Between the Promise of his greener days and these he masters now

March 21, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So I was looking at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Dashboard on state charter school sectors trying to figure out how the Arizona Charter sector managed to put it all together to rock the 2015 NAEP like a rock star on an epic hotel room thrashing bender. Just as a reminder, Arizona has long been known as a Wild West of charter schooling- liberal authorizing, relatively light-touch state oversight, etc. Just the sort of thing that a central planner hates. In addition, the sector is not generously funded by national standards, pulling in about $8k per student from all sources, and educates a majority-minority student body. Moreover the Credo analysis from a few years ago held its nose at AZ charter results. And yet, the 2015 NAEP comes in and shows AZ charter students scoring like a New England state in all four exams and these results are backed up by the state AZ Merit exam. What gives?

One possible factor- maturation:

AZ charter sector age

Paul Peterson noted years ago that the Credo analysis of charter test scores had not controlled for two potentially important factors- let’s call them shakedown cruise and transfer effects. Like any social enterprise, a school is unlikely to be at peak effectiveness in the early going.  In 2005-06 Arizona charter schools in years 1-3 outnumbered those that had been operating for 10 or more years three to one. Let the clock run a bit however and by 2013-14 old timers outnumber newbies by more than two to one. As far as transfer effects go, some brand new schools will have nothing but transfers, whereas established schools will typically be breaking in a new class of their youngest grade covered and some transfers. So we waited things out in Arizona and eventually we were rewarded with results like:

8m 2015 AZ Hispanic charter

Well AZ charters- you are growns up, you’re growns up and you’re growns up!

Next factor: churn.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools notes that between 2010-11 and 2014-15, 215 new charter schools opened. During the 2010-11 to 2013-14 period 96 Arizona charter schools closed. So factoring in life cycle performance, those 215 that opened may have looked pretty meh when Credo checked in on them as youngsters, but perhaps they were just out having an ale with Falstaff and the gang figuring a few things out getting their sea-legs under them as young organizations.

Let’s assume further that those 96 schools that closed actually were worse than meh on average. Arizona grants 15 year charters, so the oldest of the lot did not start coming up for renewal from the Arizona State Charter School Board until 2010. Charters of course sometimes close due to factors other than state action as well, and academically fantastic schools will be greatly under-represented in this subset. So you open about twice as many schools as you close over the last few years but the ones you open are sorting things out and getting better, while the ones you closed just couldn’t cut it results in:

Florida’s charter sector also rocked the 2015 NAEP. How much did they rock the 2015 NAEP you ask? Well this much:

Hey it’s cute Vermont almost tied Florida charter schools on the reading NAEP, especially since they are 92% Anglo and spend $15,500 per kid. Florida charters btw: 76% minority student body. I’m not going to look up the spending number but it is far less than $15,500. How’s that for closing the achievement gap? If you don’t believe it go and run the numbers for yourself here.

Florida charters seem to be doing something right. Possible maturation factor here as well? I’ll take “Sure Looks that Way to Me” for a thousand Alex:

Florida charter schools age

The National Alliance shows about 300 new charters opening and 101 closing in Florida in recent years. You let parents pick schools that are good fits for their kids, open a new bunch of schools on their way to improving, and close sub-meh, guess what your majority minority sector can rock the NAEP like a New England state.

Now not every charter sector, even among the long-standing ones, sees these kind of results. Many factors can and will influence such scores besides those discussed here. For instance, Michigan charter schools look pretty bad at first blush, but a concentration in Detroit may have something to do with that. The ability to slice and dice the NAEP data has definite limits and multiple factors can be simultaneously at play.  Minnesota however has the nation’s oldest charter law and seems to notably lack the sort of grand-slam ability of the Arizona, Colorado and Florida sectors. A lack of dynamism may be contributing while the average age of Minnesota charter schools has increased, very few new schools have been opening, and very few established schools closing- almost as though charters have their little niche but have been safely contained.

