The Origin Story of Education Savings Accounts

August 19, 2019

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Over at Redefined I decided it would be a good idea to get the history of Education Savings Accounts written before any of us involved get hit by a bus. In the first post Dan Lips returns from walking the earth like Kung Fu (aka working on stuff other than K-12) to recount the school choice debates which helped inspire him to develop an account based choice proposal. In a sequel post I explain the circumstances by which we on the ground in Arizona put the ESA theory to practice.

American Legislative Exchange Council releases Report Card on American Education

September 1, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The American Legislative Exchange Council released the Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform today coauthored by yours truly, Andy LeFevre and Dan Lips. Follow the link and check out our rankings of state NAEP performance based on the overall math and reading scores and gains of general education low-income children, and our “poll of polls” grades for K-12 policy in each state.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush penned the foreward. After losing a bet Stanford Political Scientist Terry Moe gave the book a very kind endorsement:

Everyone interested in education reform should read this book. Using a method that—by focusing on the achievement of low-income children—allows for apples-to-apples comparisons across the states, the authors present a treasure trove of eye-opening performance data and arrive at a ranking of state performance that reveals both surprising success and shocking failure. The book is well worth reading for the data alone. But it also offers a good deal more, from research summaries to methodological clarifications to model legislation—and concludes with an insightful discussion of the high-powered reforms that have helped some states out-perform others, and that offer the nation a path to improvement. I should add, finally—and with genuine admiration—that the book is beautifully written and a pleasure to read: something I can rarely say about a data analysis.

JPGB readers will of course realize that this is quite a tribute to Andy and Dan, given your painfully intimate knowledge of my garbled writing. Thanks also to Jeff Reed and Dave Myslinski from ALEC (Jeff is now rocking and rolling at the Foundation for Educational Choice), Jay and my Goldwater Institute comrades.

Check it out and let me know what you think. Be nice though: today is my birthday, which makes me even more emotionally volatile than usual.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the PDF.

Sneak Preview: Report Card on American Education

August 30, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Later this week the American Legislative Exchange Council will release Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress and Reform written by yours truly, Dan Lips and Andy LeFevre.

As suggested by the title, we grade each state by their academic performance, their academic gains and their K-12 reform policies. On the later, we use a “poll of polls” technique and average the grades assigned for particular policy areas on academic standards, teacher quality, charter school laws, private choice, digital education etc.

Sneak peak: a B+ was the highest grade.

On the performance and progress, we utilize NAEP with an eye to maximizing comparability  between states. After all, no one can be shocked that Connecticut has higher NAEP scores than Mississippi, given the huge disparities in income between the two states.

We therefore judge each state based on the scores of free and reduced lunch eligible general education students on all four main NAEP exams: 4th grade reading and math, 8th grade reading and math. We use the period for which all 50 states and the District of Columbia have participated in NAEP (2003-2009). Using free or reduced lunch eligibility keeps the income range of students under a known limit, whereas non-free and reduced lunch kids can vary in income from still relatively hardscrabble to billionaires.

We made no effort to control for race or ethnicity despite the well-known existence of racial achievement gaps. This is because we believe that such gaps can in fact be closed. We believe that the gaps exist due to policy and cultural factors, all of which can be changed. Schools in particular are in the business (or should be) of promoting a strong academic culture focused on learning-aka controlling the culture of the school.

You’ve never heard of a racial combat effectiveness gap in the United States Marines Corps because it doesn’t exist. The fact that the Marines are a well-led organization with a strong culture has a great deal to do with that, as does the fact that every Marine is a part of the Corps by choice.

In any case, we do not claim that our NAEP rankings provide perfect comparability  just enormously better comparability  than looking at raw NAEP scores.

So you are dying to know whether your state rocked or sucked wind in the rankings. Calm down- pace yourself!

All will be revealed later in the week.

The Silence of the Lame

January 22, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Dan Lips on the mainstream media and the head start evaluation. Money quote:

When a Congressionally-mandated study released in 2008 found that President Bush’s favorite reading program was a failure, it was national news.  An article by Greg Toppo in the USA Today blared the headline “Study: Bush’s Reading First Program Ineffective” and reported that the results could be a “knockout punch” for the program.  Similar articles appeared in the New York Times (by Sam Dillon) and Washington Post (by Maria Glod).

