Baby Baby DARLING You’re the WEST!

October 22, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I decided to see how the charter sectors of the Top 10 rated charter laws in the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools would look in a cohort gain chart compared to the Cactus Patch. The top ten (in order) are Indiana, Colorado, Washington, Minnesota, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine, DC, Florida and Kentucky. The above chart shows 4th grade math and reading scores from 2013, and then 8th grade math and reading scores from 2017-when the 4th grade cohort from 2013 were 8th graders.

Sadly of these states NAEP only reports charter student scores for Colorado, DC, Florida and Minnesota. You have to have a minimum number of students before the NAEP will report scores, and mind you that you can find male Asian scores in some states. It’s a mixed bag with the non-reporting states- some of the laws are old and just not very active in producing “charter schools” (Indiana) and others are young and not very active at producing charter schools (Washington, Alabama, Mississippi, Maine and especially Kentucky). When they do open schools they are going to be AMAZING– as in I’ll have to extend the axis scales on these charts. For now I’ve included them clearly in the above charts as very dark dots. What? Can’t see them? Not to worry just squint hard and use your imagination.

I’m fond of the charter sectors in all of the remaining top 10 states (i.e. the four with actual schools) in different ways. Colorado is a fellow member of the Wild West, Florida is an honorary member, DC charters clearly do better than DC districts despite getting about half of the funding and few of the families with both parents having law degrees, and Minnesota kicked off the charter school movement.

I think that all of these charter sectors have majority minority student populations with the exception of Colorado. I’ll let you decide whether Colorado’s higher 4th grade scores or Arizona larger gains and higher 8th grade scores qualifies as most impressive, but either way darlings you’re the west best!

Riding on the Trainwreck of New Orleans?

November 15, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Peter Cook brought bad news about the latest test scores from New Orleans, and used the term “train wreck” to describe the results. This was ironic as the other day I saw a quote from David Osborne’s book that claimed that states that close charter schools have charter school sectors that substantially outperform district schools. In previous looks at NACSA state charter law rankings that came out before the most recent NAEP data, something like six of the top 10 states had too few charter schools to have made it into the NAEP sample, with the top two states in the rankings (Indiana and Nevada) included in the no-scores club despite have charter laws for many years. Of the top 10 rated states, Louisiana looked to be the best of the bunch, and they were towards the bottom of the top 10.

The figure below puts state charter sectors into context by comparing their 2015 NAEP 8th grade math score against their 2011 to 2015 cohort gain in scale points, and also includes all “Wild West” charter sectors. Unlike Nevada, most western states got middling to very low grades from NACSA, but can console themselves with the fact that they actually have “charter schools” generated by their “charter school law.”

Yes, okay, so well that happened. Don’t be looking for many westerners to be dropping everything their doing to emulate either Louisiana or Nevada. I remain a fan of the Louisiana RSD, as in my mind it was a very successful play to leverage the only thing New Orleans had left after the hurricane (empty school buildings) and get a system up and running. However, there is a lot of space between saying that and rushing to embrace the concept as the solution to our all of our problems.

Well, perhaps the reading results are more promising…

Nope- the reading results look very consistent with the math results. New Mexico charter school leaders just filed a petition with the Department of Cosmic Justice to protest Louisiana charters receiving much more hype but less demonstrable academic progress.

So my mutant mind reading power is reading objections in one or more of your minds. These comparisons aren’t fair! Only three of those Wild West sectors (Arizona, California, NM) have majority minority student bodies…given what we know about achievement gaps, we would not expect Louisiana charters to land on the right side of these charts. True enough unless you had a very high rate of improvement. Note that Louisiana charters demonstrate rates of improvement in both reading and math that weren’t bad, but also wasn’t either very high, or very different from the host state.

Again, this does not mean that RSD is bad. It seems to have been brilliant for New Orleans after the hurricane. That is a different question from “has it been so successful that everyone should rush to adopt them?” It is also a different question from “is this model politically sustainable in the face of predictable push-back?” or “what if Katrina hit Houston instead of New Orleans- are there that many TFA kids in the entire country?” or the question “is it possible that RSD would have been more successful without the benevolent guidance of a central command?” or most important of all “wouldn’t we be better off if we got to the point where parents rather than technocrats took the lead in closing schools?”

Some additional problems include the fact that a series of focus groups I saw earlier this year made it clear that people detest the idea of having the government shut down schools based on test scores. Oh, then there is the decisive rejection of an RSD by Georgia voters. The demos do not seem to be buying what the technos want to sell. Then there is the small matter of more recent state scores, which Peter Cook describes as a “train wreck” for RSD. Then the steady and insidious effort to essentially convert RSD back into a normal school district that seems to be going quite well for the reactionaries so far. I’m not sure about the train-wreck take, but I’m also confident that RSD is not a magic carpet made of steel, er, a solution we are likely to see politically sustained at scale.

