Competition in education

Here’s a great article about emerging acceptance and experimentation with charter schools, in the Wall Street Journal (found by way of Instapundit). Check out this paragraph from the article:

Mr. Finegold, the bill’s sponsor and the son of public-school teachers, said his motivation sprung from conversations with parents in Lawrence, part of his district northwest of Boston, where the struggling school district was taken over by the state in 2011. The state has since brought in charter operators to run two low-performing schools, and parents told him, “we’d be out of here” had that not happened, Mr. Finegold said. “One thing I don’t think people realize—charter schools are keeping a lot of the middle class in cities,” he said.

Someone finally responded to the exit feedback response.

While I’m sure this thought isn’t original to me, it occurred to me while reading the article how odd it is that strong supporters of the government education monopoly are often also critics of business monopolies.

I suppose they believe that more evil things may happen under a for-profit monopoly, like rising prices, corruption and fat cats getting richer.

Apparently, they haven’t kept up with how the price to educate a child in public schools has grown faster than inflation for decades, or how much money superintendents make and what type of corruption persists at failing school districts that keep getting their funding.

I’m guessing that’s exactly the behavior they would expect from business monopolies. To fix this in business, they want competition. To fix it in education, they usually want to keep out competition and just bring in a different fat cat.

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Four broken feedbacks in public K-12 education

I believe that most problems are caused by broken feedback loops.  In 2009, I listed four broken feedback loops hurting quality in the public K-12 education system.   These include parent choice, teacher quality, grading and student discipline.

This weekend, the Wall Street Journal features basketball star Jalen Rose’s efforts to make a difference in education with his Leadership Academy charter school in Detroit.  Jalen addresses these feedback loops.

Parent choice:

“We didn’t cherry pick these kids,” says Mr. Rose. “They chose us,” he notes…

“There should be parental choice,” he says clearly. “Schools should be open. If it’s a public education, and the school in your district is poor-performing, you should be able to put your student or kid wherever you want.”

Choice could be relatively easily implemented, he says. “I’m a taxpaying citizen, right? So if I’m paying $4,000 worth of taxes and I don’t want my kid to go to this school, why can’t they give me my $4,000 and allow me to pick where I want to put my kids?”

Teacher quality:

His school also doesn’t have tenure for teachers. “I hate tenure. Tenure allows teachers to put their feet up on the desk and possibly have a job forever. That’s why I got turned on to charter schools. It’s a business model. Every employee and every teacher will be monitored by performance.”

Grading:

“This is college prep. We expect 90% to 100% to go on to college”

Student discipline:

Kids too: “We have a code of conduct here. If they act up, they’re suspended. They come back with a better attitude.”

 

“Stupid in America”

Check your FoxNews lineup and set your DVR to record John Stossel’s recent education special, Stupid in America.  If you know when it will next air, let me know and I’ll provide an update.

It originally aired last weekend.  I watched it tonight.  It’s worth watching.  He covers teachers unions, union bosses, firing teachers, the Washington DC school district, charter schools and Khan Academy.

In an interview, one union boss, who represented a district with bad student test scores, assured us that he knows his kids are learning because “he can see it in their eyes.”  Now that’s compelling stuff.  I certainly think there are numerous issues with test scores as a measure of teacher performance, but I much prefer those over what this man sees in his students eyes.

This same union leader defended bad teachers from being fired (I’m paraphrasing): It would be a tremendous cost and a major adjustment for the teacher. We need to seek professional development opportunities for that teacher.

lol?  I did.

I find it strange that we should have to train teachers to be teachers (isn’t that what they were supposed to do before they became a teacher?) to prevent them from not being a teacher. I also find it strange how a trade that’s based so strictly on credentialing (e.g. education certification), would then want to take on the expense of the training the teacher what he or she apparently didn’t learn before.  With that logic, why require credentials at all?  Just let anyone come in and they will be trained.

Of course, this union boss believes training will be the antidote.  What if the teacher doesn’t want to teach?  Why not free up the spot for someone who does?

Another union boss proclaimed that he would try to physically prevent people from going to charter schools in “our” (meaning teacher union) buildings.  Excuse me, aren’t those the taxpayers’ buildings? I didn’t realize that the teachers union now owns their buildings as well.

As Stossel so aptly put it in the show, much of what is wrong with education is that we have “adult fools” running things.

Stossel also showed lots of signs of progress education.

  • Charter schools where the kids love to come and learn.
  • Kids digging math because they’re watching Salman Khan videos.
  • Teachers in charter schools that say things like (paraphrasing again), why shouldn’t they be able to fire me?  If I was a bad doctor, I wouldn’t have any patients.
  • A charter school where the principal actively watches and coaches her teachers to improve their teaching (many businesses can learn from this).
  • A post-Katrina, charter school-based rebirth of education in New Orleans.  One founder of the Sci Academy started with just himself in 2008 and now has a “school” based in trailers and his students are testing well.  He said, if you hear someone in education talking about having top notch facilities, that’s a sign they’re not putting education first.

Monopoly on mediocrity

On a discussion forum about education and charter schools which aired last night on my local PBS station, I heard much that concerned me about the critical thinking skills of people in influential roles in education.

One comment was memorable.  A fellow vested with public schools asked of a charter school operator:

If you open a charter school and in 3 to 5 years it’s not outperforming the district averages, are you prepared to close it?

A couple things disturbed me about the underlying premises of this statement.

First, do we close public schools that do not outperform the district average?  No.  Do we close a restaurant that does not ‘outperform’ it’s peers?  No.  If it can draw enough customers to stay open, we let it be and let the owners and customers decide.  Why would we apply a different set of standards to charter schools?  Should public schools have a monopoly on mediocrity?

Second, what does ‘outperform’ mean?  Average test scores?  Why do we have such little regard for what parents think of their child’s education?  Why wouldn’t we let it stay open if parents are satisfied?

Unfortunately, the charter school operator accepted the premise and responded:

If we don’t meet our plan achievement goals, we are prepared to shut it down.

His face then contorted as if he realized that he accepted the faulty premise.

A better response would have been:

We’re going to let parents decide if we’re successful.

That’s not “market based reform”

In the Wall Street Journal, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers, writes that Markets Aren’t the Education Solution.

Market-based reformers advocate using student test scores to evaluate and compensate teachers, increasing the number of charter schools, firing teachers in low-performing schools, and relying on corporate executives and business practices to run school districts.

She concludes:

But there is increasing evidence it doesn’t work.

Using test scores to evaluate and compensate teachers is not market-based reform.  It’s test-score accountability.

As a market-based reform supporter, I agree that it makes little sense to use test scores to judge teacher performance. Test scores should be used to judge student performance.

Also, relying on corporate executives and business practices to run school districts are not necessarily market-based reforms.  But, they may not be bad ideas.

The distinguishing characteristic of a market-based reform is that it gives more power to choose to the end users of the education system — the parents of school age children.  Any reform that does not clearly do that should not be referred to as market-based reform.