The Option to Escape Bullying

December 11, 2017

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

By now you’ve probably seen the heartbreaking video of Keaton Jones detailing the torments he suffers in the lunchroom. As Dr. Kevin Currie-Knight and I explained recently in Education Next, educational choice policies can give kids like Keaton a much-needed escape hatch — and provide schools with a stronger incentive to address bullying.

A Florida mom, Elsi Greciano, explains how school choice saved her daughter:

When my daughter [Maria] finished fifth grade, she begged me not to send her to the neighborhood middle school, because her tormenters would be there. So we enrolled her in an arts magnet. Maria loved the classes and was excited to start over.

But bad things kept happening. One boy groped her. Another humiliated her when she wouldn’t give him her phone number. When a teacher saw a group of boys taunting her in the cafeteria, she sent them to the principal, who suspended them. But then Maria heard the boys were going to beat her up because they got in trouble. She was so upset that she couldn’t sleep.

Sometimes the school tried to help. Sometimes it didn’t. After the cafeteria incident, I emailed the principal, but never heard back. That was the last straw.

We searched for private schools that would be good for Maria, and found One School of the Arts. It had a curriculum like the school we left, but a safe, family atmosphere. We fell in love with it.

We cut all our expenses so we could enroll Maria right away, then got a tax-credit scholarship. Four years later, Maria is in 10th grade and a totally different girl.

She’s confident. She speaks beautifully. She loves to debate in class. At the moment, she’s not sure whether she wants to be a missionary when she grows up, or a fashion designer, or president of the United States.

Fortunately, the Florida legislature is taking steps to ensure that bullied students like Maria and Keaton have other options. Florida already has a tax-credit scholarship program and an education savings account program, but not all students are eligible. The proposed Hope Scholarships would empower families of students who had been bullied or victims of abuse.

Hopefully other states will follow Florida’s lead.


Real Victories + Imaginary Defeats = “Unsettled Law”

December 9, 2017

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

The constitutionality of tax-credit scholarships is in the news again, as Montana’s state supreme court will soon consider the issue. What makes Montana’s case unique is that the roles of the petitioners and respondents is reversed. Usually it’s school choice opponents who sue a state over its choice program. In Montana, the Department of Revenue decided — against the wishes of the legislature — to block tax-credit scholarship recipients from using them at religious schools based on its own squirrelly interpretation of the state constitution. That drew the ire of choice proponents, including the heroes at the Institute for Justice, who sued.

A district court judge ruled in favor of the Institute for Justice, but the state has appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.

Based on the track record, tax-credit scholarships are very likely to win. But Kevin Welner, a long-time critic of tax-credit scholarships (he calls them “neovouchers,” but no one serious has followed his lead), disagrees:

“If you’re asking if this is an area of unsettled law, the answer is yes,” Welner said. “Generally, the differences that you see are reflective of the blue-red differences we have in this country.”

Is that so? Let’s see what the scorecard shows. First, the victories:

Tax-Credit Scholarship Legal Victories

  • Supreme Court of the United States
  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • New Hampshire

It should be noted that the unanimous decision in Georgia was written by a justice appointed by a Democrat. In Florida and Illinois (not a red state, last I checked), the state supreme courts refused to hear appeals of lower-court victories. Also, before anyone objects “some of these were decided on standing, not the merits!” — there’s very little difference. First, all the decisions but New Hampshire’s explicitly state that tax credits do not constitute public expenditures in their decisions ruling against the plaintiffs’ standing, which is essentially ruling on the merits. Even New Hampshire’s state supreme court (which had a liberal majority) unanimously ruled against standing because the plaintiffs could not demonstrate any harm. Second, there’s functionally no difference between “constitutional” and “may or may not be constitutional on the merits but no one has standing to sue so the program may legally continue.”

Anyway, let’s now look at the losing side of the ledger to see how truly “unsettled” this area of law is:

Tax-Credit Scholarship Legal Defeats

  • None

This looks less like a “red state vs. blue state” divide than a “real state vs. imaginary state” divide.

My question for Welner is: how many states have to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s lead before he believes the law is “settled”?