But when a similarly devastating report was published last week that undercuts a pillar of President Obama’s education plans, none of these papers has bothered to report it.   As we have reported, the Department of Health and Human Services finally released the results of a national evaluation of the Head Start program that Congress mandated in the late 1990s.

Phony Numbers

September 1, 2009

A chronic problem with centralized accountability systems is that they require accurate information from the agent that is being held accountable.  But because people don’t like to squeeze vises on their own hands, they are often tempted to slip out of the vise by fudging the numbers.  And because the centralized authority is often reluctant to squeeze the vise anyway, preferring the happy story that schools are reforming but never reformed, obvious fudging of the numbers is tolerated.

I’ve documented this problem when it comes to graduation rates, which have often been misreported to avoid political embarrassment and accountability sanctions. 

Now David Muhlhausen, Don Soifer, and Dan Lips over at Heritage (with help from Jonetta Rose Barras at the Washington Examiner) have uncovered a new type of phony numbers — school crime and safety information. 

The Heritage report used Freedom of Information requests to the D.C. police to find reports of violence and criminal activity at DC schools.  The prevalence of violence and criminal activity is shocking and helps explain why students may be so eager to get vouchers for private schools or switch to charter schools.

But if you look at the officially reported numbers that D.C. schools report to the U.S. Department of Education in the “Indicators of School Crime and Safety,” as they are required to do by our centralized accountability law, you’d get a completely different (and almost certainly misleading) picture.

According to the Heritage report based on FOI requests of police records, there were 860 violent incidents at D.C. public schools during the 2007-08 school year, including 1 murder, 41 sex offenses, and 608 assaults.  But according to the office that submits the official D.C. crime and safety information to the U.S. Dept of Ed, there were only 40 violent crimes during that same period.  What happened to the other 820 that were reported to the police?

The difference between the crime and safety numbers reported for accountability purposes and those discovered through FOI requests to the police is huge.  They differ by a factor of 20!

I have to confess that stories like this shake my confidence in our ability to improve public schools through centralized accountability systems.

CORRECTION — I wrote “vice” when I meant “vise.”  That’s a great Freudian slip.

Synchronize Your Watches…

June 8, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

James Sherk and Dan Lips point out that the Obama administration is lowering the amount of transparency for unions even as the Indiana swindle unfolds.

Meanwhile the NEA seems to have shifted its position from “we will take care of this” to “it sucks to be you disabled teachers” back to “we will take care of this.”

Synchronize your watches for 15 minutes and we will see what they say next.

Dan Lips and Lindsey Burke = Will Muschamp

April 22, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So the University of Texas has a defensive coordinator named Will Muschamp. Muschamp is known as “Coach Boom” because a clip of him reacting to a big hit went viral on youtube. Going nuts after one of his players delivered a bone crunching hit, Muschamp ran out on to the field happily screaming “BOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!” in a voice louder than I would have ever expected humanly possible, with the possible exception of the Ladner children
Texas fans now happily yell “BOOM!” from the stands when they see a big hit.
This is the reaction I had when I read Dan Lips and Lindsey Burke in the NRO today. The lines from President Obama’s open letter to his daughters is priceless. I take that back. They are beyond priceless:

“In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation. I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential – schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college – even if their parents aren’t rich.”



Domers for DC Opportunity Scholarships!

April 2, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Dan Lips on Notre Dame’s efforts to save opportunity scholarships.  A student group has established a blog to help coordinate the effort.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet a few of the Fighting Irish involved in this effort.  I can confidently report that the bad guys are in for some trouble, as indicated by this quote from Father Timothy Scully:

Today I’d like to ask you to join me in this fight, both to keep the DC parental choice program alive and to expand our capacity to provide educational opportunities to poor families. The social justice and education teachings of the Church have always courageously asserted that parents are the primary educators of their children, and that parents must have the right to choose the school their children attend. This is the central value proposition of parental choice. This is why I am so committed to this battle.

Why President Obama is an Outlier

March 5, 2009
(Guest Post by Dan Lips)

In his new book, Outliers, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell examines why some people become extraordinarily successful and others do not.

Challenging the conventional notion of the self-made man, Gladwell argues that most great success stories spring from unique advantages and opportunities that enable remarkable achievement.

