260 (Author at Cato Institute) https://www.cato.org/ en Andrew Coulson’s article, “Head Start: A Tragic Waste of Money,” is cited on The Ben Shapiro Show https://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-radio/andrew-coulsons-article-head-start-tragic-waste-money-cited-ben Tue, 26 Feb 2019 09:30:00 -0500 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-radio/andrew-coulsons-article-head-start-tragic-waste-money-cited-ben Andrew J. Coulson’s blog post, “Public School Spending. There’s a Chart for That!,” is discussed on Newstalk Live 95’s Good Morning Pee Dee https://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-radio/andrew-j-coulsons-blog-post-public-school-spending-theres-chart Thu, 14 Feb 2019 15:36:00 -0500 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-radio/andrew-j-coulsons-blog-post-public-school-spending-theres-chart Andrew Coulson’s School Inc. documentary is promoted on WPBS https://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-tv/andrew-coulsons-school-inc-documentary-promoted-wpbs Thu, 07 Sep 2017 10:45:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-tv/andrew-coulsons-school-inc-documentary-promoted-wpbs School Inc.: Can We Scale Up Educational Excellence? https://www.cato.org/policy-report/marchapril-2017/school-inc-can-we-scale-educational-excellence Andrew J. Coulson <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>I grew up in Montreal in the ’70s and ’80s. Midway through high school, my parents brought home an Apple II computer. Remember when Indiana Jones first sets eyes on the “Ark of the Covenant” in <em>Raiders of the Lost Ark?</em> Yeah. It was like that.</p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Not a&nbsp;great surprise, then, that my first job out of college was writing code for Microsoft. Eventually, though, I&nbsp;had to admit that programming for a&nbsp;living was leaving me unfulfilled.</p> <p>By coincidence, while mulling alternative lines of work in the fall of 1992, I&nbsp;heard that Oregonians were about to vote on something called a “school voucher” initiative. If enacted, it would allow families to take the funding that normally went to their assigned school district and use it at the public or private school of their choice. I&nbsp;didn’t pay a&nbsp;lot of attention at first, but, in the back of my mind, I&nbsp;assumed the initiative would pass, because it would give young couples and parents with school children more educational choices. And most grandparents would presumably want expanded educational options for their grandkids. I&nbsp;assumed that that covered the bulk of the voting population, so I&nbsp;didn’t see how it could lose.</p> <p>It went down by about two to one. I&nbsp;was mystified and fascinated. Then on December 17, 1993, President Bill Clinton hosted an event in the White House’s Roosevelt Room. The guest of honor was <em>TV Guide</em> mogul and former ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Annenberg. Concerned that America’s public schools were falling short on a&nbsp;host of levels, Annenberg pledged half a&nbsp;billion dollars to discover how they could be improved on a&nbsp;mass scale. President Clinton captured the task perfectly:</p> </div> , <blockquote class="blockquote"> <div> <p>[The] people in this room who have devoted their lives to education are constantly plagued by the fact that nearly every problem has been solved by somebody somewhere, and yet we can’t seem to replicate it everywhere else… . That is the central challenge of this age in education.</p> </div> </blockquote> <cite> </cite> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>It was so true. In every other field, excellence routinely “scales up.” Serve a&nbsp;better cup of coffee, create a&nbsp;better search engine, and the world beats a&nbsp;path to your door. But come up with a&nbsp;better way to teach math, or English, or history and … crickets. Here was the core of all our education woes: it’s not that we lack models of excellence, it’s that we lack a&nbsp;reliable way of replicating them.</p> <p>Searching for a&nbsp;solution to that problem has been the focus of my work for the past 20&nbsp;years. After scouring the history of education back to classical Greece, I&nbsp;surveyed modern scientific research, conducted a&nbsp;few statistical studies of my own, and finally set off around the world to see firsthand what works, what doesn’t, and why. My documentary series, <em>School Inc.</em>, is the story of what I’ve found.</p> <p><strong>EDUCATION: STUCK IN THE DISCO ERA</strong><br>Barely a&nbsp;decade ago, no one had ever heard of Google. Now we do tens of thousands of internet searches per second. Facebook went from zero to half a&nbsp;billion members in five years. And the same thing is true outside the high‐​tech world in everything from organic grocery stores to disposable diapers. Basically, invent something good, and it gets big. And these days, it gets big fast.</p> <p>But of all the products we make and the services we provide, there’s one that stands out as an exception to that overall pattern; one activity in which excellence doesn’t spawn countless imitators or spread on a&nbsp;massive scale. And that exception is schooling. American test scores at the end of high school have been flat since we started keeping track of them in the early 1970s, and the same thing is true in most other countries as well. Basically, educational quality has been stuck in the era of disco and leisure suits for 40&nbsp;years, while the rest of the world has passed it by.</p> <p>Classrooms and clothes look a&nbsp;little different now than they did back then. But we’ve changed the trappings of education without really improving the substance. The best schools haven’t grown and taken over the less successful ones. The best teaching methods haven’t been replicated on a&nbsp;mass scale. And while our top athletes and pop stars reach huge audiences, our greatest teachers seldom reach more than a&nbsp;few dozen kids at a&nbsp;time, despite all our technological advances. Why not? That’s the question at the heart of this series: why doesn’t excellence scale up and spawn imitators in education, the way it does in other fields?</p> <p>I traveled the globe in search of an answer to that question. I&nbsp;went to Lexington, Massachusetts, site of the “shot heard round the world” that marked the beginning of the American Revolution, where a&nbsp;few decades later a&nbsp;few reformers kicked off a&nbsp;revolution in American education, creating the first state teachers’ college in the country. State teacher‐​training was just one part of their plan. The common school reformers also advocated higher state spending, prohibiting the common schools from charging tuition, and gradually centralizing power in the state legislature. They believed that that would allow the best pedagogical practices to scale up, bringing them within reach of every child.</p> <p>But there was more to it than that. Horace Mann, in particular, believed that the public schools could transform society for the better. Horace Mann believed in the perfectibility of humanity, and that a&nbsp;well‐​funded state school system would achieve that perfection. Through his tireless campaigning and inspiring words, he eventually won the hearts of the American people. In the 150&nbsp;years since, we have expanded and funded the public schools beyond his wildest expectations. Has it worked?</p> <p>I visited Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. In the 1980s it was a&nbsp;typical inner city school, with low test scores and low income Latino students who weren’t offered the most challenging courses. But one teacher, Jaime Escalante, thought these students could learn calculus. And he was right. By 1988 more students were passing the advanced placement calculus test at Garfield than at Beverly Hills High, 17&nbsp;miles and a&nbsp;world away. One out of every four Mexican Americans who passed AP calculus, nationwide, attended Garfield.</p> <p>The results were beyond belief — literally. His students performed so far above expectations on the AP calculus test that the Educational Testing Service suspected cheating and threw out their scores. Undaunted, they retook it and came through with flying colors a&nbsp;second time. Hollywood noticed, dramatizing the story in the movie <em>Stand and Deliver</em>.