Charters & Choice

Neerav Kingsland

Marc Tucker is the author of an important new report: Fixing Our National Accountability System. You can find the executive summary here.

Although Marc and I disagree on the promise of Relinquishment (most specifically on charter schools), I agree with much of this thinking.

But, in this report, Marc makes a strategic mistake in dismissing choice-based reforms.

To put it another way: if there is a grand bargain to be made that significantly increases student achievement in the United States, it could look like this:

  • Reduce testing frequency and increase testing rigor
  • Improve the quality of the teaching force
  • Increase charter schools and choice

Why could this bargain work? Because both Democrats and Republicans might actually support all three strategies.

Why might Marc’s vision not be realized without a charter strategy? Because, without charters, his reforms reduce testing accountability and increase spending, without increasing any elements of choice, competition, or entrepreneurship.

This is likely a nonstarter for many Americans, especially centrist and conservative policy makers.

Seventy percent of the public supports charter schools. Urban charter schools outperform traditional schools. And countries such as South Korea have shown that choice and competition can increase student achievement.

Pragmatically, Marc would be much more likely to see his vision realized if he embraced charter schools. And I believe firmly that this would be better for students.

So here’s my plea: Marc, embrace charters and choice in addition to your other excellent...

I’ll have what she’s having.

New York’s latest round of state test results were released last week and the biggest news is the scores posted by Success Academy, the network of twenty-two charter schools throughout New York City run by Eva Moskowitz. Only 29 percent of New York’s kids met the new higher English standards under Common Core. Success more than doubled it with 64 percent meeting the standards. Wait. It gets better. One in three New York City students scored proficient in math, but at Success it was better than nine out of ten.

With admirable restraint, the head of the New York City Charter Center, James Merriman, pronounced the results “remarkable” and attributed the results to Success’ intensive instruction. A lot of schools, including many charter high-fliers, offer high-octane teaching. None come close to matching Success Academy’s results the last two years. 

Remarkable? No, these are results that make your jaw hit the floor hard enough to loosen your fillings. Success Academy kids didn’t merely pass the state math test, they destroyed it. For example, 680 fourth graders sat for the state test at seven of Moskowitz’s schools. Care to guess how many earned a “4,” the highest level? 

Nearly five freakin’ hundred of them!

No, this is not “remarkable.” This is Secretariat winning the Belmont by thirty-one lengths. It’s Michael Jordan dropping sixty-three points on the Celtics in the playoffs.  It’s Tiger Woods demolishing the field and winning the Masters by eighteen strokes.

On the...

Enacted in 2001 and now enrolling nearly 60,000 needy students, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) is the largest private-school choice program in the nation. Since March 2008, economist David Figlio has reported evaluation results on an annual basis. This report, his seventh and possibly last due to an unfortunate change in Florida law, documents his findings on the 2012-13 school year. The results: As in previous years, scholarship students who transfer from a public to private school tend to be lower-achieving and from poorer-performing schools. In other words, private schools aren’t “cherry-picking” students. Per test performance, Florida’s scholarship students kept pace with the progress of students, of all income levels, nationwide over the course of the year. On average, they made a 0.1 percentile gain in reading but lost -0.7 percentiles in math on nationally-normed assessments. The gain in reading and loss in math were not statistically different from zero, suggesting that scholarship students gained a year’s worth of learning. (A gain of zero is interpreted as a year’s worth of learning.) The average gains, however, camouflage some variability in gains across Florida’s private-schools. For example, in reading, scholarship students in 6 percent of private schools had sluggish average loss of less than -10 percentile points, while those in 4 percent of schools posted impressive gains of 10 points or more. Due to the recent switch in Florida’s public-school assessments, Figlio was unable to compare private-school to public-school gains. As Florida continues to ...

This is a tricky story, but stay with me.

A 10-year-old charter school in the Cincinnati area ended up in court against the Ohio Department of Education back in July in an effort to find a sponsor (after being dropped) and to reopen as usual for the 2014-15 school year. The tussling ended in a court-ordered limbo, but the legal questions remained an active concern.

