Glenn Beck ain't got nothin' on this podcast
Mike and 50CAN’s Marc Porter Magee take on career and technical education, sorting by student achievement, and charter schools’ noncognitive effects. Amber reports on charters’ productivity.
Amber's Research Minute
The Productivity of Public Charter Schools by Patrick J. Wolf, et al., (Fayetteville, AR: School Choice Demonstration Project, University of Arkansas, July 2014).
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. And now please join me welcoming my co-host, the Glenn Beck of education policy, Marc Porter Magee!
Marc Magee: Thank you, thank you.
Mike Petrilli: I'm just kidding about the Glenn Beck part, I don't know that you have a whole lot in common with him other than that you are an excellent communicator, you understand social media, you understand the current populist movement in America today...
Marc Magee: Go on, go on Mike. And it's my first time on the podcast.
Mike Petrilli: That too, that too. And I mention Glenn Beck because today, or this week, or sometime around now, he is doing his "We will not conform" event about the common core where he is telling all these people, "Conform by coming to a movie theater and paying money" that I assume is going into his pocket, "Buy my book," which is going into his pocket, and "Rally against the common core." You got to love the guy's gall.
Marc Magee: Yeah, it's a good gig, I guess.
Mike Petrilli: It's a good gig. Well, hey Marc, so you're wife, of course, Kathleen Porter Magee, who has been on the show many, many times, this is your first time, and you run a group called 50CAN. Though right now it should really be called, what, 9CAN?
Marc Magee: 7CAN? [crosstalk 01:33] Maybe 9CAN in the future. When we were starting, we started out in two states, Rhode Island and Minnesota, and John Sackler, one of our board members, used to joke that we should be called 2CAN, so we actually had a little toucan made up as our mock logo.
Mike Petrilli: And we thought it was hilarious a couple years ago in our April Fool's Day Gadfly when we decided he would move to Canada and be called CanCAN.
Marc Magee: That was a good one.
Mike Petrilli: That's a good one!
Marc Magee: One of my favorites is going to South Dakota and we'd be called SodaCAN.
Mike Petrilli: We kill us! We kill us!
Marc Magee: Have a little fun with the names.
Mike Petrilli: Alright, so the thing to know about 50CAN is you are helping to start up the state based education reform organizations to push for things like, what? Accountability, high quality charter schools, teacher effectiveness policies, et cetera...
Marc Magee: All those things and more.
Mike Petrilli: And you have become an expert on advocacy in education reform and in fact you're doing some courses very soon that people can participate in!
Marc Magee: They can! So we took everything that we are learning, across all of our different state campaigns, and organized it into a 3 hour workshop, so you can come and get up to speed on all of the different theories and practices of advocacy, and we are doing this with our friends and partners over at EdFuel. So they're running 2 2 day workshops, July 29th and 30th, and then later, August 6th and 7th. And I know you're going to be joining them as well, so we'd love to have people come out. If you go to the EdFuel website, which is EdFuel.org, they can sign up, and join us, and I believe there's even networking and drinks, so it's going to be fun.
Mike Petrilli: Let me ask you a serious question.
Marc Magee: Yes.
Mike Petrilli: What if you get a mole there at this thing?
Marc Magee: That is a serious question. So I would say-
Mike Petrilli: Do we have some kind of now, I don't know, we need some spies in the education reform movement or do some counter intelligence to make sure that we're protected here!
Marc Magee: When we were doing, we sort of tested this workshop out, we went and performed it for our friends over at grade schools last week, and I was joking at the beginning, "This is a little bit like a magician who's walking through all their tricks." But I think actually we're way too secretive in the advocacy world, and the benefits of bringing more people in and showing them how they could advocate too, far outstrip anything we get from keeping this things close to our vest.
Mike Petrilli: Well that's good since this podcast will be on the internet! And everybody can have access to it. OK, let's get started, Marc, Pamela, let's play, "Pardon the Gadfly!"
Pamela Tatz: In this weekend's Wall Street Journal, Tamar Jacoby told the stories of students who sought out quality career and technical education and argued that the nation needs to show respect for practical training. Has the education reform movement been antagonistic to career and technical education?
Mike Petrilli: Yes? Marc? What do you think?
Marc Magee: I have a nuanced view on this, which is that I think, if we're trying to push a one size fits all model, where we're saying everyone needs to go to college and therefore all of our schools are going to be structured that way, then that violates the principle of choice. But so does the way we used to do it, where we're tracking kids into programs that closed off the opportunities for college. So I think there's a way to find our way to students really being able to follow what they're interested in, parents having genuine choices for their kids, and that is the way we're going to get to a point where technical education will be embraced and not seen as some kind of second class track.