</p> <p>Jaime Escalante wasn’t a&nbsp;Lone Ranger. He partnered with several of Garfield’s math teachers to create a&nbsp;program that covered everything from basic fractions to advanced calculus. And it was with this team that Escalante created a&nbsp;program bigger than himself, able to produce so many high achievers — even ones who never set foot in his classroom.</p> <p>The movie <em>Stand and Deliver</em> ends on a&nbsp;high note with Escalante’s students proving the skeptics wrong. But the story of his mathematics program at Garfield does not have a&nbsp;Hollywood ending. In any other field, we might expect this combination of success, scalability, and publicity to have catapulted Escalante to the top of his profession and spread his teaching model across the country. Instead, the teachers’ union voted to oust Escalante as chairman of the math department because his success and fame had started to arouse jealousy. In 1991, demoted and resented by many of his colleagues, Escalante left Garfield High.</p> <p><strong>KOREA’S MILLION-DOLLAR TEACHERS</strong><br>Nearly two centuries ago, Horace Mann thought public schools would bring the greatest teachers and schools within reach of every child. But, as Jaime Escalante’s experience illustrates, we still haven’t achieved that goal. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are places where educational excellence is scaling up — like Korea, where top teachers earn even more than the country’s highest paid professional baseball players — as much as $100 million.</p> <p>Korea has traditionally placed a&nbsp;great deal of importance on education, and in order to get into college students must compete in mandatory and high‐​stakes entrance exams. With their children’s futures riding so heavily on a&nbsp;single college entrance exam, Korean parents are keen to provide the best preparation they can. And since they lack confidence in the public school system, a&nbsp;few decades ago families started looking for alternatives. But the private schools were so heavily regulated that they didn’t really look much different from the public schools.</p> <p>So, parents decided to opt outside the regular school sector entirely, hiring private tutoring services called “hagwons.”</p> <p>These hagwons were popular with parents, but they weren’t popular with everyone; government officials in charge of public schooling worried that they would lead to inequality in the education system. And so, in the 1980s, they outlawed most private tutoring.</p> <p>This prohibition on after‐​school tutoring was every bit as effective as America’s prohibition on alcohol. Instead of driving hagwons out of business, the ban drove them underground. They became illegal educational speakeasies, like the illicit drinking establishments of the Roaring Twenties. The Korean government offered cash rewards to anyone ratting out teachers engaged in extra‐​curricular … curricula.</p> <p>Despite all this, the private tutoring industry boomed. By the time the ban was struck down 20&nbsp;years later, the number of hagwons had risen from 5,000 to more than 67,000. With the outright ban on hagwons overturned, the government resorted to a&nbsp;cap on fees. But this, too, was ruled unconstitutional. Not to be dissuaded, the government set a&nbsp;10 p.m. curfew on hagwon lessons that remains in place to this day.</p> <p>Nevertheless, 95 percent of students have taken hagwon lessons by the time they leave high school. It’s typical to attend after school, several days a&nbsp;week — sometimes well past midnight. And, according to one study, threequarters of students prefer those hagwon lessons to their regular school classes.</p> <p>The best teachers record their lectures, and students can watch them online. That’s how Korean teachers can make millions of dollars. They have tremendous autonomy, and they’re constantly trying to improve their services to stay ahead of the competition. And the more students they serve, the more money they bring in.</p> <p><strong>HOW CHARTER SCHOOLS REWARD SUCCESS</strong><br>But most of that is also true of private schools back here in the United States. So, if that’s the recipe for replicating excellence, we’d expect to see the same kind of growth among U.S. private schools.</p> <p>I visited Michigan’s esteemed Cranbrook School. It’s beautiful and does a&nbsp;great job, but it’s not trying to expand. America’s prestigious prep schools simply don’t have a&nbsp;motive to scale up. They’re striving to perpetuate beloved traditions, not to start national franchises. Which raises an interesting question: What would happen if someone did deliberately set out to replicate educational excellence?</p> <p>That’s not a&nbsp;hypothetical question. In fact, it’s fairly easy to answer because there already is a&nbsp;large and growing category of schools that philanthropists are trying to scale up: charter schools.</p> <p>Charters are public schools that are freed from some of the rules and red tape that apply to their regular, district‐​run counterparts. They have more control over what they teach, what methods they use, and how they measure student achievement. Charter schools also tend not to be unionized, which means that principals can hire whomever they want.</p> <p>And funding is where things get interesting. Charter schools and traditional public schools use their private funding very differently. If your local public school principal does a&nbsp;great job and gets a&nbsp;huge donation, she cannot use that money to open new public schools in other districts.</p> <p>Charter school leaders can. They can create whole networks of schools that share their mission and methods. And philanthropists know that. So, when they make donations to charters, it’s very often with that replication in mind … and it is working! There are now 130 charter school networks enrolling a&nbsp;quarter of a&nbsp;million students, and they’ve been growing in both size and number for over a&nbsp;decade.</p> <p><strong>THE PROFIT MOTIVE</strong><br>To find a&nbsp;place where the schools being replicated are outperforming the rest, I&nbsp;went to the Casablanca Valley in Chile, which introduced competition into education in the late 1970s. A&nbsp;crucial discovery researchers have made about Chile is that chains of private schools have a&nbsp;large advantage over independent, mom‐​and‐​pop schools. On top of that, the larger school networks perform even better than the smaller ones. In Chile, the better they are, the bigger they grow.</p> <p>Could that model be replicated in other countries? I&nbsp;went to Sweden to find out. Ten years after Chile reformed its education system, Sweden followed suit. All private schools are now fully tax‐​funded, and parents can easily choose between these so‐​called “free schools” and the local public schools. Student achievement is falling in the public schools and more parents are switching to private schools, including several chains with more than two dozen schools each.</p> <p>But here again, not every good school grows. Why do some great schools add new locations in response to rising demand, while others don’t?</p> <p>I discovered that there is a&nbsp;single feature that separates independent schools that scale up from those that don’t: the profit motive.</p> <p>Unfortunately, lots of people don’t like the idea of for‐​profit education. They assume that it would encourage schools to take advantage of families. If that were true, we’d be most likely to see it in a&nbsp;place where private schools are serving a&nbsp;relatively disadvantaged population. So I&nbsp;went to India, where James Tooley showed me private schools serving the poor that are out‐​performing government schools that spend three or four times as much per pupil.</p> <p>At fee‐​charging Indian private schools, parents expect more because they’re paying more, so they hold school leaders accountable. And school leaders, in turn, hold their teachers accountable because they’ll go out of business if they don’t. By contrast, Indian public schools almost never fire teachers for poor performance or absenteeism. Tooley asked these poor parents why they would spend their money on private schools, when public schools are free. “In the government schools,” one said, “our children are abandoned.” Nevertheless, back in the United States, running a&nbsp;business that earns money educating kids is still widely despised today.