Eden and Burke on DCPS Fraud

February 13, 2018

Behold my BROOM ye mighty and DESPAIR!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jayblog readers of a certain tenure may recall the case being made here that outside of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program and DC charter schools, there was little to celebrate for disadvantaged kids attending DCPS. Over the last decade of available NAEP data, it seemed clear that advantaged students were primarily driving the overall improvement in scores, with DC charters at least showing much larger rates of improvement for disadvantaged students compared to the national average. DCPS, not so much:

Well it turns out that my view of DCPS as being largely inept outside of educating advantaged kids in carefully guarded pockets of excellence was excessively benign: DCPS also developed a systemic approach to academic fraud.

Prosecutors Eden and Burke hit the pages of National Review yesterday to bring us up to speed on the various forms of metric-driven academic fraud recently uncovered in DCPS. DCPS has been engaging in systemic fraud in order to “improve” graduation rates. DCPS “improved” graduation rates by giving diplomas to huge numbers of ineligible students, and “improved” suspension rates by taking them off the books. The FBI is on the case. It’s not pretty. Money quote from Eden and Burke:

When former D.C. Public Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee assumed leadership, she had a searing critique, and a clear argument: Urban schools were paralyzed by collective-bargaining agreements and inertia, so the best path forward was to have expert-designed systems for a new generation of leaders to implement. The unions, in turn, warned that administrators would weaponize these new systems to force teachers to go along with dishonest schemes that would harm true education reform in the service of posting meaningless numerical improvements.

It turns out both sides had a point.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

 

 


DC Schooling: Start Over

April 5, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Lindsey Burke and I hit the pages of the Washington Times today to argue that school finance in the District puts the least amount of resources into the mechanisms that produce the best results:

The Urban Institute has demonstrated that the D.C. private school sector is in deep decline, despite the existence of the Opportunity Scholarship Program. Studies have established that charter schools impact private school enrollment most heavily of all sectors.

From an equity standpoint, it’s difficult to justify the District’s school finance system. The system routinely provides $29,000 for high-income students attending regular public schools. It provides $14,000 for high-income students attending charter schools but only a maximum of $8,381 for some low-income students who would like to attend a private school system that improves the chances for graduation by approximately 21 percentage points.

Clearly, the K-12 status-quo gives the most to the kids starting with the most. This pattern is clear, whether discussing academic gains or dollars invested. We have clear success in the charter school and Opportunity Scholarship programs, but these programs receive substantially fewer dollars per pupil. D.C. has most certainly been better off with them, but they alone have not been enough. Tentative steps and half measures will not address the deeply disparate opportunities awaiting the District’s students.

Instead of attempting to restructure or “reform” DCPS, policymakers should free District parents to reform education from the bottom up. To that end, Congress, which has jurisdiction over D.C., should reconfigure all education funding in the District of Columbia and establish an all-Education Savings Account district.

Jayblog readers of a certain regularity will recall that gentrification has been driving NAEP improvement in DC, that the main thing that the DCPS has seemed to figure out how to do with their $29,000 per pupil revenue has been to educate very advantaged children to very high levels and that only  charter schools show the only impressive NAEP gains for low-income children. Despite gentrification and the attendant improvement, DC ranks a single point above the lowest rated district in comparisons in the Trial Urban District NAEP. As a result of all of this Washington DC shows truly stunning achievement gaps. Oh and by the way along the way private schools are dying off under the proliferation of charter schools. DC charter schools are a universal choice program-open to all students- while Opportunity Scholarships only apply to a small number of low-income children.

If you like a system that gives the most to those starting with the most, stand pat. If six years worth of average progress between White and Black students doesn’t bother you overly much, look the other way. If you can somehow justify giving half the money per pupil to charter school kids despite the better results they produce for low-income kids, steady as she goes. If you have no problem in shorting low-income kids going to a quickly dying sector of private schools by an even wider margin despite the fact that these students graduate at a much higher rate, don’t rock the boat.

Otherwise schooling in the District needs a complete reboot from today’s morally indefensible and financially unsustainable system.

 

 


Heritage Foundation’s Burke recruits Arizona All-Stars to talk ESAs

August 11, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I finally got to watch this Uncle Milton birthday event at the Heritage Foundation on ESAs with Jason Bedrick, Jonathan Butcher and Tim Keller of Cato, Goldwater and IJ Arizona respectively.  Cactus patch represent! Spoiler alert but look for guest appearances by a famous spymaster and another by a very famous animated character.

 


Attack of the Wonks!