A July 29 piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer summarized the story to that point and quoted Fordham’s Vice President for Sponsorship and Dayton Initiatives Kathryn Mullen Upton laying out the legal issues under consideration: "(1) The accountability system and an authorizer's judgment about the quality of a school are meaningless; (2) if you're a school that is non-renewed by any authorizer, not just ODE, you can simply go to court and up your chances of finding a new sponsor; and (3) despite recent actions to try to improve school and authorizer quality, ODE in reality has scant enforcement ability/authority… In a nutshell, it's a huge step backward for Ohio."

The limbo dragged on with no resolution but on August 12 the school announced it would not reopen due to financial distress. This is probably the end of the VLT saga.

Two lawmakers seem to think the foregoing is a desperate cry for reform of charter school law in Ohio. Honestly, it seems that – absent the court-induced time drag – the process has actually worked just like it should. ...

As a huge fan of both school choice and the NFL, I love the idea of a major star leading a great school and becoming a voice for school reform. Successful athletes who take time to give back, work with young athletes, and ensure kids get a great education should be commended, right? 

But a recent New York Times article digging into Deion Sanders’ two schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth area should be enough to make any education-reform advocate’s skin crawl. Both his elementary school and high school were among the 9 percent of all Texas schools to receive the lowest rating from the state: “improvement required.” But according to the Times, the problems go much deeper, and many of them have to do with Deion himself.

For one thing, local and national coverage has described an obsessive focus on athletics, resulting Prime Prep securing top talent. There’s nothing wrong with that by itself, as—for better or worse—schools everywhere have long been accused of going out of their way to recruit top athletes. Yet when Prime Prep was accused of violating state athletic association rules, the Times reports, “Prime Prep founders announced that they would pull out of the University Interscholastic League. That did not please the school’s teachers. The withdrawal meant the school could not field a debate team, a choir, a band.” Now they play teams from other states or, just Thursday, a team from Mexico (at the $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium, naturally).

Prime Prep has also been in the news...

A new Mathematica study persuasively puts to rest a common charge leveled at KIPP charter schools: that their test score gains are largely attributable to the attrition of their lowest-performing students. The authors compare nineteen KIPP middle schools to district schools and find no meaningful difference among those who walk in the door of each type of school. Nor do they find any difference in student attrition rates on the way out. Students who enter KIPP in later grades do indeed tend to be higher performers, but “a large part of KIPP’s cumulative effect occurs in the first year of enrollment, before attrition and replacement could have any effect.” Thus, high-achieving “backfilled” students can account for no more than one-third of the cumulative KIPP effect. Analysts, however, couldn’t determine whether students and families attracted to KIPP and its intensity are more ambitious or motivated in the first place—a point Richard Kahlenberg highlights in a critique of the study on Education Next’s website. “When children hear about the rigorous regimen,” he notes—the extended school day and copious homework, for example—“particularly motivated families might be excited to sign up, while less motivated families could be scared away.” The careful and sober Mathematica scholars openly acknowledge that this is “a potentially important limitation of this study.” And so it is. Nevertheless, the criticism rankles. Do low-income children not deserve the opportunity to attend school with others who are motivated and whose parents are ambitious for their children? Some will...

The lawyering-up edition

Mike talks with Andy Smarick about Governor Jindal’s legal war on PARCC, Wisconsin’s high-court take on union bargaining, and D.C. charter funding’s time in federal court. Amber doubles down on double dosing.

Amber's Research Minute

Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence From a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School by Eric Taylor, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, June 2014).

Transcript

Mike Petrilli:             Hello. This is your host Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at edexcellence.net. And now please join me in welcoming my cohost, the Russian hacker of education policy, Andy Smarick.

Andy Smarick:           1.2 million emails, passwords and going strong. How are you?