Also, a closing word of advice:

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Oklahoma’s Doubleminded ESSA Plan

December 8, 2017

(Guest Post by Greg Forster)

In OCPA’s Perspective I review Oklahoma’s ESSA plan, and the story will be of interest to those outside Oklahoma. The basic problem with imposing reform on school systems that don’t want it is that the “reforms” become two-faced – they say what they need to say to please the reformers, but the substance of reform is another story:

Throughout the document, the bright, photogenic images and superficial, focus-group-tested buzzwords favored by the professional education reformers who run the ESSA regime collide over and over again with dense, esoteric clouds of opaque legalese, emitted—like ink from an octopus—by education special interests protecting their budgetary turf from scrutiny.

The document even has two title pages. The first is slick and professionally designed: a gorgeous, full-page image of a little girl with her hand over her heart is juxtaposed with the title under which the plan is being marketed—Oklahoma EDGE—in the form of a branded logo, like Pepsi or Google. The second title page is plain white with nothing on it but a little bit of text and the state education department’s logo. This page delivers the plan’s legal (i.e., actual) title, which is: “Revised State Template for the Consolidated State Plan: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act.” Try making a branded logo out of that.

The report’s visual and verbal doublemindedness is reflected in the structure of the underlying plan, which dumps tons of money (the plan is always careful to set minimum goals for spending levels) into programs that don’t tend to improve educational outcomes. This makes both the system and the reformers look bad:

All this indictment of the Old Guard, for putting their own voracious desire for money and power ahead of real educational reform, is also an indictment of the New Guard. The professional education reformers, frustrated by decades of limited results from state activism, got impatient and decided to take a shortcut to power through Washington, D.C. But the Constitution’s federalist system, and the striking Left/Right political coalition suspicious of federal meddling in schools, really will not allow Washington to exercise the level of control the reformers want.

The end result is this ridiculous dance where Oklahoma has to submit a 218-page “eight-year strategic plan” for change and reform … under which it will continue to do the same thing it has done for decades: dump truckloads of money into expensive programs with no proven or even probable relationship to education outcomes. Which is exactly what the professional reformers have spent decades trying to stop the system from doing. Welcome to Wonderland.

Let me know what you think – and dont’ worry, your comments do not have to be accompanied by glossy graphics or popular buzzwords.

Debunking the “Michigan Charters Stink” Canard

November 30, 2017

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

In The Detroit News, JayBlog’s own Matt Ladner and Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute highlight further evidence that the narrative painting Michigan charter schools as uniquely awful. Actually, as Ladner and Eden show, studies consistently find that they are outperforming Michigan’s district schools:

The first shot fired came from the opinion pages of the New York Times, where Tulane University professor Doug Harris declared that DeVos’ nomination represented, “a triumph of ideology over evidence.” He held her responsible for charter schools in Detroit, which he called “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.”

Oddly, Harris linked his claim to a Stanford study showing that Detroit’s charter schools significantly outperform its traditional public schools. He, and the rest of Michigan charter critics, also ignored studies from the Mackinac Center and Excellent Schools Detroit that also showed a substantial charter edge.

But no matter. The narrative was set. The Atlantic, the Washington PostPoliticothe New RepublicNewsweek, and others piled on: it’s the Wild West out there, there aren’t enough regulations, there isn’t enough accountability, there are too many for-profit operators. Never mind the best evidence at the time, from another Stanford study, that showed that Michigan’s charter schools outperform its traditional public schools on 52 of 56 metrics.

Add to this pile of evidence the results of the NAEP exam, showing that Michigan’s charters consistently outperform Michigan’s district schools, and a new random-assignment study finding that students enrolled in major for-profit charter network in Michigan scored higher in state math exams and reading exams than the control group.

Will the technocrats care about the empirical evidence? Ladner and Eden suspect not:

Some reformers, who claim to care solely about evidence, have already and will likely continue to ignore the evidence of Michigan’s charter school success. The reason has less to do with data, and more to do with the fact that Michigan’s charter sector isn’t tightly controlled by “experts.”

In addition to Michigan, technocratic reformers have a difficult time explaining charter school success in states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and Oregon. Whereas pro-regulation charter advocates give these states low grades for policy, charter schools in these states show either very high NAEP scores, very high rates of academic progress, and sometimes both. Maybe that’s because parents and teachers, given the freedom and flexibility, can do more to open good schools and close bad ones than the self-proclaimed experts. The “experts” who claim to follow the “evidence” may claim that Michigan is a failure. But the “evidence” of success makes you wonder whether these “experts” aren’t actually just ideologues.


