Virtual School Meanderings

August 24, 2016

News from the NEPC: Regulating Charter Schools

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Charter schools were designed to be less regulated, but deregulation has gone too far.
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Regulating Charter Schools

Key Takeaway: Charter schools were designed to be less regulated, but deregulation has gone too far.
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William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058, wmathis@sover.net

BOULDER, CO (August 23, 2016) – A fundamental premise of charter schools is that deregulation will free teachers, principals and schools to excel. Regulation or accountability in the conventional sense can cause gridlock and inefficiencies, so charter schools were designed to free up schools for innovation. Instead of conventional regulatory accountability, charters would be accountable through competition and the market model.

While there is certainly merit to these arguments—that bureaucratic regulation can be nonsensical and burdensome, and that deregulation can allow beneficial innovation—the picture is not so black-and-white. Regulations arise because taxpayers are understandably wary of abusive and incompetent uses of public funds, particularly in areas such as public schooling that play such a central role in our democracy.

In a brief released today, Regulating Charter Schools, William Mathis examines these tensions and the need for balance. “There is no perfect amount of regulation or deregulation, but we need to be regularly reassessing the situation and responding to clear problems,” explains Dr. Mathis.

He explores the research behind the elements of charter accountability, including academic performance, equal opportunity and non-discrimination, financial solvency and stability, and safety. He notes that the rapid growth of charter schools has come with charges of corruption, fiscal exploitation, weak academic performance and segregation. Because market-based accountability has proven insufficient, legislators have in recent years called for more external accountability and regulation.

Mathis concludes that charter schools should not be excepted from the requirement that public money comes with reporting, transparency and guidelines for spending and business practices. Financial regulation, he contends, is essential in the charter sector, as irregularities and bankruptcies have been common. He also notes the importance of ensuring that charter facilities comply with all requirements for safety and access.

The brief concludes with recommendations that cover both general process and operational requirements, stating that charter school regulations need to be periodically updated for policymakers to fulfill their obligation to protect the safety, welfare and educational entitlements of children.

Dr. Mathis is Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. This brief is the one in a series of concise publications, Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, that takes up a number of important policy issues and identifies policies supported by research. Each section focuses on a different issue, and its recommendations to policymakers are based on the latest scholarship.

Find William Mathis’s brief on the NEPC website at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/research-based-options

This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (greatlakescenter.org).

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

August 19, 2016

News from the NEPC: Denver “Portfolio” Report’s Flaws Remain, Reviewer Confirms

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Author response fails to address limitations in data and other problems.
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Denver “Portfolio” Report’s Flaws Remain, Reviewer Confirms

BOULDER, CO (August 18, 2016) – A May report from the Progressive Policy Institute highlights multiple trends and reforms adopted in Denver between 2005 and 2014, most notably a “portfolio strategy” that includes a mix of traditional, charter, and hybrid public schools. The report argues that school autonomy via charter schools has improved student outcomes across the city and serves as a model for other cities.

Terrenda White, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, reviewed the report, A 21st Century School System in the Mile High City, and criticized it for making causal claims to the effect that the author’s preferred Denver policies must have caused observed test-score gains and should therefore be emulated in other school districts. Professor White explained in her review that the data presented in the report were largely descriptive and did not control for the potential effects of multiple variables, thus posing insurmountable threats to the validity of any causal inferences. She also stressed that the district’s widening achievement gap, acknowledged in the report itself, should have given the author greater pause before proclaiming success and advocating emulation.

The report’s author responded to the review on July 28, 2016, and Professor White has now offered a rejoinder, engaging with that response and addressing each of the author’s two primary concerns. Though valuing the author’s effort to highlight markers of academic improvement among students, she maintains that the response does not address the important limitations of the data.

“The NEPC strongly welcomes these exchanges,” said Professor Kevin Welner, NEPC’s director. “A reader of the report plus the review and the continued exchange will understand the report’s strengths and weaknesses to a much greater extent than if the reader read the report alone.”

