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.

Wild West and Loving It

November 9, 2017

NACSA you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The chart below plots the 2015 8th NAEP grade math scores against the 2011 to 2015 NAEP math cohort gains. The below charts include state averages and the numbers for state charter school sectors in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah. In the NACSA ratings of state charter school laws most proximate to these data, I recall all of these states with the exception of New Mexico received single digit scores out of a possible 30 something points, clustering towards the bottom of the rankings. New Mexico still ranked pretty low. Generally these states lost points for not having default closure and similar type provisions. How did the charter schools in these state manage?

The high performance/low NACSA phenomenon looks to be a western trend. These charts are not stone tablets handed down from the mountain, but I can’t think of any reason they would systematically favor charter sectors. Those “Wild West” charter sectors look, ah, really good at math. If you recall the international comparisons, Massachusetts ranks up there near the best European and Asian countries. Let’s take a look at the reading results:

Well there you have it- AZ, CO, ID and CO all have Massachusetts like results, and it appears that when it comes to spurring reading gains, New Mexico charters are the ultimate power in the universe…I suggest Enchantment State parents use it.

Please do me a favor and email this post to the next five people you hear use the term “Wild West” as a term of derision in an education conversation. Bless their little hearts, but they generally have not bothered to look at empirical data in order to see whether it can be squared with their regional/ideological prejudices.



Los Angeles Charter School Students Crushed the Ball on the 2015 NAEP

May 30, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

One finds the largest gaps between charter and district performance in the entire NAEP in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) results for Los Angeles.  On 4th grade math, LA charters scored 249, LA district 221, 4th grade reading 237 for charter students, 200 for LA district students.  On 8th grade math, LA charter students scored 294, while LA district students 261, while in 8th grade reading LA charter students scored 276 while the district students scored 249. Sadly the TUDA did not participate in the 2015 4th and 8th grade Science exams. For you incurable skeptics out there, feel free to look the numbers up for yourselves.

Each of the Los Angeles charter school score averages were in very near vicinity of the highest statewide average scores (Massachusetts). I don’t have demographic information on LA charter students, but the California charter sector as a whole is majority-minority by a wide margin. I would expect the Los Angeles sector to be as well. Massachusetts and the other states clustered towards the top of state NAEP rankings meanwhile tend to have substantial socio-economic student body advantages. Massachusetts stacks up well with the top European and Asian schooling systems in international comparisons, so kudos to Los Angeles charters as your scores dinged the globally competitive bell. Is it worth mentioning that California charters received about $7,800 per pupil while New England states average almost twice that amount? Yes? Ok good well then that too.

As just a small random aside, NACSA’s scoring of state charter school laws from 2014, the most proximate ranking to the 2015 NAEP, gave California an 11 out of a possible 30 (see page 6). So Los Angeles joins Arizona and Colorado in the Low NACSA/High NAEP score combo club. I’m guessing there are other examples out there…

**Nerd Alert Time Out** Only a proper random assignment study would allow us to measure the degree to which school quality is responsible for the academic beat down that Los Angeles charter students administered to LAUSD averages. Let’s just note however that when the gaps in question are larger than the performance gap between Massachusetts and Alabama, you’ve got plenty of space for multiple factors and probably plenty of room left over for school effects. Standard errors for charter sectors are larger than for statewide samples, but sampling error can go either way-meaning that if we had actually tested all students rather than samples the scores could be either lower or higher. Random chance guiding Los Angeles charter students far to the right side of the bell curve on a single test could happen, but random error is very unlikely to behave the same way with four separate samples of students.

**TIME IN!** Congratulations to educators, students and investors in the Los Angeles charter school sector! Hopefully evaluations of long-term outcomes will match test score success in the Los Angeles charter sector, which is no longer something we can take for granted. Students have already taken the 2017 NAEP exams, with results expected in the fall. Let’s see what happens next.

UPDATE (6/1): One of the steps I took to explore Arizona’s charter school NAEP numbers involved looking at subgroup scores. So for instance Hispanic students attending AZ charters score quite well compared to the top statewide averages. I looked these up for Los Angeles charters this morning, but the TUDA does not provide information for some major student subgroups- including Hispanic students-on any of the four exams. Hispanics make up 73% of Los Angeles charter school students so it seems odd for TUDA to provide Anglo subgroups scores but not Hispanic subgroup scores.

I’ve made an inquiry with the NAEP folks and I will report back. Arizona’s case the state exam data displayed an even larger academic advantage for charter students than NAEP. The opposite appears to be the case with regards to Los Angeles charters. For now an * and some additional investigation seems warranted for Los Angeles charter TUDA scores.

