Craig Harris Throws His Other Shoe at the Charter Telescreen

July 12, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

GOLDSTEIN! Er CHARTER SCHOOLS!

In our last two-minute hate, the Arizona Republic’s Craig Harris fretted about the founders of Basis buying a condo in NYC. In this exciting episode, Harris throws his shoe at charter school facility procurement.

So let me start by saying I’m not sure how other states handle charter school facility procurement laws, and I am curious about it. It is however worth noting that Arizona provides the best access to charter schools by zip code, per this Hamilton Project map from Brookings:

Hmm, maybe other states should be doing what Arizona is doing. Also worth noting is the fact that Arizona charters are not only more proximate than other states, they are also crushing the ball academically (statewide averages in blue, statewide charter averages where available in red):

Arizona just might be doing something right in this space, so my elephant says “Careful about ‘fixing’ something that is not broken.”

Here is the missing context from this article- construction firms make profit from both the construction of charter and district schools. In recent years districts in the state of Arizona have been spending at a half-billion per year annual clip on facilities despite having relatively flat enrollment growth in aggregate.

Let’s put it on the table from the outset that this number could never be zero (air-conditioners die, roofs leak etc.) Moreover, some of this spending involves the districts who are big winners in open enrollment making seats to meet demand. I can’t make any complaint about this portion of the building spree-I like it.

Having said that, $500,000,000 per year is a lot of money (enough to pay every teacher in the state $10,000 per year more) and there are hundreds of thousands of empty seats in Arizona districts, which were badly overbuilt during the boom. The Arizona School Facilities Board lists 1.4m square feet of vacant district space (approximately 35% of the total) and strangely enough almost none of this space is suitable for a charter school (in the estimation of district officials).

The word on the street here in PHX is that a handful of the big construction firms find that $500,000,000 profitable enough to invest in bond and override campaigns. So…we continue building space, including in districts with declining enrollment like Scottsdale. Maybe a reporter should look into that…

Now back to the current Harris piece. It is lacking in context, giving no information about the relative profit margins in charter versus district construction. There are no non-profits building schools in Arizona to my knowledge. Moreover, the profits in this case only come about because of the demand for the school model. Without demand, the CMO in question would lack the funds to buy the buildings-ergo no profit. Contrast this with a district system with 1.4 million empty seats but continuing to build more of them despite flat aggregate demand and at an enormous annual cost despite huge spare capacity and the costs for vacant buildings drawing money out of the classroom.

So all in all, where does charter school construction profits rank in a list of school facility issues in your opinion?

 

 

 

 

 

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NAEP- First Report from the Front

April 10, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So the data went live at midnight EST. The national data is basically flat on all four tests. Most single cycle differences are not statistically significant, so I’m looking at longer periods of time, but the 2015 to 2017 champ looks to be Florida. More details on this later but I’m resisting the temptation to bring Sally back pending further analysis…but only barely!

The short run (2015 to 2017) state level data doesn’t look terribly exciting. I’m still digesting the longer run state level data, but up top there’s a chart to tide you over. NCLB required all states to take math and reading NAEP starting in 2003, so here is the full period (2003 to 2017) gains for 8th grade math and reading by state. These are numerical gains subtracting 2003 from 2017 scores by state.

The 2003 to 2017 period is a natural one to examine, but so too is the post 2009 period, for a few different reasons. The 2009 NAEP happened both in the early days of the Obama administration and during the outset of the Great Recession. NAEP redid the 4th and 8th grade science exams that year. The inclusion of “non-tested” subjects is healthy in my view given concerns over curriculum narrowing. According to my bleary eyes two states have made statistically significant gains in all six exams for the entire available period- Arizona and Mississippi. For the 2009 to 2015 period it had been AZ alone. Arizona and Mississippi were also the only states to make statistically significant gains on all of the math and reading tests during the 2009 to 2017 period. Several states however had statistically significant gains in 3 out of 4 of the math and reading exams between 2009 and 2017-including California, Hawaii, Indiana and Wyoming. On the downside, I have not yet added up the number of significant statewide declines in scores during this period, but there are many of them.

Arizona had three flat aggregate statewide scores and a decline in 4th grade math between 2015 and 2017. At first blush Arizona and Colorado charter schools crushed the academic ball again in 2017, will dig further into details/subgroups but for now:

There is more good news in statewide charter sectors, haven’t touched the TUDA yet, stay tuned.


