Justin Bieber, Orlando Bloom, and pop culture ineptness

Mike and Michelle talk teacher-tenure lawsuits, charter schools offering pre-K, and teacher-union midterm politics. Dara ups the stakes with a study on high-stakes testing of voucher students.

Amber's Research Minute

"High-Stakes Choice Achievement and Accountability in the Nation’s Oldest Urban Voucher Program," by John F. Witte, et al., Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (June 9, 2014).

Transcript

Mike Petrilli:             Hello. This is your host, Mike Petrilli, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at The Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Orlando Bloom of education reform, Michelle Gininger.

Michelle G:               I'll take that.

Mike Petrilli:             You know why we say that [crosstalk 00:00:36]? Orlando Bloom, who I'm not sure I know who that is, but I like him because supposedly he punched Justin Bieber this week.

Michelle G:               What do you have against Justin Bieber? Are you on the anti-Bieber chain?

Mike Petrilli:             Look, I don't know the Justin Bieb- ... the Biebster, what do we call him? The Bieber? Biebster? [Biebalicious 00:00:54]? I don't know. What do we call him? I don't know him all that well. But I will say this. [crosstalk 00:00:58] He does look pretty annoying. It sounds like he was what, hitting on Orlando Bloom's wife?

Michelle G:               Ex-wife, I believe.

Mike Petrilli:             Ex-wife? All right, then why'd he hit him?

Michelle G:               We probably should have had more information before we went [crosstalk 00:01:11] down this.

Mike Petrilli:             Folks, listeners, listen. There are many, many hundreds of you out there. Sometimes I need help with pop culture references, so send them my way at Michael Petrilli.

Michelle G:               But we do know education policy.

Mike Petrilli:             We know education policy and that's what we're going to get to. Michelle, let's do it. Brandon is here to help us. Brandon, let's play, Pardon the Gadfly.

Brandon Wright:       7 families in Albany have filed the nation's 2nd Vergara-inspired lawsuit, arguing that New York State's teacher tenure and teacher seniority laws violate their children's right to effective education. Are these New York versions of Vergara a good idea?

Mike Petrilli:             So, what do you think, Michelle? This is the Campbell Brown suit. Campbell Brown. Do you support this? Are you happy?

Michelle G:               I'm pretty excited because we're going to disagree. I know you're not a big fan of the other states following suit. I am. Yes, it's a total mess when you bring in the courts. It's going to blow everything up, but teacher tenure is not good in any instance. I am against teacher tenure.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay. Let's [head 00:02:10] back this a little bit here. All right? Yes, there is a huge problem with getting the courts involved in this kind of education policy [crosstalk 00:02:17].

Michelle G:               On that, we agree.

Mike Petrilli:             All right. But, that's a huge issue. That's what this is. It's a court case, Michelle, okay? If the question is, should we be pushing in the New York legislature to reform tenure? Fine. I'm fine with that. I'm particularly interested in any kind of reform that gets at LIFO, that says that school districts have to consider seniority when making termination decisions. But here's the thing about New York versus California, right? In California, it was what, a 2 year probationary period for teachers. New York is 3. That makes a difference. Look, you've got 2 years, 2 cycles of teacher evaluations, 2 cycles of value-added scores, when you are trying to decide if somebody should get tenure.

                                    What we see in New York City is when Joel Klein came in and said, "Look, we're going to take this seriously. We're going to actually make real decisions at this point of determining tenure and we're not going to just automatically give tenure to teachers because they reached that period," guess what? It worked. They were able to push a lot of teachers out of the system. Why not focus on that, do that statewide, instead of filing a new lawsuit?

Michelle G:               I mean, I agree that doing things by the court is a really messy, not great way of doing it, but how long [crosstalk 00:03:23]. How long have we been trying, have ed reformers been out there trying to reform tenure in states? How long?

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle G:               Right. A very, very long time.

Mike Petrilli:             That depends. We got some real reform in the last few years. We've seen a lot of movement.

Michelle G:               But then, and you know ... Bloomberg did a really great job of not just giving tenure to everybody, but that depends on who your leader is. Is Bill de Blasio going to be holding this up right and doing the right thing and not just handing out tenure to every teacher? I don't think so. I think that 3 years, 5 years, like in Ohio, isn't enough time to earn tenure. If you're not doing your job, you're not performing, it shouldn't be impossible to fire someone. You're going to be Fordham's incoming president later this week. If you're not doing your job, you're not bought in.

