Quote of the Day

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“Education commissioner: State ‘up a creek’ if charters don’t get funded”

Insider Louisville

Why Kentucky should not delay charter schools – Evidence from New York City schools

As I wrote yesterday, there are comments floating about that Kentucky should delay funding charter schools due to the state’s general financial pinch. But, if the goal is better education, I don’t think that is a very good idea.

Yesterday I pointed to evidence from the National Assessment of Educational Progress that charter schools do a much better job for black students in eighth grade math, a racial group and academic subject where Kentucky has particularly severe problems.

Today, we look at some evidence from the October 2017 study of New York City’s charter schools by the CREDO research group at Stanford University.

In particular, this figure from that report shows the Big Apple’s charter school students do dramatically better as they spend more years in the charter school environment.

CREDO 2017 NYC Report Figure 7 Effects by Years of Enrollment in Charters

For example, by the time a NYC charter student has spent four years in that school of choice, he is ahead by about “68 days of additional learning in reading and 97 more days in math.”

What is particularly surprising is that while reading performance is actually lower compared to the traditional schools for first-year charter students, even math performance moves ahead notably in the first year by the equivalent of about two extra months of learning. That is hard to do because students generally bring a lot of problems to charter schools and other CREDO reports generally show it takes more than one year for students to adjust to charters and better learning opportunities.

In any event, given Kentucky’s major problems with math, this new CREDO study adds more evidence that delaying charters in Kentucky is really just denying students an opportunity to get a better education.

Why Kentucky should not delay charter schools

We are hearing a lot lately from some quarters that Kentucky needs to delay funding charter schools.

I think that is a mistake, especially for the kids who could benefit, and recent test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in eighth grade math backs me up.

I focused on eighth grade math because this is Kentucky’s real Achilles’ heel in NAEP. We score lowest on this NAEP area by far. And, results are far worse still for the state’s black students.

Unfortunately, the NAEP TUDA doesn’t provide really good research information for charter school evaluation. The 2015 TUDA generally didn’t sample enough charter school students to develop credible scores for racial minorities. Also, due to the small student samples, even when NAEP did report scores for minorities in charter schools, the sampling errors were quite large, so it takes a big score difference to show a statistically significant difference.

Despite this, three city school systems that took NAEP Grade 8 Math TUDA in 2015 had enough black students tested to report scores for both those in charter schools and in schools that are not charters. The table, which I developed using the new NAEP Data Explorer, tells the tale.

Atlanta - Baltimore City - Chicago G8 NAEP TUDA Math for charters and not Charters 2015

As you can see, blacks in both Atlanta’s and Chicago’s charter schools outscored blacks in the not charter schools in both cities by a statistically significant amount.

Blacks in Baltimore City charters also appear to outperform, but the sampling error is so large that even the 8-point difference in scores is not large enough to be statistically significant.

An 8-point difference on NAEP is actually a fairly notable difference, by the way. If we look at white scores for Grade 8 Math for all the states in 2015, if Kentucky’s NAEP scale score were raised by 8 points, its relative ranking would increase from 47th place to 32nd place. That is a notable change!

There is another interesting thing with these NAEP examples. The NAEP TUDA doesn’t consider how long a student has been in a charter school. Kids in their first year get tested as part of the sample. That works against charters getting a fair evaluation because, as we have discussed before, research from multiple sources shows students generally need to spend more than just one year in charters for the benefits to show. Thus, NAEP’s sampling process actually creates a bias against accurate portrayal of true charter school performance.

Still, even though the NAEP really isn’t a very precise and accurate tool for charter school research, the available data for 2015 for large cities indicates that where data is available, it looks like charters are getting the job done for black students.

And, that’s why continuing to delay implementing charters in Kentucky just isn’t the right thing to do if you really care about students.

Even Democrat Polling Firm Finds Strong Support for School Choice

National School Choice Week 2018
Wow! The American Federation for Children recently hired Beck Research, which they identify as a Democratic polling firm, to survey the public about school choice. And, the results strongly show Americans like school choice.