</p> <p>Consider the case of Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix. After college, Hastings joined the Peace Corps and went to Swaziland to teach high school students. In the 1990s, while he was hatching the idea for Netflix, Hastings also took graduate courses in education, because he wanted to understand why schools were lagging while other fields were leaping ahead … sound familiar?</p> <p>Since then, Hastings has given millions of dollars to educational charities, but has decided not to start an education business. He told a&nbsp;reporter he didn’t want people to think he was doing it for the money. So education can have some of Hastings’s charity, but it can’t have his entrepreneurial leadership.</p> <p>Fortunately, outside of education that anti‐​profit attitude started to change around the year 1600. People started to appreciate commerce and entrepreneurship, and the result was an Industrial Revolution and an unprecedented rise in everyone’s standard of living.</p> <p>Could it be that the tutoring sector operates within the same free‐​enterprise system that has resulted in the massive scale‐​up of excellence in every other field? Is it an accident that when we reward education entrepreneurs for their success, as in Korea, their success grows? Could it be that philanthropists have failed to consistently fund the best charter schools because they do not expect a&nbsp;return on their investment, as hard‐​nosed venture capitalists do? What if we allowed education entrepreneurs to put their own money on the line in an effort to better serve us?</p> <p>These questions have obvious, if inflammatory, answers. Until we let education participate in the same free‐​enterprise system that drives the scale‐​up of everything from iPhones to Facebook, excellent schools and teachers will remain floating candles — beautifully illuminating their immediate vicinity, but doomed never to touch off a&nbsp;wider blaze.</p> </div> Mon, 03 Apr 2017 13:41:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/policy-report/marchapril-2017/school-inc-can-we-scale-educational-excellence AZ School Officials Oppose Higher Public School Spending https://www.cato.org/blog/az-school-officials-oppose-higher-public-school-spending Andrew J. Coulson <p>What might explain this unusual turn of events? <br><br /> <br> Allow the <em>WSJ</em> to explain: <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/arizonas-end-run-around-the-education-spending-lobby-1448656992?cb=logged0.023620671021509332">Arizona governor Doug Ducey has come up with a&nbsp;plan to spend $2 billion more on public schools over the next decade–without raising taxes. </a>According to his plan, the money would go directly into the classroom, rather than though the public school bureacracy’s normal funding process.That’s a&nbsp;big deal in Arizona, which <a href="http://azednews.com/2015/02/27/report-on-arizona-school-district-spending-released-by-auditor-general/">spends a&nbsp;smaller portion of its education budget in the classroom </a>(54%) than is typical of other states (61%). <br><br /> <br> The [negative]reaction to Ducey’s plan seems to be spearheaded by Michael Cowan, the superintendent of Mesa Public Schools, Arizona’s largest district,who <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/arizonas-end-run-around-the-education-spending-lobby-1448656992?cb=logged0.023620671021509332">launched an email and robocall campaign to turn parents against the proposal</a>.Why? Well, naturally: “for the children.” How <em>preventing</em> an increase in classroom spending might help children may not be obvious to everyone,so the <em>WSJ</em> helpfully offers an alternative explanation for district officials’ opposition: “Mr. Ducey’s plan disrupted the usual coalition of teachers unions and public school districts, leading some in the K-12 establishment—those administrators and union officials who have a&nbsp;way of soaking up dollars while doing little for students—to take the unfamiliar position of <em>objecting </em>to new education funding.”&nbsp;<span>either that, or, somehow(?), “it’s for the children.”™</span> <br><br /> <br> If only there were a&nbsp;system for organizing economic activity under which revenues are most easily raised by better‐​serving one’s customers or by attracting additional ones. And if only that system <a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/">had been shown to work in education </a>&nbsp;just as in other fields.</p> Mon, 30 Nov 2015 09:50:00 -0500 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/az-school-officials-oppose-higher-public-school-spending Do Non‐​Profits Criticize Foundations? Or Are They Too Frightened to Do So? https://www.cato.org/blog/do-non-profits-criticize-foundations-or-are-they-too-frightened-do-so Andrew J. Coulson <p>Earlier this year, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) issued a&nbsp;report titled “<a href="http://www.pressreleasepoint.com/philamplify-poll-results-nonprofits-don-t-criticize-foundations-because-funding-fears">Philamplify Poll Results: Nonprofits Don’t Criticize Foundations Because of Funding Fears</a>.” <br><br /> <br> The report seeks to explain a&nbsp;phenomenon whose existence it does not bother to establish. Rather than presenting evidence that non‐​profits are in fact intimidated into silence by grantors, the report instead simply <em>assumes</em> that they are. Its first paragraph declares that “Given the power imbalance between foundations and grantees, grantees are often wary of providing foundations with constructive criticism.” <br><br /> <br> No evidence is presented to substantiate or quantify this claim. <em>How</em> often? <em>How</em> wary? <em>Says who</em>? <br><br /> <br> Assumption in hand, the NCRP is off to the races, asking its website visitors to speculate on this hypothetical question “What is the top reason why a&nbsp;nonprofit would choose not to openly criticize a&nbsp;foundation?” <br><br /> <br> Of course those speculations would be of dubious value even if the report had bothered to establish this phenomenon’s existence. The poll answers would not tell us if even one actual non‐​profit had held its tongue for the reason alleged, merely that some anonymous website visitor(s) thought it plausible. <br><br /> <br> Even if we grant that it might be difficult to collect hard evidence on cases of non‐​profits refusing to criticize prospective donors, it does not excuse publishing a “report” devoid of relevant facts. <br><br /> <br> Consider, too, that it might be comparatively easy to collect data on non‐​profits that <em>have</em> criticized foundations. An advantage of this flip‐​side approach to the question is that the critics themselves can be asked why they published their criticisms. I&nbsp;say this as the author of <a href="https://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/other-lottery-are-philanthropists-backing-best-charter-schools">an empirical study whose findings were deeply unflattering to philanthropies seeking to scale‐​up charter school networks</a>. <br><br /> <br> Why did I&nbsp;do it? It’s my job. I&nbsp;study comparative education policy, seeking to understand which policies are most effective in delivering the outcomes that families value. A&nbsp;key question within that field is to determine which policies lead most consistently to the “scaling‐​up” of educational excellence—which is to say the replication and/​or imitation of best practices. Since that has long been a&nbsp;goal of donors to charter school networks I&nbsp;felt it important to determine empirically the extent to which their efforts were proving effective. It being an empirical study based on a&nbsp;large dataset (all the charter networks operating in the state of California) there was no way to predict the outcome prior to crunching the numbers. Nor was there any need for such a&nbsp;prediction. <br><br /> <br> Contrary to the speculations of NCRP’s website visitors, my highest priority as a&nbsp;think tank researcher is not to avoid antagonizing potential donors, it is maintaining my personal integrity and guarding my reputation and that of my employer for producing reliable, useful empirical research. I&nbsp;am certainly not alone in holding these priorities among think tank scholars. With that observation in mind, dear reader, please contact me if you have another example in which a&nbsp;non‐​profit published work critical of foundations/​potential donors. I&nbsp;will relay the results to NCRP in the hope that they may wish to make amends for their earlier baseless, question‐​begging speculations.