Last month Neerav asked “Is School Supply F***ing Everything?” Maybe so. Keep those new schools coming, let parents sort them out, and if parents don’t torpedo the low-performers don’t renew their charters. Otherwise sit back and enjoy!


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.


NVESA Wonkathon Keeps Swinging

June 18, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

NV ESA wonkathon continues to belt out tunes and has spilled into other venues! Rick Hess weighed in with this off-site commentary:

The thinking provoked by the Nevada ESA has been especially promising. For instance, this week the Fordham Institute has had a number of folks contributing to a blog series on the program. I’d been prepared for a lot of bureaucratic talk about how we have to ensure there are “only” quality offerings (as if we a] know how to do that and b] we can all easily agree on what “quality” entails). Instead, most of the contributors asked what it will take to promote an influx of great providers, healthy transparency, useful information on quality, and a vibrant ecosystem. This focus on what it takes for choice systems to work has too often been buried under vacuous cheerleading or bureaucratic proposals for test-based quality control when it comes to vouchers and charters, and I find it a really promising sign. 

Meanwhile back at wonkathon central, we have two new entries from Neerav Kingsland and Lindsey Burke.

Goldstein-Gone-Wild already nominated NK for harbormaster in the first post, which may have raised expectations for the actual NK post to Sports-Illustrated Cover Curse type of level. I’m broadly sympathetic to the notion that NVESA is leaving too much money on the table for the incumbent system, and too little for disadvantaged kids-especially for special needs kids. I don’t however see the current stock of private school seats and their prices as terribly relevant to where this is ultimately going to go, as those seats are few and far between anyway. NVESA is going to create a demand for schooling models that can get the job done at what passes as low spending per pupil these days. The challenge is to see how we can meet that demand.

NK also seems to view NVESA as a voucher program rather than a multi-use account model. GGW’s call for micro-schools, education cooperatives and who-knows-what-else-parents-may-come-up-with all stand within the realm of the possible.

Meanwhile Lindsey Burke calls the Wolf!

No not that Wolf!

Not that one either!

 

Now cut it out! This Wolf:

Burke quite rightly cites the fantastic survey of private school leaders in Louisiana that Wolf and company did for AEI. This very careful and important study can be summarized as:

I fear btw that Kingsland’s call to disallow topping-off for private schools would result in just such a backfire by serving as a defacto price cap. Better in my view to increase the funding for low-income and otherwise disadvantaged kids.

Also some interesting discussion yesterday on Twitter about NCLB supplemental services as a cautionary tale for ESA. More on that later and more wonkathon posts are on the way-stay tuned!


ETS: Even The Best and Brightest of American Young Adults are Dim

March 3, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Hey Mav, you got the number for that truck driving school in Oklahoma? I think we’re going to need it. ETS dives into Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) data to measure the abilities of the American millennial generation (aka our those tasked with keeping the lights on after the entire Baby Boom generation reaches retirement age circa 2030) compared to their peers around the globe. The news is not good:

One central message that emerges from this report is that, despite having the highest levels of educational attainment of any previous American generation, these young adults on average demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology-rich environments compared to their international peers. These findings hold true when looking at millennials overall, our best performing and most educated, those who are native born, and those from the highest socioeconomic background. Equally troubling is that these findings represent a decrease in literacy and numeracy skills for U.S. adults when compared with results from previous adult surveys.

Link to full report here. I’ll be reading through this, I’m not convinced that this squares with other analysis of PISA data available, but I plan to look into it. If it holds up it is a damning indictment not only of K-12 but also of our six year beer soaked odysseys of self discovery sometimes resulting in degrees apparently of lower value that we suspected higher education system.

HT Kingsland

 

 


Reason Foundation: Will Regulation Ruin School Choice in the Big Easy?

December 11, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Well worth watching…similar tensions exist in all choice programs to some degree.