Mike Petrilli:             I didn't think you were going to go there, Michelle. I thought you were saying that I should have the authority to fire the staff at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Michelle G:               You do have that authority.

Mike Petrilli:             I do have that authority. Okay.

Michelle G:               Which is why we all do our jobs.

Mike Petrilli:             Which is why, in the end, you agree with me.

Michelle G:               Oh, yes, I do. Mike was right. Mike was right.

Mike Petrilli:             That's very well done. I'm just teasing about that. All right. Topic number 2, Brandon.

Brandon Wright:       In the upcoming school year, New York City charter schools will be allowed to offer pre-K for the 1st time, but many other states continue to make it all but impossible for charters to offer preschool services. Should they?

Mike Petrilli:             Well, yeah. Michelle, we have a study in the works on this question by [Sara Meech 00:04:48], who is doing the study for us and for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, looking at what that landscape is out there across the states, in terms of charters getting access to preschool funding and policies. This is a no-brainer, right?

Michelle G:               This is a no-brainer and this is crazy that we're even in this situation, especially since some of these folks who are against charters want universal pre-K. How are they going to do that without including, say, charter schools? That's a huge sector that can educate a lot of pre-K kids.

Mike Petrilli:             Yup. There's certainly plenty of states, like our home state of Ohio, where there simply is not much state money for pre-K. Okay? It's basically, there's the federal funds for Head Start and not much more than that. Look, I'm ready to say that's a problem, okay? I do think pre-K investment makes sense if you do high quality and all the rest. In states though that do provide some kind of funding to traditional public schools, they should absolutely make sure that funding goes to charter schools. We see here in D.C. what happens. When a charter school can start at age 3 with kids, they got an incredible impact, and particularly the high-performing charter schools. These 2 sectors, the charters and the preschool worlds, they need to come together.

Michelle G:               Yes. On this question, we agree 1000%.

Mike Petrilli:             It's like, what, peanut butter ... It's like, what, peanut butter and chocolate?

Michelle G:               Yeah. I thought you were going to say jelly, and then I was going to say, well, what kind of jelly do you like, and then that could bring us down a whole other path.

Mike Petrilli:             No, no.

Michelle G:               Because grape jelly is no good.

Mike Petrilli:             I prefer the Reese's peanut butter cup analogy.

Michelle G:               Yeah.

Mike Petrilli:             You can't beat peanut butter and chocolate. It's as good as it gets. That is what charter schools and pre-K ...

Michelle G:               Could be.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, thank you. Very good. Okay, Brandon, topic number 3.

Brandon Wright:       Teacher unions are set to play hardball in this year's midterms and Politico reports that they'll likely spend at least $70 million and are encouraging female teachers to try to convince their husbands to vote Democrat. Is this likely to work?

Michelle G:               Mike, I have a question for you.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, Michelle?

Michelle G:               Does [Megan 00:06:44] dictate your vote?

Mike Petrilli:             She does not. She has, at times, dictated where I live, and that is how I ...

Michelle G:               That seems fair.

Mike Petrilli:             ... and how I turned up to be the only Bush administration appointee living in Takoma Park, Maryland, the Berkeley of the D.C. area. Look, this is funny. Mike Antonucci, who follows the unions better than anybody, of course he quipped that he is pretty sure that whoever devised this plan is not married, at least not successfully.

Michelle G:               Yes, I mean, there's a great ... What's the advertising show called?

Mike Petrilli:             Mad Men?

Michelle G:               There's a great Mad Men episode where they're talking about the Kennedy election, the wives are, and one of the woman says, "Well, I'm going to have to ask my husband how I'll vote." We have come a long way. Now, women are dictating how their husbands are going to vote. This is a win.

Mike Petrilli:             No, we'll see. It is interesting. There's a huge gender divide in our politics right now. Women, much, much more likely to vote for the Democrats, although it's really single women that are much more likely. Married women, it's not quite as pronounced, but still, unions are saying, in a lot of these swing states, in the South or in the Midwest, you've got ... The Democrats have a hard time getting the votes of white men, especially in suburbs, exurbs, small towns, but plenty of those men are married to teachers. So, we'll see. You know what I say to this, to the NEA? Thank God for the secret vote, for the secret ballot. I'm really excited that generally you are not expected to go into the voting booth with your spouse.