Random Pop Culture Apocalypse: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cover

July 7, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Speaking of cowboys, this song by Hank Williams Sr. demonstrates the hit and miss but generally delightful nature of cover songs.  Here is the original:

Elvis gives the song a go:

Al Green gives it some soul:

Terry Bradshaw (?!?) exceeds very low expectations- Go Terry Go!:

Johnny Cash and Nick Cave go duet:

Plus the Master in the Art of Living Dean Martin gave it a go:

All of these versions however buried their head in their pillows to weep bitterly when they heard the genius of the bagpipe/punk rock version:






Al Winner Al is Bringing It July 15th

June 26, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner) Amazon Prime just informed me that Al Copeland Humanitarian Award Winner Weird Al has a new cd coming out July 15th.  The internet refused to reveal the songs on the collection in a 30 second google search, but there are so many pop songs aching for parody now that Weird Al will likely be shooting fish in a barrel. Just in case no one else is going to suggest it, a Weird Al/Me First and the Gimme Gimmes team up would be totally awesome unless it was so awesome that it tore a rift in space-time, unleash cosmic parody forces beyond human comprehension or control, in which case it would be really TOTALLY AWESOME.

More cover songs that RAWK!

May 8, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So we had fun a few weeks ago debating the relative merits of cover songs. Why not have another ball?

A little known cover of “Love is All Around” by Judy Garland:

Here’s another favorite of mine, goth-rockers Bauhaus cover Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust. The video was filmed in Austin in the mid 1980s, and I volunteered to mosh out in the body bag at the end.

Here is Pearl Jam covering Let My Love Open the Door by the Who:

U2 teams with Bjorn and Benny at a concert in Sweden to cover Dancing Queen

Random Pop Culture Apocalypse: Cover Songs

March 15, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Mrs. Ladner has the kiddos off in the Land of Enchantment visiting their relatives on spring break. Rather than sit around in my boxers piling up pizza boxes and watching tons of NCAA basketball (NOT that there is anything wrong with that!) I am out of town myself, in the Raven, a great coffee bar in Prescott Arizona.

So as long as I’m here, chugging cafe mocha, I may as well blog, so here is a random subject for you: cover songs. I love cover songs. Cover songs are recordings made by one artist that were previously made popular by another artist. For reasons that I’ll try to figure out as I write this, I tend to like a much higher percentage of cover songs. Perhaps it is simply because nostalgia, not gravity, is the most powerful force in the universe. Perhaps it is something more than that, however.

Back in the day, there were songs that were “the standards”and you were judged as a performer based on how well you sang them. More than that, how entertaining you managed to make them.

Needless to say, people sitting around singing the same songs all the time would get boring. There is a reason however that certain songs achieve standard status-there’s something special about them.

My favorite thing about a good cover song is that an artist or producer have recognized something special about a song, even if it isn’t obvious. I remember watching the VH1 Behind the Music on Rod Stewart. Rod had hit a lull in his career, and a producer called him. The producer told Rod that he was a pretty good singer of pretty good songs, but a great singer of great songs. Rod’s next question was classic:

Do you have a great song for me?”

From this came Stewart’s cover of Tom Wait’s Downtown Train. Here is the original:

And here is what the now great again Rod Stewart did with the song.

I think it’s great that Waits wrote the song, but I can’t say I ever need to hear his rendition again. Stewart said something to the effect of “Tom didn’t know there was so much soul in that song, but there was.” Stewart went on to make a fortune with a series of cds of- you guessed it- the standards.

Here’s another great example: Overkill by Men at Work. The original:

I kind of liked that song back in 1983, but I liked the 1996 cover by Lazlo Bane and Colin Hay much, much better:

My favorite sub-genre of cover songs is the ironic cover song. Here is the Carpenters singing their song Superstar:

Now, here is perhaps the greatest of all cover bands, Me First and the Gimme Gimmes version of the same song from their hilarious cd Ruin Jonny’s Bar Mitzvah. MFATGG is a side project which draws members from several different punk bands to do punk rock covers.

Now of course there are plenty of bad and awful covers, but generally, I like a higher percentage of covers than average. I think the reasons are fairly simple: nostalgia, but also a double quality screen. For the marketing of a typical song, someone is hoping that enough people will like it to buy it. If no one does, you probably never hear of it anyway, or ignore it if you do.

This applies to cover songs as well, but in addition someone has seen something in the song, or a way to put an entertaining twist on it. If it isn’t any good, the paragraph immediately above still applies, but if done well the cover starts with good material but benefits from a new twist and from the nostalgia factor.

So if you know of a cool cover that I’ve probably never heard, post a link in the comment section. It’s time for me to get an espresso.