The Future of Private Schooling, if any

September 22, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Neerav Kingsland has a fun post over at relinquishment noting that at below current rates of student growth that charter schools take over public education before 2050 through the magic of compound interest. Kingsland notes:

Clearly, I could give many reasons why the charter school sector won’t maintain this growth.

I could also give many reasons why the charter school sector could grow much faster.

Charter schools face natural limits to growth, primarily in the need for facility funding. The only way for me to imagine a much faster rate of growth would be to have a general recognition of the fact that school buildings represent a massive investment of public resources that are often misused to the detriment of children and taxpayers. Then we would need policymakers to develop a mechanism for increasing the educational ROI for those investments on behalf of children and taxpayers within a new context of public education that gets away from the 19th century heavily politicized geographically defined factory model.

Who could imagine such a thing?

We are a long, long way from charters displacing districts as the dominant form of public education. A couple of decades trending in that direction however might be enough, all else being equal, to greatly diminish private education.  Charter schools hit private schools much harder than the districts, so the question arises: is the current pace of private choice program growth sufficient to keep private school education viable?

Charter vs. Private Choice enrollment

I cobbled together the above chart from a number of different data sources, including NCES, AFC, NAPCS etc.  Let’s just say that the current trends do not look promising for traditional private schools on a national level.  Part of the story here is that charter schools are making progress in the big population states (CA, TX, NY) that the private choice world has yet to crack. The real question then becomes how many states, if any, have funded private education on an equitable basis with charters? When you factor in the rise of not only charter schools, but also home-schooling (which also draws from a universe of parents looking for an alternative to district schools) how viable does private schooling appear in the long run state by state?

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I suspect careful consideration of the available data would deliver a fairly grim answer from the perspective of private education, even in leading private choice states.  Here in Arizona, one of the leading private choice states, our choice programs at most seem to be saving private schools from extinction, but treading water as a fairly small niche.  It is kind of hilarious to watch the school district advocacy industrial complex foam at the mouth about private choice programs while charter schools continue to steadily gain market share. Mongo is easily distracted by shiny objects, but I digress. Private choice scholarship amounts routinely trail funds provided to charter schools across the country. Once you fill up empty seats at existing private schools, you create a huge incentive for school operators to open new charter as opposed to private schools with the much higher rates of per-student funding offered.

I have no nostalgic attachment to private education but in a country with so few high quality options available it seems foolish to thoughtlessly discard an entire sector of schooling. If we want to put things on a more equitable footing to let parents sort things out without financially nudging them into one sector over another, we will need broader and better designed private choice programs.

 


Kingsland News and a Quick Thought Experiment

April 4, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I read this morning that Neerav Kingsland is stepping down as CEO of New Schools for New Orleans and will be taking on a new role of helping to spread the Recovery School District model.  New Orleans’ loss is the nation’s gain- RSD is an incredibly exciting model which ought to be emulated widely.

The basic idea of the RSD is that school buildings are a crucial educational asset and that we ought to be getting them into the hands of people who will run quality based choice schools.  When done well, as in New Orleans, you are constantly chopping off the left end of the bell curve in terms of academic outcomes.  Charter operators get a certain agreed to period to operate, their outcomes are assessed, and if they don’t do well their charter is not renewed and the RSD puts out an RFP so other CMO can compete for the right to educate the students and use the school building.

Accountability is no illusion here- if you stink, you are gone baby gone.  I mean its not Kathy Visser accountability where parents can hire and fire their own teachers, tutors and therapists but in terms of accountability for providers it is probably the next best thing. The attraction of the RSD model is obvious, at least for the period where the RSD is run by people who are going to do the tough and emotionally draining work of shutting down low performing schools.

Now as a little thought experiment, ask yourself the following question: if the New Orleans RSD were using, say, Stanford 10 rather than the Louisiana state test to measure achievement and academic progress in order to perform their functions, would there be any less accountability in the system?

I don’t think so either.  And when you are dealing with private schools, national norm reference tests are already widely administered and have a much lighter touch on the curricular choices of schools.