Find Terrenda White’s original review and her follow-up rejoinder at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-21st-century

Find A 21st Century School System in the Mile-High City, by David Osborne, published by Progressive Policy Institute, at:
http://www.progressivepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016.05-Osborne_A-21st-Century-School-System-in-the-Mile-High-City.pdf

Find David Osborne’s response to the original review at:
http://www.progressivepolicy.org/blog/response-national-education-policy-center/

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

August 15, 2016

News from the NEPC: Reviewer Finds Continuing Problems with WILL Charter School “Autonomy” Report

From the inbox last week…

We must ask challenging questions of reports claiming to provide useful evidence.
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Reviewer Finds Continuing Problems with WILL Charter School “Autonomy” Report

Key Review Takeaway: We must ask challenging questions of reports claiming to provide useful evidence.
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BOULDER, CO (August 11, 2016) – Research can inform policy, but it must first be vetted and publicly debated. A recent exchange illustrates the value of such a public deliberation.

On May 19, 2016, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty released a report called Bang for the Buck: Which public schools in Milwaukee produce the best outcomes per dollar spent?, which purports to show that the most efficient public schools in Milwaukee are charter schools that experience greater autonomy from the district. The report’s authors created “efficiency scores” for Milwaukee schools and, on the basis of those scores, draw conclusions about the relative efficiency of Milwaukee’s charter and traditional public schools.

The report was then used to promote the growth of charter schools. For example, one co-author placed anopinion article in the Journal Sentinel, Study: Schools with the most autonomy do best for students. While the study was being put forth to influence policy, it seemed unlikely that it had gone through any form of peer review.

NEPC asked University of Connecticut professor Casey Cobb to conduct an expert independent review of the WILL report. That review revealed that the study was ill-conceived, based on a weak premise, and misleading. Most NEPC reviews end at this point, but the WILL authors in this case published a response, which Professor Cobb welcomed. He offered a rejoinder that takes up each of the response’s points.

This sort of exchange exemplifies the sort of rigorous debate that greatly increases the usefulness of studies and policy proposals. A reader of the initial report or perhaps the Journal Sentinel opinion piece will, after reading the full exchange, have a much better understanding of the overall landscape as well as the strengths and weaknesses of this particular study.

Sound policy must be guided by research evidence, but we must ask challenging questions of every report claiming to provide useful evidence.

Find Casey Cobb’s original review and his follow-up rejoinder at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-WILL

Find Bang for the Buck: Which public schools in Milwaukee produce the best outcome per dollar spent?, by Will Flanders & CJ Szafir, published by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, at:
http://www.will-law.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Bang-for-the-Buck-FINAL.pdf

Find Will Flanders and CJ Szafir’s response to the original review at:
http://www.will-law.org/will-blog-will-responds-criticism-colorado-group/

 

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

July 29, 2016

News from the NEPC: Renowned Scholars Examine Effective, Equitable School Reforms in New NEPC Book

From yesterday’s inbox…

Reforms grounded in research can move the nation forward under ESSA.
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Renowned Scholars Examine Effective, Equitable School Reforms in New NEPC Book

Key Takeaway: Reforms grounded in research can move the nation forward under ESSA.
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Press Release: http://nepc.info/node/8137

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BOULDER, CO (July 28, 2016) – With chapters written by a who’s who of the educational research world—a collection of authors that Larry Cuban describes as “a cast of all-star scholars” and Gloria Ladson-Billings calls “some of the nation’s best minds”—the National Education Policy Center released its latest book:“Learning from the Federal Market-Based Reforms: Lessons for ESSA.” Editors William Mathis and Tina Trujillo brought these researchers together to create a critique of recent reforms followed by a series of proven, research-based reform strategies.

With states now finalizing their improvement plans for the new federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA), the book provides a timely guide for policymakers and practitioners.

