not unlocked Ohio’s Scottsdale Unified equivalents, they likely never will. NACSA put Ohio’s revised charter school law in their top ten, but allow me to pull up a couch and heat up some popcorn for the next few years as charters lawyer up and parents resist arbitrary bureaucratic closures, and the rate of new schools opening goes glacial.

Competition is by far the best method of quality control and bringing the leafy suburban districts into the melee is crucial if you are in the urban fight to win. The districts currently largely untouched by charters and private choice overlap with those not participating in open enrollment. Regulating urban charters is not going to make your suburban districts into defacto CMOs. This.isn’ While counter-intuitive to many if you want to secure improved education options for the poor, you need to include everyone.


How to Turn Your Leafy Suburban School Districts into Defacto CMOs

February 27, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I had the opportunity to catch up with Dr. Tom Patterson on Friday. Patterson was a crucial legislative supporter of both the Arizona charter and scholarship tax credit laws that passed in 1994 and 1997, respectively. Dr. Patterson related to me that in his first run for the state legislature in 1988, he attended a candidate forum at Arcadia High School, a Scottsdale Unified School District school to which I am zoned. At the time he was campaigning on an open-enrollment law (which came to pass in the 1990s), an idea that his opponent denounced as “crazy.”

A close look at Scottsdale today demonstrates that Dr. Patterson was crazy- crazy like a fox. In fact, without open enrollment Scottsdale Unified would be in trouble today. I came across an interesting power point presentation prepared by demographers for the Scottsdale Unified School District in 2014. Lots of interesting stuff in the document but when I came across the figure that Scottsdale Unified takes in 4,000 out of district transfers, it occurred to me that this was probably a large enough transfer population to get Scottsdale Unified to compare favorably to the state’s larger charter management organizations. Sure enough:

4,000 out of district transfer students would rank Scottsdale Unified as the 9th largest CMO in the state, if it were a CMO. Arizona law requires districts to adopt open enrollment policies, but gives district schools an free hand in deciding which students to accept.

Sadly no one collects statewide data on open enrollment these days, but my spidey-sense tells me that it is underrated here in the Cactus Patch. Based upon a report from the Arizona Auditor, Scottsdale should have a fairly acute interest in open enrollment transfers, as the Arizona Auditor General reports that the district was using 65% of facility capacity in 2012:

The higher cost was primarily caused by the District maintaining a large amount of excess school building space, which was likely not needed because many of the District’s schools operated far below their designed capacities. In fiscal year 2012, Scottsdale USD had total school building capacity of about 38,000 students but only had about 25,000 students enrolled, or in other terms, the District was using about 66 percent of its building capacity. Maintaining more building space is costly to the District because the majority of its funding is based on its number of students, not the amount of square footage it maintains. Had Scottsdale USD maintained a similar amount of school building space per student as its peer districts averaged, it could have saved approximately $3.8 million, monies that the District otherwise potentially could have spent in the classroom. Although the District closed one school campus at the end of fiscal year 2014, in light of its large amount of excess building capacity, the District should continue to review options to further reduce excess space.

Factors other than choice impact Scottsdale enrollment, including an aging population, higher home prices, etc. but choice is playing a role. The demographic report noted that while Scottsdale gained 4,000 students from open-enrollment that they had 9,000 school age children living within their district boundaries not attending Scottsdale Unified schools. Choice programs in other words interact with each other in a dynamic fashion. Many prominent figures in the parental choice movement have argued that Scottsdale kids “already have school choice” but it turns out that when you give them more meaningful school choice, you free up spots for other kids.

The report also includes an analysis of transcript requests as a method for tracking where kids are going. About half of requests came from charter schools-with BASIS and Great Hearts in the lead, another 29% came from private schools, and the remainder came from online schools.

The Arizona Republic wrote up a story about the presentation of the report to the school board, which included a question from a member of the school board as to why an online charter was the largest single recipient of transfer requests when the district had started their own online learning program. “These are kids who, essentially, most of them would be dropping out,” came the reply from an Associate Superintendent.

Two notes on this comment- an online charter was not only the largest recipient of transcript requests, another such school was the third largest single recipient. Not the best look if they were “kids who were going to drop out anyway.” Second, the possibility of negative selection bias may call for a far more careful look at the results of online charters. “Demographic twins” may or may not work out in a rough and ready fashion when we don’t suspect selection bias, but when we do have reason to suspect it..but I digress.