Consider Bill Gates. Most people know how, as a young computer whiz, he dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft and revolutionize the software industry and the American economy in the process. But often overlooked in this simple tale are the events in Gates’ life that put him on the path to greatness.

Gladwell explains that, as a teenager, Gates attended a private school that offered a computer club. At a time when few colleges were offering students hands-on computer experience, Gates was practicing real-time computer programming in the eighth grade. This early experience led Gates to capitalize on other unique opportunities, including working part-time testing code for a local tech company and sneaking into the University of Washington at night to steal time computer programming.

These unique opportunities made Bill Gates an outlier, as he admits: “I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.”

Or consider perhaps the greatest outlier of our time: President Barack Obama. Part of what captures the public’s imagination about our new president is that his is the quintessential tale of the self-made man.

You know the story. The son of an absent African father, the young Obama was raised by his mother and grandparents in middle-class America. He went on to earn degrees from Columbia and Harvard University, where he became the first black president of the law review. This historic achievement earned the young lawyer a book deal from a top publisher and a grip on a career ladder that he climbed to the top of Illinois politics and, finally, to the White House.

Perhaps the most important door to open in young Obama’s life came in 1971, when, at age 10, he received a scholarship to enroll in the private Punahoa school in Hawaii.

He spent the next eight years learning aside the children of the elite in the state’s most prestigious school, where he came to thrive in academics, athletics and extracurricular activities.

After being elected to the Senate in 2004, Obama returned to the school and spoke about its importance in his life: “There was something about this school that embraced me, gave me support and encouragement, and allowed me to grow and prosper. I am extraordinarily grateful.”

In the cases of both Gates and Obama, it takes a special person to take advantage of their opportunities. But it’s fair to conclude that Gates likely wouldn’t have founded Microsoft had he not joined a computer club in 1967, and that Obama wouldn’t have become president had he not attended the Punahoa school.

In the latter case, one wonders what might have become of Obama had he not received his scholarship. Would he have even graduated from college (let alone Columbia and Harvard) if he attended one of Hawaii’s generally mediocre public schools instead of Punahoa? The America’s Promise Alliance reports that the high-school graduation rate in Honolulu’s public schools is just 64 percent. In 2007, only 20 percent of Hawaii’s eighth-grade students scored “proficient” in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The point of Gladwell’s book isn’t to explain away our greatest successes, but to challenge us to create a society where one doesn’t have to be an outlier to be a success. “To build a better world,” he writes, “we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that determine success with a society that provides opportunities to all.”

One way to level the playing field would be to give all children access to educational opportunities similar to those enjoyed by Gates and Obama. The new president could help make that a reality in the US by supporting the principle that all families — regardless of background — should have the power to choose the best school for their children and by challenging lawmakers across the country to make that promise a reality.

President Obama knows the benefit of that opportunity — he’s passing it along to his daughters by enrolling them in an elite private school in Washington. As president, he could fight to give more children in the District and beyond the same opportunity.

Every child deserves a chance to become the next Bill Gates or Barack Obama, not just the outliers.

Dan Lips is a Senior Policy Analyst for education at the Heritage Foundation.

Assassination for D.C. Vouchers?

February 25, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In case you haven’t heard, it’s been discovered that the Democrats snuck a provision into the “stimulus” “omnibus”* bill that assassinates the D.C. voucher program.

Dan Lips and Robert Enlow have the story on NRO today; the link on the front page is broken as of this writing, but you can get the story here.

I’m not sure what’s most disgusting – that the Dems are putting union politics ahead of children’s lives, that they’re doing it in this cowardly way, or that the president broke his promise to make the text of the bill available to legislators and the public with plenty of time to review the contents and justified his decision by saying that we had to pass the bill immediately to avert a catastrophe.

What did the president know, and when did he know it? Seems like there’s no answer to that question that makes him look good.

*UPDATE: Thanks to the commenters for correcting my mistake. How could I possibly mix up the “stimulus” bill with the “omnibus” bill? I mean, other than the fact that they’re both nothing but special interest porkapaloozas, they’re so completely different! Even so, I’m leaving in my comment about the president having broken his word on making the text of the stimulus bill available, because he did break his word and it was wrong. And the question of what the president knew about the voucher assassination attempt and when he knew it still seems 1) relevant and 2) not to admit of answers that make him look good.

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