Mike Petrilli: Alright, so you're saying the key is the system can't make the choice for the student, it really has to be the student, and the parent, making that choice. Now we're talking about the, once kids are, say, 14, 15 years old, and the challenge is, even for career and technical education, or for a college prep kind of high school, you've got have pretty high level skills in reading, math, writing... that's what we're learning. And what happens to those kids who aren't even anywhere close to having those basic skills for even those kinds of programs, that's a big challenge in education reform. But Marc, don't you think we have been overly obsessed with college prep high schools? I can't think of any high profile charter school chains that are explicitly focused on career and technical education. All of the big name ones that get a ton of funding and a ton of attention are college prep.
Marc Magee: Yeah, I think that's true in terms of what we as a reform community are holding up as the models we want people to pay attention to. But on the ground, I think you're seeing local reformers doing a lot more in this direction. So one of the earliest portfolio models that we were involved in was in Connecticut under Superintendent Adamowski. One of the first things he did was actually create a nursing academy high school. And a lot of other themed approaches to schools that were different than just, "Oh, you want a choice, here's this one high performing college bound model."
Mike Petrilli: Very good. Topic number 2.
Pamela Tatz: An analysis done by WBEZ found that Chicago's school choice system sorts students into separate high schools based on their achievement levels. Is this unintended consequence cause for concern?
Mike Petrilli: I'm not even sure it's unintended, right? And I'm not sure it should be cause for concern! Here's, again on this same topic here, is this about tracking or is it about trying to make sure that there are good choices out there for lots of different kids. Right now I think the kids that get hosed by our system more than anybody else are low income kids who are high achieving. And they are asked to go into these big urban comprehensive high schools and just sit there and not get challenged. And this, having more selective schools, or some schools where they can be around other kids that are high achieving, it actually means they get to be challenged like the affluent high achieving kids in the suburbs.
Marc Magee: Yeah, I do think it's really unfair the way we frame up these questions sometimes, where we seem to make the case that the high performing kids in low performing cities need to be sacrificing for everyone else. We really never ask that question of suburban kids. I think, to your question, is it unintended, if we're putting testing provisions on high schools then that probably is going to result in some sorting. I think maybe we were surprised to the degree of sorting. I think in the story they talk about 96% of the top scoring kids ended up in six of these high schools. And I do think as education reform becomes bigger, and takes on a larger role in designing systems, these questions of what happens to the whole system as these reforms kick in, is a real one. Because I think we can all agree that we should not hold back high performing kids, but if the result is that we end up with a few high schools where all of the low performing kids are pooled, then we've got an even bigger problem.
Mike Petrilli: I guess, Marc, but I guess that's why we need to be honest about this, and admit that there are trade offs, and an earlier generation of reformers were all about de-tracking, there's that word again, and we understand why, that it didn't feel right for the system to be making those choices, and we also knew that a lot of kids were tracked into what were very much dead end tracks, that weren't going anywhere. So, it's good that we have tried to get rid of those dead end tracks and make sure that even the kids on the... even the lowest performing kids, the schools are expected to get them to some basic literacy and numeracy that's going to help them be successful in their life.
All good! But we have to wrestle with the fact that there is such a thing as pure effects, basically everybody does better if they're around high achieving kids. It helps the low achievers but it also helps the high achievers, and this is one of these things where there are only so many in these systems, high achievers to go around, so you do have to start to make some choices. And you say, "Well, is it more important to give high achievers challenge by putting them around other high achievers, or to maybe help bring up the performance of low achievers by exposing them to the high achievers?" It's kind of sacrificing the high achievers. These are really tough moral questions. I feel like we tends to paper over those issues in education reform with a lot of happy talk like, "Everybody can get exactly what we need." These are the kinds of questions... and at the very least let's be open about the choices we face.
Marc Magee: Yes, it's a very economic view. I feel like that's the tough hard trade offs that we often don't confront. We can't just snap our fingers and make it all go away.
Mike Petrilli: Well, I get the equity push, that feels wrong to say that, "Well, we're going to preference the high achievers." And particularly if you're in a system where the high achievers are also the most affluent, or the... But we're usually now talking about urban systems, where basically, almost everybody's poor, right? And the affluent high achievers, their parents by and large have left the cities and moved to the suburbs or gone to private schools. They have found a way to ensure that their kids are in environments where they're around other high achieving kids. That's our system, I'm doing it with my own kids, there you have it, right? So I just think sometimes the equity advocates, they just lose the forest for the trees. What they don't see is their advocacy for equity is actually hurting a class of low income kids.