Mike Petrilli:             Wow! And this is a Russian crime ring that has stolen all these emails and passwords. 1.2 billion. Of course my response is, “Surely, it wasn’t mine. Surely mine … What are the odds that mine was one of those?”

Andy Smarick:           My wife and I have been the victim of two different mass hackings; one where we went to school and one where I used to have my payroll. Now when it happens to me, I’m like stand in line. I’ve been hacked so many times.

Mike Petrilli:             I did get hacked once with the one where they guy sends the email to all of your friends that I am on a trip in Croatia …

Andy Smarick:           You fell for that?

Mike Petrilli:             No, no. My email got hacked.

Andy Smarick:           Oh, wow.

Mike Petrilli:             What was interesting was to see which of my friends and family fell for it. To some degree it was like, well, they’re looking out for me. I know who’s interested in my safety, my wellbeing. On the other hand, I also know who needs to get a little bit hip to the internet.

Andy Smarick:           That’s right. But you also know who deserves to be in your will. They care about you.

Mike Petrilli:             Nice. Okay, Andy. Lots to talk about today. This is kind of a big deal, my first …

Andy Smarick:           I was about to say congratulations.

Mike Petrilli:             Thank you.

Andy Smarick:           Just as I was walking into the building, I saw poor Checker Finn, out on the curb with all of his stuff out there. Mike ascends and then boots him out.

Mike Petrilli:             His weird false idols, Divishnu, and other things that are in his office. We did move Checker out of his office to a smaller office. It looks like an antiquities museum. The stuff kind of freaks us all out a little bit.

Andy Smarick:           Checker has amassed a lot of interesting things over 50 years in the business.

Mike Petrilli:             He has. No, no, no. He did step down as President. He is still on staff, will still be going strong. Probably cause more trouble than ever, because he doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day stuff of raising money.

Andy Smarick:           Less staff meetings, that right.

Mike Petrilli:             But it is an honor to become President …

Andy Smarick:           Congratulations.

Mike Petrilli:             … of the Fordham Institute. Thank you. Of course, I have been the president of this podcast for eight or nine years.

Andy Smarick:           Has it been that long that it’s been going on?

Mike Petrilli:             Yes.

Andy Smarick:           Wow.

Mike Petrilli:             And you’ve been listening all that time.

Andy Smarick:           Well, I’ve been on for quite some time. I didn’t realize it was that long.

Mike Petrilli:             Absolutely. Okay, guys. Let’s get going.

Andy Smarick:           Let’s roll.

Mike Petrilli:             Let’s play, Pamela. It’s a special, everyone’s lawyering up edition, of the Education Gadfly. Let’s play Pardon the Gadfly.

Pamela Tatz:             Last week, the Louisiana Board of Education voted to join a lawsuit against Governor Jindal challenging his executive order last month that barred the state from administering the Common Core-aligned PARCC test. Who has the authority to decide whether the state will ditch PARCC and the Common Core?

Mike Petrilli:             Andy, what the bleep is going on down there in Louisiana?

Andy Smarick:           It is a cluster. I have never seen anything like this before. It’s one thing to file lawsuits, but there are these ethics charges against people, there are audits going on, people worried about their reputations. It’s gone from bad to ugly to gory.

Mike Petrilli:             I understand Bobby Jindal wants to President or Vice-President at least, and he’s decided he’s going to be the Tea Party candidate because his policy wong shtick wasn’t working, okay. I think that’s horrible and bad for the kids of Louisiana. Of course I’m a supporter of Common Core. I sort of get all of that. He can stand up. He can oppose the Common Core. What he may not have expected was that his own Board of Education pushed back, and his own Board of Regents pushed back, the Republicans in the legislature pushed back.

Andy Smarick:           His hand-chosen State Chief, John White.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, pushed back. David Vitter, running to replace him, has pushed back. I would think that, hey, Bobby, you’ve done enough. You have shown the Tea Party you’re with them, so say, hey, I gave it my all. But instead, he’s going to go after poor John White with ethics charges. He’s going to file lawsuits. This is madness. Stop the madness.