June 23, 2015

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

As the Fordham Institute’s ESA Wonk-a-thon is coming to a close, I thought it would be useful to summarize the views of the participants to identify areas of consensus and contention. As JayBlog readers may recall, Fordham’s central question was:

As Nevada implements its groundbreaking education savings account program, what must it get right in order to provide positive outcomes for kids and taxpayers? Should state authorities stay out of the way? Or are there certain areas that demand oversight and regulation?

Inevitably, such summaries will lack the depth and nuance of the complete essays, but I will endeavor to faithfully record what I take to be the main recommendations from each wonk. (If an author thinks I missed or misconstrued something, please yell at me in the comments section.) The following summaries appear in the order that Fordham posted the originals:

Michael Goldstein (Match Education): Nevada needs an “individual, organization, or coalition of champions who take it upon themselves to ensure that their [state] provides excellent school options to all children and families.” This “harbormaster” would recruit high-quality providers to the state and provide parents with good information.

Seth Rau (Nevada Succeeds): Nevada should ensure all ESA students take NNR tests and track student outcomes. The state treasurer must ensure the application process is user friendly, distribute restricted-use debit cards, and conduct annual audits. Otherwise, providers should be free to innovate and parents should be free to choose among them.

Matthew Ladner (Foundation for Excellence in Education): The state should ensure financial accountability through restricted-use debit cards and the whitelisting of vendors and eventually of individual products. The market can foster quality through platforms where users rate providers (as happened informally in Arizona). The state should aggregate NNR test scores and hire an academic researcher to report on the data, but otherwise avoid trying to regulate quality.

Jonathan Butcher (Goldwater Institute): The state should ensure the ESA funds are being used for eligible educational purposes by reviewing receipts before issuing the next quarterly installment. Students should take NNR tests and the state should commission an academic researcher to report on the results. Otherwise, policymakers should rely on the market to ensure quality.

Tracey Weinstein (StudentsFirst): The state should “set a high bar for the quality of services offered by providers” and “eliminate providers who consistently fail to meet the mark.” The state should also provide ESA families with information about providers.

Andy Smarick (Fordham Institute): The state should “prioritize transparency, continuous and small-scale course corrections, and research” and “collect and publish information on providers, participation rates, student outcomes, and more.” In the long term, researchers should “study how the public’s interests are and are not being met by these increasingly private choices.”

Neerav Kingsland (New Schools for New Orleans): Nevada should increase public funding to $7,000 per student with more for low-income, ELL students, and special needs students, and that educational institutions should be prohibited from charging ESA families additional tuition beyond the amount the state deposits in the ESA. 

Lindsey Burke (Heritage Foundation): State regulators should stay out of the way of the market. The state should primarily concern itself with ensuring taxpayer dollars are used only for eligible expenses and making the application process transparent and user friendly. Responsibility for academic outcomes should lie primarily with parents, though the state’s NNR testing requirement is appropriate.

Jason Bedrick (Cato Institute): Policymakers should resist the urge to overregulate. Quality is best fostered through the market process: provider experimentation, parental evaluation, and organic evolution. A robust market ensures quality by channeling expert knowledge (e.g. – private certification and expert reviews) and user experience (e.g. – platforms for user ratings). The state should limit its role to ensuring that ESA funds are spent only on eligible expenses and serving as a repository for information. 

Adam Peshek (Foundation for Excellence in Education): The state should primarily concern itself with providing financial accountability (restricted-use debit cards, auditing), but responsibility for academic outcomes should rest with parents. We must “remain vigilant against death by a thousand regulatory cuts.”

Robin Lake (Center on Reinventing Public Education): Nevada must recruit a “new breed” of bureaucrat that will “learn how to regulate choice without squashing innovation,” “develop creative and better approaches to fiscal and performance accountability,” “coordinate with non-governmental agencies to develop a strong supply of high-quality providers,” ensure transparency, and “build a dashboard of indicators of a healthy market and government regulatory structure” (among other objectives).

Travis Pillow (redefinED): Regulators should give providers the freedom to experiment (even though some experiments will fail). However, the state should ensure the health and safety of students and prevent financial fraud. The results of NNR tests should be reported to parents and the public. The state should provide an online forum for parents that would help catch administrative problems and could serve as a Yelp-like provider rating system. The state should give more money to low- and middle-income families and students with special needs. 

Robert Tagorda (SoCal education reformer): To operate at scale from the outset, the state treasurer’s office and state department of education must collaborate effectively. The state must broker information to ensure the marketplace functions properly, but it can’t do it alone. The state must foster organic solutions and exchanges of information such as platforms for user reviews.

Rabbi A.D. Motzen (Agudath Israel): “Almost universal” eligibility isn’t good enough. The state should expand eligibility to all students, not just those who attended a district school for 100+ days in the previous year.