That’s No Way to Run a Railroad, Subway or School System

November 20, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’d suggest reading this fascinating article from the New York Times about how New Yorkers spend an obscene amount of money but get a subway system that is trending towards barely functional. The story is basically that the system has been mismanaged and plundered by various politicians and political interests and safety and reliability is in steep decline. The problems go much deeper than the below excerpt, but in the end the below excerpt encapsulates the overall problem:

According to a former union president, John Samuelsen, the organization has secured better deals over the past eight years than any other public labor group in New York.

“I look back with satisfaction on what, together, we have accomplished,” Mr. Samuelsen said in a September letter announcing that he was becoming the union’s international president.

Each of three deals signed from 2009 to 2017 cost more than the M.T.A. anticipated, forcing it to take money from other parts of the budget. The 2014 deal, which cost $525 million, was funded by tapping into a pay-as-you-go account that was intended to pay for capital work, former officials said.

Subway workers now make an average of $170,000 annually in salary, overtime and benefits, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the federal Department of Transportation. That is far more than in any other American transit system; the average in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington is about $100,000 in total compensation annually.

The pay for managers is even more extraordinary. The nearly 2,500 people who work in New York subway administration make, on average, $280,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. The average elsewhere is $115,000.

Nearly 2,500 people make $280,000 per year for administering a system in deep decline. Nice work if you can get it. So if you run your school system too much like MTA runs the subway, and other states do less of that, slowly but surely you might see something like this, even if you spend twice as much per pupil:

More Regulation and Less Diverse School Options

November 14, 2017

(Guest Post by Corey A. DeAngelis and Lindsey Burke)

The first experimental evaluation to find negative impacts of a voucher program on student achievement was released to the public over two years ago. Since then, education scholars and public officials have debated whether the initially large negative effects in Louisiana could be explained by the program’s burdensome regulations. While some education policy analysts argued that the state-testing mandates and open-admissions policies deterred higher-performing private schools from participating, others contended that the program might have performed even worse without the rules in place to ensure that parents only chose high-quality educational institutions.

The discussion heated up again three months ago with the release of the Louisiana Scholarship Program’s (LSP) third-year reports showing that students using a voucher caught up to their public school peers on test scores. Just after the public release, John White, Louisiana’s superintendent of education, reasoned that “it may very well be the regulation itself – the accountability system – that is the thing that has promoted the performance.”

However, one of the third-year reports released by researchers at the University of Arkansas addressed this very issue and concluded that the heavy regulatory environment in Louisiana may have driven away higher-quality private schools from participating in the program at all.

Likewise, we just released an analysis examining whether school voucher environments in Louisiana, D.C., and Indiana affected the specialization of the private school market overall. We found that when individual private schools switch into highly-regulated voucher environments such as Louisiana, they are less likely to self-identify as specialized or nontraditional educational institutions.


Since the voucher programs in question are funded by taxpayers, the public has a legitimate interest in understanding the impact of regulations on private school function and structure. When publicly funded private school choice programs are introduced, most public officials have good intentions when attempting to guarantee that families have access to high-quality educational institutions. In a well-meaning attempt to control levels of school quality and institutional equity, policymakers require that private schools comply with regulations associated with academic quality, financial viability, and access.

Nonetheless, efforts to ensure “accountability” through regulations mirror the various policies governing traditional public schools. If government officials decide to regulate private schools operating within a voucher environment in the same way traditional public schools are regulated, the supply of schools in the private market is expected to become similar to public schools over time. Obviously, private schools that participate in a voucher program will behave more like public schools if they are required to do many of the same things: focus on state standardized tests, fill out supplementary paperwork, and conform admissions processes to the government model.

We expect that private schools in the most-heavily regulated program, the LSP, will be the most likely to experience reductions in specialization. After all, only a third of the private schools chose to participate in the LSP, while between 70 and 78 percent of private schools participated in the programs in D.C. and Indiana. The unusually low LSP participation rate may be because the program is targeted to the least advantaged children in Louisiana and requires students to take the state’s standardized tests and schools to have an open-admissions process.


Every other year, private school leaders provide information about their institutions using the nationally representative Private School Universe Survey (PSS). For our analysis, we examine changes in responses to question eleven which asks school leaders to check one box that best describes their private institution. We examine whether switching into voucher program environments influences the relative likelihoods that private school leaders report that their institutions are regular, specialized, or alternative schools.

