Tuesday, February 19, 2019

If This is Your Best Argument for More Charter Money, um....

Today, the Plain Dealer reported on an updated look at Ohio charter school performance from the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO). The center, which is housed at the free market Hoover Institute at Stanford University, discovered that Ohio charter schools are performing about as poorly as ever.

"There is little to no progress in Ohio charter school performance," concluded CREDO Director Macke Raymond, whose comments several years ago about how the free market system hadn't worked in education caused quite a stir.

However, like most charter school analyses ever done in Ohio, CREDO did find pockets of success among brick-and-mortar charters, and blamed the overall stagnant performance on e-schools. Leave it to Aaron Churchill of the Fordham Institute to drive a truck through that mouse hole.

Here's how the PD reported it:
"After years of shortchanging charter students, lawmakers should finally move to fund brick-and-mortar charters equitably, helping to kick-start new-school formation and the rapid expansion of the state’s top-performing charters,” Churchill wrote.
Obviously trying to piggyback on his dubious claim that charters don't get enough money and have earned a raise from state lawmakers, Churchill really stretches out over his skis here. There are major caveats with CREDO's methodology (for a detailed breakdown, take a read here), but here is my major concern -- the group only looks at student growth.

That is one of MANY measures of a school's performance. And growth has always been an area where charters and districts perform more similarly. Districts still beat charters pretty well on the measure, but it's not quite the runaway contest that proficiency or graduation rates are, for example.

Here's another thing: Ohio's been artificially deflating school district performance for years now, dragging down their overall grades to better comport with historic charter school performance. Don't believe me? Take a look at the percentage of grades each sector has received each year since the state started using the A-F system in the 2012-2013 school year.

 What you can see is that since Ohio started changing its testing regime, and more heavily weighting the more charter-friendly "value added" measure, low district grades have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, charter grades have pretty well stayed the same during the same period -- overall pretty bad. Importantly, though, Districts still have less than half the rate of F grades as charters. Just saying.

This got me thinking about the whole light speed thing again.

"Huh?" you ask.

Let me explain.

According to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, it is impossible to go faster than the speed of light (though as a sci-fi fan, I sure hope it's not) because it requires infinite energy. So you can approach light speed, but never go over it.

How does this apply to state report card grades? Well, it's like this: Charter performance was so bad, it would have been impossible for them to get much worse. So they had nowhere to go but up, really. Meanwhile, school district performance was flying quite high in 2012-2013, with barely 10 percent of district grades being designated Fs. So when the state starts implementing new tests over a short period, districts have a farther way to fall, which they do (by design, I might add), which makes it seem like maybe charters are gaining on districts, when in fact district performance is simply being artificially dropped not by actual performance, but by state policy changes. 

Does anyone actually believe that districts are twice as likely to have failing grades today as they were 5 years ago? Please.

What is amazing is that charter school performance has remained remarkably consistent. And poor. Yes, their Fs and Ds jumped a bit after all the testing changes. But really, they've been at about 50 percent Fs all along. Is this because charters did a better job at handling the changes?

No. It's because they were approaching light speed already, and they couldn't have done much worse overall. So even though Churchill and others claim that charters have demonstrated their worth and earned the right for a pay raise from the state, I contend if you think they should get a pay raise now, why shouldn't it have come in the 2012-2013 school year when only 40 percent rather than 50 percent of their grades were Fs? Why would we reward their worse performance today?

Yes, it is true they've improved since the low point of 2015-2016 (the last of the three consecutive years of test switching). But they still receive a higher rate of failing grades than they did in 2012-2013 and have only seen a 17 percent drop in frequency of Fs. Districts have cut their F frequency by 22 percent.

Want another staggering data point?

Since the 2012-2013 school year, a total of 11,832 grades were handed out to the state's charter schools (only 7 schools were statewide e-schools for this whole period, by the way, so the vast majority of these grades are for brick-and-mortar schools). Of those 11,832 grades, more than half were Fs. That means since 2012-2013, charter schools have received more Fs than all other grades combined. The number of As? Barely 1,000. Out of nearly 12,000.