The overall picture in Arizona is one marked by robust accountability (losing students and money) rather than double secret probation accountability. The state turned off the A-F accountability system two years ago to revamp it in light of new tests. Word has reached my ears that the State Board recently had the opportunity to consider a formal written proposal to include student vegetable consumption in the school A-F grading formula.

No I’m not making that up. I also heard they decided not to move forward with the proposal. I’m comforted by the widespread use of the Greatschools website, which has their own ranking system and parent reviews. Overall the Cactus Patch has a vibrant bottom up accountability system (vrai pas faux) while still having to go through the motions on what appears to these eyes to be a relatively dysfunctional system of normal compliance activities amounting to…I’m not sure just what.

So it is great to have Scottsdale Unified competing in the choice mix. It makes me happier to pay my taxes than I otherwise would be. Should Arizonans want still more parental choice?






Sell Outs

June 13, 2011

(Guest Post by Brian Kisida)

It’s truly a sad situation when once respectable organizations become so intertwined with the corrupting influence of party politics and the ulterior motives of other interest groups that they abandon their core principles.  Last week Matt referenced the newly invigorated war against charter schools in New York undertaken by the NAACP.  Also last week in Milwaukee the ACLU filed yet another lawsuit against a school choice program.

On the surface, the NAACP’s ongoing opposition to school choice just seems bizarre.  The overwhelming majority of school choice programs in the U.S., whether it be in the form of urban charter schools or means-tested voucher programs like those found in Milwaukee and D.C., serve distinctly minority and disadvantaged populations by design.  If there’s a rational argument out there that can explain why the NAACP, according to its own principles, should stand in opposition to school choice, I haven’t heard it.  And I’ve done plenty of searching.

But the NAACP supported rally that was held down in Harlem last week does provide the necessary connect-able dots to at least consider their motives.  Who was there?  Well, New York City Council member Robert Jackson spoke out against charter schools, and he invoked the long hard plight of the NAACP’s battle against discrimination in the process:

“NAACP has stood for over 100 years to fight discrimination. And we stand united, right here on 125th Street and Lenox Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard to say we will fight all people, all people, that want to discriminate against us or our children.”

Of course, he failed to mention that before he became a council member in 2001, he was a Director of Field Services for the New York State Public Employees Federation.  And, while it may be unfair for me to insinuate that his close ties to public employee unions motivate his opposition to school choice, it isn’t unfair to say that his claims are fundamentally false.  Charter schools are open to all students, regardless of residential location.  By definition, freely chosen charter schools are less discriminatory than residentially-assigned schools.  Unless, somehow, you think a randomly chosen lottery ball is capable of discriminating.

Also in attendance was United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.  He also played the equity card:

“The children from the charter school will get the science labs, and not the children from the public school…the children from the charter school will get the playground, and not the children from the public school.”

Of course, charter schools are public schools, and they are open to all students who apply.  Moreover, if Mulgrew really thinks that charter schools are so superior to “public” schools, then wouldn’t the proper thing to do–if one really cared about giving every child the best education possible–be to make every school a charter school?  Then they’d all get the science labs and new playgrounds, right?

I imagine this is how organizations like the NAACP will inevitably die.  They become so resistant to change and so corrupted by bad influences that eventually they become irrelevant.  The NAACP is squandering what little credibility it has left by opposing policies that are near and dear to the hearts of the people who should be their core constituents.  So it goes.

Up in Milwaukee, the ACLU is also doing its best to betray its own principles by fighting the expansion of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP).  Like the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union is no friend of school choice.  Their own director, way back in 1994, agreed that school vouchers, if properly administered, were no more a violation of the First Amendment than were Pell Grants (which means they aren’t a violation at all).  But in the ensuing years, the ACLU has become one of the most vocal opponents of expanding individual liberty through school choice.  And it’s not exactly clear why.  At the very least, it’s worth noting that the word “liberty” doesn’t regularly appear in any of the ACLU’s public statements against school choice.

Last week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit claiming that the MPCP discriminates against children with disabilities and asked the Department of Justice to delay Governor Walker’s planned expansion of the program.  To make their case, they cite flawed statistics generated by the politically minded state Department of Public Instruction (DPI) that claim that nearly 20% of students in Milwaukee’s public schools have a disability, but only 1.6% of the students in the MPCP have the same condition.

