A roadmap for education reform

A roadmap for education reform presents eight interlocking strategies for dramatically improving  instruction, operations, governance, accountability, talent management, budgeting and leadership of an educational ecosystem. Contributors to the AEI and Wisconsin Policy Research Institute road map use Milwaukee to examine what this overhaul could look like in practice.

Charters get $4,000 less per student

Charter schools received one third less per-pupil funding — about $4,000 less per student — than district-run schools in Denver, Milwaukee, Newark, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles in 2007 to 2011, according to a University of Arkansas study commissioned by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation. “In the large, urban school districts evaluated, traditional public schools receive substantially more local, state and federal funds than public charter schools,” said lead researcher Larry Maloney.

As of 2011, the charter funding gap ranged from $2,684 in Denver to nearly $13,000 in Washington D.C.

Denver—$11,139; $2,684 less than regular public schools
Los Angeles—$8,780; $4,666 less than regular public schools
Milwaukee—$10,298; $4,720 less than regular public schools
Newark—$15,973; $10,214 less than regular public schools
District of Columbia—$16,361; $12,784 less than regular public schools

The research will appear in the September issue of The Journal of School Choice.

A 2010 Ball State study of charter school funding in 24 states and the District of Columbia found that charter school students received 19.2 percent (or $2,247) less per-pupil funding than students in regular public schools.

Choice rules: Red tape or red herring?

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Most private schools will participate in choice programs, even if they’re held accountable for students’ achievement, concludes a new Fordham study, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring? Only 25 percent of schools listed state testing requirements as very or extremely important to their decision about whether to participate, but more than half worry about preserving their admissions criteria and religious practices. Fifty-eight percent of non-participating schools cited paperwork burdens and mandatory open-enrollment policies as important factors.

Fordham looked at 13 different school choice models and found very different regulatory burdens. Arizona’s “individual” tax credit scholarship is the least burdened by regulation, while Milwaukee’s long-running voucher program “has accumulated more rules as it has grown older and larger.”

Tax-credit programs will maximize participation by private schools, but “lose a measure of accountability,” researchers conclude.

A record 255,000 children are using vouchers and tax-credit scholarships to attend private school, according to The ABCs of School Choice by the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice. “The ABCs” describes the 39 private school choice programs in 21 states and Washington, D.C.

Study: Charter competition boosts public schools

Milwaukee public schools improve when they face competition from an independent charter school, according to a study by Hiren Nisar, now an analyst at Abt Associates. Black and low-achieving students show the greatest gains.

Milwaukee’s district-sponsored charters don’t trigger significant improvement in traditional public schools, concluded Nisar, who did the research for his University of Wisconsin doctoral thesis. He theorizes that principals don’t feel as much pressure to make changes that will persuade parents to keep their children at the traditional school.


Milwaukee vouchers boost graduation rate

Milwaukee’s school voucher program increased the chances of students graduating from high school and going on to college, according to five years of research by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas. Low-income students can use vouchers to attend private schools.

“The Choice Program boosts the rates at which students graduate from high school, enroll in a four-year college, and persist in college,” said John Witte, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Voucher students’ achievement growth was higher in reading but similar in math to comparable public school students, the analysis concluded. In the upper grades, voucher students performed better in reading and science but worse in math.

From 7.5 to 14.6 percent of voucher students have disabilities, the study calculates. That’s much higher than the state’s estimate, which was based only on students receiving test accommodations. Compared to private schools, public schools are 60 percent more likely to identify a student as needing special education. Many students who switched from public to private schools no longer are considered disabled.


Milwaukee, Fresno fail reading for low-income kids

If you plan to be reincarnated as a low-income student and you’d like to be literate, pick Tampa, New York City or Miami, writes Matthew Ladner, who’s been looking at the urban NAEP results. Avoid Milwaukee and Fresno, where very few low-income students reach proficiency in reading.


Washington, D.C. “has improved but is still horrible,” he adds, writing on Jay Greene’s blog. “Everyone in Wisconsin ought to be horrified by the abomination that is the Milwaukee Public Schools.”


Benefits vs. jobs

Wisconsin’s controversial law limiting public employees’ bargaining power will enable a district to hire more teachers to cut class sizes, reports the Appleton Post Crescent.

As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.

The Kaukauna School Board approved changes Monday to its employee handbook that require staff to cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance and to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state’s pension system, in accordance with the new collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10.

Increased staffing also will make it possible to “identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences,” said the school board president.

Teachers will have less take-home pay, but more teachers will have jobs.

Via Ann Althouse.

Milwaukee Public Schools is laying off 354 teachers. In all, 519 staffers will be laid off and 500 vacancies will not be filled. Class sizes will increase and old textbooks won’t be replaced. If the union agrees to contribute 5.8 percent of wages to retirement benefits, the district can save 198 teachers’ jobs.