Andy Smarick:           I agree. I consider myself a friend of John White, so I’m biased in this too. There’s this wonderful Jonathan Swift line. It’s something along the lines of you know true genius enters the world when the dunces are in the confederacy against him. I think that Jindal was betting on the idea that he can say, when he’s running for office, that all these other people who are aligned against me, this is just proof that they all have it wrong, that I’m willing to be on and on with it.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, except that he appointed many of them, and he helped elect many of them …

Andy Smarick:           Well, there’s that small …

Mike Petrilli:             … and he’s worked with many of them on other parts of his agenda. I don’t know. It’s hard to watch. Look, long-time listeners of the show, you should know that one key figure in all of this is Stafford Palmieri, who was on the show, …

Andy Smarick:           Former Fordham.

Mike Petrilli:             … former Fordham, and is now Jindal’s Policy Director. I have not had a chance to talk to her recently. I would love to find out what the heck is going on. I would just say, look, you’ve made your point. Enough is enough. We’re now, what, nine months away from when they’re supposed to give the PARCC test?

Andy Smarick:           That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             I don’t know what they’re going to do if they don’t give that PARCC test instead. Give the test! Give it up!

Andy Smarick:           I don’t know. I think this issue is a poker sweepstake. He’s pot committed. He’s put all of his chips in on this hand, and I don’t think that you can retreat with dignity here. This may go on.

Mike Petrilli:             Maybe he can lose in court with some dignity. Okay, topic number two in our special edition on everyone’s lawyering up.

Andy Smarick:           Sponsored by the American Trial Lawyers Association.

Mike Petrilli:             Yes, thank you.

Pamela Tatz:             Wisconsin’s high court just affirmed the constitutionality of Act 10, the controversial law passed back in 2011 that, among other things, restricted collective bargaining rights of states’ teachers unions. Will it spread to other states? Is this good for ed reform?

Andy Smarick:           Had you asked me three months ago or six months ago, I would have said, “No, this is an outlier. It will stay in Wisconsin. It will go no farther.” But what is happening currently with the teachers union and Vergara and how they are digging their heals in and becoming more and more stubborn on these issues, I’m wondering if there’s going to be an increasing backlash to unions and they are unwittingly actually giving the fuel to the fire of these kinds of pieces of legislation and then lawsuits.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. It’s a really good point. Look, it’s already spread. Michigan passed a law that was somewhat similar. Indiana did it, I think mostly through executive order, at least diminishing the authority of unions, teacher unions, to bargain. All these issues, there’s a whole bundle of them. It’s what can you collectively bargain over? There’s the tenure issue. There’s the LIFO issue. Those are different issues, but they’re kind of this bundle, as you say, Andy. Look, if this turns out to be a wave election for Republicans, like many people think it will be, you could see even more Republican supermajorities in state legislatures, and a lot of those states would be more than happy to take it to the teachers unions.

Andy Smarick:           We’re seeing a perfect storm, potentially, here for the history buffs out there. Midterm elections for the President’s party are always bad. The second midterm election of a sitting President’s party are particularly bad, going all the way back to the …

Mike Petrilli:             Well, though ’98 was an exception, perhaps because of impeachment.

Andy Smarick:           That’s right, because of impeachment. But in every other one, it usually is a bloodbath. When you combine that with the fact that the teachers unions, by digging in, are giving a lot of the base a reason to lash out at organized labor. Unless the unions have decided to do a course correction, they may be on the wrong side of this.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay. Topic number three in our special lawyering up edition.

Pamela Tatz:             The D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools has filed a Federal lawsuit against the District of Columbia, alleging that the government has underfunded the Charters to the tune of almost a billion dollars, in violation of D.C. law. Do these Charters deserve equal funding? Does it matter that the DCPS spends an exorbitant amount of money?