What grade have districts received more than any other?


By more than 1,000.

And this is despite the fact that districts' performance has been intentionally Nerfed by state policymakers who desperately want charter schools to succeed even though the evidence is pretty overwhelming they aren't overall.

Can charter schools work here? I believe they can on a limited basis. Are there pockets of success?Yes. Of course. But for advocates like Fordham to contend an overall performance revolution in Ohio charter schools as the basis for an overall pay raise for this long-struggling sector that even charter advocates admit aren't improving a whole lot, stretches the bounds of reason, especially given how much the state has divested from the 90 percent of kids who aren't in charters.

Let's fund charters based on what it actually costs to educate kids there. Let's give performance bonuses where warranted. Let's do it without hurting kids who aren't in charters.

And let's see what happens.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Fabrications of a Charter School Zealot

In a recent post by the usually sound Aaron Churchill, the Fordham Institute researcher takes some significant pot shots at William Phillis -- the legendary Ohio public school advocate whose work led to the Ohio Supreme Court ruling four different times that the way the state funds public schools is unconstitutional.

I played on Churchill's title for my title of this post.

Churchill's major problem with Phillis' analysis of charter school expenditures is Churchill doesn't like the inconvenient truth that the average charter school spends several hundred dollars more per pupil than the average school district.

Unfair! cries Churchill. You have to weight the average per pupil expenditure. That way it's more fair. He points to the calculation he made in his recent report arguing that more money needs to be given to charter schools as the only fair way to possibly calculate what charter schools spend.

See, here's the problem.

His "weighted" average per pupil expenditure is not an accurate reflection of how many tax dollars go to charters. If you multiply his "weighted" average by the number of students in charters, the amount isn't actually what charters spend.

If you multiply the "unweighted" amount, it does. All weighting does is make it look like charters spend less than districts.

At the end of the day, taxpayers want to know how much of their money is being spent. And in charter schools, about $400 more is being spent per pupil.


In addition, Churchill ignores the fact that charters, on average, spend about $1,200 more per pupil on administrative, non-instructional costs than school districts. Even big urban districts spend $300 less per student.

So, in other words, if Ohio charter schools reduced their administrative spending to that of Ohio school districts, even on Churchill's "weighted" calculation, they would end up spending about the same as districts.

It's funny how free market reformers like Churchill quickly disparage "bloated" school district administration, but never point out that if charters were simply more efficient at spending money in the classroom, they wouldn't be begging for more.

That's because overall, charters spend about twice the percentage of their money on administrators as school districts do, equating to about 1 in 4 dollars spent by charters.

Next, Churchill goes to the old argument that charter students have far more challenging populations than school districts. Which is generally true, on average.

However, Churchill always wants to compare charters with the state's 8 major urban school districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati. Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown).

If one does that, about 2 out of every 3 charter schools have 100 percent economically disadvantaged. Meanwhile, only 2 major Ohio urban districts have less than 100 percent economically disadvantaged populations. On average, Ohio's urban districts have about 5 percent higher rate of minority students and about a 10 percent higher rate of economically disadvantaged students than Ohio charter schools.

So, using Churchill's argument that schools with more challenged populations should get more money, it seems that the fact urban districts spend more per equivalent pupil than charters makes sense.

Also absent from Churchill's analysis is the fact that every dollar leaving Akron and Cincinnati for a charter school last school year went to a charter that performed worse on more state report card measures than Akron and Cincinnati.

Churchill also failed to mention that while lots of folks are rightly concerned that 14 Ohio school districts received overall grades of F on the state report card last year, marking them for state takeover, if one applied that standard to Ohio charter schools, 103 of 340 charters receiving grades either received Fs or "Does Not Meet Standards" if they're a dropout recovery school (mind you that "standard" is graduating about 7 out of 100 kids in 4 years).