Of course, the claim is misguided in multiple ways.  Independent research by Patrick Wolf from the University of Arkansas and John Witte from the University of Wisconsin does confirm an asymmetry with regard to disabled students, but not nearly as high as the one claimed by DPI and the ACLU.  In their analysis, they concluded that:

“Public schools have both strong incentives to classify students as requiring exceptional education, because they receive extra funding to teach such students and well-established protocols for doing so. Private schools have neither. A student with the same educational needs often will be classified as exceptional education in MPS but not so classified in the choice program.”

“Nine percent of choice parents said their child has a learning disability, compared to 18% of the parents of the carefully matched public school students in our sample. The proportion of students with learning disabilities in the choice program is about half that of MPS, but it is certainly not less than 1%, as the state Department of Public Instruction recently reported.”

In addition, the lawsuit brought by the ACLU completely ignores the funding disparity that exists between Milwaukee public schools and the voucher program.  Currently, students in Milwaukee’s public schools receive more than $15,000 in per-pupil funding, while students in the choice program receive $6,442.  If the ACLU were truly concerned about the liberties of disabled students and their families, wouldn’t it make the most sense to argue for an increase in the voucher amount for disabled students?  Wouldn’t that be the most liberty-maximizing course of action?

Like the NAACP, the ACLU has veered far from its own principles as an organization whose stated purpose is to “defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country.”  And, like the NAACP, it’s largely because they’ve sold out.  They’ve gone from being an organization founded on certain principles to being simply another political hack-unit heavily influenced by party politics and the agendas of other interest groups.  Unless they can find a way to change, they’ll continue to slide towards complete and total irrelevance.

Fordham Foundation on K-12 Economic Segregation

February 18, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Fordham has a new study on what they call “private public schools” aka schools that serve hardly any low-income children. Personally I prefer the term Economic Segregation Academies.

Yes kids, calm down, they have data for specific metro areas available online.  So much for the common school myth.

Shocking Discoveries!

May 11, 2009

Shock Warning logo

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The Detroit Free Press should come with a warning label. In today’s edition I was jolted by the shocking discovery that suburban public schools compete with each other for students. Apparently when parents are able to choose schools, the schools are aware of this and respond by seeking to get their business. All because – are you ready for this? – public schools want to maximize their budgets!

Who knew?

Kudos to the Free Press for uncovering this amazing story!

HT ALELR for the story, and Overload for the logo.

Now She Tells Us

February 18, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Randi Weingarten explained this week that, contrary to the outrageous slander that the unions are against education reform, she’s actually in favor of having the federal government create rigorous national academic standards for public schools, and will remain in favor of it as long as the Democrats are in power. (I’m paraphrasing.)

She writes: “Should fate, as determined by a student’s Zip code, dictate how much algebra he or she is taught?”

So the AFT now endorses the principle that a child’s education should not be determined by Zip code? When did that happen?

And if a child’s Zip code shouldn’t determine how much algebra he or she is taught, why should that determination be made in Washington instead? Apparently the amount of algebra you learn should be determined not by your Zip code, but by your international dialing code.

At least with Zip codes, some families can exercise school choice by moving to a different neighborhood. Yes, it’s an unfair system, since not all families are equally mobile; apparently Weingarten thinks the fair thing to do is to take away the freedom now enjoyed by some parents, so that there will be an equality of unfreedom.

Here we see the real modus operandi of the Left – achieve equality by leveling downward.

“Residential School Choice” and the Mortgage Crisis

April 28, 2008

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

What do you guys think of this op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post linking the mortgage crisis to parents’ desire to buy homes that will get their children into better schools? I don’t know enough about the mortgage crisis to really know, but Mike Antonnuci suggests the link is overblown (see item #2 here) and I’m inclined to think that’s likely.

Still, have you noticed that in just the past few years, schools are figuring much more prominently in residential real estate marketing? MLS listings now prominetnly display not only which school district a home is located in, but the indivdiual schools it’s assigned to. Real estate advertisements and flyers are prominently listing this information as well.

Of course, I’m just speaking from my own individual observations, which as you know is a highly scientific representative sample. 🙂

Larry, you’re the financial guy around here. Any thoughts?

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