Charter school co-locations are terrible because, ummmm, well….errrr

March 18, 2014

“This is my apprentice, Darth de Blasio. He will help you harass poor children in charter schools.” “Yes Lord Weingarten!”


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Marcus Winters on the Phantom Menace of charter school co-locations in NYC.  Punchline: if charter school locations are as awful as Mayor de Blasio claims, it is odd that you can find no trace of it in student test scores.


Ed Week on 3rd Grade Retention

March 27, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Ed Week on the 3rd grade retention debate, including quotes from my Foundation for Excellence in Education colleague Jaryn Emhof and Marcus Winters on his forthcoming research on persistence of the retention effect. I am very proud of our lawmakers in Arizona and especially Governor Brewer and Senator Crandall for taking action to close loopholes in the Arizona law.

Arizona has a sad history of punting on tough reforms, having dummied down the state AIMS test by dropping the cut scores and having delayed the enactment of using the AIMS test as a high school exit exam several times. The 3rd grade retention law that passed in 2010 put the new standard in place for incoming kindergarteners the following year, giving an ease-in adjustment period for the districts. Last year at the Arizona School Boards Association conference, an Arizona Superintendent confided in me that “we’ve found the loophole in the retention law, and we are getting ready to use it.”

Fortunately, Governor Brewer’s team found the loophole as well, and are taking action to close it. This law is going to be a tremendous test of character for the Arizona education community of the sort we have failed in the past. Reading intervention should have the top priority for every dime of federal funding received for K-3 students. All of the Title programs can be used to support early reading intervention, remediation, and professional development. So long as we are really going to see the policy through, I support Governor Brewer’s call for additional state resources without reservation.

The only time Arizona officeholders garner attention seems to be when they do something controversial or downright nutty. Kudos for getting some things right!

Grade Retention is Common Nationally but Effective in Florida

February 28, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I came across an interesting study from NCES recently concerning the practice of grade retention that creates yet another hole in NEPC boat regarding their Florida theories. In fact, here is a link to a study from the ASU precursor to NEPC by Columbia Teacher College Professor Chatterji (one of the NEPC critics) from 2003 calling on Florida to “rethink sanction and retention policies in light of new and past research showing that retention does not improve student achievement.” 

Now you can look at the below figure and ask yourself just who needs to reconsider what. The red line is FCAT 1 scores for Black students, the Green line is for Hispanic students, and the blue line is for all students.

The NEPC boat is already sitting on the floor of the ocean, but hey, why not drop a depth charge on it?

The main pet theory of the NEPC squad has been that Florida’s 4th grade NAEP scores have been profoundly warped by the state’s retention policy. This beats the daylights out of their Harry Potter theory, but there still is far less to it than meets the eye. Problems with this theory include a substantial improvement in 4th grade NAEP scores before the retention policy went into place, a substantial decline in retentions since the onset of the policy, and a substantial improvement in 3rd grade reading FCAT scores.  Oh and the advent of mid-year promotions and a few other things which NEPC has been either unable or unwilling to address. The peak of any aging effect would have come in 2005 and declined substantially, and yet Florida’s scores continued to rise.

An implicit assumption of this theory was that Florida is doing far more K-3 retention than other states around the country. After seeing this NCES study, I am no longer certain this is the case, especially now that Florida retention has fallen so substantially. Let’s dig into the data and find out.

State level data on grade level retention is very difficult to come by outside of Florida. However, NCES included a question about retention in their parent survey. Low and behold, 10% of parents in the NCES survey report that their child has been retained for one or more grade in grades K-8, more than 20% of low-income parents.

NCES: Students retained in one or more grade, K-8

So first off, this is quite a bit higher than I would have suspected and the trend has been rising. Given the hostility that many College of Education Professors have towards grade retention, it seems apparent that many of the teachers and administrators that go through their programs are not buying what they are selling on retention.

Now that we have a measure of retention nationally, we should explore the question of how prevalent the practice is in Florida. The Florida Department of Education provides this handy chart for the statewide numbers for retention for students in grades K-12. The technical term to describe this chart is “falling off a cliff.”

So if you rummage around in the spreadsheet provided by the Florida Department of Education on retention by grade level and add a few cells together, you can calculate that the total retention figure in Florida in 2009-2010 for Grades K-8 was 54,843.

That sounds like a lot, until you go over to the NCES Common Core Data (note to Jay, Greg and MWAB- not the academic standards, please call off the cruise missle strike :-) and learn that there were over 1.7 million students in the Florida K-8 system in 2009-10. When you do the math, it turns out that 3.9% of Florida K-8 students were retained during the 2009-2010 school year. What about the peak of Florida retention the year the 3rd grade retention policy took place in 2003-04? The total retention rate for that year was (waaaaait for it…..) 5.5%- a little more than half of the national rate that the NCES found in 2007.

