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.


Nevada ESA Wonkathon

June 16, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The first three salvos in Fordham’s Nevada ESA oversight wonkathon have been fired by Michael Goldstein, Seth Rau and Yours Truly.

Goldstein’s call for a “harbormaster” has me a bit concerned about going from this:

To this:

I’m a big fan of the New Orleans experiment, and would like to know more specifics about the role of “harbormaster” but personally would like to see what Nevada parents come up with rather than having things nudged hard in a particular direction. I’m also a fan of charter schools chock full of TFA Ivy League kids but in the end that is more of a formula of tiny hot-house sectors rather than a model that can reach scale.

In my view we should work to improve the bill (inclusion of ELL and SPED weights and long-term higher education savings especially critical) and give parents space to see what they come up with. Living out in the wild west myself gives me an appreciation for the benefits of messy freedom. In the Arizona charter sector we often hear laments regarding the fact that the very expensive KIPP organization avoids our patch of cactus. I’d like to have KIPP, but I’m consoled by the development of low-cost high quality models like BASIS, Great Hearts and Carpe Diem. High quality and (lower) cost is what the country will badly need in the near future. MG’s call for micro-schools sounds like a great start.

Although I disagree that the use of a state test is in any way desirable, I admire Seth’s creative attempt at analogy.

My entry, New Tools for New Challenges, is here. I’m hopeful that we can apply the accountability lessons of uber to the education sector, especially the technology-enabled hyper transparency.

More posts in the wonkathon are on the way so stay tuned.

 

 


Get your #Shadowfaction coffee mugs here!

February 19, 2015

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(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So we’ve had a little drama out here in the cactus patch.

Arizona has a State Board of Education appointed by the Governor and a Superintendent of Public Instruction elected by the voters. Per the Arizona Constitution, the Superintendent is a member of the Board. The previous Governor appointed all of the current members of the board. The board has a small staff, and we are five or so weeks into the terms of the new Governor (Ducey) and Superintendent (Douglas).  Some of the current members of the Board participated in the decision for Arizona to join Common Core. Governor Ducey campaigned on replacing Common Core while keeping high standards. Opposition to the Common Core served as the animating issue of the Douglas campaign.

A few days ago one of Douglas’ subordinates appeared before the two top staffers of the State Board of Education, announced that they were fired, and had an officer escort them out of the Department of Education building (the Arizona Board’s meeting room and staff inhabits the Department of Education building). The Board chair immediately stated that the Superintendent lacked the legal authority to take this action.

Governor Ducey’s team studied the matter over night and in the morning sided with the Board. As it happens, there is a directly on point advisory opinion from the Arizona Attorney General on the subject from 1985. The underlying statutes are clearly murky. Officials routinely follow Attorney General opinions in preference to having office holders sue each other- a sort of intergovernmental arbitration but formally lacking the force of law or a court decision. It would likely take an incredibly erroneous advisory opinion to have a court reach a different conclusion quite frankly because courts are busy with real cases and aren’t likely to want to jump into the quagmire of endless minor disputes. Advisory opinions are the fast solution to this with strong incentives for officeholders to abide by them.

This AG opinion examined the relevant statutes and clearly sides with the Board on the question of who has the authority to hire and fire board staff.

So why are you reading this tedious story? For the fun part, the epic press release from the Superintendent. Her reading of the relevant statutes is very different than the advisory opinion. The press release accuses Governor Ducey of seeking to short change schools “to give his corporate cronies tax cuts.” This is a reference to an ongoing lawsuit by public schools against the state, but that lawsuit is currently in settlement talks, the state is broke, and only modest tax changes have been placed on the agenda this year.

A little further down she states that “Clearly he has established a shadow faction of charter school operators and former state Superintendents who support Common Core and moving funds from traditional public schools to charter schools.” This is an overt reference to my Ducey transition K-12 co-chairs (one works for a prominent charter school outfit and the other is a former Superintendent of Public Instruction who supports Commn Core) and well, anyone who wants to know what any of us think about K-12 policy can either ask us, or gather intelligence through “google.” I mean I guess there is some way to be more transparent on the subject than writing columns, studies, blog posts, books and giving public talks, but I just don’t know what it is yet.

No, no, NO! #shadowFACTION! Not you!

Common Core as a plot to drive more students to charter schools is an innovative theory, but one that fails to withstand a moment of scrutiny. Charter schools are subject to exactly the same testing requirements as district schools. Unless the charter school folks have somehow stolen the answer key this seems fanciful. Did I mention that Governor Ducey does not support Common Core? Yes, that again.

Anyhoo, later down the press release makes a rather strident complaint about the need for lay-persons and African Americans on the board. This is odd in that Governor Ducey has yet to make any appointments to the Board and has been in office for all of five weeks and has pressing matters like a very large budget deficit and other issues with which to contend.

Just to be clear I personally am comfortable with the position Governor Ducey articulated in the campaign on state standards-high but not common.  Arizona has had them in the past but lacked the fortitude to keep them. The state will have academic standards for district and charter schools for the foreseeable future, and Arizona’s old system jumped the shark many years ago. Having said that, the state is scheduled to give a test in a little over two months and has yet to do little things like set the cut scores, a task for (you guessed it) the Board, who could use, well, a staff.