Andy Smarick:           I love that question. Are you going to argue against fair funding?

Mike Petrilli:             I really struggle with this, Andy. I’ll be honest. If you had to pick, of all of the places in the country where we should have a fight over Charter funding, I’m not sure I’d start with D.C.

Andy Smarick:           Right, I hear you.

Mike Petrilli:             Look, it is true, that compared to DCPS they get shafted. There is a local ordinance that says they’re supposed to get share funding. Looking at it, they’ve got a case. But they get so much more money than Charter schools anywhere else.

Andy Smarick:           Probably three times as much maybe in some places in California.

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah, yeah. They get preschool funding. They get facilities funding, which I’m in favor of, but it gets you back to this old question again about equity versus adequacy.

Andy Smarick:           Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike Petrilli:             Right? You can make the same … Look, we know, we have a system that has these vast inequities in education funding across districts, between districts and Charters, and frankly, Andy, it’s not fixable. Right? There will always be inequities, I believe, because of our system of taxation, because of local control, for all these reasons. Then you start to say, well, if rich people are always going to be able to spend a bazillion dollars on their own schools, and there’s really no way to stop that, then you get to this point where you say, what we really got to focus on is making sure that there’s no school that is funded at such a low level they can’t provide good services to their kids.

Andy Smarick:           I think the politics of this may turn out to be the most interesting thing. It is one thing for a court to hear a case when the Charter sector is, say, 2%, 5% of a market share. Then the court can kind of say, well, yeah, you’re getting underfunded, but it’s really not that many kids. We really need to protect the district and make sure that all the equities there are taken care of.

Now that the Charter sector in D.C. is serving almost a majority of students, it’s not like the court is … We cannot assume that they are going to defer and always do what the district wants anymore. The Charter sector can come in and say increasingly we are serving a higher number of kids. We are growing, the district is getting smaller. We need to get ahead of this thing, make sure we have the resources we need.

Mike Petrilli:             Although I don’t even know, Andy, that that stuff would come up in a lawsuit, per se. The court’s going to look at the law. I guess there are some constitutional issues that the plaintiffs have raised, but mostly it just says, look, there’s this law that D.C., I think the D.C. Council, I assume, has passed that says that Charter schools are supposed to get equal funding. Are they living up to that law or not? You don’t even have to address the constitutional questions. It’s not really up to the court to figure out all the other ramifications, or the politics or anything like that. You just say, look, are you living up to that law or not?

Hey, by the way, let’s get those laws passed in other states, too. That’d be awesome if we had a law in Ohio that said, hey, Charter schools have to get equal funding compared to district schools and you guys figure out how to make it happen. That would be very interesting.

Andy Smarick:           It would be. This gets complicated because the formula is one thing, but then part of the argument is that DCPS is getting in-kind services from other agencies in the city, so you could make the argument that the funding formula is being fairly administered. It’s all these extra add-ons that turn out to be inequitable.

Mike Petrilli:             I see, I see, I see. All right.

Andy Smarick:           We shall se.

Mike Petrilli:             Okay, that’s all the time we’ve got for Pardon the Gadfly. Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite Amber’s Research Minute. Amber, welcome back to the show.

Amber Northern:      Thank you, Mike.

Mike Petrilli:             Back from a week off at the beach.

Amber Northern:      Man! It rained three solid days, though. Three solid days. I’m not very tanned.

Andy Smarick:           You look relaxed, though.

Amber Northern:      I’m relaxed. I mean, how many movies, how many shops can you go to when it rains?

Mike Petrilli:             Well, okay. Look, I know it’s tough, but imagine if you had two small children along with you and it rained.

Amber Northern:      Yes, that’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             Then you’d be pulling your hair out.

Amber Northern:      Quick plug for a movie. We saw Get On Up. You heard about this movie?

Mike Petrilli:             Get On Up.

Amber Northern:      Get On Up.

Andy Smarick:           Never heard of it.

Amber Northern:      You got to go see it.