D.C. vouchers advance, despite Obama

Washington, D.C.’s voucher program could be back: On a 225-195 vote, mostly along party lines, the House passed Speaker John Boehner’s bill reauthorizing and expanding vouchers for low-income students in the District. Under SOAR, students would get $8,000 to attend a private K-8 school, $12,000 for high school tuition.

SOAR will have a tougher time in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

President Obama is “strongly opposed” to SOAR, but he hasn’t threatened a veto.  In a statement yesterday, the administration claimed, “Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C.”

That’s not what the rigorous evaluator said in congressional testimony, notes the Washington Post in a pro-voucher editorial. Patrick J. Wolf, the principal investigator who studied the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for the U.S. Education Department, said on Feb. 16:

“In my opinion, by demonstrating statistically significant experimental impacts on boosting high school graduation rates and generating a wealth of evidence suggesting that students also benefited in reading achievement, the DC OSP has accomplished what few educational interventions can claim: It markedly improved important education outcomes for low-income inner-city students.”

In addition, writes the Post, parents say the program lets their children “attend safer schools or ones that strongly promote achievement.”

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarships also raised graduation rates, Jay Greene adds. Wolf’s study (pdf) concluded: Some 82 percent of students offered a voucher completed high school, compared to 70 percent for the control group.

Obama’s anti-voucher move will make it hard to get bipartisan agreement on rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, writes Mike Petrilli on Education Next. “Many Republicans will refuse to play ball with an Administration not willing to compromise on a top GOP priority.”

Yesterday, I linked to a study concluding that Milwaukee voucher students don’t outperform similar students in the city’s public schools.

But Milwaukee voucher students are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to a four-year college than similar public school students, writes Jay Greene, citing a study (pdf) released today by University of Kentucky researchers.

Attending a private school with a voucher resulted in about a 7 percentage point improvement in the probability of attending a four year college.  Considering that is a move from about 32% to 39% attending 4 year college, it is a big effect.

Compared to similar public school students, voucher students do worse in the early grades but perform better in the older grades. After three years, “rates of achievement growth are statistically similar.”

Indiana’s House has passed a voucher bill that would provide tuition aid to children from low- and middle-income families earning up to $60,000 a year.

Scores aren’t higher for Milwaukee voucher students

Milwaukee voucher students score lower in math and the same in reading as similar public school students, according to new state test results.  Math proficiency averaged 34.4 percent for voucher students, who come from low-income families, compared to 43.9 percent for low-income district students. Reading proficiency averaged 55.2 percent for voucher students, 55.3 percent for low-income public school students. (The voucher students are slightly poorer.)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to drop enrollment caps and income limits for the voucher program, which allows children to attend private schools, including many religious schools.

Charters educate high-need students

The federal role in charter education is a “haphazard collection of laws, rules, funding preferences and rhetoric that lacks coherence at the policy or action level,” concludes the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings. Its experts recommend:

a) collecting and using more and better data on the performance of charter schools for purposes of authorizing, research, and informed parental choice; b) requiring states to provide equitable funding for charter schools relative to traditional public schools—including support for facilities; c) supporting higher standards for authorizing; d) revising rules and definitions that unintentionally disadvantage charter schools; e) promoting the growth as well as quality control of virtual charter schools; and f) finally and most importantly articulating and following through on a coherent policy with respect to charter schools.

Some 1.6 million children attend 4,900 charter schools in 39 states, the study notes. The best-known chains “create highly structured routines with uniforms, strict rules, and numerous drills.”

But charters take many other forms, including single sex schools, schools for the performing arts, schools for science and technology, bilingual schools, schools for the disabled, schools for drop-outs, and virtual schools where learning takes place online.

Charters attract a disproportionate number of low-income and minority students, especially blacks.  “Initial test scores of students at charter schools are usually well below those of the average public school student in the state in which the charter school is located,” the report finds.

Of five randomized studies, four found charter schools improved student achievement while one found no impact, Brookings concludes. The four positive studies involved urban schools serving minority students. The no-impact study found “students from poor, minority, urban backgrounds did better in charter schools in contrast to students from middle-class, suburban backgrounds, who did worse.”

Thus all the randomized trials are consistent in pointing to the success of charter schools in large urban areas.

In addition to looking at reading and math scores, a study of charter high schools in Chicago and Florida found positive effects on both high school completion and college attendance.

Milwaukee’s charter students do as well in reading and may do slightly better in math compared to students in district-run public schools after one year, concludes a preliminary study by John F. Witte of the University of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas.

Students in independent charter schools that were converted from private schools outperformed Milwaukee Public Schools student in both math and reading after controlling for factors such as student characteristics and school switching.

Charters are schools of choice often located in minority neighborhoods, writes Nelson Smith. That’s not segregation.