</p> Mon, 26 Oct 2015 08:46:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/do-non-profits-criticize-foundations-or-are-they-too-frightened-do-so What Makes a Teacher Shortage? https://www.cato.org/multimedia/daily-podcast/what-makes-teacher-shortage Andrew J. Coulson <p>A plea of “teacher shortage” in Indiana isn’t supported by the evidence, says Andrew Coulson.</p> Wed, 02 Sep 2015 00:22:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/multimedia/daily-podcast/what-makes-teacher-shortage Evidence Shortage for Teacher Shortage https://www.cato.org/blog/evidence-shortage-teacher-shortage Andrew J. Coulson <p>According to a report circulating this week "Indiana is not the only state facing a teacher shortage. It is a national and global issue.” This is said to be proven by a Google search returning blog posts and news stories in which some people claim there is a teacher shortage. But is that true? The claimants could be uninformed, misinformed, or could even have incentives to cry “shortage!” when there isn't one. For instance, consider this U.S. <a href="http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/pol/tsa.pdf">government program for cancelling teachers’ loans</a>:&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <blockquote><p>34 CFR 674.53(c) enables Federal Perkins Loan borrowers who are full-time teachers of mathematics, science, foreign languages, bilingual education <span>or any other field of expertise where the State educational agency determined there</span> <span>is a shortage of qualified teachers</span> to qualify for cancellation of up to 100 percent of their loan repayment.</p> </blockquote> <p>Hmm. But let's not speculate. The federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics compiles data on public school enrollment and teacher employment. To verify the claims of teacher shortages in Indiana and nationally, I charted those data in the figure below.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p> </p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="b558d62a-218e-4b81-9a49-63131cc28d1a" data-langcode="und" class="embedded-entity"> <img srcset="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/pupils_p_teacher_in_n_u.s.gif?itok=VCi2lW3_ 1x, /sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs_2x/public/wp-content/uploads/pupils_p_teacher_in_n_u.s.gif?itok=wN6dYMEY 1.5x" width="700" height="499" src="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/pupils_p_teacher_in_n_u.s.gif?itok=VCi2lW3_" alt="Media Name: pupils_p_teacher_in_n_u.s.gif" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> <p>For the United States as a whole, we see that there are fewer pupils per teacher today than at almost any time in the past 50 years. Put the other way, <span>we currently have <em>more</em> teachers per pupil that we’ve had in the past</span>—with the exception of a brief period last decade.</p> <p><span>In the case of Indiana, the pupil/teacher ratio is about the same as it was in 1982. The difference between Indiana’s ratio and that of the nation as a whole is currently less than one student/teacher.</span>&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Clearly, the nation has been on a very long teacher-hiring binge. Since 1970, the number of teachers has grown <em>six times faster</em> than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent. There are a LOT more public school teachers per child today, so how can districts and states still claim to be facing “teacher shortages?”&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> In some areas, the shortages are said to be restricted to teachers of certain subjects or grade levels. But if that is so, it only begs the question: why did the system hire so many teachers in the other subjects where there were <em>not</em> shortages—decade after decade? Wouldn’t it have been wiser not to hire so many new teachers over the last 50 years in the other subjects that were not facing shortages? Had the nation not gone on what seems to be an across-the-board teacher hiring binge since 1970, districts would have more money at their disposal today to offer teachers in truly hard-to-fill positions.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> As my erstwhile colleague <a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa579.pdf">Marie Gryphon noted</a> there are:&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <blockquote><p>large differences among teachers in their impacts on achievement and ... high quality instruction throughout primary school could substantially offset disadvantages associated with low socioeconomic background [….] The group noted that good teachers matter more than smaller class sizes. Rivkin and his colleagues found that raising teacher quality by one standard deviation would improve student achievement more than a very expensive class-size reduction of 10 students per class.</p> </blockquote> <p> And not only have U.S. public schools favored quantity over quality in their long-term hiring behavior, they have been found to make systematically poor choices among the available candidates:&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <blockquote><p>Ballou found that <a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa579.pdf">administrators were no more likely to hire high-ability teaching candidates than candidates of lower tested ability</a>. He writes: “Applicants from better colleges do not fare better in the [public school teacher] job market. Indeed, remarkably, <em>they do somewhat worse</em>.” That was the case despite substantial evidence that higher tested ability of teachers is one of the most reliable indicators of superior classroom performance. [Gryphon 2006, <em>italics</em> added]</p> </blockquote> <p>Research shows that the brighter candidates are likely to become better teachers, but that they are less likely to be hired by public school districts in the first place.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Another respect in which the nation’s public school systems invite teacher shortages upon themselves in high-demand subjects is their erection of barriers to entering the teaching profession. States generally require candidate teachers to obtain a 4-year degree from a state-accredited teachers’ college. These credentials tend <a href="http://teach.com/where/teaching-in-america/teacher-certification-reciprocity">not to be portable between states</a>. Nor, as Gryphon reported, have state teacher credentials been shown to confer a meaningful benefit on students.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> The desire to drive up teacher quality is worthy, but there are more empirically supported ways of doing so. One is competition. Gryphon writes that “schools subjected to competition hire more teachers who have the specific qualities that have been tied to performance by past research: high tested ability and experience with math and science.”&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Of course, that sort experience is concentrated in students and professionals in math, science, and engineering fields, not among students in teachers’ colleges. With that in mind, many states adopted so-called “alternative certification” programs, in an effort to be more welcoming of non-ed-school graduates. But <a href="http://www.nctq.org/nctq/images/Alternative_Certification_Isnt_Alternative.pdf">a Fordham Foundation report</a> reveals that “alternative certification programs have come to mimic standard-issue pre-service college-of-education programs.” Which is perhaps explained by the fact that about two-thirds of “alternate” route programs <em>are run by the very education schools to which they are meant to be alternatives</em>.   &#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> So does America have a “teacher shortage” writ large? No. We had 22.3 pupils/teacher in 1970 and 16 p/t in 2012. Compared to the past, we are rolling in teachers. If we have too few in some fields and too many in others, it is for the reasons described above--mistakes in policy and/or execution. In Indiana, the ratio went from 17.5 to 17.4 over the past 30 years. If there are subject-specific shortages they are the result, again, of policy and execution.</p> <p></p> Sun, 23 Aug 2015 14:18:15 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/evidence-shortage-teacher-shortage Is There Really a National Teacher Shortage? https://www.cato.org/blog/there-really-national-teacher-shortage Andrew J. Coulson <p>Motoko Rich of the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/10/us/teacher-shortages-spur-a-nationwide-hiring-scramble-credentials-optional.html?_r=0"><em>New York Times</em> </a>reports: <br /></p> <blockquote><p>Across the country, districts are struggling with shortages of teachers, particularly in math, science and special education — a result of the layoffs of the recession years combined with an improving economy in which fewer people are training to be teachers.</p> </blockquote> <p>So do we really have a shortage of teachers today, compared to historical levels? How big were the recession layoffs in historical context? I offer an updated chart below of the % change, since 1970, in the number of teachers and students, as well as the change in the cost per graduate of a public school K-12 education. <br /></p> <p> </p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="bf6d2fe3-9f39-47a1-991b-e446c5da9c7a" data-langcode="und" class="embedded-entity"> <img srcset="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/coulson_cato_chart_08-2015.gif?itok=sQZAan5j 1x, /sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs_2x/public/wp-content/uploads/coulson_cato_chart_08-2015.gif?itok=TYsTsI0S 1.5x" width="552" height="410" src="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/coulson_cato_chart_08-2015.gif?itok=sQZAan5j" alt="Media Name: coulson_cato_chart_08-2015.gif" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> <p>As the chart reveals, the recession layoffs were tiny when compared to the massive growth in our teaching workforce since 1970. To this day, we employ over 150% as many teachers as we did in 1970, to teach only 109% as many students. In other words, the number of teachers has grown 5 times faster than enrollment. That does not mean that there couldn’t be a small portion of districts in the U.S. that really need to hire teachers, but it does mean that there is no “national teacher shortage” compared to historical levels of employement. To anyone who claims otherwise, we can only ask: a shortage <em>compared to what</em>?</p> Mon, 10 Aug 2015 16:22:55 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/there-really-national-teacher-shortage Andrew J. Coulson discusses entrepreneurship in education at the Heartland Institute https://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-tv/andrew-j-coulson-discusses-study-international-evidence-book-market Fri, 07 Aug 2015 11:09:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/multimedia/media-highlights-tv/andrew-j-coulson-discusses-study-international-evidence-book-market Charter School Growth, Reality vs. Prediction https://www.cato.org/blog/charter-school-growth-reality-vs-prediction Andrew J. Coulson <p>A fun thing about making predictions is ultimately finding out how wrong you were, and why. The chart below depicts the actual growth in charter school enrollment from 2000 to 2011, presented in Richard Buddin’s paper “The Impact of Charter Schools on Public and Private School Enrollments.” Now, as the old investment ads exhorted “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” But such a definitive pattern cried out for a regression fit. The dashed blue line in the chart below represents the “predicted” growth of Charter schools since 2011 (which I calculated three years ago from the 2000‐​to‐​2011 data). But how good was the prediction? As a test, I have plotted the <em>actual</em> data for 2012 to 2015 as red dots, using <a href="http://dashboard.publiccharters.org/dashboard/students/page/overview/year/2014">this </a>and <a href="http://edexcellence.net/articles/charter-schools-at-almost-a-quarter-century-looking-back-looking-ahead?utm_source=Fordham+Updates&amp;utm_campaign=c2f3cf8477-20150624_EducationGadflyWeekly6_24_2015&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_d9e8246adf-c2f3cf8477-71487357">this </a>as sources. <br /></p> <p> </p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="ee9e384d-eff4-4200-b45e-cf826bdca730" data-langcode="und" class="embedded-entity"> <img srcset="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/charter_enroll_trend_coulson_cato_6-2015_b.gif?itok=l1QcoWSf 1x, /sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs_2x/public/wp-content/uploads/charter_enroll_trend_coulson_cato_6-2015_b.gif?itok=du3w-3YN 1.5x" width="609" height="432" src="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/charter_enroll_trend_coulson_cato_6-2015_b.gif?itok=l1QcoWSf" alt="Media Name: charter_enroll_trend_coulson_cato_6-2015_b.gif" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> <p>Well. Not bad. The accelerating growth in charter school enrollment could be excellent news for children and families–expanding the breadth of their educational options. Or (in the long term) it might reduce the variety of educational choices <a href="http://laschoolreport.com/state-lawmakers-call-for-deeper-regulation-of-charter-schools/">if charters become re‐​regulated </a>(and thus homogenized) after having “<a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/PA707.pdf">eaten” a substantial number of diverse and much freer private schools</a>. As Richard Buddin showed, charter schools are drawing students away from the freer independent school sector. And as the news routinely informs us, there are regular efforts to pile regulations onto charters to make them behave more like conventional state‐​run schools. In 2011, I raised the concern <a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/andrew-coulson-on-the-way-to-school.pdf">that this cycle could reduce educational liberty</a>. <br /></p> <blockquote><p>Two things are likely to happen over time: more private schools will be forced by economic expediency to convert to charter status as the number of competing charter schools grows, and the charter law is very likely to accrete regulation as charters enroll a larger share of the total student population. After all, the conventional U.S. public schools of the mid‐​to‐​late 1800s generally had more parental power and more autonomy than do typical charter schools today, but they have succumb to ever more extensive and more centralized regulation. If charter public schools follow the pattern set by conventional public schools, and if private schools continue to convert to charter status, what will be the end result? We could well see a heavily regulated state education monopoly that enjoys not a 90 percent market share, as it does now, but a 95 or even 99 percent market share. The end point would be worse than the situation we have today. While it is possible that charter schools will not accrete regulation like other public schools have as they begin to enroll a larger share of students, there is no reason to be hopeful in that regard.</p> </blockquote> <p>With attempts to regulate charter schools more like state‐​run district schools continuing to this day, reasons for hopefulness remain scarce. <br /><br /><br /> This, admittedly is a long‐​run concern. And as Keynes observed, “In the long‐​run, we’re all dead.” While that is literally true of any given generation, policy must be made with a view to functioning well not simply for us, now, but also for subsequent generations, decades hence. Having spent years studying <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=3xi49dmYw0wC&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">the history of education systems</a>, it’s hard not to be concerned with the long‐​run.