Wild West Parents to Ineffective Schools-DRAW!

January 25, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Yours truly has a new piece at Ed Next today called “In Defense of Education’s Wild West: Charter Schools in the Four Corner States.” Here’s the punchline:

Just as the country benefits from political diversity, we also benefit from a diversity of policy approaches at the state level. There are those who seek greater uniformity among state charter-school policies—urging that all charters should be for five years and that default closure provisions should be spelled out, among other guidelines. Such advocates should consider the success of these western states, which have chosen not to adopt such policies. The 50 states will become less useful as laboratories of reform if we adopt a single set of policies everywhere.

Many states—including three of the four featured here—have experienced high rates of overall K–12 enrollment growth, which raises the opportunity cost of imposing a stringent charter-authorizing process. It does not follow that every state should rush to amend its charter policies to match those of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, or Utah, but the obvious flourishing of the charter sectors there offers food for thought. Questions to consider and debate include: What factors have led to success in these states? What steps can policymakers and philanthropists take to enable parents to take the leading role in closing undesired schools? How important a role does open enrollment in suburban districts play in creating a successful bottom-up accountability system?

We don’t know the answers to these questions. But we do know that relatively freewheeling charter-school systems have prospered in multiple states. Surely we have as much to learn from these success stories as we do from the cautionary tales from states that have experienced difficulties.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

 

 


David Osborne on Charter Policy

December 5, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Bob Bowdon interviews David Osborne and around the 8 minute mark the discussion raises the topic as to whether parents can lead the way in school closure. Osborne claims that parents cling to schools for non-academic reasons and should not be trusted with this task. Bowden raises Arizona as a counter-example, and Osborne cites research from five years ago that found Arizona charter schools had less than stellar results.

Osborne is correct that research from five years ago found less than stellar results. What one must appreciate however is that in a sector as dynamic as Arizona charters those results are ancient history. Charter schools are constantly opening and closing in Arizona. The studies referenced by Osborne have data that ended in 2012. In 2013 Arizona educators opened 87 new charter schools and closed 18 other schools. This alone was enough to mean that the Arizona charter school sector of 2013 was a different animal than the 2012 sector, but it was hardly the only change to happen that year. In addition to schools, teachers, students and administrators moved in and out of Arizona charter sector. Younger schools gained a year of experience, moving out of their shake down cruises. A professional football team can win the Superbowl in one year and fail to make the playoffs the next year, and there is a greater degree of year to year continuity in sports than in Arizona charters. Fortunately all the available indicators (NAEP and AZMerit) show over time improvement in Arizona charters.

And then, it all happened again in 2014…and 2015…and 2016…and right now. Any look into academic results in a constantly changing Arizona charter sector is merely a snapshot. This makes it entirely possible for analysts like CREDO and Marty West to have found meh results in 2012 but for NAEP to show this in 2015:

This river of course runs both ways- the 2015 NAEP is just a snapshot as well. Fortunately Arizona’s charter results were also strong in the 2015 AZMerit, got better in the 2016 AZMerit and better still in the 2017 AZMerit.

Although Arizona law requires admission lotteries and Arizona charters educate a majority minority student body, there is obviously room for multiple factors to explain the above chart. Nevertheless, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Arizona’s AZMerit exam also shows large advantages for charter school students. In addition, school data of the sort CREDO and West relied upon five years ago is quite messy , especially when it comes to free and reduced lunch status. I won’t go into details but let’s just say that the record keeping at the Arizona Department of Education doesn’t always cover itself in glory and in addition many Arizona charter schools do not participate in the federal program at all. The use of Free and Reduced Lunch as an independent variable has grown increasingly questionable over time, but has been problematic for a long time in Arizona.

So in conclusion, Arizona charters are crushing the academic ball without the benevolent guidance of heavy handed technocrats. The same is true is several other Western states that show either high scores, high over time progress or else both of these things:

If Mr. Osborne would care to explain why westerners should abandon what they are doing to emulate Louisiana, I’m all ears but data from five years ago is of little more than historical interest to discussions of prospective policy.