As shown in our study, three out of the four effects that were statistically different from zero were in Louisiana. After switching into the voucher program environment in Louisiana, individual private school leaders were around 4-percentage points, or about a tenth of a standard deviation, more likely to identify as regular schools. Furthermore, private school leaders in Louisiana were around 2-percentage points, or about a fifth of a standard deviation, less likely to identify as schools with a “special program or emphasis,” and about 2-percentage points, or around a tenth of a standard deviation, less likely to identify as “schools that offer a curriculum designed to provide alternative or nontraditional education.”

In addition, we found that private school leaders in the nation’s capital were about 10-percentage points, or over a half of a standard deviation, less likely to report that they were alternative schools. This may be because the D.C. voucher program was the only one that required teachers in core subjects to have a bachelor’s degree. It may be that D.C. private schools that provided a nontraditional or alternative education relied more heavily on a robust supply of diverse teachers.

No statistically significant impacts were detected in Indiana, the more lightly regulated voucher program of the three. Although Indiana private schools participating in the state voucher program are required to take the state test, the fact that most did so prior to the introduction of the voucher program in order to be eligible for the high school athletics association may have mitigated the effect such a regulation would have otherwise had on school participation.

But why does this matter? What does this mean for the education of children going forward?

Since individual student needs, learning abilities, interests, and desires are all unique, specialized services ought to lead to improved outcomes. Conversely, access to schools that mimic the district system may not offer much additional choice at all. Consequently, homogenization in the supply of schooling options could have led to the recent negative experimental impacts revealed in Louisiana.

While a hearty set of program regulations may be tempting to policymakers, especially since they give well-intentioned public officials the illusion of quality-control, the disheartening result may be a less meaningful set of choices for parents and their children.

Our results suggest that burdensome packages of regulations likely limit schooling choices in an unfortunate way. Policymakers and school choice advocates interested in establishing a robust universe of education options that are responsive to family needs and preferences should limit red tape and enable private schools to retain their unique identity and character.


Corey A. DeAngelis is an Education Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom.

Lindsey Burke is the Director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy.

How Soon Will Self-Driving Cars Take Kids to School?

November 13, 2017

Waymo’s self-driving cars are now driving through the Phoenix metro area without anyone in the front seat.

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Waymo recently announced that it will launch a fleet of self-driving taxis within the next 18 months. I can personally attest that I’ve seen self-driving cars from Waymo, Intel, Uber and others passing my house with great regularity over the last two years (thanks, in large part, to Arizona’s solidly pro-innovation governor, Doug Ducey).

Self-driving cars are going to dramatically change society. The question is no longer “if” but “when.” Some changes will be obvious: fewer accidents, fewer deaths, faster travel, more productive use of commute time, etc. Some second order effects are less obvious but highly likely. For example, once it becomes cheaper to order a Waymo or Uber whenever needed than to own a vehicle, people will be able to convert garages into usable living space and businesses will be able to get rid of parking garages and most parking lots.

Self-driving cars will also change how we get our kids to school. As I wrote a few years ago, self-driving cars will eventually make it safe and efficient to send multiple children to multiple different schools — and with cars able to travel faster, the number of schools within a commutable distance will dramatically increase. That would greatly expand the educational options available to families.

How soon should we expect this change? That’s not clear. As Robert Pondiscio has noted, the technology is changing faster than the culture. It might be a while before families feel comfortable putting their child in a vehicle with no adult supervision. On the other hand, advances in GPS, video monitoring, and even bracelets that detect medical episodes can make future rides in self-driving vehicles safer than anything we grew up with.

In the spirit of the Forster-Mathews bet, Robert and I are putting our money where our mouths are. Although I expect that in five years, few people will be sending their kids to school in autonomous vehicles, I predict that at least 25 percent of children in the Phoenix area will get to school via a self-driving car by the 2022-23 school year. This may sound overly exuberant, but with self-driving cars already on the Phoenix streets and Waymo launching its taxi service, I expect high demand for the safety that self-driving cars offer. Moreover, the autonomous vehicle companies are already branching out into services like trucking — it won’t be long before they’re operating school buses as well. Unlike bus drivers, self-driving cars don’t get drunk, lose their temper, get distracted, fall asleep, or not show up for work. As soon as it is safer and more cost-effective for school districts to switch to self-driving vehicles, I expect the shift to be rapid.

The loser owes the winner a beer. And if I’m right, we’re taking a self-driving car to the bar.