School improvement flop: $7 billion = 0

After seven years and $7 billion in School Improvement Grants, low-performing schools showed no improvement, concluded a federal analysis. The final evaluation found “no evidence that SIG had significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment” compared to similar low-performing schools that didn’t receive grants.

To receive up to $2 million per year for three years, school had to adopt one of four Education Department models.

School Improvement Grants could “change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Half of SIG schools chose the “transformation” model, which called for replacing the principal and adopting new instructional strategies, teacher evaluations and a longer school day. Nearly all the rest adopted the similar “turnaround” model, which included firing half the teachers.

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington-Bothell, studied SIG schools in the state. “Not much had really changed,” she told Ed Week‘s Sarah D. Sparks. “They were being asked to do different things, but the fundamental culture of the school, organization of the school, the fundamental design wasn’t reorienting toward dramatically higher intervention strategies, dramatically higher expectations, or dramatically better teacher training and support.”

The SIG failure aligns with earlier research showing that money can’t save dysfunctional schools and systems, Andy Smarick, an American Enterprise Institute fellow and president of the Maryland Board of Education, told Emma Brown of the Washington Post. “I can imagine Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump saying this is exactly why kids need school choice,” he said.

Smarick predicted the debacle he writes.

On December 6, 2009, I wrote:

The Obama administration’s Department of Education recently launched what I believe will become its most expensive, most lamentable, and most avoidable folly.

In a 2010 Education Next article, The Turnaround Fallacy, Smarick  “recommended a different approach to helping kids assigned to failing schools (namely, new schools, a diversity of options, and parental choice).”

Who is Betsy DeVos? What will she do? 

On the eve of confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten blasted Betsy DeVos as “the most anti-public education nominee” ever.

Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

DeVos is a “fairly traditional, center-right education reformer,” not a radical, argues Michael Q. McShane in Education Next.

She “has a long history of supporting the kinds of accountability and school-choice policies that a broad swath of the education-reform community has championed over the last two decades,” he writes.

DeVos grew up in a wealthy family, then married an Amway heir. She and her husband, Dick DeVos, are major donors to Republican candidates and conservative causes, as well as to education, the arts, their community, etc.

As a whole, the DeVos family has given $1.33 billion to charity, according to Forbes’ list of America’s Top Givers of 2015.  That’s one-quarter of their current net worth, making them the “24th most-generous philanthropic family in the United States,” writes McShane.

DeVos’ interest in education reform was spared by a visit to The Potter’s House, a “Christ-centered” school that serves low-income students in Grand Rapids, she said in a 2013 interview with Philanthropy Roundtable. She and her husband started by funding private-school scholarships for low-income students, but worried about the many children who needed better schools.

Potter's HousePotter’s House school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“I’m most focused on educational choice,” she said. “But, thinking more broadly, what we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the ZIP Code of their family’s home. We advocate instead for as much freedom as possible.”

DeVos founded the pro-choice American Federation for Children, and the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), which advocates for “choice, quality and accountability” in Michigan.

Betsy and Dick DeVos also founded West Michigan Aviation Academy, a charter high school in Grand Rapids.

Some conservatives are dubious about DeVos, reports McShane. GLEP backed Common Core standards, when they were adopted by the Michigan State Board of Education in 2010.

“When governors such as John Engler, Mike Huckabee, and Mike Pence were driving the conversation on voluntary high standards driven by local voices, it all made sense,” writes DeVos on her web site. She abandoned the Core when the U.S. Education Department intervened, she claims.

Ed Week rounds up the nominee’s backers and detractors.

Update: DeVos’ confirmation hearings have been postponed by one week.

DeVos: Mainstream or monster?

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, is a “pretty mainstream pick – though usual suspects on right & left of course are already going bonkers,” tweeted Andrew Rotherham. On Eduwonk, he added that DeVos is “within the mainstream of Republican thought on education.”

She’s not the elitist, racist, fundamentalist, public education-hating monster that opponents claim, writes Tyler O’Neill in PJ Media. She doesn’t hate public education or oppose all regulation of charter schools.

She doesn’t want to bring back “child labor.” (A staffer at a DeVos-funded institute argued for teens working “a few hours a week.”)

The challenge for DeVos is to “avoid the Beltway education trap,” Column write Jim Stergios and Charles Chieppo of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute in USA Today.

Only 10 percent of K-12 spending comes from the federal government, they write, yet education secretaries always want to run the whole show.

DeVos “isn’t an educator or an education leader,” writes Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press, also on USA Today. “She’s not an expert in pedagogy or curriculum or school governance. In fact, she has no relevant credentials or experience for a job setting standards and guiding dollars for the nation’s public schools.”

I’m bothered by DeVos’ lack of experience with traditional public schools: She attended private schools and sent her children to private schools. She’s an education advocate — Henderson says “lobbyist” — but not an educator.

That’s surprisingly common: Of 10 Education secretaries, only three — Bell, Paige and — were former K-12 teachers.