Wild West and Loving It

November 9, 2017

NACSA you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The chart below plots the 2015 8th NAEP grade math scores against the 2011 to 2015 NAEP math cohort gains. The below charts include state averages and the numbers for state charter school sectors in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah. In the NACSA ratings of state charter school laws most proximate to these data, I recall all of these states with the exception of New Mexico received single digit scores out of a possible 30 something points, clustering towards the bottom of the rankings. New Mexico still ranked pretty low. Generally these states lost points for not having default closure and similar type provisions. How did the charter schools in these state manage?

The high performance/low NACSA phenomenon looks to be a western trend. These charts are not stone tablets handed down from the mountain, but I can’t think of any reason they would systematically favor charter sectors. Those “Wild West” charter sectors look, ah, really good at math. If you recall the international comparisons, Massachusetts ranks up there near the best European and Asian countries. Let’s take a look at the reading results:

Well there you have it- AZ, CO, ID and CO all have Massachusetts like results, and it appears that when it comes to spurring reading gains, New Mexico charters are the ultimate power in the universe…I suggest Enchantment State parents use it.

Please do me a favor and email this post to the next five people you hear use the term “Wild West” as a term of derision in an education conversation. Bless their little hearts, but they generally have not bothered to look at empirical data in order to see whether it can be squared with their regional/ideological prejudices.

 

 


New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones, Taxes and Meh School Performance

November 8, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

NAEP Reading Scores from 2015 along the horizontal axis, NAEP reading cohort gains (2015 8th grade scores minus 2011 4th grade scores). Ok so stare closely at the chart around the 262 score from the bottom to the top. Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Michigan, Rhode Island, New York, Florida and Delaware all had approximately the same 8th grade math score, but took different paths to get there. Some, like Delaware, Florida and Maryland started above the national average in their 2011 4th grade scores, but had small gains. Others like Arizona and Oklahoma, started below the national average in their 4th grade scores but grinded their way to large gains to catch up.

In 2011, Arizona 4th graders scored a 212 in 4th grade reading, Oklahoma a 215. Maryland’s 4th graders scored a 231 in 4th grade reading., New York stood at 222. Maryland students had an almost 19 point advantage over Arizona students and a 16 point advantage over Oklahoma students. Maryland spends far more than either Arizona or Oklahoma, and New York literally spends more than twice as much per pupil as either of these states. It shouldn’t happen that either Arizona or Oklahoma students would tie Maryland and/or New York by the time those 2011 4th graders became 8th graders.

Keep staring at that middle portion of the chart. Is Tennessee supposed to be neck and neck with Rhode Island? Rhode Island’s 7 point lead in the 2011 4th grade reading scores and almost $7,000 per student spending gap would say no, but the Tennessee kids didn’t get the memo and ended in a dead heat by 8th grade.

Ok so spot NY on the above chart and then look at math:

Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas and Maryland had 2011 4th grade math scores of 235, 242, 246 and 247 respectively. These had current (not total) expenditures that year of $7,782,$16,224, $9,802 and $13,946 per pupil. As an Arizonan, I’m delighted to have closed the gap with Connecticut, Kansas and Maryland. If I were a taxpayer or educator in Connecticut, Kansas and/or Maryland I would not be pleased.

Now locate New York on the math chart. I guess $19,965 per pupil just doesn’t buy what it used to in New York.

Ultimately it is good news that we have examples of states with diverse student bodies making academic progress. Remember- winter is coming to state budgets as 10,000 boomers per day reach the age of 65 and health care costs continue to rise. I hope you can get that sorted out New York but in the meantime both your students and taxpayers are getting horribly short-changed by your K-12 rent-seeking groups. The founders included a solution for you in our constitutional system: federalism. Did I mention that in addition to lower taxes, it is very pleasant here in the winter? As Ling Ving once sang “New York’s alright-if you want to freeze to death!”

Be sure to bring your golf clubs:

As far as where you’ll send your kids to school, Arizona has outstanding options in the public school system in both districts and charters. Here’s some dots to connect on the average performance of Arizona charters:

Additionally if you happen to prefer a private school for your child, Arizona’s policies support your families capacity to make that decision. Tired of having the daylights taxed out of you to pay for a public school system you don’t want to put your kids in, and then paying private school tuition on top of that? I thought you might. Head south until you reach Interstate 10 and then go west young family!