Time Vault Tuesday- Six-year checkups on 2010 Predictions

May 31, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Western Free Press unearthed an Arizona Horizon video from 2010. I was at the Goldwater Institute at the time, and we had Governor Jeb Bush and Foundation for Excellence in Education President Patricia Levesque out to the cactus patch to discuss Florida reforms in Arizona. The Arizona legislature went on to enact two of the key Florida measures-school grading and literacy based promotion, during that legislative session. The video makes for a great time vault to explore predictions at the time.  Notice that the discussion in the video between myself and John Wright, the then-President of the Arizona Education Association, mirrors the later orbit of Mercury discussion– I predicted that we could make academic progress despite our economic difficulties, Wright predicted failure and doom without more money.

Here is a key prediction from Patricia:

If Arizona does some of the policies that are floating through the legislative process right now, you won’t see immediate results. I will take time, it takes determination, it takes a comprehensive set of policies that makes sure that the focus is on student learning, but Arizona could be where Florida is in a decade.

So let’s check the tape, or rather, check the NAEP. Mind you, there are many ingredients in the complex Arizona K-12 gumbo, so I would not wish to claim a simple causal relationship between these policies and outcomes.  Nevertheless the general drift of Arizona policy has been towards greater levels of parental choice and improved academic transparency, which are things our tribe supports. This recording was made in 2010, which means the reference point at the time would have been the 2009 NAEP. Has Arizona made progress towards getting to where Florida was in 2009? It’s six years later, so Arizona has some sand left in the hour-glass, but have we made progress?

Answer- yes Arizona in fact is ahead of schedule overall.

On all four NAEP exams, Arizona has either substantially closed the gap on where Florida stood in 2009 or else (in the case of 8th grade math) already exceeded where Florida stood at the time. The largest gap remains in 4th grade reading. In 2009 a sixteen point gap yawned between Florida and Arizona. In 2015 Arizona’s scores were 11 points behind where Florida’s stood in 2009.  The gaps on the other three exams however have been substantially narrowed. On the 8th grade side, Arizona basically entirely closed the gap with their 2015 scores and where Florida stood in 2009.

Here’s another prediction, made by yours-truly when asked about increasing spending.

Right now we face a gigantic structural budget deficit and I think that whether the sales tax proposal passes or not the truth is that there is not going to be any money for any increases in public school spending any time soon. In fact there is likely to be cuts. Having said that, I think that it is absolutely still possible for us to make progress, to get better bang for the buck the way Florida has whether that new money materializes or not.

John meanwhile generally expressed skepticism regarding the Florida reforms, and described funding cuts as “pulling the rug out from under” teachers. So how does this look, six years on?

NAEP Math Cohort gain 2015

The video was from 2010, and little could we have known that Arizona students were poised to lead the nation in 4th to 8th grade NAEP gains between the 2011 4th grade NAEP and the 2015 8th grade NAEP.  The predicted funding cuts did in fact come to pass, which was very unpleasant for those running our schools, but meanwhile our students showed the rest of the country how it is done on gains. Time to CeleNAEP!

 


Arizona Post-Prop 123

May 20, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill and I hit NPR to discuss the Arizona school finance landscape post Prop. 123.


AEI on ESAs

May 13, 2016

AEI

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

We had a wonkapolooza on ESAs at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this week! What- you had a friend in from out of town and couldn’t make it? Ah well not to worry the video is here:

On the first panel, our discussant MI’s Max Eden advised tapping on the expectations brakes, noting a number of practical difficulties. The biggest of these difficulties was summarized by Adam Peshek’s slide:

ESA expenses

So, yeah, this slide basically shows 70,000 ish Florida tax credit students using approximately 1,500 vendors (private schools). Meanwhile the Gardnier Scholarships programs had south of 1,600 students, but those 1,600 students made **ahem** almost 11,500 purchases.  A new set of practices and techniques will be necessary to administer such a system.

Fortunately we have practices from other policy areas to draw upon and companies highly adept at account management and oversight from Health Savings Accounts and others. It’s going to take time. In the paper and presentation I referenced the Greek myth regarding the birth of Athena- who sprung from the skull of Zeus not only fully grown, beautiful and powerful but also clothed and even armed for battle!

Alas outside the realm of myth we have little choice but to engage teams of people to grind on problems over time, as ESAs did not emerge fully formed from the mind of some mighty being as a finished product. Evolutionary improvement and innovation may not make for as good of a story as the goddess of wisdom springing forth, but for us mere mortals it will have to do. I’m anxious to see what happens next.

Anyway- great event and thanks especially to our friends at AEI for hosting it. Also make sure to see Anna Egalite’s guest blogging on RHSU on ESAs and also Jonathan Butcher’s new report on mobile payment systems and ESAs for the Goldwater Institute. Also Heritage President Jim DeMint tells a Texas suffering from parental choice dehydration to jump on in, the school choice water is fine!

 

 


ESA Debate with Agent (Nelson) Smith Continues on Ed Next Podcast

May 4, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The ESA debate fun continues on Ed Next podcast…check it out here.


Ladner vs. Smith on NVESA in Education Next

April 26, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Nelson Smith and I square off in Education Next on the Nevada ESA program. Podcast debate coming later in the week.

I’ll have more to say later, but for now let me ask, is it just me or is there something odd about Nelson’s fire analogy? I read through it and thought “so everyone pays the taxes to support fire service, but if you pay too many taxes then the fire truck should bypass your house when it is burning.”

Mind you only 42% of Nevada children whose incomes are too high to qualify for a free and reduced lunch (middle and high income students) scored Proficient or Better on the 2015 NAEP 4th grade reading test. It therefore seems like a mistake to me to assume that all is well in the leafy suburbs.

Anyway give it a read and decide for yourself.

 


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.

 

 


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.