Lessons from Failure

April 30, 2018

Image result for ever tried ever failed quote

Mike McShane and I have an article in the Phi Delta Kappan Magazine summarizing the lessons we learned from our edited book on Failure.

We took the contributions by Larry Cuban (from Stanford University), Matthew DiCarlo (the Shanker Institute), Anna Egalite (North Carolina State University), Rick Hess and Paige Wiley (the American Enterprise Institute), Ashley Jochim (the Center for Reinventing Public Education), Matthew Ladner (the Charles Koch Institute), Megan Tompkins-Stange (the University of Michigan), Martin West (Harvard University), and Daniel Willingham (the University of Virginia) and boiled it down to three trade-offs and three lessons.

But if like Hillel I had to state what we learned while standing on one foot, I’d say, “Education is an inherently political enterprise, so if you try too hard to substitute normal political processes with the authority of technical expertise, you will fail.”


Another Look at Heavy Regulation and Minority Operators

April 25, 2018

MI LA charters 8m

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

EdChoice carries my post using the new NAEP results to bring us back to our earlier discussion of Ian Kingsbury’s finding about what our condescending friends at NACSA do to minority charter operators:

If you’re wondering why the education status quo wants heavy regulation, ask yourself why Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked Congress to regulate social media: Regulation cements the power of dominant providers, shutting out smaller and less powerful rivals. That’s why heavy regulation does so much damage to minority communities. They have less political power to influence the content of regulations — which more powerful providers can shape in their own favor — and less ability to afford the enormous cost of compliance.

Borrowing Matt’s graphic above to make the point about Louisiana, land of the overregulated NACSA dream.

Theater Experiment in Educational Researcher

April 24, 2018

You don’t have to wait until tomorrow, tomorrow, or tomorrow.  Our article on the effects of student groups seeing live theater is available on Educational Researcher today!

The article is an updated and peer-reviewed version of the article we posted on SSRN last fall.  In it we discuss the combined results of five experiments we conducted in which students were randomly assigned to go on a field trip to see live theater or be in the control group.  In two of those experiments we added a second treatment condition in which students went on a field trip to see a movie version of the play.  We found that students randomly assigned to see live theater experienced significantly higher tolerance and social perspective taking as well as stronger knowledge of the plot and vocabulary of the plays than the control group.  Being randomly assigned to the movie treatment did not produce these same benefits.

So there seems to be something about experiencing live theater that cannot easily be produced by watching a movie instead.  Given how often schools are inclined to watch movies and how rarely they are now willing to go see live theater, these results are quite relevant.

Crash Go the Harbormasters?

April 23, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

When I was a kid in the 1970s someone wrote a book about UFOs having visited earth in the past called Chariots of the Gods. The only thing I remember about this book was a photo of an ancient stone staircase and a caption that read “Staircase going down-to a spaceport?” Someone else wrote a book called “Crash Go the Chariots.” I never examined this book, but I imagine that it was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.

I am in the midst of reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion and found the following passage quite striking. The book summarizes a great deal of psychological research to reach this point which I cannot do justice to, but roll with this in any case:

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position that he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. 

Sounds dismal so far, but fortunately he goes on…

But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it is so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or an advisory board).

Again, I can’t summarize the research that lead to this conclusion (read the book and see what you think) but basically Haidt lays out a case that says if you believe that you are some sort of scientist guided solely by sweet reason and evidence, you are the victim of self-delusion. Good reasoning happens through a social challenge process over time.

In that spirit of civil challenge, I’ll offer the following two charts. The first a scatterplot of the 8th grade reading 2017 scores by gains (2017 minus 2009 scores) for all 50 states and all 16 state charter sectors with scores in both 2017 and 2009.

There is a huge amount of success to celebrate in this chart for multiple state charter sectors, most of which have either unusually large gains, or unusually high scores, or else unusually high scores and gains.

Do however take note of Louisiana’s charter sector position in the above chart. Now let’s look at the same chart for mathematics:

Again, there is a great deal to like here- multiple charter sectors with large gains (MI, WI, GA, MD, TX) or high scores (CO, ID) or both high scores and gains. Arizona, this one is for you:

Again however take a look at Louisiana’s charter sector-again low scores and low gains. A quick trip to the NAEP data explorer will demonstrate that this same trend is evident in 4th grade NAEP scores, and state scores have been trending in a negative fashion in recent years as well.