Marc Magee: Yeah. And I think we would all feel better about providing these high achievers with these exclusive opportunities if we were doing a better job of making progress in the rest... This goes on if we didn't see low performers getting concentrated into a couple of neighborhood schools that are getting left behind.
Mike Petrilli: Alright, Pamela, topic number 3!
Pamela Tatz: A UCLA and Rand survey finds evidence suggesting that attending a high performance charter school reduces the rates of high risk health behaviors among low income teenagers. Do you think this is evidence of charter effectiveness or skimming?
Marc Magee: One of the things I thought was really interesting about this story is I've thought for a while that while we often point to test scores to say charter schools are doing better with kids, when you go and visit these high performing charter schools, you see them going way beyond just what it would take to get the test scores right and engaging the parents, engaging the communities, really changing life courses and behavior. So it's great to see us widening our view to see that there actually are bigger impacts than just test scores.
Mike Petrilli: Yeah, and it was interesting. Specifically what they looked at were risky behaviors, like having unprotected sex, or binge drinking and the charter school kids were self reporting to do those things less frequently. They're self reports, in these schools they were not randomly assigned to these schools, so we really can't look at causation. And it's an interesting questions. You say, "Are these kids engaging in fewer risky behaviors because something they've learned at their charter school, or is it that kids who engage in less risky behaviors to begin with were the ones that were interested in these charter schools?" In other words, is this some indication that, aha, these schools, these kids, even though they may be poor, they may be eligible for free lunch, they might be in some way more advantaged than the other kids. Their families might be more intact or functional or whatever, and that's showing up in the data.
Marc Magee: Yeah. We've started to... that's the perennial question we've had even with test scores is selection bias.
Mike Petrilli: Selection bias.
Marc Magee: And we've largely started to solve that question with more sophisticated studies, more experimental studies, tracking kids over time. I'd love to see us start to fold in these larger questions about outcome variables, and answer, "Is it really changing... giving kids so much more than just the basic knowledge?"
Mike Petrilli: Absolutely, and the studies that have been out there that are quite rigorous, there have been a few looking at charter schools and at voucher schools, and what they tend to show is that the long term outcomes far outpace what you'd expect just from the relatively small improvements in test scores. In other words, the charter schools and the voucher schools do better on test scores, but they do way better on some of these other long term outcomes, and that might be the non cognitive stuff, the character stuff, all this other stuff that we talk about.
Mike Petrilli: Absolutely. So we do this survey that couple months ago we put out, and we asked parents, what do they care most about in long term effects of a school? Setting their kids up for a job came in fourth, number one was character, number two was leadership. So, I think we'll go much further in really understanding how to give parents the education they want for their kids, if we can speak to these values issues.
Mike Petrilli: Absolutely. Alright, excellent Marc! Well played! 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: Amber, before the whole common core thing, I'm just curious, did you like Glenn Beck?
Amber Northern: I did. I kind of liked him, and now he's just gotten too... I guess I didn't realize he was extreme and didn't really look at data too much, I don't know. I just feel like I've had a change of opinion about him, and I really liked him, so I feel like I'm now leery of him. Because of this whole issue, it's raised my suspicions about him and how much he really looks into issues instead of just relying on the rhetoric.
Mike Petrilli: Yeah, it's interesting, my mom, of course, is very angry at Fox News for being so anti common core all the time, thank you Mom, and I think it has raised some questions for her about some of the other Fox News reporting. Starts to think about maybe on these other issues that we don't follow as closely, are they being unfair on some of those things?
Amber Northern: Right.
Mike Petrilli: Not that this doesn't happen on the liberal side of the aisle either, Marc.
Amber Northern: That's right, that's right.
Mike Petrilli: Alright, so Amber, what you got for us this week?
Amber Northern: We have a new report out from the University of Arkansas that compares the productivity of public charter schools and traditional schools, both in terms of their cost effectiveness and return on investment, or ROI. For the cost effectiveness analysis, they consider how many test score points students gain on the NAPE 2010-2011, for each thousand dollars invested in their public education in the charter compared to traditional sector. You got that?
Mike Petrilli: Yes, sort of.
Amber Northern: Key finding, for every thousand dollars invested, charter students earned a weighted average of an additional 17 points in math and 16 additional points in reading on NAPE compared to traditional district students, controlling for student characteristics such as poverty and special ed status. This translates into charters nationwide being 40% more cost effective, according to their calculations. And then a little bit about the return on investment, that calculates 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. This is Eric Hanushek's stuff, OK? In comparing those returns to the revenue amounts invested in their education. Key finding... I know, it's a...
Marc Magee: Should we high five now?