Michelle G:               So you think, will we have a case of many husbands voting for Republicans but telling their wives and just being shocked when the election results come in?

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly.

Michelle G:               I have no idea how this happened.

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly. You can tell that to Nate Silver. The exit polls on this one are not going to be accurate.

Michelle G:               And we can thank the union.

Mike Petrilli:             Exactly. All right. That's all the time we got for Pardon the Gadfly. Thanks for helping us play, Brandon. You may notice a new voice there, Brandon Wright, taking over from the eminently talented Pamela Tatz, who is heading briefly to the West Coast, leaving us here at Fordham. We will miss her. We'll have her on the show 1 more time before we go and give her a hard time about this terrible career choice that she's making.

Michelle G:               And we do it every single day.

Mike Petrilli:             As we do. All right. Now it's time for everyone's favorite, Amber's Research Minute. Dara Zeehandelaar, welcome back to the show.

Dara Z:                       Thank you, thank you.

Mike Petrilli:             You are pitching in for Amber, who is on a well-deserved vacation. This means that you get to answer the question of the day, what do you think about Justin Bieber, and would you like to punch him?

Dara Z:                       I wanted to high-five Orlando Bloom when I heard about this story. I'm pretty sure that it has something to do with somebody's girlfriend or I didn't read that far enough into the story. I think it's about girls and not out of just general spite, but I don't care about the backstory. I think I speak for everyone ...

Michelle G:               We're unclear on the facts too.

Mike Petrilli:             But already, no, the fact that Dara had seen this headline. She knew what we were talking about. We had to just like Google pop culture and see what popped up, but you had actually [crosstalk 00:09:49].

Michelle G:               You're not supposed to tell people we do that.

Mike Petrilli:             I know. Is that what we do? Is that how we do it?

Dara Z:                       Oh my gosh. I wish that ...

Mike Petrilli:             Should we go to the trashy magazines? Anyways, very impressive, Dara, that you are in the loop even though you sit over there in that office doing research all day.

Dara Z:                       Oh my gosh. Could I take that back? I'd like to pretend like I didn't know what you were talking about.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay.

Michelle G:               Too late. [crosstalk 00:10:07]

Mike Petrilli:             Dara, not a Bieber fan. Okay, Dara, what do you have for us this week?

Dara Z:                       I've got a study from this month's Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal from John Witte, Patrick Wolf, Joshua Cowen, Deven Carlson, and David Fleming, all stars. It's called "High-Stakes Choice, Achievement and Accountability in the Nation’s Oldest Urban Voucher Program." It's a unique look at 1 very interesting aspect of the Milwaukee parental choice program. Now, we very well know that voucher programs, writ large, have little, if any, accountability mechanisms. We've talked about this before.

Mike Petrilli:             Mechanisms beyond parental choice itself.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Mike Petrilli:             I mean, test-based accountability.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Mike Petrilli:             Great.

Dara Z:                       But, in Milwaukee, as of the 2010-11 school year, private schools participating in the voucher program are required to test students who receive the vouchers with the reading and math portions of the state test, and to report the results for public consumption. Now, the researchers had that data, but they also, for a group of students, had pre-reform test scores, because this group was already doing an evaluation of the voucher program. This gave the authors the opportunity to estimate the impact of the accountability policy on student achievement outcomes.

                                    What they found is that high stakes testing has a positive impact on the achievement scores of voucher students, in the 1st year after private schools were required to test those students. They determined this by looking at the test scores of voucher students over a 3 year period, 2 years before the change and 1 year after. They had a fairly limited sample of 437, mostly 7th and 8th graders participating in the program, compared this group to a similar group of Milwaukee public school students.

                                    The voucher students saw a significant growth in their test scores during the 1st year of the accountability policy, with particularly positive results for students who were already at the high end in math and at the low end in reading. The policy had a positive impact on African American students in both reading and math, and for Hispanic, white, and Asian students, in math only. The authors did a number of tests of this result, and they fairly convincingly argue that the positive impact of the policy was a result of the policy, and not because of other factors.

