I Bless the Schools Down in Michigan

May 2, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Neerav Kingsland has written a response to posts by Jay and yours truly on Louisiana charters generally and the Recovery School District specifically. I will begin by confessing a sin- Neerav is correct that I go a bit over the top at times. The “Prime Directive” of JPGB has always been first and foremost for the authors to entertain ourselves. We do occasionally take ideas seriously, but we try to keep things light around here, which often involves reasoning by pop-culture analogy. Maybe some gratuitous use of an animated gif here or there, or an occasional musical interlude. All in moderation of course…

Like Leo Moracchioli we try not to take ourselves too seriously, but one idea that I do take very seriously is the one quoted in the original post from Jonathan Haidt, which merits repetition:

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position that he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. 

But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it is so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or an advisory board).

I do not wish to allow even the JPGB Prime Directive to interfere in this. I appreciate that David Osborne offered some comments, and that Neerav also took the time to respond in a civil fashion. I offer an apology if my bombast lacked civility as it must not interfere in the free exchange of evidence and ideas.

On the substance, I’ll offer the following comments in the spirit of the Haidt quote:

My preexisting bias before the release of the 2017 NAEP was that the Louisiana RSD was a clever policy innovation given the circumstances of post-Katrina New Orleans, but that the concept employed enormous amounts of financial and human capital. Perhaps too much of both to be of general interest.

David Osborne noted in a comment that only 43% of Louisiana charters are New Orleans RSD charters, which is a fair point to make. This however is about 43% more than the typical state, and a portion of the rest Louisiana’s charters are RSD charters operating outside New Orleans. Osborne noted in a comment that those charters aren’t going so well. In my preexisting frame, I interpret this as RSD not being able to make the trip down the Atchafalaya Bridge from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, much less to other states. This seems like confirmatory evidence to me, but maybe not. If not, why not?

NAEP data is still indeed inexact on this point, but state testing data for New Orleans specifically has also been in decline. NAEP shows large statewide declines in charter scores since 2013, and the state’s own testing data pointing in the same direction specifically for New Orleans. 

What sort of evidence would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the RSD model is very difficult to replicate and to sustain?  We all have theories of change, but is this one falsifiable? I believe that the combination of statewide NAEP scores and the decline of state test scores in New Orleans is an issue. I’m in favor of RSD continuing in New Orleans, but nothing about the evidence produced last few years is giving me the itch to replicate it in my home town.

Speaking of Phoenix, Neerav (correctly) noted a Credo multivariate study showing meh charter results in Arizona. Harvard’s Marty West found similar results, but both Credo and West used data that ended in 2012. I won’t go into the details here but I believe Credo, West, recent NAEP and recent AZMerit can all be correct. The 2012 Philadelphia Eagles went 4-12 but they won the Superbowl last season. Between lots of openings, closings, and schools maturing past their training wheels stage, AZ charters turned over their roster like a pro-sports team.

RSD advocates have a theory of change largely based upon increased state test scores in New Orleans. The more recent state data and NAEP however both seem to be signalling a warning sign. If this is just my preconceived notions getting the better of me, please help me out. Nevermind Arizona, based on anything and everything we can gather from Credo, NAEP, recent state scores and even random assignment studies, why should Louisiana charter policies be touted in preference to Michigan’s based upon the available results?

 

 

 

 

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District/Charter Combos that Outperform RSD

February 19, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Just out of curiosity, I decided to look into the Reardon data to see how many Arizona district/charter combos outperformed or tied the Recovery School District in academic growth. The above list is by no means exhaustive, more the product of throwing in some district names into the data base before my morning caffeine. The list is not short, and includes several very poor and isolated school districts.

Mind you that no one bombed any of these districts with millions in philanthropy. You can’t go to a bar in Snowflake Arizona and meet a group of six Teach for America students the way you can in the French Quarter. They also managed this somehow without a “harbor-master.” Finally, the Reardon data ends in 2015, and since then the trend in statewide data in Arizona has been positive, but in the RSD not so much. Hopefully Reardon will update his study so we can track this over time.

I want to be careful to note that I regard the Recovery School District to have been a very clever innovation for a district that had almost nothing to leverage but empty school buildings after a hurricane. If that hurricane however had leveled Houston or Dade County I’m afraid that the limited supply of philanthropic dollars and TFA teachers would have been unequal to the (much larger) task. In order to reach scale, we are going to need solutions that do without substantial infusions of outside money, as that is likely to be in increasing short supply.

Having said that, RSD landing in the 92nd percentile in growth in the Reardon data was truly a magnificent accomplishment. The leap however from “well done” to “everyone needs to do this now!!!!” looks very dangerous imo.

 


You aren’t going to do anything about poverty until you do something about education

July 30, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The above line (from then NYC Chancellor Joel Klein) in the headline came to mind when I saw these cool charts on the New Orleans Recovery School District from Neerav Kingsland. RSD turns 10 this year and the results thus far look very impressive.

So the percentage of kids eligible for a FRL not only went up, it is sky-high at 92%. Meanwhile test scores climbed. How in the world did New Orleans accomplish these goals without hiring armies of new unionized social workers, dentists and valets are various other things that could be neither afforded nor sustained? Oh that’s right they leveraged (then) empty buildings to attract teams of educators to run charter schools and gave parents a much wider array of choices regarding the sort of school their child would attend.


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.


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.