A Society that Puts Freedom before Equality will get a high degree of both

April 20, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Want proof- here is how “9/33” charter sectors did on the 2015 NAEP 8th grade math test. First let’s look at middle and high income kids in Arizona and Colorado charters compared to the statewide averages for middle and high income kids:

Whew- would you look at that? I wonder if those AZ and CO charter school kids are getting half the funding per pupil of Massachusetts or not. Yes, right, so back on track here, those above kids are all middle and high-income, so how did low-income students far in these awful, horrible, no-good Wild West anarchist charter schools perform? I’m glad you asked:


Size Does Matter Visual Aid Followup

April 5, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I posed the question a couple of weeks ago as to why the National Association of Charter School Authorizers would score the charter school law of Nevada three times higher than those of Arizona and Colorado. The Arizona and Colorado charter laws after all have a delightful record of actually producing charter school seats, and both states rocked the NAEP like:

I, ah, have yet to receive anything approaching a coherent response. So I thought I would create a little visual on seat creation. The below chart shows charter schools opening in NACSA’s second rated state (NV) and also Arizona (which had a 9/33 score for most of this period) for the period Nevada has had charter schools (Arizona got a five-year head start). Just to practice my chart making skills, I inserted the flags of each state as the chart filler.

What is that you say? No Nevada is in there– it is just a little hard to spot. See that slightly different color blue smidge at the bottom of the Arizona flag? That is the Nevada flag. Here-let me give you a better look:

I think you have a good idea of what the Arizona flag looks like. This is similar to the NAEP data explorer not being able to give us academic scores for charter school students in Nevada because, well, like the visual the sector is just too small. In fact, when you examine NACSA’s top 10 ranked charter school laws, the list correlates strongly with small sectors, weakly with impressive results.

I want to make sure that my friends in the Silver State understand that I do not want to be understood to be critical of their efforts-I want nothing but the best for Nevada charters. Rather I want to not set the bar too low on defining charter school success, nor to misunderstand what actual success in charter schooling looks like. Hint: success looks a lot like Arizona and Colorado.

The comment section as always remains open if someone would like to explain why a rational person would score Nevada’s charter law three times higher than Arizona and Colorado. And by “any rational person” I mean “any rational person who supports charter schools” as obviously lots of people who do not support charters would have ample reason to rank Nevada’s law three times higher than Arizona or Colorado’s- as from that perspective delightfully contained.


Quotes of the Day-Colorado Charter Schools

March 29, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Denver Post ran a story about charter schools flourishing in Colorado. Money quote on the blessings of creative destruction:

“Take the roughly 1,700 public schools in Colorado, multiply that by 20 years, and the odds of a district-run public school being shut down by the state is 34,000 to one,” said Alex Medler, a Boulder-based consultant who worked for six years as vice president for policy at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. “Compare that to one in 10 charters closing — one in five for Colorado — and you’ll see the imbalance.”

“The lopsidedness of district-run school versus charter public school accountability is striking,” Medler said.

Quite right- Colorado charters face real accountability conducted frontier justice style by parents with charter schools facing a one in five shot of being closed. District schools meanwhile face faux accountability (mere bureaucratic compliance) and a 1/34,000 danger of being closed.

That was the great quote in the article. The unintentionally humorous quote:

Rico Munn, a former state board member and now superintendent of Aurora Public Schools, said the board was fairly balanced in the past when it came to charter appeals. But lately, the board appears to believe charters should “rise and fall only on parental choice” and not any other factors.

Hmm, rising and falling only on parental choice. That would be consistent with the NACSA 9/33 score for Colorado on their recent rankings. I wonder how all this letting things rise and fall only on parental choice business works out academically. Oh, that’s right we actually have scores:


Pssst…NACSA…Size DOES matter

March 16, 2017

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I was looking at NACSA’s 2014 ratings for state charter school laws, as these would have been the most relevant before the most recent NAEP. Hailing from the out west, I noticed that Nevada had a score (26) nearly three times the score of both Arizona (9) and Colorado (9).

Longtime readers of JPGB of course will be aware that charter school students in both Arizona and Colorado rocked the 2015 NAEP exams like nobody’s business. Nevada on the other hand has had a very difficult experience with charter schooling. A decade ago or so ago I wrote a study for the Nevada Policy Research Institute that basically concluded that Nevada was missing out on high quality schools and the opportunity to relieve overcrowding in the public schools, and so should follow the example of their Arizona neighbor and get in the game. I wrote one of the earliest Jayblog posts on the subject called Fear and Loathing in Carson City:

Nevada, by comparison, has been hesitant in expanding parental options. In the five states surround Nevada (Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon and Utah) and these states have 482, 710, 30, 81 and 60 charter schools respectively, collectively educating hundreds of thousands of students. With only 22 charter schools, Nevada is the tortoise of the region.