Betsy DeVos is a Jeb Bush ally, reports Politico, which calls her appointment his “consolation prize.”

NYT gets it wrong on economists and vouchers

Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It, claims Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan education professor, in the Dec. 30 New York Times.

“Only a third of economists on the (University of) Chicago panel agreed that students would be better off if they all had access to vouchers to use at any private (or public) school of their choice,” she writes. “While economists are trained about the value of free markets, they are also trained to spot when markets can’t work alone and government intervention is required.”

Slate Star Codex’s Scott Alexander looked at the source, UC’s Initiative on Global Markets: Economic experts who have an opinion, support vouchers by a nearly two to one margin.

Check out the chart: 36 percent of economists agree vouchers would improve education, 19 percent disagree and 37 percent are uncertain. Weighted by the economists’ confidence, 41 percent back vouchers and 23 percent do not, while 35 percent are uncertain.

IGM redid the survey a year later in response to complaints that the question implied all students would benefit from vouchers, Alexander notes in a follow-up post. The new study asked whether vouchers would make most students better off.

With the new phrasing, 44 percent of economists backed vouchers, while only 5 percent disagreed. Weighted by confidence, half said vouchers would improve things; only 6 percent disagreed. Once again, many were uncertain.

I think this is very misleading reporting.

Choosers like their schools

Charter parents are considerably more satisfied with their children’s schools than are district-school parents, according to a new Education Next survey. Private-school parents are the happiest of all.

Parents report less disruption at charter schools than at district schools, the study found. On some measures, charter parents “seem to be in closer contact with their school than parents in either the district or private sector.”

A 2012 Education Department survey provides similar results: Private school parents are the most satisfied and charter parents come next, followed by parents whose children attend a district school of choice. Those whose children were assigned to a district school are the least satisfied.

The Obama administration never reported the charter school results, writes Paul Peterson, a Harvard professor who directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance, in the Wall Street Journal. “By appointing Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump is listening to parents and acknowledging that it’s time to begin thinking outside the public-school box.”

That 2012 survey also found that charter-school parents are considerably more likely than district-school parents to be black or Hispanic and less likely to have a college degree or to earn $75,000 or more. District-choice parents are whiter, more educated and more affluent than assigned-school parents.

Check out interactive graphics at Results from the 2016 EdNext Parents Survey and Results from the National Center for Education Statistics 2012 Parents Survey.

A plurality of millennials think private schools provide the best education, but they don’t vote for pro-choice candidates, writes Ashley Bateman in The Federalist.

Education in the Trump era: What now?

Donald Trump won the presidency by mobilizing the frustration of non-college educated whites who feel left out and left behind. (Donald Trump will be president of the United States of America. Oy vey.) What now?

On the campaign trail, Trump called for cutting “the power and reach” of the Education Department.

Donald Trump spoke in New York in June. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Donald Trump campaigning in New York. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

“Education has to be run locally,” he said. “Common Core, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top are all programs that take decisions away from parents and local school boards. These programs allow the progressives in the Department of Education to indoctrinate, not educate, our kids.”

He backed school choice, including charters, vouchers and magnet schools.

Trump said he’d make colleges cut tuition. “If the federal government is going to subsidize student loans, it has a right to expect that colleges work hard to control costs and invest their resources in their students,” Trump said. “If colleges refuse to take this responsibility seriously, they will be held accountable.”

He also threatened to end the tax-exempt status of colleges and universities with large endowments and high tuition rates, notes Inside Higher Ed. Colleges need “to spend endowments on their students, not themselves,” Trump said. “They need to use that money to cut the college debt and cut tuition, and they have to do it quickly.”

Trump’s education platform includes making it easier for people to afford vocational and technical training.

Here are education quotes.

What’s he really going to do? Would Congress go along? I have no idea. Still in shock.

Trump’s victory “leaves widespread uncertainty about what’s in store for public schools,” writes Ed Week.

Fordham’s Mike Petrilli predicts “quick changes” at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, including an end to applying “disparate impact theory” to school discipline.

Massachusetts voters rejected lifting the cap on charter schools.

California voters repealed limits on bilingual education.

LA schools compete for students

Los Angeles Unified schools are competing for students with charters, reports Anna M. Phillips in the LA Times.

In heavily Hispanic Pacoima, a 90-year-old district elementary school, now known as Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy, is advertising on a billboard and a LA Unified delivery truck.

“With a declining enrollment, you have no choice,” says Principal Richard Ramos, who previously worked at a charter school.

Haddon’s enrollment dipped from 890 K-5 students five years ago to 785 last year, reports Phillips. “It didn’t matter that the principal had expanded the school’s mariachi classes or brought in a decorated speech-and-debate coach if none of the neighborhood’s parents knew about it.”

With the help of $9,000 for a billboard (it also advertises Arleta High) and the truck ad, Haddon is starting the year with 848 students, including 39 transfers from charter schools.