There appears to be some consensus around financial accountability. The state must ensure that ESA families are only using taxpayer funds for their intended educational purposes. To that end, most of the wonks who addressed the matter called for utilizing restricted-use debit cards and/or auditing.

The primary area of contention is the role of the state in guaranteeing educational quality. Some want the state to set standards, measure performance, and perhaps even “eliminate” providers who don’t meet those standards. Others (myself included) respond: “Get your regulatory paws off me, you dirty technocrats!” are concerned that such efforts would stifle the very diversity and innovation that the ESA is intended to foster.

It’s an important debate. I commend both the Fordham Institute for hosting it and the participants for offering their insightful analysis. Differences in means aside, we all share the same end: fostering an education system in which all children have access to high-quality providers that meet their individual needs.


NVESA Wonkathon Keeps Swinging

June 18, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

NV ESA wonkathon continues to belt out tunes and has spilled into other venues! Rick Hess weighed in with this off-site commentary:

The thinking provoked by the Nevada ESA has been especially promising. For instance, this week the Fordham Institute has had a number of folks contributing to a blog series on the program. I’d been prepared for a lot of bureaucratic talk about how we have to ensure there are “only” quality offerings (as if we a] know how to do that and b] we can all easily agree on what “quality” entails). Instead, most of the contributors asked what it will take to promote an influx of great providers, healthy transparency, useful information on quality, and a vibrant ecosystem. This focus on what it takes for choice systems to work has too often been buried under vacuous cheerleading or bureaucratic proposals for test-based quality control when it comes to vouchers and charters, and I find it a really promising sign. 

Meanwhile back at wonkathon central, we have two new entries from Neerav Kingsland and Lindsey Burke.

Goldstein-Gone-Wild already nominated NK for harbormaster in the first post, which may have raised expectations for the actual NK post to Sports-Illustrated Cover Curse type of level. I’m broadly sympathetic to the notion that NVESA is leaving too much money on the table for the incumbent system, and too little for disadvantaged kids-especially for special needs kids. I don’t however see the current stock of private school seats and their prices as terribly relevant to where this is ultimately going to go, as those seats are few and far between anyway. NVESA is going to create a demand for schooling models that can get the job done at what passes as low spending per pupil these days. The challenge is to see how we can meet that demand.

NK also seems to view NVESA as a voucher program rather than a multi-use account model. GGW’s call for micro-schools, education cooperatives and who-knows-what-else-parents-may-come-up-with all stand within the realm of the possible.

Meanwhile Lindsey Burke calls the Wolf!

No not that Wolf!

Not that one either!

 

Now cut it out! This Wolf:

Burke quite rightly cites the fantastic survey of private school leaders in Louisiana that Wolf and company did for AEI. This very careful and important study can be summarized as:

I fear btw that Kingsland’s call to disallow topping-off for private schools would result in just such a backfire by serving as a defacto price cap. Better in my view to increase the funding for low-income and otherwise disadvantaged kids.

Also some interesting discussion yesterday on Twitter about NCLB supplemental services as a cautionary tale for ESA. More on that later and more wonkathon posts are on the way-stay tuned!


Burke and Bedrick Discuss the Next Step for School Choice in National Affairs

January 2, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Jason Bedrick and Lindsey Burke take to the pages of National Affairs to discuss Education Savings Accounts in a very informative article. I share the author’s interest in a tax credit funded ESA model. In fact I hope that some of our preexisting tax credit programs will move to an account model. Enthusiasts such as myself however will eventually need to address the limits to scale soon to appear in the largest tax credit program- but quite frankly this is the type of problem you want to have, and it may not prove insurmountable.

Lindsey and Jason earn the first BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM of 2015.



What I learned in P.E. class

July 26, 2013

(Guest post by Jonathan Butcher)

A few months ago, I grabbed my tennis shoes and went to my son’s last P.E. class of the year, which happened to be a “parent participation” day. This P.E. class is a program for homeschool students, so children of all ages and backgrounds were there to have relay races and play dodge ball.

I had the chance to run around that day with Jordan Visser, a young man I met about a year ago when his mom, Kathy, signed him up for one of Arizona’s education savings accounts. Regular readers of this blog will recognize his name and story from this post.

Jordan is a quiet kid, but he’s got a big smile and plays as hard as any of the other boys. From the video available on the link above, you will learn that Jordan has mild cerebral palsy and has a hard time with is balance—or at least, he did at one time. Since he’s been using the savings account, he’s seen specialists and used therapeutic horseback riding lessons to help his motor coordination, paid for with the education savings account. The account has also helped Jordan’s parents find individual tutors to help with subjects like math and reading.