On November 30 of 2007, the Nevada Board of Education voted 8-0 to impose a moratorium on the approval of new charter schools. Board members told the press that the freeze was necessary because the state Education Department is being “overwhelmed” by 11 charter applications.

Arizona’s State Board for Charter Schools oversees 482 Arizona charter schools with a staff of 8. Nevada’s board overseeing cosmetology currently has 14 full-time employees.

The fear and loathing in this case referred to the sad fact that many in Carson City obviously feared and loathed charter schools. Imagine then my surprise to see a national charter school organization rank the same law a few years later as nearly three times higher than laws in nearby Western states that had produced far more opportunities for kids. Out of curiosity, I decided to check the 2015 NAEP scores for Nevada charter students.

NAEP yielded no information: the Nevada charter sector remains too small to reliably sample.

Now to give you some perspective on this, NAEP lists 5.6% of students in Nevada as Asians, and the data explorer will give you a number for male Asian students taking the 8th grade math exam in 2015 (Nevada’s Asian males did well on 8th grade math btw) but nothing for charter students of all sorts. NAEP cannot reliably sample charter students in Nevada because in 2013-14 they still only had 34 charter schools according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Those numbers for Arizona and Colorado btw were 605 and 197 respectively. Presumably the Nevada law would eventually like to have some “charter schools” result from their “charter school” law?

Next I decided to check out the 2015 rankings. The top 10 state charter sectors did not exactly cover themselves in 2015 NAEP glory. Indiana and Nevada tied for first place in their rankings, but neither state would yield NAEP estimates for performance. Alas Indiana’s 75 charter schools were not yet getting the job done in terms of scaling into the NAEP. The Nevada law passed in 1997 and Indiana in 2001. Hopefully this will get better in the future but for now:

The third ranked state (Ohio) has scores reported but those scores are consistently low, but Ohio’s NACSA score only recently increased. NACSA gets a Mulligan on that one, but continuing down the top 10 list however one fails to gain confidence regarding Ohio’s future prospects. Alabama ranks fourth, but is a relative newcomer to charter schooling so also cannot report scores. The Texas charter law ranks fifth on the NACSA 2015 list but has charter scores on NAEP that have yet to impress. I am a Texan who became an Arizonan and I would not swap charter laws with Texas even if they threw a shale formation into the bargain. In the vast majority of Texas schooling is still “take it or leave it” from the districts, whereas in Arizona even our Beverly Hills type districts are anxious for you to open enroll from outside the boundaries.

The same applies to seventh ranked Minnesota- the nation’s oldest charter law. You can get NAEP scores in MN, and I can’t thank them enough for inventing charter schools, but the feeling I get from MN charters is that they are safely contained rather than dynamic. The last three states in NACSA’s top 10-Mississippi, Missouri and South Carolina- all lack enough charter students to meet the minimum NAEP reporting requirements as well. Louisiana comes in 10th.

If you are scoring at home, NACSA’s top 10 is composed of six states with charter sectors that can charitably be described as “wee-tiny” and three others that have yet to flourish like an Arizona or Colorado, and then Louisiana. Tenth rated Louisiana’s charter sector does well in the NAEP, so bully for them, but they obviously have a unique charter history. Notably absent from NACSA’s top 10- very healthy charter sectors like Florida and Washington D.C.

Not to jump to any premature conclusions, but it appears that NACSA’s rating may be overly concerned with bureaucratic compliance rather than performance- either of the academic sort, or the “actually produces charter schools” kind. Arizona and Colorado produced hundreds of charter schools with NAEP scores that compare favorably to New Hampshire (and sometimes Massachusetts) with a 9 score from NACSA. I for one would like to see what they could do with, say, a five score from NACSA. What’s that you say? Three? Ok fine let’s try it out if you insist!

Now maybe I am missing something here, and that is why the comment section is open. I’ll leave you with the following question to consider- Nevada public schools suffer from catastrophic overcrowding. Public education in Las Vegas for a great many students involves sitting in a portable trailer being taught by yet another long-term substitute teacher. Clark County starts each school year with thousands of open teaching spots they are desperate to fill, and their officials told the New York Times they could build 23 new elementary campuses and they would be overcrowded on day one. The United States Census Bureau sees no end in sight for enrollment growth.

Please tell me why any Nevadan in their right mind would prefer Nevada’s charter law to what we see in Arizona and Colorado. I mean maybe scale and great results is not everyone’s cup of tea, but any port in a storm right?


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