Some highlights from the press release:


  • 63% of Likely 2018 Voters Support School Choice, including 41% who strongly support it. 72% of Latinos, 66% of African Americans, 61% of whites, 75% of Republicans, 62% of Independents, and 54% of Democrats support school choice.
  • 86% of voters believe that publicly-funded vouchers, tax credit scholarships, and education savings accounts should be available in some form.
  • 67% support a potential K-12 education tax credit proposal, despite the polarization of the electorate. The federal tax credit scholarship earns bipartisan support with 55% of Democrats, 69% of Independents, and fully 80% of Republicans favoring the possible measure.
  • 77% of Americans support giving the children of active military members the ability to access the school of their choice.
  • 70% of Democrats, 78% of Independents, and 81% of Republicans support Education Savings Accounts.
  • 72% support charter schools, and 83% support choice programs tailored to special needs students.
    That last bullet is particularly interesting as there is a misguided attempt in Kentucky to repeal last year’s charter school legislation. Responsible legislators need to know that special interest effort isn’t what most want.

Learn more about this new poll by clicking here.

School choice research

National School Choice Week 2018
Does choice work?

EdChoice just issued a nice summary of research on the impacts of school choice programs, and I think you will find their comments easy to understand and interesting.

Some points from EdChoice:


  1. “Given enough time, school choice programs create small, positive test score gains for participating students.”
  2. “School choice programs appear to increase graduation rates for participating students.”
  3. “There is virtually no evidence that school choice harms neighboring public schools.”
  4. Ed Choice sees “no evidence that students who participate in school choice programs are alienated from their communities or show less public-spiritedness than their public school-educated peers.”
  5. “Of the 10 studies that have examined school choice’s effect on integration in schools, nine found positive effects. One was unable to detect any effects, and none found negative effects.

EdChoice has been very candid about some of the limitations to their study, and you can find that in the web link above. Still, the study is built around mostly higher quality randomized control trials, which generally are more reliable for education research due to the incredible amount of unknown variables that impact such research.

You can access the slideshow here:

Bluegrass Beacon – Education’s holy grail: Achievement, not racial quotas

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

“All I want for Christmas is for Republicans to act like Republicans,” I recently wrote on Facebook.

Responders aren’t optimistic.

“LOL Jim Waters … I’ll bet you still believe in Santa too!” wrote one friend who’s obviously frustrated with the current state of our political environment.

To avoid a completely empty stocking in case Republicans can’t stop the erosion of “Grand,” leaving them simply with an “Old Party,” I wonder if Santa could find me a major media organization without ideological bias and, worse, intellectual laziness when it comes to reporting on charter schools.

This request comes following publication of a recent Associated Press hit piece on charter schools dressed up as “analysis,” blaming these schools of choice for resegregating America’s public-education system simply because their student populations frequently reflect the high-minority, low-income makeup of the communities in which they’re located.

Nothing in the AP article reports how these schools offer solid evidence-based hope for closing achievement gaps between whites and blacks.

Not even a nod is given to how 95 percent of the 5,821 students attending Success Academy Charter Schools in New York were proficient in math and 84 percent were proficient in English during the 2016-17 school year even though 73 percent of those scholars came from poor homes.

There was no mention about these charter schools’ English Learner (ELL) and learning-disabled students not only surpassing other ELL and special-needs students across New York but also outperforming native English speakers and students without disabilities, respectively, across the Empire State.

Wouldn’t unbiased reporting note the growing academic-achievement gap between whites and blacks in the Jefferson County Public Schools – one of America’s largest districts – as a stark example of the reality that racial parity in the classroom doesn’t guarantee academic equality?

Wouldn’t fairness demand reporting about how assigning and then busing low-income minorities to schools in suburbia in the blessed name of “diversity” doesn’t work?

Bluegrass Institute research indicates that 14 of the district’s 19 elementary schools with white-black proficiency gaps of 30 points or more are in the suburbs east of Interstate 65.

Such exclusions don’t escape the attention of New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait, who responded to the AP’s analysis with an article entitled: “Charters Didn’t Cause Segregation. They’re a Solution for Its Victims.”

Chait may be over-the-top in claiming that the “deep cause of segregation is residential living patterns driven by decades of racist housing policy.”

What cannot be disputed, however, is his assertion that charter schools fill with poor, minority students because they most often open in urban-area neighborhoods reflecting those same demographics.

Also indisputable is Chait’s observation that without the opportunity for charter schools, “the schools those children would otherwise be attending are also segregated.”

His conclusion offers a much-needed reality check for anti-school choice ideologues who would sacrifice important opportunities for this generation on the holy grail of some future generation’s altar of desegregation.