Amber Northern: Using Eric Hanushek's estimates on lifetime earnings and productivity, we find that public charter schools delivered a 3% increase in lifetime economic gains, was the terminology they wanted to use, they didn't want to just say salary for a bunch of different reasons. For a student who attends a charter for one year, they look at how long if you're in a charter one year, six years, however years, a 19% increase for students who attend half of their K12 education. So bottom line, this obviously looks pretty good for the charter sector but they end with a discussion that I think makes a lot of sense, which is, "Does a higher productivity rest on the fact that charters get less funding to begin with? And they're therefore more disciplined in how they use these dollars, and if they were funded equally, which is what a lot of folks have been wanting, would we actually see these same productivity patterns?
Mike Petrilli: Right, that nationally, at least, it looks like the charters are pretty similar to traditional public schools, in terms of test score gains, but they are 30% cheaper. Right?
Amber Northern: Right.
Mike Petrilli: So the point is not so much that they out perform traditional public schools, they do maybe by a little bit, but really where this all is coming from is they're much less expensive.
Amber Northern: Right, per dollar.
Mike Petrilli: They're getting a lot less money. And so what... I saw Bruce Baker from Rutger's got something up online about this, I haven't had a chance to look at it closely yet, what are people going to say? Are they going to just question the...
Amber Northern: Yeah, so Bruce is going to say it's because they have... it's going to be a difference of the sped kids, and it's going to be a difference in the disadvantaged kids, but they spend a lot of time at the front end of the report saying, "guess what? The charters tend to reflect the demographics of the area," and so these charters are actually serving more disadvantaged kids. So that doesn't hold water.
Mike Petrilli: Alright, let me push back on one thing, though. So let's say we know that there's other traditional public schools that tend to be low spending schools. Let's say rural schools, tend to spend less than other schools, and you control for demographics and all of that, and even though they spend less, the results look pretty similar to other similar schools in the state, right? You could make the same argument for them, and it may be simply that because spending doesn't matter.
Amber Northern: Could be.
Mike Petrilli: Right. So we just don't know.
Marc Magee: When you have it, you spend it. Sometimes you spend it on things that actually help kids, and sometimes you don’t.
Mike Petrilli: Right. So maybe the answer here, Marc, I know, I've a great idea for you for advocacy. You should go out and advocate a 30% cut for all traditional public schools.
Marc Magee: We just want kids to do better. And the efficiency argument is great, but hopefully we're figuring out a way, we got so many gains we need to make. If we're going to put any extra dollars into the system, how do we learn from this so that it actually gets results?
Mike Petrilli: Very nicely said.
Marc Magee: What do you think, Amber, are you convinced? Is this important? Certainly people like Marc are going to use it for advocacy.
Amber Northern: Yeah, I think it's important, but you're right, at the end of the day, we care about the gains. The money matters, it's important to look at this stuff. But I don't know, it's hard to parse, because you can roll out a study that says that really shows that money matters, and you can roll out a study that says that it doesn't. So I think this is still in dispute, this whole question.
Mike Petrilli: You know, one thing that is cool is they're basically combining their previous analysis on charter spending and the credo results in terms of achievement, and you put that together, and a few cities really do pop out as doing something very well. Like D.C...
Amber Northern: D.C.
Mike Petrilli: They spent a ton of money, but compared to the D.C. Public Schools, they spend less and they get a really strong results. Few other states that have a strong showing. Our home state of Ohio looking pretty mediocre as they have on other measures. But again the lesson we looked at this in the Walkathon, Marc, is that some states are doing the charter thing much better than others. That's an issue about policy, authorizing, spending, it's also an issue about...
Amber Northern: Operators.
Mike Petrilli: Being able to do operate... recruiting great people. So this is where we inside the reform movement need to keep learning, is saying, "What do we keep doing to get those laggard states and cities to look a lot more like the D.C.s, or the Tennessees, or the Rhode Islands, and less like...
Marc Magee: Rhode Island! [crosstalk 19:44] Little Rhodie, always overlooked!
Mike Petrilli: Little Rhodie! I did that for you, Marc.
Marc Magee: Thank you.
Mike Petrilli: And less like the Ohios, and the Texases of the movement.
Amber Northern: Good summary.
Mike Petrilli: Excellent. Alright, well, that is all the time we've got for this week! Until next week...
Marc Magee: Hi, I'm Marc Porter Magee.
Mike Petrilli: Almost a little bit early there, Marc, a little too...
Amber Northern: Jumping the gun.
Mike Petrilli: Too fast on the draw. Marc Porter Magee, thank you for joining us! I'm Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's Education Gadfly Show, signing off.