In recent years a school of thought arose in our space that a centralized authority or “harbor-master” could produce better outcomes by carefully controlling both the entrance and the exit of schools from charter sectors, primarily on the basis of standardized test scores. In the case of the Recovery School District in Louisiana, there was a period of strong gains in state test scores to buttress this belief. State test scores however have repeatedly shown themselves vulnerable to gaming and manipulation, especially when large consequences ride on them. Soviet steel makers reported non-stop prodigious growth in steel production for decades when facing such incentives as well. How much steel was actually made-who knows? Educators however have neither the incentive or ability to “teach to” or otherwise game the NAEP exams, which is why they have long stood as an external audit on state testing.

In this case, NAEP and state tests are both pointing in the same direction.

My preexisting belief, laid out previously on this blog, is that RSD was a very clever policy innovation for a district that at one point had little more than empty buildings to leverage. I’ve also however long suspected that the notion was over-hyped and ignored some very basic political realities. When for instance Denver announced that yeah, well, about that whole making facilities available thing, we’ve kind of discovered that we are a school district and that our dominant special interests don’t really like this idea after all. The reaction in my tribe was something along the lines of “duh- what did you think was going to happen?”

I’ll go further and say that RSD has a false allure for many of our technocratic friends: things can get better, but only if someone is in charge. Someone like me. True relinquishment means letting go: let operators develop new models, let parents respond to them, let the primordial soup bubble and bake. Don’t assume that you know what constitutes a “high quality education,” don’t aim a narrow vision of quality at a single type of community, allow the interplay of different choice programs to flourish.

Now, having fully confessed my preexisting beliefs, I have offered evidence that I believe confirms them. If someone has countervailing evidence to present, the comment section awaits your thoughtful challenge. If you buy into the harbor-master system, come and defend it.


OK Ed School Follies

April 20, 2018


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

My latest in OCPA’s Perspective is on ed schools as barriers to entry in the teaching profession:

Arne Duncan, the Obama administration education secretary, said in 2009 that “by almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges, and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom.” He said education schools are “cash cows,” and he’s right. Teachers who need credentials are hostages to the ed school system, so universities create ed schools in order to collect the ransom money.

In addition to economic rent-seeking, I also cover the ideological side of the problem:

Gregg Garn, the dean of the University of Oklahoma College of Education, lists “politics of education” as his first area of research interest. On his web page, a document full of left-wing political and policy posturing is listed more prominently than his curriculum vitae. I suppose since education schools seem to exist for political propaganda, it’s fair enough that he considers his political platform a more relevant credential to establish his qualifications than his academic track record.

School me on what you think!

Arizona Charters: I’m Not Left Handed Either

April 18, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So Arizona charter schools rocked the 2017 NAEP again. In 8th grade math, Arizona charter students narrowly scored below the top scoring state (Massachusetts) in 2015 and above them in 2017. Arizona charter schools educate a majority minority student body, both overall and specifically in 2017’s 8th grade class. It’s really quite extraordinary to see them in the same academic neighborhood as MA, given their majority-Anglo, high income, spend twice as much per pupil combo status. If MA is a good sport, they would fight left handed- what chance does a majority-minority school system with half the spending per pupil have against the highest performing state education system in the nation many years running?

I decided to dig into the details.

The Free and Reduced Price lunch definition has become fairly sketchy, so in the below comparisons I will make use of parental education as a proxy for socio-economic status. Another source for variation between states and sectors involves special program students, so the below comparisons will focus on general education students (neither ELL nor SPED). The first set of scores are for students whose parents did not finish college and are in the general education program:

Massachusetts is still winning the duel, but not comfortably-switch to the right hand? Note for the record that 10 out of 10 of the top performing states have a majority Anglo student population. In fact you don’t spot a majority minority student population state until Texas pulls in at #19. Did I mention before that Arizona charter schools are majority minority? Oh, yes, well good that again then.

Now let’s run the same numbers for general education students with college graduate parents. This should be the MA right handed fighting btw- far more fancy degrees in Massachusetts than Arizona after all, more graduate degrees as well. Well, Arizona charter kids are not left-handed either:


NAEP Trends for Students with Disabilities

April 17, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Last week I showed you the above chart on the math and reading trends for students with disabilities. As you can see, a plurality of states land in the quadrant showing declines in scores on both math and reading. Arizona landed as one of the few bright spots, and when I ran Arizona trends on all six NAEP exams since 2009 (when NAEP reconfigured the Science exams, the national economy collapsed and shortly into the then new Obama administration):

In both the AZ and the USA cases, these are the NAEP trends of students attending public schools. Just think of how much higher those Arizona gains might have been if these poor families had not been distracted by the opportunity to attend a private school or to customize the education of their child through the ESA program…