Scores are low at Haddon: Only 18 percent of students are proficient in English, 11 percent in math, according to Great Schools. At nearby Montague Charter Academy and Pacoima Charter Elementary, 22 percent are proficient in English and 20 percent in math. Is that significant? Some parents will think so. Others will prefer mariachi and debate.

The KIPP LA charter network spent $18,000 last year to advertise openings in its 13 charter schools in the area, spokesman Steve Mancini said. “We welcome the competition” from the district.“It’s healthy; it keeps you on your toes. One of the best accountability measures is knowing you have to fill your school every year with students.”

At Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter school network in L.A., the recruiting budget for its 28 schools is $13,000 to $15,000, spokeswoman Catherine Suitor said.

It’s good to see district schools figuring out how to appeal to parents, rather than trying to suppress competition, writes Reason‘s Scott Shackford.

John Oliver mocked the idea that competition might motivate schools to improve.

Focusing on mismanaged schools, Oliver’s rant was “clever, glib and uninformed,” responds Nick Gillespie.

He cited education researcher Jay Greene’s analysis of randomized studies comparing lottery winners and losers (kids with equally motivated parents): Urban students “do significantly better in school if they attend a charter school than if they attend a traditional public school,” writes Greene.

A British comedian’s ignorance isn’t worth all the fuss, writes Robert Pondiscio.

Black Lives group takes on schools

The Movement for Black Lives has published a policy platform that includes an education plan stressing community control of schools, writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

“The coalition’s proposals are wide-ranging and, depending on who is talking, either aspirational or entirely unrealistic,” writes DeRuy.

The plan calls for a constitutional amendment to guarantee “fully funded” education, no new charter schools, no police in schools and closure of juvenile detention centers.

It attacks the “privatization” of education by wealthy philanthropists “and criticizes charter-school networks for decimating black communities and robbing traditional neighborhood schools of resources,” writes DeRuy.

When Black Kids Don’t Matter is RiShawn Biddle’s analysis of “why the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Movement for Black Lives have issued proclamations opposing the expansion of school choice and Parent Power for the very black families for which they proclaim to care.”

The declaration itself was written not by the Black Lives Matter activists within the coalition, but largely by two of NEA’s and AFT’s prime vassals.

One of the coauthors, Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, has long been a front for the Big Two (teachers’ unions). . . . Another coauthor, Philadelphia Student Union, has been one of AFT’s lead groups in its effort to oppose systemic reform and school choice in the City of Brotherly Love . . .

After the NAACP voted for a charter moratorium, black leaders defended urban charters’ effectiveness, reports Jason Russell in the Washington Examiner.

Many charters “offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class black children,” said Jacqueline Cooper, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

“In communities of color throughout our country, public charter schools are providing pathways to college and careers that previously were not available,” said Shavar Jeffries, president of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.

According to a BAEO report released in January, “black students in public charter schools learn the equivalent of 36 extra school days per year in math and 26 extra school days in reading,” reports Russell. “The gains are even higher for black students living in poverty.”

NAACP vs. charter schools

The NAACP’s call for a moratorium on charter schools is the subject of a conversation at Dropout Nation between RiShawn Biddle and Capital Prep’s Steve Perry.

The NAACP is “doing the bidding of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which have poured $380,500 into NAACP over the past five years,” charges Biddle. The civil-rights group “is no longer representing the interests of black families who demand high-quality education for the children they love.”

Success Academy kids continue to succeed on state exams.
Success Academy charter students aced state exams: 94% passed in math and 82% passed reading. Photo: Richard Harbus/New York Daily News

In New York City, black and Hispanic charter students are twice as likely to be proficient in math and 50 percent more likely to be proficient in reading as similar students in district schools, reports the New York Post. 

The Success Academy charter network, which primarily educates black and Hispanic students, “had the top five schools in the entire state in math, and two of the top five in English.”

Union v. charters in Los Angeles

A Broad Foundation plan to double the number of Los Angeles charter schools has sparked fierce pushback by the teachers’ union, writes Richard Whitmire in Education Next.

The $490 million proposal, which aimed to enroll half the district’s students in charter within eight years, was leaked last fall.

Not surprisingly, United Teachers of Los Angeles is using the plan “to pursue the national anti-charter theme of billionaires trying to privatize public schools,” writes Whitmire.

Teachers voted a big increase in union dues to fight charter expansion.

Los Angeles charter schools “are among the best in the nation at helping low-income minority students succeed in school,” Whitemire writes.

In 2014, Stanford’s CREDO found that L.A. charter-school students, on average, gained the equivalent of 50 additional days of learning per year in reading and 79 additional days in math, compared to district school students.

Currently, about one in five students in the district goes to a charter.

Parent Revolution, an advocacy group, has launched Choice4LA to help low-income parents apply to charter and district schools.

In some cities, parents can fill out one application to apply for district and charter schools. Superintendent Michelle King is working on “creating a unified application system for district schools only,” reports Ed Week.