Mike Petrilli:             James Brown?

Amber Northern:      James Brown life story.

Andy Smarick:           Get On Up.

Mike Petrilli:             Who plays in it?

Amber Northern:      It was awesome.

Andy Smarick:           I do.

Amber Northern:      Some guy you’ve never heard of, but who was phenomenal.

Mike Petrilli:             Really?

Amber Northern:      Yeah. Got to see it.

Andy Smarick:           But I could play him.

Mike Petrilli:             Your dance moves.

Andy Smarick:           He was an inspiration.

Amber Northern:      You know, there’s like two lines in that. Get on up. I’m a sex machine. That’s it.

Mike Petrilli:             That’s right.

Andy Smarick:           That’s the whole song.

Amber Northern:      He just repeats it over and over. The whole movie theater’s like doing the little jive.

Andy Smarick:           That’s awesome.

Amber Northern:      We’re digging it. It was a great song.

Mike Petrilli:             See? See, and if it had not rained, you would have missed that.

Amber Northern:      I know. There were some highlights.

Mike Petrilli:             Look on the bright side, Amber. Okay, what you got for us this week?

Amber Northern:      We got a new study out by Eric Taylor out of Stanford. It examines whether a double dose of math for low performers … meaning you take one remedial class, you take one grade level math class … improves math achievement. He looks at student data from ‘03-‘04 through 2013 in Miami Dade County Public Schools. He tracks the outcomes of middle school students who score just below and just above a predetermined cutoff score on the previous spring state assessment.

Mike Petrilli:             Does this mean a discontinuity analysis?                    

Amber Northern:      [inaudible 00:12:32] discontinuity, Michael Petrilli. Woohoo! He got it.

Andy Smarick:           Impressive, Mike Petrilli.

Amber Northern:      All right. So the kids just below are, obviously, taking the double dose; just above, you’re just taking the regular course. He found that students taking the double dose made significantly higher gains on math assessments compared to those students who were just above the cutoff score and didn’t double dose.    

Yet over time, the gains diminished. One year after returning to a single math schedule, just a third to a half of the gain remained. Two years later, the gain was about one-fifth to one-third of the original. Once students finished high school, there was little evidence of achievement differences between the groups. This was kind of an interesting little thing he looked into. Treated students were no more likely to have completed Algebra I by the end of ninth grade or to have completed Algebra II by the end of high school.

Then he starts talking about fadeout and it’s similar to other intervention. Fadeout’s like reducing class size. He’s got this nice discussion section about what other courses they weren’t exposed to like Art. I think some of the kids, he looked at it and there fewer kids taking foreign language, obviously, because there was this crowd out.

It was an interesting study. Then you’ve got another few studies that show the opposite, that actually show a double dose in Algebra and it did actually show kids enrolling in college enrollment at higher rates and completing. I just feel like this is not the last word on double dosing. But it showed a fadeout.

Mike Petrilli:             It showed a fadeout. Let me ask the obvious question. They said, okay, you get a big jump if you do double dosing, but then once you stop double dosing, you get a fadeout. Why not keep double dosing?

Amber Northern:      Yeah, that’s right. I do believe he looked at a double dose again, but because of the kids, and don’t quote me on this, but I think he lost some of the sample as he kept tracking and wasn’t able to say definitely …

Mike Petrilli:             Schools don’t tend to do that. They do this one year, and then that’s it? That’s the idea?

Amber Northern:      That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             Interesting.

Andy Smarick:           Interesting. The opportunity cost question is an interesting one. What do they lose by getting this additional, secondary dose of math, whether it is foreign language stuff? What are the costs of that compared to the benefits?

Amber Northern:      That’s right.

Mike Petrilli:             We’ve published some work by Nate Levenson that says in the special education world, double dosing is something that looks highly effective. If you’ve got a student who basically has some kind of learning disability, that rather than do team teaching or have a lot of expensive aides, that they might just need more time with the reading or more time with math, and that can be quite effective.