Now, having run alongside him in a relay where we grabbed a sponge out of a bucket, squeezed it into a cup, then handed it off to the next person, let me be the first to say Jordan’s quality of life has dramatically improved. If you didn’t know Jordan’s story and were watching the PE class from the sidelines, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Jordan and the other kids who were soaking wet and laughing.

Vouchers and tax credits have helped children like Jordan, along with students in failing schools and from low-income households, all over the country for more than 20 years. Education savings accounts use a student’s funds from the state formula to give families the same great educational choices as vouchers and scholarships—and more. The flexibility that parents have to meet their child’s unique needs with an account is unprecedented. Parents can buy online classes, pay private school tuition, buy textbooks, and save for college, to name just a few possible uses.

Lindsey Burke and I wrote a special report that was released today explaining the benefits of the accounts’ flexibility. We also propose ways in which vouchers and scholarships can be enhanced by education savings accounts:

  • Creating public school education savings accounts. Parents could use a public school education savings account for traditional school classes, public charter school offerings, public virtual schools such as the Florida Virtual School, community colleges, or state universities.
  • Shifting existing school voucher or scholarship tax credit funds to an education savings account. States with existing voucher programs or scholarship tax credit programs should allow parents to deposit voucher or scholarship funds into an education savings account in order to gain more flexibility with their child’s funds.
  • Expanding the approved expenses covered by a voucher or private school scholarship. This would include expanding the uses of a school voucher or scholarship, transitioning the program into an education savings account.

Jordan’s education savings account changed his life, and it didn’t take an increase in funding, school turnaround plan, or district consolidation. Let’s keep school choice out front and give all parents the flexibility to help their children, whatever their needs are.


Heritage Foundation on Education Savings Accounts

October 5, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Heritage Foundation has published a new web memo on Education Savings Accounts as a vehicle for parental choice. At this point, Arizona has passed an ESA program for special needs students, a proposal is under consideration in Ohio, Florida lawmakers considered a provision last year, and Utah has a whopper of a proposal on the way.

I had the opportunity to speak to Utah legislator John Dougall about his forthcoming proposal.  Rep. Dougall plans to file a bill that would send all education funding into Education Savings Accounts controlled by parents and guardians, but does not intend to make private school tuition a permissable expense for funds in the account. Dougall in essence plans to have a discussion about customized learning rather than a public vs. private school debate.

Being a Longhorn, this of course brings to mind a scene from the master thespian of our era, the great Matthew McConaughey:

McConaughey: Hey man, you got some private school choice in that ESA proposal?

Passenger: No man, not in this proposal.

McConaughey: Well, it would be alot cooler if you did!

Seriously though, Dougall’s proposal is sufficiently mind-blowing that it doesn’t really bother me that he is choosing to leave private schools out of the mix. If ten years from now Utah is funding district and virtual schooling through an ESA system and the private choice options available were going through tax credit and voucher mechanisms, you won’t hear any complaints from me.


Ladner and Burke win a Bunkum Award!!!

February 3, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The NEA’s “academic” mouthpiece have awarded a Bunkum Award to both me and Lindsey Burke! 

Here it is:

The If I Say It Enough, Will It Still Be Untrue? Award, to the Heritage Foundation’s Closing the Racial Achievement Gap, by Matthew Ladner and Lindsey Burke. The award notes Ladner’s success in repackaging in many different venues and media his spurious claim that a series of Florida reforms, including tax vouchers and grade retention, “caused” racial achievement gaps to narrow in the Sunshine State. “Ladner’s fecundity isn’t really what sets this work apart. It’s his willingness to smash through walls of basic research standards in his dogged pursuit of his policy agenda,” according to our judges. “Nothing in the data or analyses of Dr. Ladner or the Heritage Foundation comes even close to allowing for a causal inference.”
See http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/learning-from-florida

First, I would like to thank the academy, and the Heritage Foundation for giving me a chance to win this wonderful honor.  The scorn of reactionaries is a treasure to cherish. Given that our critic, bless her heart, unknowingly included a table in her report that completely undermined her thesis, I was delighted to see it published.

As to this “inference issue” Dan Lips and I published an article years ago in the nation’s most influential education policy journal examining a number of possible alternate explanations to Florida’s remarkable academic gains. Our critic not only ignored this article, she essentially recreated the argument of another education school professor who we addressed in the piece. She didn’t cite his work either. Oh, and she started her critique off by complaining that Burke and I failed to perform a literature review.

In any case, both Burke and I will have to continue to work hard to earn more of these awards. I hope that we haven’t peaked too early…