                                    But, of course, a few caveats. It's hard to generalize to students in other grades, and it's very hard to generalize to students in other cities and other voucher programs, because of the scope of the Milwaukee program. It's also possible that the public reporting requirement motivated private schools to do better, period, and it had nothing to do with voucher students. Finally, because the researchers could only look at 1 year of data post-reform, it could be that this is a 1 year bump in scores, rather than a sign of sustained improvement.

Mike Petrilli:             [Woof 00:12:54]. Wow. That is very exciting, Dara, and this is in fact 1 argument we make when we argue for more test-based accountability for voucher programs. It was our hope that this would, in fact, raise student achievement. There were some indications from Milwaukee that that might have been the case, and this sounds like this is a much more in-depth, sophisticated analysis that says, "Yes, indeed, that's exactly what happened."

Michelle G:               Yes. This is really exciting news. I think there's been a lot of debate within the choice movement about accountability and maybe Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber can work it out, just like the 2 sides of the voucher argument can work it out too. Can we be optimistic here?

Mike Petrilli:             Beautiful. Beautifully said, Michelle. I love it. I do suspect that it could be a 1 year bump or at least a bump that is not sustained forever. We've seen that in the traditional public schools. That, you look at the nation as a whole, we got a big 1 time bump in the late 90s or early 2000s, when states embraced test-based accountability. The improvements eventually faded out. They hit a plateau. Now we maintain that higher level of performance. We didn't get back down.

                                    You may see something here. [Lookit 00:14:04], when you suddenly know, as a school, that somebody's looking over your shoulder and they're going to look at the student achievement results, it makes sense. Any bit of little more focus, a little more focus on what's on the test, and you can see these kinds of results. Look, people on the other side of this issue, it doesn't take away from their argument, which is that, look, that might have led to teaching to the test. It might have forced schools to do something that ... to stop doing things that made them unique and made them special and made them in effect private. It's not that it answers these questions about trade-offs, but it's pretty compelling that this policy seems to be pretty good when it comes to student learning.

Dara Z:                       When it comes to student testing. When it comes to student learning, again, not to keep beating this drum, but we also need high standards and good tests.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, no, that's absolutely right. This is using whatever standardized test they were using for the evaluation or the state test?

Dara Z:                       It's the state test.

Mike Petrilli:             It's the state test. This is a big question. We finally, with our friends in the voucher world, came to say, you know, if we would prefer you to use the state tests for the voucher schools, including common core tests, if that's what you're moving to, but we understand the sensitivities around that and if it's just some kind of reputable standardized test, we are okay with that. That might be the best that we can do, because again, the trade-offs. We don't want private schools to lose their distinctiveness and feel like they all have to look like everyone else.

Dara Z:                       Right, although it does put some people into kind of a catch-22, because these researchers were able to say that the voucher students saw improvement, because they were using the same test, the state test, as the Milwaukee public school students. You can't make that conclusion robustly if you're not using the same test.

Mike Petrilli:             I see. I see. So if they'd used the Stanford 9 instead, we just don't know if they would have seen the same results.

Dara Z:                       Right.

Michelle G:               Right, and I think that was our inclination to using the common yardstick, as it being a tool for parents too. If you can see how a private school is performing on 1 test, and the public school on the same test, you get an understanding of where they are, even though, of course, tests aren't the perfect measure.

Dara Z:                       Right, but, like I said, it puts some people into a tough position because they want to be able to prove that the voucher system is effective, but they also don't want to sacrifice the flexibility of being forced to use the state test or not, in order to prove that it works.

Mike Petrilli:             Gotcha. The big question, where is Justin Bieber on this question? Do you think he's pro-accountability or no?

Michelle G:               Why don't you tweet him and ask?

Dara Z:                       I don't think that he would pass the 7th grade Wisconsin state test.

Mike Petrilli:             Ouch. Ouch. Throwing it. Loving it.

Michelle G:               Oh, man, I could actually, because [crosstalk 00:16:43].

Dara Z:                       Whatever. Bring it. I could take him.

Mike Petrilli:             You could bring it.

Dara Z:                       I could take him.

Mike Petrilli:             Well, yeah, that.

Michelle G:               But could you take Orlando Bloom?

Dara Z:                       Why would I want to?

Mike Petrilli:             Well said. Okay, gang. That's all the time we've got for this week. Until next week.

Michelle G:               I'm Michelle Gininger.

Mike Petrilli:             And I'm Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.