Amber Northern:      The research on extended day is pretty compelling, right?

Mike Petrilli:             Yeah. And I’m sure, look, it matters what do you with that time? Are the classes good? Are the teachers good? What’s happening during that time?

Andy Smarick:           And this was only in math, right?

Amber Northern:      Only in math.

Andy Smarick:           The interesting question, because all the research I know of says that reading games are so much harder to get because it’s just cumulative knowledge, you have to get so many hours. I wonder if there’s less of a fadeout effect when you do double dosing of reading because it just builds up your hours, your words, and so forth.

Mike Petrilli:             That’s a good question. Of course, look, I bet everything fades out, right?

Amber Northern:      Yeah.

Andy Smarick:           Sure.

Mike Petrilli:             There’s probably not a single reform that doesn’t fade out to some degree. That’s something we have to accept.

Amber Northern:      It’s not harming the kids, right?

Mike Petrilli:             Unless, the tradeoff, unless they’re missing something. But you know, if they’re missing underwater basket weaving, it’s probably not a huge problem.

Amber Northern:      Right.

Mike Petrilli:             Which I, by the way, got an A-plus in.

Andy Smarick:           Impressive again.

Mike Petrilli:             Thank you. All right, thank you, Amber. That is all the time we’ve got for this week’s show. Until next week …

Andy Smarick:           I am Andy Smarick.

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

Male:                          The Education Gadfly Show is a production of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute located in Washington D.C. For more information, visit us online at edexcellence.net.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This short review originally ran in Education Gadfly Weekly on July 23, 2014. Here we present the original review with an added Ohio perspective.

This new report from the University of Arkansas compares the productivity of public charter schools and district schools, both in terms of cost effectiveness and return on investment (ROI). For the cost-effectiveness analysis, the authors consider how many test-score points students gain on the 2010–11 NAEP for each $1,000 invested; to measure ROI, the authors used, among other data, student-achievement results from CREDO’s national charter school study (that matched students via a “virtual twin” methodology). The key finding: For every $1,000 invested, charter students across the United States earned a weighted average of an additional seventeen points in math and sixteen additional points in reading on NAEP, compared to traditional district students, controlling for student characteristics such as poverty and special-education status. This translates into charters nationwide being 40 percent more cost effective. Meanwhile, Buckeye State charters are less cost effective than national charters, though still more so than their district counterparts within the state. Ohio charters averaged nine additional NAEP points in both reading and math per $1,000 in funding relative to comparable districts. The researchers calculate ROI by converting the learning gains over time by students in charter and traditional sectors into an estimate of the economic returns over a lifetime and comparing those returns to the revenue amount invested in their education. Using Eric Hanushek’s existing estimates on lifetime earnings and productivity, they find...

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.

This new report from the University of Arkansas compares the productivity of public charter schools and district schools, both in terms of cost effectiveness and return on investment (ROI). For the cost-effectiveness analysis, the authors consider how many test-score points students gain on the 2010–11 NAEP for each $1,000 invested; to measure ROI, the authors used, among other data, student-achievement results from CREDO’s national charter school study (that matched students via a “virtual twin” methodology). The key finding: For every $1,000 invested, charter students earned a weighted average of an additional seventeen points in math and sixteen additional points in reading on NAEP, compared to traditional district students, controlling for student characteristics such as poverty and special-education status. This translates into charters nationwide being 40 percent more cost effective. The researchers calculate ROI by converting the learning gains over time by students in charter and traditional sectors into an estimate of the economic returns over a lifetime and comparing those returns to the revenue amount invested in their education. Using Eric Hanushek’s existing estimates on lifetime earnings and productivity, they find that public charter schools delivered a 3 percent increase in lifetime economic gains for a student who attends a charter for one year and a 19 percent increase for a student who attends a charter school for half of their K–12 education. It is likely that the higher productivity rests on the fact that charters receive less funding and are thus more disciplined in using those funds. If...

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