40% of Arizona 4th graders can’t read and less than 19% of the graduating AZ public school Class of 2006 received a BA degree in six years. Listen closely and you just might hear the soft melodies of a violin rising above the crackle of the flames. I’ll be over here in the corner drinking coffee if anyone feels like moving on to a serious conversation on AZ K-12.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


New Report-Turn and Face the Strain

February 4, 2015

Turn and Face the Strain

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Excel in Ed and the Friedman Foundation have co-released a study on state age demographics authored by yours truly.  The title reflects a couple of different things. First, I dig me some Bowie. Second, people are generally aware of the looming crisis in age demography we face, but they primarily have it framed as a federal issue. With 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age every day between now and 2030 (when they all reach retirement age) this certainly does represent a federal issue- trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities in Social Security and Medicare, etc. The federal issue is not the only issue…

State policymakers must turn and face the strain that changing age demography will have on state government in the form of Medicaid, public pensions, a drag on economic growth and in many states an increasing K-12 population. Spoiler alert but all states have it bad with some states having it far worse than others.

The Baby Boom generation has already started retiring, and will be sending their grandchildren off to school. The United States Census Bureau projects the percentage of working age people to shrink in every state, meaning fewer people in the prime earning (and thus taxpaying) years to support a growing number of seniors and youth.  All states will be getting older, with only a handful of states projected to have a smaller elderly population than 2010 Florida by 2030. Many states also face large projected youth population increases.  With Medicaid currently constituting 23 percent of the average state budget and education approximately half, a fierce battle between the need for health and education spending looms with fewer working age people to foot the bill.

A great many of the working age population of 2030 btw sit in American classrooms right now. According to NAEP around a third of them can read proficiently. While a broad and difficult rethinking of the provision of vital public services will prove necessary including especially subjects such as health, pensions, immigration-the most urgent need is to improve both the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the K-12 system.

Most of the K-12 debate ultimately boils down to whether or not to change the status-quo. The status quo however is going to change us whether we like it or not.

More over on the EdFly blog, let me know what you think.


Report Card on American Education Released Today

October 29, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The 19th Edition of ALEC’s Report Card on American Education: Ranking State Performance, Progress and Reform coauthored by yours truly and Dave Myslinski hit the presses today. Lots of good stuff in this year’s model, including an update of state rankings, a review of the first decade of universal NAEP participation, and a chapter focused on comparing the results of large urban districts.

So going up to the 30,000 level and back down, international results show that the United States is world-class in spending per pupil, not so much in learning per pupil, and that our results for Black and Hispanic students are closer to those of Mexico than of South Korea, despite the fact that Mexico has a far larger poverty problem and spends a small fraction of American spending.

The United States is making progress, but only an average amount of progress so we aren’t going to be catching up  much at the current pace. When you break down American results by state, you find that some states are pushing the national average cart, while others are riding in the cart. Which ones? Glad you asked:

4 NAEP exams

 

So the states in blue have made statistically significant gains in all four regular NAEP tests (4th and 8th grade reading and math) between 2003 and 2013.  Of the 21 states pulling that feat off, 14 are located in either the West or the South. The Midwest excepting MN, Great Plains, Mid-Atlantic, New York and Texas didn’t carry their weight on improvement (to varying degrees in general math gains were easier to come by than reading, 4th grade improvement easier than 8th grade) during this period. Michigan was the only state to make no significant progress on any of the four regular NAEP exams, a trend I hope they will reverse soon. All other states made progress on one or more of the exams. Note also that this map only shows improvement, few if any of the darkened states have internationally competitive scores, and the few that do tend to hold the good end of the stick on various achievement gaps.

So on the one hand, American education outcomes have never been higher than the 2013 NAEP.  On the other hand, no one yet has any cause for celebration. When we have any states that approach a Asian/European level of bang for the buck in learning outcomes, we’ll let you know about it, but thus far, not so much.

In Chapter 4 of the Report Card we take a close look at the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) NAEP and apply the same “general education low-income” student comparison that we use in the states to improve comparability. Low-income general ed kids were seven times more likely to reach the Proficient level of 4th grade reading in Miami (the top performing district) as in Detroit (the lowest performing). Mind you have only a little better shot at 1 in 3 of scoring Proficient in Miami, so there are many miles to go. Looking at both 4th and 8th grade reading, Miami, New York City, Hillsborough County FL (Tampa) and Boston cluster near the top of the ratings. The District of Columbia does not (yet) rate near the top of the ratings, but their progress over time on NAEP is nothing short of remarkable since the mid 1990s. A large percentage of District students attend charter schools these days, and those charter schools show not only higher scores but also faster improvement than district schools, which are themselves improving.

In any case, slide on down to the following link if you want to see how your state is doing.

Indiana State page

 

 

 

 


Hot Off the Press — New Report on ESAs

September 27, 2012

Our very own Matt Ladner has a new report out with the Friedman Foundation on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).  Here’s the summary:

Education savings accounts are the way of the future. Under such accounts—managed by parents with state supervision to ensure accountability—parents can use their children’s education funding to choose among public and private schools, online education programs, certified private tutors, community colleges, and even universities. Education savings accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.

Arizona lawmakers were the first to create such a program, called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). Through that program, the state of Arizona deposits 90 percent of the funds for a participating child into an account, which can cover multiple educational services through use-restricted debit cards. Parents can choose to use all of their funds on a single method—like private school tuition—or they can employ a customized strategy using multiple methods (e.g., online programs and community college classes). Critically, parents can save some of the money for future higher education expenses through a 529 college savings program. That feature creates an incentive for parents to judge all K-12 service providers not only on quality but also on cost.

A fully realized system of ESAs would create powerful incentives for innovation in schooling practices seeking better outcomes for lower costs. Also, the broader use of funds may help to immunize choice programs against court challenges in some states. Policymakers must fashion their system of accounts to provide reasonable state oversight, fraud prevention, academic transparency, and equity.

If Milton Friedman were alive today, he likely would agree that education savings accounts represent a critical refinement of his school voucher concept. Existing voucher programs create healthy competition between public and private schools, but ESAs can create a much deeper level of systemic improvement. ESAs would allow parents to build a customized education to match the individual needs of every child, thus transforming education for the better.


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