</p> Thu, 25 Jun 2015 08:40:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/charter-school-growth-reality-vs-prediction American Mathematical Society: Hurdles to U.S. Tech. Improvement https://www.cato.org/blog/american-mathematical-society-hurdles-us-tech-improvement Andrew J. Coulson <p>Allow me to liberally paraphrase a piece from the current issue of the AMS’s publication “Notices.” Thereafter, I’ll contrast my version with the original.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <blockquote><p>The US presents particular obstacles to achieving technological improvement at a national scale, deriving from its social and economic diversity and also from an entrenched tradition of entrepreneurship and private industry which precludes a federal role in any primary initiatives. Yet to achieve real improvement at scale requires some national coherence.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> The laws of physics are the same in Florida and Montana; it makes little sense in a highly mobile population for more than one cell phone technology to exist within our borders. It would be like building a national railway system with different gauge tracks in each state.</p> </blockquote> <p>Readers will no doubt realize that this argument is undermined by the substantial advances Americans have witnessed in Cell phone technology over the years, despite—perhaps even because of—the existence of alternative suppliers developing different hardware and operating systems. All the while, we are somehow still able to call/text one another without worrying whether our interlocutor is an Apple addict or an aficionado of Android. And scale hasn't proven to be a problem. Apple and Google have managed to serve very, very large numbers of people indeed.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p>So far as I know, few people are seeking a federal takeover of cell phone manufacturing or service in the hope that this would improve the user experience or increase “national coherence.”&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> And of course the American Mathematical Society is not propounding such a silly idea. What they actually published was <a href="http://www.ams.org/notices/201505/rnoti-p508.pdf">a piece by award-winning mathematician Hyman Bass</a> in which he writes:&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <blockquote><p>The US presents particular obstacles to achieving educational improvement at a national scale, deriving from its social and economic diversity and also from an entrenched tradition of “local control,” which precludes a federal role in any primary initiatives. Yet to achieve effective reform at scale requires some national coherence….&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Fractions are the same in Florida and Montana; it makes little sense in a highly mobile population for the math curriculum to change at state lines. It would be like building a national railway system with different gauge tracks in each state.</p> </blockquote> <p>Why, given what we know about the diversity, interoperability, and dissemination of excellence within our private sector industries, would anyone imagine that the way to improve our centrally planned state school systems would be to centralize control over them even further, at the national level? Should we not perhaps draw the opposite conclusion? That the reason education has not enjoyed the same relentless pattern of useful innovation and the “scale-up” of excellence that we now expect in other fields is that we don’t allow the same freedoms and incentives in education that we do in all those other fields. Might it not be that state-run monopolies work no better in American education than they have ever worked in any other industry in any other country (which is to say: very poorly)?&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> How about freeing education from the stifling pall of monopoly, <a href="https://www.cato.org/education-wiki/scholarship-tax-credits">unleashing both parental choice and entrepreneurial freedom </a>on a grand scale? <a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/">It adds up</a>.</p> <p></p> Fri, 12 Jun 2015 13:24:17 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/american-mathematical-society-hurdles-us-tech-improvement Maine Teacher Wins Million Dollar Prize. Why Not Let Teachers Make Big $ “The Old‐​Fashioned Way?” https://www.cato.org/blog/teacher-wins-million-dollar-prize-why-not-let-them-make-it-old-fashioned-way Andrew J. Coulson <p>The BBC reports that Nancie Atwell of Maine has just won the million dollar “<a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32397213">Global Teacher Prize</a>.” Congratulations Ms. Atwell! On the rare occasions such prizes are doled out, the reaction is universally celebratory. But is there really only one teacher in the world worth $1,000,000–and even then only once in a lifetime? <br /><br /><br /> Here’s a radical thought: What if we organized education such that the top teachers could <em>routinely</em> make large sums of money “<a href="http://www.myrlandmarketing.com/2010/07/the-old-fashioned-way-they-earn-it-2/">the old‐​fashioned way</a>” (i.e., by earning it in a free and open marketplace)? In other fields, the people and institutions that best meet our needs attract more customers and thereby earn greater profits. Why have we structured our economy such that the best cell phone innovators can become rich, but not the best teachers? This seems not only deeply unfair but unwise as well. <br /></p> <p> </p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="5ad1d53e-7211-443d-9fad-cc283449cccb" class="align-right embedded-entity" data-langcode="und"> <img srcset="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/ki-hoon_kim_by_seongjoon_cho_for_the_wsj.jpg?itok=HEfSxydU 1x, /sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs_2x/public/wp-content/uploads/ki-hoon_kim_by_seongjoon_cho_for_the_wsj.jpg?itok=gHoNtu16 1.5x" width="262" height="394" src="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/ki-hoon_kim_by_seongjoon_cho_for_the_wsj.jpg?itok=HEfSxydU" alt="Kim Ki-hoon, photographed by SeongJoon Cho for The WSJ" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> <p>Perhaps some people don’t believe it would be possible for educators to become wealthy in an open marketplace. Their negativity is contradicted by reality. In one of the few places where instruction is organized as a marketplace activity, Korea’s tutoring sector, one of the top tutors (Kim Ki‐​Hoon) has earned millions of dollars per year over the last decade. His secret: offering recorded lessons over the Internet at a reasonable price, and attracting over a hundred thousand students each year. His employment contract with his tutoring firm ensures that he receives a portion of the revenue he brings in–so even though his fees are reasonable, his earnings are large due to the vast number of students he reaches. And his success depends on his performance. In an <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324635904578639780253571520">interview </a>with Amanda Ripley he observed: “The harder I work, the more I make.… I like that.” Is there any reason we shouldn’t like that, too? <br /><br /><br /> As Ripley reports, this tutoring marketplace receives favorable reviews from students: <br /></p> <blockquote><p>In a 2010 survey of 6,600 students at 116 high schools conducted by the Korean Educational Development Institute, Korean teenagers gave their hagwon [i.e., private tutoring] teachers higher scores across the board than their regular schoolteachers: Hagwon teachers were better prepared, more devoted to teaching and more respectful of students’ opinions, the teenagers said. Interestingly, the hagwon teachers rated best of all when it came to treating all students fairly, regardless of the students’ academic performance.</p> </blockquote> <p>That is not to say that the Korean education system is without flaw. Indeed, the government‐​mandated college entrance testing system creates enormous pressure on students and skews families’ demands toward doing well on “the test,” rather than on fulfilling broader educational goals. This, of course, is not caused by the marketplace, but rather by the government mandate. The marketplace simply responds to families’ demands, whatever they happen to be. While many hagwons prepare students for the mandated college‐​entrance exam, there are also those teaching such things as swimming or calligraphy. <br /><br /><br /> If we liberate educators, educational entrepreneurship will thrive. There are policies already in place in some states that could <a href="https://www.cato.org/education-wiki/scholarship-tax-credits-vouchers">ensure universal access to such an educational marketplace</a>.