Some States are Serious about K-12 Reform, Others Shirley

June 19, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

John Chubb and Constance Clark have a very interesting new study out from Education Sector called The New State Achievement Gap: How NCLB Waivers Could Make it Worse or Better.

Chubb and Clark examine NAEP data and find that states are diverging into leaders and laggards. In the relative blink of an eye between 2003 and 2011 they found the gap between the performance of students in the best and worst performing states grew to 60 percent of the size of the White-Black achievement gap on the combined NAEP exams (4th/8th reading and math).

Note that part of what has happened here is that the White-Black gap shrank a bit. Note however that it is still sickeningly large-keep in mind that 10 points roughly equates to a grade level worth of average progress on NAEP- so 105 points across four tests is quite disgusting. The state achievement gap meanwhile grew steadily.

Chubb and Clark’s paper would have benefitted from examination of the gory details about how some states are playing fast and loose regarding NAEP inclusion standards for special needs and English language learners- especially in the case of Maryland and Kentucky. These details do not however take away the broad point- some states are improving and some are getting left behind.

The study gets even more interesting as the authors compare the NCLB waivers, accountability systems and standards choices of states with strong and weak NAEP gain performances. Included among these is a comparison between Florida and South Carolina. The referee needs to step in and wrap up Maryland before he pummels West Virginia to death. “Self-reflection” for teacher evaluation Mountaineers? Surely you can’t be serious…

In a not-quite-elliptical fashion, Chubb and Clark note a clustering of states with a recent history of weak NAEP gains with unconvincing NCLB waiver promises and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. I’m shocked…

Chubb and Clark have turned in a very interesting piece- go read it.


Parenting Advice from Sara Mead

December 12, 2011

Sara Mead takes issue with my recent post that puts misconduct by some McKay schools in perspective.  I noted that those reacting to reports of misconduct by calling for the elimination or heavy regulation of McKay do not similarly react to incidents of misconduct in traditional public schools.  She likens this to a misbehaving child saying “he did it first.”  Sara urges us to be tough parents who don’t accept such weak excuses:

I was a very naughty child. When I was inevitably caught misbehaving, I often tried to justify it by saying “So-and-so (usually my sister or a classmate) did it first!” Not surprisingly, that argument never won the day or kept me from being punished.

I was reminded of this by Jay Greene’s recent blog post about reports of malfeasance and fraud by operators participating in Florida’s McKay Scholarship program for children with disabilities. Jay cites a series of examples of abuses in public school districts–basically a grown-up “he did it first!”–before stating that “existence of misconduct in traditional public schools in no way excuses the misconduct that has been uncovered in the McKay program.”

Glad we agree on that one!

Let’s ignore that I clearly said (in the comment she quoted!) that misconduct by McKay providers is inexcusable.  And let’s ignore that she mis-characterizes my call for perspective.  And let’s ignore my argument that the direct operation of schools by the government or heavy regulation of private providers unfortunately does not eliminate misconduct.

Instead, I would like to offer some parenting advice of my own.  When I was a child I sometimes tried to persist in making an argument, even when the evidence contradicted it.  My parents correctly taught me that when you are wrong, you should admit it.

I was reminded of this when thinking about Sara Mead’s repeated claim that the McKay Scholarship program provides incentives to increase the over-identification of students as disabled.  In 2003 she and Andy Rotherham released a report that made a series of speculative allegations against McKay, including:

special education vouchers may actually exacerbate the over-identification problem by creating  a new  incentive for parents to have children diagnosed with a disability in order to obtain a voucher. In fact, if special education identification led to funding for private school attendance, it would be unusual if this did not create an incentive to participate in special education in many communities, particularly those with low-performing public schools.

And in 2007 Sara Mead repeated the claim:

Offering vouchers to children with disabilities—and only children with disabilities—creates an incentive for parents to seek out a special education diagnosis in order to get a voucher. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some parents seek out diagnoses of learning disabilities or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to get their children additional help and accommodations on tests. McKay’s offer of a voucher for students with disabilities creates an even stronger incentive for parents to “game the system.” And Florida psychologists who diagnose youngsters with ADHD and other disabilities have told reporters that they see some Florida parents who are seeking these diagnoses just so they can get a McKay voucher.

But in 2009 Marcus Winters and I released an empirical examination of the issue that actually found the opposite.  McKay actually provided incentives to reduce the excessively high rate at which students are identified as disabled.  And in June of this year, the leading quantitative AERA journal, Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, published our article with this finding.

Nowhere has Sara Mead said that she was mistaken.  And last week Education Sector responded to reports of misconduct in McKay by urging people to read the 2007 report with this (and other) false or unsubstantiated claims.  People shouldn’t persist in repeating false claims.

I hope we can agree on that one.


Much Ado About Nothing

December 8, 2009

Education Week has an article suggesting that Education Sector’s recently released report on Charter Management Organizations may have been massaged to please big donors.  The author of the original draft of the report, Tom Toch, had his name removed, so the report was released without an author.  It’s unclear whether Tom was dropped as the author because he didn’t have time to review the final manuscript (having left Ed Sector for another job), because of a dispute over payment for the report, and/or because he disagreed with the revised content.

Whatever the reason for dropping Tom Toch as author, the attempt by Marc Dean Millot to turn this into a cover-up seems like a reach.  Millot leaked an earlier draft of Toch’s report on Alexander Russo’s blog. 

I’ve looked at the earlier draft and the final report and, frankly, I don’t think the basic message was changed very much between the two.  Both list a series of challenges that Charter Management Organizations have faced and steps that should be taken to overcome them.  Bother versions are just thought-pieces, not analyses of data.  Either version could have been influenced by the political pressures that regularly creep into DC think tank writing, so there is no reason to privilege the earlier draft as pure and the later as corrupted when it could just as easily be the other way around.  Or perhaps both versions are politically tainted.  Or perhaps neither are.

Read it for yourself and decide, but there is little sign of a conspiracy here.


Ed Sector’s K-12 Incoherence Week

May 15, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’ve been out and about this week, but our pals over at Education Sector have kept me entertained. On Carey’s too-cool for-school dissing of vouchers, I can’t help but wonder: what would stop an advocate of home-schooling from dismissing Kevin’s beloved charter schools on a broadly similar basis? After all, home-schooling is legal in all 50 states, charters in only 40. Many of those 40 laws, however, are dogs that will never produce more than a rounding error number of schools. They’re not bad, they’re just drawn that way:

Precise numbers are not available, but twice as many or more students may be home-schooling than attending charter schools, and the rate of growth has been faster. High quality outcome data is hard to come by, but anecdotally universities have come to view home-school students very positively. I haven’t seen the same said for charter schools yet, nor have we seen (yet) a charter school student crush the evil Sooners like the bugs they are after winning the Heisman Trophy.

Im way too cool for you Carey, google my girlfriend

I'm too cool for you Carey, google my girlfriend...

Does it follow then that home-school supporters should be completely dismissive of charter schools? No of course not. The truth is that we don’t know what is going to take hold in K-12 reform, only that it is going to change.

Meanwhile, Andy Rotherham has delivered a brilliant column on the limitations of transparency that all but screams out at the end for a decentralized, self-regulating mechanism to hold schools accountable for results.

Ummm….you know….like parental choice.


Carey: Universities = Newspapers with a longer death sentence

March 31, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Wow…just wow.