The Abyss Gazes into TFA…

March 5, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Max Eden provides a helpful summary of the various scandals plaguing the District of Columbia Public School system. After three Teach for America alumni chancellors we find the district scandal-ridden and clinging to a vastly overrated NAEP record as a life preserver. Upon close examination however that life preserver looks more like an anvil than a life-vest:

The best proxy for disadvantage is parental education. The achievement of students whose parents had high school diplomas but no postsecondary education decreased by three points in math and one point in reading. That puts DCPS two points below Detroit Public Schools in reading and one point above in math. But at least Detroit improved by two points in reading and 10 points in math.

Although there’s apparently little difference between DCPS and Detroit for disadvantaged students, there should be for “evidence-based” policy experts. Given that DCPS’s spending is about twice that of Detroit, DCPS appears to be one of the worst school districts in the country for serving disadvantaged students.

The two bright spots for DC K-12 are as follows: in the choice sector for disadvantaged students and in select pockets of excellence in the District. Momma always said that DCPS would be good at something- who knew that it would be educating highly advantaged kids?

Take a good long look at the above chart. DCPS 8th grade Black students are had nowhere even close to the level mathematics achievement that DCPS White students had as 4th graders (272 for 4th grade White students in 2011 compared to 248 for 8th grade Black students in 2015).

Perhaps some of our friends who remain committed to the DCPS teacher evaluation system could grace the comment section to explain why Black students in DCPS only progressed 36 points (very meh) on NAEP math between 2011 and 2015. DCPS Black students made 38 points of math progress between 2003 and 2007, which isn’t meaningfully different- oh brave new world!

The question isn’t whether the DCPS teacher evaluation system is a magic bullet- it isn’t. Given these numbers I’m wondering if the teacher evaluation system constitutes a bullet at all. Not only did DCPS achievement remain stalled in DCPS, it actually slowed in DC charter schools. Between 2003 and 2007 Black students in DC charter schools displayed a cohort NAEP gains of 54 points, but only 46 between 2011 and 2015. I’ll put it on my to-do list to look at these numbers again when the 2013-2017 cohort gains become available.

For now, teacher evaluation looks more like a pea that got stuck in someone’s straw than a magic bullet imo. In any case, DCPS provides a cautionary tale of those holding a torch for better living through proper management. Chubb and Moe called this almost three decades ago: the fundamental problem with American K-12 is politics and the sad conclusion to draw from the DCPS experience is that the ability of school district politics to corrupt the TFA alumni network >>> than the network’s ability to redeem school district politics. Would that it were otherwise, but this conclusion is as unavoidable as it is disappointing.

Where to go from here? Eden lays out a compelling case:

DCPS is no longer a case study for education reformers, but for teachers unions. Union leaders can look at what weakened job protections and metric-chasing mandates have wrought and say, “I told you so.”

So, what should come next? Admitting a problem is the first step toward fixing it. A movement that talks incessantly about “accountability” ought to practice it within its own ranks. To maintain basic credibility, reformers must admit failure and ostracize, rather than celebrate, those responsible.

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.



Good reads

February 3, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The WSJ detects the Stockholm Syndrome of the six-inch Dark Lord of Nightmares MA Charter School Association and Eli Broad.

Derrell Bradford earns a BOOOOOOM! by explaining to the charter school bear that the hunter has plenty of bullets left for them.

So does Max Eden by exposing the NYT phony “analysis” of Detroit charter data.

Mike McShane joins the fun by explaining how our notions of accountability need an update.

Rick Hess cautions choiceniks to be careful what we wish for from the feds.

Who’s a Little Massachusetts Charter School Fear Demon?

January 15, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So in a delightful episode of the television series classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer the Scooby Gang discovers that the demon terror du jour is approximately six inches tall. The demon babbles on about his fearsome power as the Dark Lord of Nightmares, only to have classy Giles admonish the good guys for taunting the boastful mini-monster in preference to a quick dispatching and well deserved stomp.

So…for some reason this scene came to mind when I read a letter that the Massachusetts Charter School Association sent to Elizabeth Warren opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Ok calm down-I know you have a lot of questions: Yes the same charter school association that helped burn through tens of millions of other people’s money only to lose decisively on a ballot measure to allow 12 new charters a year to open in the state. The same association whose sector is too small to meet the minimum reporting requirements in either Massachusetts or even Boston. Yes the same Elizabeth Warren that turned on them when they went to the ballot.

Well then, what do the wee-tiny Dark Lords of the Bay State’s safely contained charter sector have to say for themselves?

By all independent accounts, Massachusetts has the best charter school system in the country. We are providing high quality public school choices for parents across our state. Our urban schools are serving the highest need children in Massachusetts, and are producing results that have researchers double-checking their math. These gains held across all demographic groups, including African American, Latino, and children living in poverty.

(… according-six-year-study/hCpVGMeEQvNODUvB6bXhcK/story.html)

The cornerstone of the Massachusetts charter public school system is accountability. The process of obtaining and keeping a charter is deliberately difficult. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is the sole authorizer and historically has approved only one out of every five applications. Once approved, each charter school must submit to annual financial audits by independent auditors and annual performance reviews by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Every five years, each charter must be renewed after a process as rigorous as the initial application process. For-profit charter schools are prohibited by Massachusetts law.

Tremble before their fearsome technocratic awesomeness or they will DESTROY YOU!

Okay, so here is a new independent evaluation for you- MA charters are apparently effective for many of the small number of kids who will ever have the chance to attend them. That’s wonderful, but outside of that one can’t help but notice that very few people in MA, including Senator Warren, seemed overly impressed with either their bureaucratic compliance or test scores during the initiative. I can’t say I’m overly impressed with a sector that has approximately zero prospects for growth.

Moreover, if you find yourself stalemated at the legislature and crushed at the ballot box, does the scroll inside the “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” box say “Write a pompous letter to someone who was already a ‘no’ denouncing someone who supports your cause?” Let’s ask the 8-Ball whether it would be good to follow that advice:

Oh and by the way, the independent evaluations referenced in the letter that like Boston charters also like Detroit. As Max Eden noted:

The 2013 study of Michigan charter schools by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that “charter students in Detroit gain over three months per year more than their counterparts at traditional public schools.” A 2015 CREDO study of 41 major cities concluded that Boston, Newark, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, “provide essential examples of school-level and system-level commitments to quality that can serve as models to other communities.

Some of these charter sectors-like Detroit btw- delightfully have the opportunity to grow and serve more students. Others apparently prefer to accept their containment and babble about their fearsome powers. Somehow it is not hard to imagine why Massachusetts voters administered a ballot box stomp.



May 13, 2016


(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!



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