</p> Wed, 06 May 2015 13:41:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/teacher-wins-million-dollar-prize-why-not-let-them-make-it-old-fashioned-way The OECD’s “Perspective” on Swedish Education https://www.cato.org/blog/oecds-perspective-swedish-education Andrew J. Coulson <p>The OECD has just released a report offering <a href="http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/Improving-Schools-in-Sweden.pdf">“its perspective” on Sweden’s academic decline</a>. Its perspective is too narrow. In launching the new report, OECD education head <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/04/sweden-school-choice-education-decline-oecd#img-1">Andres Schleicher</a> declared that “It was in the early 2000s that the Swedish school system somehow seems to have lost its soul." The OECD administers the international PISA test, which began in the year 2000.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Certainly Sweden’s academic performance has fallen since the early 2000s, but its decline was substantially faster in the preceding decade. PISA cannot shed light on this, but TIMSS—an alternative international test—can, having been introduced several years earlier. On the 8<sup>th</sup> grade mathematics portion of TIMSS, Sweden’s rate of decline between 1995 and 2003 was over five points per year. Between 2003 and 2011 it was less than two points per year. Still regrettable, but less grievously so.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p>Why is this timing important? Because Sweden introduced a nationwide public/private school choice program in 1992 and many critics blame that program for Sweden’s decline. This charge is hopelessly anachronistic. In 2003, at the end of the worst phase of the nation’s academic decline, public schools still enrolled 96% of students. Hence it must have been declining public school performance that brought down the national average. A 4% private sector could have had little effect.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> What then <em>can</em> explain the country’s disappointing results?  Gabriel Sahlgren has some intriguing suggestions in a recent piece <a href="http://www.cps.org.uk/files/reports/original/150410115444-RealFinnishLessonsFULLDRAFTCOVER.pdf">analyzing trends in Finland, Sweden, and Norway</a>. For instance:&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <blockquote><p>Something extreme clearly happened in Sweden in the mid-to-late 1990s, most probably due to the <em>1994 national curriculum</em> that emphasised pupil-led methods, which decreased teacher-led instruction. [emphasis added]</p> </blockquote> <p></p> Tue, 05 May 2015 13:11:43 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/oecds-perspective-swedish-education The Death (and Rebirth?) of Peer Review https://www.cato.org/blog/death-peer-review Andrew J. Coulson <p>Here's a headline from today's <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/04/30/sexism-in-science-peer-editor-tells-female-researchers-their-study-needs-a-male-author/"><em>Washington Post</em></a>: "Sexism in science: Peer editor tells female researchers their study needs a male author." <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=lH3DVnkbTFsC&amp;lpg=PA1&amp;ots=rrTs6sWWpb&amp;dq=ending%20peer%20review&amp;lr&amp;pg=PA2#v=onepage&amp;q=ending%20peer%20review&amp;f=false">Peer review </a>is the usually-anonymous process by which articles submitted to academic journals are reviewed for quality and relevance to determine whether or not they will be published. Over the past several years, numerous scandals have emerged, made possible by the anonymity at the heart of that process.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> The justification for anonymity is that it is supposed to allow reviewers to write more freely than if they were forced to place their names on their reviews. But scientists are increasingly admitting, and the public is increasingly noticing, that the process is... imperfect. As <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/06/guardian-view-end-peer-review-scientific-journals"><em>the</em> <em>Guardian</em> newspaper wrote last summer</a> about a leading journal, <em>Nature</em>:&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <blockquote><p><em>Nature</em> [...] has <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/stap-retracted-1.15488">had to retract</a> two papers it published in January after mistakes were spotted in the figures, some of the methods descriptions were found to be plagiarised and early attempts to replicate the work failed. This is the second time in recent weeks that the God-like omniscience that non-scientists often attribute to scientific journals was found to be exaggerated.</p> </blockquote> <p>In the 1990s I sat on the peer review board of an academic journal and over the years I have occasionally submitted to and been published by such journals. Peer reviews vary wildly in depth and quality. Some reviewers appear to have only skimmed the submitted paper, while others have clearly read it carefully. Some reviewers understand the submissions fully, others don't. Some double-check numbers and sources. Others don't. It's plausible that this variability (particularly on the weak end) is a side-effect of reviwers' anonymity. I have seen terse, badly-argued reviews to which I doubt the reviewer would have voluntarily attached his or her name. Personally, I try never to write anything as a peer reviewer which I would not happily sign.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p>Six years ago, that inspired an idea: it occurred to me to found a journal, called <em>Litmus</em>, that would be comprised of <em>signed</em> peer reviews of already published papers, with authors' responses when possible. My impression is that this would lead to a much higher average quality of reviews, and reveal to readers the extent of disagreement among scholars on the issues discussed, alternative evidence, etc.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Alas, it would also be potentially dangerous for young scholars to contribute to such a journal, were they to rub a potential employer the wrong way. In the end, I was unable to interest enough top-notch scholars to flesh out a sufficiently large editorial board. One professor declined, saying:&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <blockquote><p>This strikes me as an interesting idea, but one that is sufficiently outside of what is normal that you might have quite a difficult time getting a consensus that would lead to participation high enough to sustain the journal.  Some people would probably feel that signed reviews were not of the same quality as blind ones.  Others would feel that signed reviews required formality so much beyond that of blind reviews (which at their best are candid and informal but accurate) that they would be unwilling to participate for lack of time.  I am not saying that it is a bad idea, but I think that you're in for an uphill battle to get the idea off the ground.</p> </blockquote> <p>Eventually I abandoned the project. But as the <a href="http://www.nature.com/news/publishing-the-peer-review-scam-1.16400">failure of the status quo in journal peer reviewing becomes more evident</a>, perhaps someone will rekindle the idea. Conventional journals would have to be on their toes if they knew there was a chance their articles would be held publicly under a microscope by other reviewers.</p> <p></p> Thu, 30 Apr 2015 14:10:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/death-peer-review The Right and Wrong Ways to Learn Policy Lessons from Other Countries https://www.cato.org/blog/right-wrong-ways-learn-policy-lessons-other-countries Andrew J. Coulson <p>Back in the mid-1990s, I was often told that Americans had no interest in what other countries were doing policy-wise. As a result, it was purportedly futile to study policy using international evidence. Ignoring that warning, I wrote <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=3xi49dmYw0wC&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;dq=%22market+education+the+unknown+history%22+coulson&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ei=r28tVcDXC9bboAS704DoBw&amp;ved=0CCcQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&amp;q=%22market%20education%20the%20unknown%20history%22%20coulson&amp;f=false">a book about education around the world, back to ancient times</a>.