We don’t have national data for K-3 retention, which is what we would need to do an ideal comparison, but the data we do have certainly establishes that there is a substantial amount of retention going on around the country, which will be having some impact on NAEP scores of states across the nation, not just Florida. Unless a state is doing far more than average, it retention is likely to be white noise overall- blips in the error term. Furthermore, it is not clear that Florida was doing more K-3 retention than the national average, even during the peak of the practice in 2003-04.

Mind you that I make no claim that retention is necessarily a good practice overall. I think there have been terrible retention practices, such as the practice of “redshirting” 9th graders in Texas back when the state gave a 10th grade exit exam. Redshirting was a widespread district level practice not mandated by state law and it was truly an awful policy basically designed to get students to drop out of school in 9th grade and thereby inflate the passing rate for the 10th grade exit exam.

There was nothing admirable about Texas redshirting. I would venture to guess that both a casual and a sophisticated analysis of data would have found it associated with higher drop out rates.

The Florida policy however is the opposite of the old Texas practice in that it is designed to set kids up to succeed rather than to fail. Not only have there been bad retention practices, there has also been a great deal of bad research done on retention that lacked the statistical rigor to establish causality. Do cancer drugs kill people, or is it the cancer? Most of the retention research doesn’t allow us to answer that sort of question.

Jay, Marcus Winters and the RAND Corp however have been applying sophisticated regression discontinuity designs to retention policies in Florida and New York City. They have found positive academic results. RAND found no self-esteem harm to students, and that NYC educators have generally positive views of the policy, to boot.

The question is not whether retention is “good” or “bad”- that all depends on how it is used. The evidence on the overall literacy effort in Florida-which includes retention as a centerpiece-is overwhelmingly positive.

Teachers Matter

January 3, 2012

My friend and colleague, Marcus Winters, has a new book out on how to improve the quality of the teaching workforce.  Teachers Matter is an excellent summary of the literature on how best to recruit, train, and motivate teachers.  It’s a must-read for anyone interested in merit pay, credentialing, and teacher evaluation.  It’s a particularly good book to assign for classes that cover these subjects.  Check it out.

Marcus: RttT Is No Kabuki

December 16, 2009

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In the past I’ve suggested, in response to Mike Petrilli’s cheerleading for it, that Race to the Top is just a bunch of kabuki. In today’s Washington Examiner, Marcus begs to differ:

Race to the Top has emboldened reform-minded policymakers like Bloomberg to push hard for their ideas. Just as importantly, the lure of earning federal dollars makes the reform position an appealing default for those policymakers whose primary interest lies outside education.

For instance, before Race to the Top, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger paid only brief lip service to education reform. After the grant competition was announced, the Governator called a special session of the state legislature and pushed for a series of meaningful reforms such as eliminating the state’s charter school cap, using data to evaluate student and teacher performance, and adopting a performance pay program for teachers.

I would argue back, but I’m not sure I can. Just last week I praised Bloomberg’s move to push the envelope on interpreting the state’s ban on evaluating teachers with test scores as “gutsball.” By doing so, have I already conceded Marcus’s (and therefore Mike’s) point?

I suppose I could argue that Bloomberg was a reformer even before RttT came along. Maybe he would have played gutsball on the teacher test score ban even without RttT. But it’s hard to think that RttT has nothing to do with his renewed boldness. After all, using test scores in teacher evaluations is an agenda set by RttT. And, as Marcus points out, Bloomberg staged the announcement of his gutsball move in D.C., not New York. Was Bloomberg pushing for this particular reform before? And could he have won on that issue if not for RttT’s covering fire?

I suppose I could argue that the use of test scores as “one element” in teacher evaluations will inevitably be nothing more than a symbolic victory. Trouble is, I’ve always argued that symbols matter. There’s no such thing as a merely symbolic victory.

I suppose I could argue that RttT is promoting bad ideas as well as good ones. And that would be true – but it wouldn’t establish that RttT is kabuki. Quite the opposite; the more we fear RttT for promoting bad ideas, the more we confirm that whatever it is, it isn’t kabuki.

It’s beginning to feel like I may owe Mike an apology. Stay tuned.

Everyone Wins in the Wall Street Journal

November 4, 2009

Everybody Wins

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today’s Journal has a hard-hitting editorial on Marcus’s new study showing that competition from charters improves regular public schools in NYC.

Opponents of school choice are running out of excuses as evidence continues to roll in about the positive impact of charter schools…State and local policy makers who cave to union demands and block the growth of charters aren’t doing traditional public school students any favors.

And where did you read about it first? Oh yeah.

Public Education and its Enemies

October 29, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

In the final scene of Shakespeare’s Henry V, the French sue for peace after Henry’s triumph at Agincourt. While the French king is away negotiating the final terms, Henry uses the opportunity to woo the King’s daughter Katherine to become his Queen.