Minority children living in low-income zip codes shouldn’t be relegated to a poor education just because nobody’s “formulated a plan to achieve large-scale school integration that stands any practical chance of success during the lifetime of today’s students,” he writes.

While working for desegregation is always noble and necessary, Chait urges “it cannot be the only mechanism to allay the appalling lack of educational opportunity given to children in segregated neighborhoods.”

As charter schools become available in Kentucky, parents should ignore the insidiousness of the AP’s shoddy “analysis” and instead snatch today’s opportunity to give their children for whom the clock is ticking the best education possible.

What better way to break chains of segregation and poverty than by giving children trapped in them the kind of education that allows them to build or buy a house in whatever neighborhood they choose?

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Inequity continues in Kentucky’s schools

This is no surprise to our regular readers, but LEX18 in Lexington just posed “Kentucky Schools Becoming Less White, But Inequities Persist,” which further substantiates what we’ve been saying for years.

However, there is a warning buried in the news item’s title that everyone in Kentucky needs to heed.

With the state slowly becoming less white, our failure to adequately educate our minority students becomes an increasing challenge for the overall well being of everyone. Given the facts of life in the global world economy where education is essential to higher wages, having more students who don’t have a competitive education is clearly of major concern.

Kentucky’s new charter schools head sounds off

The Kentucky Department of Education’s new director of charter schools, Earl Simms, talks to WDRB in Louisville about his new role and what is coming with charter schools in Kentucky.

Check the video interview here:

WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky’s charter school regulations have been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education and are now moving through the legislative review process. Very likely, this process will be completed in time for a chartering organization to get a new school up and running as early as the 2018-19 school term.

What happened when Minneapolis got some serious school choice?

There is a really interesting podcast from the Education Writers Association about a study conducted by reporters at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the impacts of school choice on what was once Minnesota’s largest school district.

What happened is interesting. When charter schools and district to district transfers became available, it wasn’t white students that bailed out of the traditional Minneapolis schools. It was kids of color who took the most advantage of these options – particularly blacks and Asians – and they did so for a number of reasons. That surprised the Star’s reporters who really expected to find white flight predominating. The reporters were also surprised that blacks who left for charters were not predominantly from upper income black families, either. For sure, the white flight myth some have pushed regarding charter schools didn’t pan out in practice in Minneapolis.

The reporters say students left the traditional public school system for a number of reasons such as behavioral problems in the traditional schools that are better controlled in charters and for the better academic environment that results. Parents interviewed said they were happy with their children’s new schools of choice and had no intentions of returning to the traditional system.

But, is it working? Due to privacy laws, the Star’s reporters could not access individual student data to positively track what happened to each student that took the choice option. However the reporters did do some checking that indicates schools where these kids transferred tend to do better for minority groups than the traditional schools in the Minneapolis system.

One more point caught my attention. With its student base dwindling, the traditional system in Minneapolis is finally waking up and starting to change, as well. The district is currently conducting a study, or assessment, of its own to find out what can be done to better serve students. That change in district behavior is EXACTLY what charter proponents have been saying would happen all along. Maybe the traditional school “boat” in Minneapolis will rise, yet.

This 14-minute podcast is well worth a listen and it shows, at least in Minneapolis, comments some have made to malign school choice are wrong.

KY State education board approves charter school regulations

Kentucky moved a step closer to its first charter school when the Kentucky Board of Education approved the initial versions of new charter school regulations that will govern the process for individuals and groups to seek approval to operate these schools of choice.

The four regulations approved, 701 KAR 8:010, 701 KAR 8:020, 701 KAR 8:030 and 701 KAR 8:040, cover a multitude of requirements such as how students will be enrolled in charters, using a lottery if necessary, evaluation of those who authorize charter schools, conversion of a failing traditional school into a charter school and many other details such as guidelines for the contract charter school organizers must complete and detailed description of the application form they must submit.

The regulations now will go through a public comment period during the month of November and a review of the expected comments by the state board at its December 2017 meeting. The regulations will then go through a review by several legislative committees before their anticipated final adoption in late February 2018. That could provide enough time for the first charter school request to be approved for the 2018-19 school year.

The board’s approval of these regulations marks an important waypoint in the development of better school choice opportunities in Kentucky. A lot of hard work was required to get to this point, and it was gratifying to see a very large number of individuals both at the Kentucky Department of Education and on a number of advisory committees were deeply committed to doing a high quality job for the students in Kentucky.