So 3 out of 10 Ohio charter schools would be set for state takeovers, if the state takeover law applied to them the way it does school districts.

Oh, and about $200 million of your tax dollars went to charters that would have been marked for state takeover, if they were treated like districts.

I anticipate Churchill will complain that I'm comparing all charters with all Ohio school districts. Charter proponents demand their performance only be compared with school districts and buildings that struggle the most.

However, every school district but one had at least some state money transferred to charters from their state funding. You don't get to take money from every school district, yet demand you be held accountable relative to the performance of the most struggling districts.

Sorry, Aaron.

Especially when the current system forces local property taxpayers in those districts to fork over more of their property taxes to make up for the state funding transferred to charters.

And here is the breakdown of charter and district letter grades on the state report card this last year. As you can see, about half of all charter grades are F -- almost more Fs than all other grades combined -- and more than 7 out of 10 are D or F. Meanwhile, about 6 in 10 district grades were A, B, or C.

I guess what I'm most disappointed by though is Churchill's utter lack of deference and respect for Phillis, who more than any single person in the history of the state has held politicians' feet to the fire on equal and adequate funding for all students.

Frankly, Phillis has forgotten more education funding and policy than either I or Churchill will ever know. Churchill's cheap, ad hominem attacks on this man who has spent his life fighting for all kids to receive a world-class education is truly distressing.

My advice to Mr. Churchill would be to stick with trying to knock me around. Because with Phillis he is punching way above his weight class.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Should Charter Schools Get More Money for Buildings? Depends...

A recent call by the Fordham Institute and national charter school proponents has called for Ohio charter school facilities funding to be boosted by nearly 400 percent to match what they actually spend on facilities. While that may sound outrageous, especially given how Ohio charter schools have been near the bottom in national performance comparisons, I'm (surprisingly, perhaps) sympathetic to the idea.

And I told NPR so yesterday.

With major caveats.

First of all, let's talk money. Currently, charters get $200 per student for facilities funding. Yet they spend $785 per pupil, according to Fordham. Which means, they argue, charters need more money.

I do find it curious that when school districts argue they're not being paid enough by the state to cover expenses, free market folks like Fordham call districts wasteful or slovenly inefficient. Yet no such calls here. Hmmm.

Anyway, I've always believed that ensuring charter schools don't have to go into the waiting arms of ne'er-do-well, for-profit charter school operators would be a strong change in policy. One of the major reasons schools pick for profits is because for profits have access to capital and buildings. However, the for profits then fleece the schools on rents.

Here's the problem, though. That charter facility funding comes out of Ohio Lottery money. Last I checked, we were told the lottery was supposed to save us from having more property taxes. Now the state is removing about $16.6 million a year -- instead of putting it into school districts, potentially reducing property taxes -- and giving it to charters for facilities. If they quadruple that, it would be about $50 million more removed form Lottery funds to give to charters.

I don't think that's what the voters approved when they adopted the Lottery.

See, this has been, is and (I fear) will continue to be the problem with the way Ohio has funded school choice programs. The state siphons off a few million here and a few million there that would otherwise have gone to the 90 percent of students whose families choose local public schools. And they give it to privately run schools that aren't nearly as transparent as local public school districts.

And they generally perform worse that the school districts to whom that money was originally designated.

All that invariably forces local property taxpayers to pass more and bigger levies.

So, I am all for charters getting more facilities money because I think it helps keep the bad operators out of the game. But not if it means the 90 percent of Ohio students who remain in local public schools have to rely on more levies for their educations, or go with fewer opportunities.

If the state really believes in school choice, put your money where your mouth is and fund it with separate money that isn't taken away from local public school districts. Stop forcing property taxpayers to subsidize these payments.

I would feel better about Fordham's advocacy here if they identified a new revenue stream or something else to pay for this expense. But I'm suspecting that they'll just ask for a 400 percent jump in their facilities funding through the Lottery, which will siphons off more money originally meant for school districts.

Fish or cut bait. It's really that simple.