Katherine is cool to this idea, but slowly warms to the notion under the glare of Henry’s charm. Finally, she asks “May it be possible zat I should love zee enemy of France?”

Henry replies:

“No Kate, it is not possible. For in loving me, you shall love the friend of France. For I love France so much that I will not part with a village of it.”

I think of this line often when K-12 reactionaries try to play the “well, I support public education” card. This you see, is supposed to put a reformer on a defensive and get them to scramble to say that they support public education too!!!

Nice try, but for my part, I have this to say: don’t tell me how much you love public schools unless you are willing to do what it takes to make them work for kids.

Yesterday Marcus Winters released a study showing that charter schools in NYC improve public school performance, especially for disadvantaged children. The effect sizes were modest, but what more can you expect given that the state still has a cap for the number of charters? The cap should be removed, and private choice options created.

Research has firmly established that ineffective teachers severely harm the education of children. Who is the enemy of public education- those who want to preserve tenure at all costs, or those who want to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom?

Last year, I was at a conference in Arizona. A philanthropist spoke movingly about the need to raise Arizona academic standards to internationally competitive levels. An assistant Superintendent of a tony school district said “We can’t meet the standards we have now, the last thing we should do is raise them.”

Who is the enemy of public education- the philanthropist or the administrator?

Later in that same meeting, I made a presentation about Florida’s success in improving public education, including the curtailment of social promotion to compel literacy training. One of the educators in the audience replied “I don’t want to see 9 year olds rolling on the ground crying because they don’t get to advance with their grade.”

That, you see, would be inconveint to her. It would be much less messy to simply pass the child along illiterate until he or she drops out in the 8th grade.

Who is the enemy of public education- me or her?

The reactionaries cleverly try to equate pouring more money on this broken system as compassionate. Balderdash. It is the goals of public education that people should be committed to, not any particular delivery mechanism, nor the employment interests of the adults working in the all-to-often dysfunctional system. We’ve tried the pour money method for improving public schools, and it failed miserably.

Show me don’t tell me how much you love public schools, apologists. As your critics multiply across ideological lines, the time has come to put up or shut up. I love public schools so much that I am willing to put in the right incentives and policies to make them work for a far larger number of children.

How about you?

Marcus Wins! Big Deal, So Does Everybody.

October 28, 2009

Everybody Wins

NOT the cover of Marcus’s new study

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Well, I made no secret of who I thought was the winner in the Marcus/Murray deathmatch over college education.

But it turns out it’s no big deal, because Marcus says “Everyone Wins!”

In his new study of that title, I mean. Marcus finds that charter schools are improving regular public schools in NYC by creating healthy competitive incentives. The effect is small, fitting the overall pattern in the research – charters typically don’t give you as big a boost as vouchers, but having them is better than not.

For all you Rawlsians out there in JPGB-land, Marcus also finds that the lowest-performing students in NYC’s regular public schools benefit from charter competition; in fact, while the benefits for the overall population are statistically certain only in reading, they’re certain in both reading and math for low performers.

Winters v. Murray Deathmatch on College

October 22, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today on NRO Marcus Winters throws down the gauntlet before Charles Murray and others who have made the increasingly common argument that too many kids go to college these days. As the economy requires workers to have more and more knowledge for good jobs, more kids should go to college, not fewer, Marcus argues; the research on teacher quality and school choice shows that improvements in K-12 education can increase the number of high school graduates who are genuinely able to handle college work; and the wage premium of a college degree is not going down, but up – because the K-12 system hasn’t kept pace with the increasing demands of technological development, and college does make students more productive workers (contrary to Murray’s claim that it serves mainly as a sorting mechanism).

Over on AEI’s blog, Murray responds, calling Marcus a “romantic,” going over a lot of research that doesn’t really address the point at issue, and then falsely claiming that Marcus presents only anecdotes about “a miracle school in the inner city” but offers no “interpretable data.” Anyone who reads Marcus’s piece will see that Marcus points to the eminently interpretable data of the broad research on teacher quality, school choice, and economic outcomes.

Jay & Marcus in NR

October 2, 2009

NR cover (Jay & Marcus article)

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

In the new National Review, Jay and Marcus review the research on special education funding incentives, including the findings of their recent study on the impact of vouchers in Florida.

Financial incentives are particularly important in low-level disability categories like SLD, where a diagnosis is easily fudged. While you need pretty solid evidence to diagnose a child with a traumatic brain injury or other severe disabilities, schools have plenty of leeway on SLD. Some research suggests that public schools use low achievement alone to serve as an indicator of SLD. Studies dating back to the 1980s found that SLD students are indistinguishable from low-achieving regular-enrollment students, with one study estimating that over half the students identified as SLD in Colorado did not fit either federal or state definitions for SLD.

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