Front coverPointing to the need to move beyond the discredited test-based, discipline-and-punish mentality, David Kirp says the volume makes a clear and convincing case for a genuine reform agenda. “It’s a must-read for anyone concerned about the quality of American education.”

Pedro Noguera adds, “This book points to what we must do differently if we are to succeed in providing all children an education that will prepare them for life in the 21st Century.”

Throughout the book, scholars such as David Berliner, Gary Orfield, Mike Rose, Janelle Scott, Richard Rothstein, and Angela Valenzuela remind us that reform requires us to address the root causes of inequities within schools and beyond the school walls, closing opportunity gaps wherever they arise. We must address deprivation, poverty, racism and the inadequate and unequal distribution of resources.

Among the federally promoted reforms examined in the book are school choice, testing, teacher evaluation and school reconstitution. Other chapters look at the research around class size, early education, adequate and equitable funding, community involvement, and detracking.

back cover
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In its foreword, Jeannie Oakes praises the book as a tool for closing the gap between research knowledge and education policy decisions: “We must marry the best empirical evidence with efforts to shift cultural norms and increase the political power of those who are seen as the beneficiaries of research-based reforms.  We must convince our communities, large and small, of the relationship between having better facts and being better people.  . . . [W]e have this book to help.”

The book is available from Information Age Publishing here and from major booksellers.

EARLY ORDER SAVINGS – You can purchase the book on the IAP website at a substantially reduced price of $30 per paperback or $70 per hardcover plus s/h. The code to use at checkout is LFMBR30350.

The book will also be available as an eBook within the next 90 days from Google, Apple, and over 25 other online outlets.

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.

July 27, 2016

News from the NEPC: Report Oversteps in Attempt to Portray Denver as Reform Exemplar

From yesterday’s inbox…

Report is based on weak data and fails to explain how “successful” reform is associated with widening achievement gaps.
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Report Oversteps in Attempt to Portray Denver as Reform Exemplar

Key Review Takeaway: Report is based on weak data and fails to explain how “successful” reform is associated with widening achievement gaps.
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BOULDER, CO (July 26, 2016) – A report published by the Progressive Policy Institute calls for aggressively closing more public schools and expanding charter schools and charter networks. It highlights reforms adopted by Denver Public Schools, notably a “portfolio model” of school governance, and argues that these reforms positively impacted student test scores.

The new report is the latest attempt to paint a narrative of Denver as an exemplar – a success story that can and should be copied elsewhere. However, a review finds that the report’s data do not support the weight of its conclusions.

Assistant Professor Terrenda White of the University of Colorado Boulder reviewed A 21st Century School System in the Mile-High City for the Think Twice Think Tank Review Project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at CU Boulder’s School of Education.

As Professor White explains, the report is written in a reportorial voice, and the only data presented are in the form of simple charts. The report did not attempt to isolate the effect of a multitude of reforms—including charters, performance pay, and a new performance framework—from larger complex forces shaping student demographics in the city. The lack of conventional statistical analyses thwarts the reader’s understanding, and causality cannot be determined.

The report also characterizes the reform’s adoption as a “political success” born of a healthily contentious electoral process, White explains. In doing so, it downplays the role of outside forces and moneyed groups that influenced the nature of reforms, and it disregards missed opportunities for meaningful engagement with community stakeholders.

Finally, Professor White raises the concern that, while the report acknowledges the district’s failure to close achievement gaps and admits limitations with the evaluation system, it never explains how a successful reform could be associated with a widening gap in performance between student groups by race and class.

Find Terrenda White’s review at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/review-21st-century

Find A 21st Century School System in the Mile-High City, by David Osborne, published by Progressive Policy Institute, at:
http://www.progressivepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016.05-Osborne_A-21st-Century-School-System-in-the-Mile-High-City.pdf

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) Think Twice Think Tank Review Project (http://thinktankreview.org) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu


Copyright © 2016 National Education Policy Center. All rights reserved.
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