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Whether or not the warning was valid at the time, there is now a great deal of interest in other nations' education policies. Well... in one nation's in particular: Finland's. In that country, we are often told, every child is a Socrates---except for the ones who are Jane Austens or Hedy Lamarrs---and this is due, we are told, to one or more of its current education policies (the claimer gets to pick which ones).&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> A recent op-ed at Cleveland.com not only jumps on this <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/03/why_us_education_reform_is_doo.html">Emulate Fantastic Finland</a> bandwagon, it also purports to use the Finnish example to critique “market-based” education policies in general.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Here's the main problem with the movement that proclaims “Country <em>X is doing well educationally, so let’s emulate its education system!</em>”: there are a lot of factors outside the classroom that affect educational outcomes, and that differ among countries---culture, resources in the home, etc.---and so it's difficult to know to what extent a given nation's performance is due to those factors or to its education policies. Fortunately, there's a technique that not only circumvents this problem, it turns it to our advantage:&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Comparing different sorts of school systems <em>within</em> nations. A study that compares public and private schools within India, for example, or that looks at the effects of private sector competition in Sweden on overall outcomes, eliminates international differences as a factor.  Still, the results of such studies, taken individually, have limited generalizability.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p>But what if we repeat this sort of comparison scores of times in a dozen or more very different countries and we find similar results occurring over and over again? If a particular approach to organizing and funding schools consistently outperforms other approaches across widely varying circumstances, we can be fairly confident that the observed pattern is the result of the system itself and not simply an accident of circumstance, because, although the circumstances will have varied from place to place, the results will have remained consistent. That is the technique I applied in a review of the worldwide <a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/">research on public, private, and truly market-like school systems</a>. As I found, It is the most market-like systems that consistently did the best job of serving families across 7 different outcome measures used by researchers.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Perhaps most ironically for the "Emulate Finland" crowd, Finland has been slipping in the rankings on the PISA test in recent years. Moreover, <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/book-review-amanda-ripleys-smartest-kids-world-how-they-got-way">Finland never performed quite so well on the TIMSS international test and has been declining on it as well</a>. And, as will be revealed in a <a href="http://www.cmre.org.uk/events">forthcoming paper by Gabriel Sahlgren</a>, the introduction of the most celebrated Finnish education policies <a href="http://www.cmre.org.uk/events">does not support the view that they aided its rise on the PISA test</a>, due to their timing.</p> <p></p> Tue, 14 Apr 2015 17:38:19 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/right-wrong-ways-learn-policy-lessons-other-countries Disagreement over Chile’s National School Choice Program https://www.cato.org/blog/disagreement-over-chiles-national-school-choice-program Andrew J. Coulson <p>A week ago, the <em>Atlanta Journal Constitution</em> published an on-line op-ed <a href="http://getschooled.blog.ajc.com/2015/03/24/opinion-national-experiment-in-school-choice-market-solutions-produces-inequity/">critiquing Chile's nationwide public-and-private school choice program</a>. In a letter to the editor, I objected to several of the op-ed's central claims. The authors responded, and the AJC has now <a href="http://getschooled.blog.ajc.com/2015/03/29/opinion-chiles-market-based-school-reforms-worked/">published the entire exchange</a>. A follow-up is warranted, which I offer here:&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /><strong>Comment on the Gaete, Jones response to my critique:</strong>&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Their response consists chiefly of “moving the goalposts”—changing the issue under debate rather than responding to the critique of the original point. The first claim in their original op-ed to which I objected was that “there is no clear evidence that [Chilean] students have significantly improved their performance on standardized tests.” In contradiction of this claim I cited the study “<a href="http://www.hks.harvard.edu/pepg/PDF/Papers/PEPG12-03_CatchingUp.pdf">Achievement Growth</a>” by top education economists and political scientists from Harvard and Stanford Universities. That study discovered that <em>Chile is one of the fastest-improving nations in the world on international tests such as <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment">PISA</a> and <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trends_in_International_Mathematics_and_Science_Study">TIMSS</a></em>—which were specifically designed to allow the observation of national trends over time. It is hard to conceive of clearer evidence that Chilean students “have significantly improved their performance”, contrary to the claim of Gaete and Jones.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p>To the extent that Gaete and Jones address this evidence at all it is by saying: “it is true that Chile has shown a certain improvement in [its] relative position in PISA scores. But (1) this may say less about Chilean improvements and more about other countries’ relapse.” That is an empirically testable claim. It has been tested, and it is false. As I pointed out in my original letter, prof. Gregory Elacqua has shown that <em>the same pattern of improvement in academic performance is visible on Chile’s own national SIMCE test, which is entirely unaffected by the performance of foreign nations </em>(see chart 1). Moreover, the improvement in Chilean academic achievement noted in the "Achievement Growth" study is <em>not</em> purely relative to other countries but <em>is an objective gain compared to Chile's own earlier performance</em>.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /><strong>Chart 1:  Same trend in national tests (SIMCE language and math, 4th grade)</strong>&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> [caption]<br /></p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="65a4ff36-9f6c-44b1-a19c-93181dc38d63" data-langcode="und" class="embedded-entity"> <img srcset="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/20150330_blog_coulson1.jpg?itok=srAiocuq 1x, /sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs_2x/public/wp-content/uploads/20150330_blog_coulson1.jpg?itok=63Jase1e 1.5x" width="622" height="368" src="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/20150330_blog_coulson1.jpg?itok=srAiocuq" alt="Media Name: 20150330_blog_coulson1.jpg" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> <p>Source: Gregory Elacqua, “<a href="http://slideplayer.com/slide/2749019/">Factors contributing to achievement growth in Chile</a>.”[/caption]&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Even if that were not the case and Chile were only improving relative to the entire rest of the world because the whole rest of the world was suffering a decline, it would beg the question: what is Chile’s secret that is allowing it to buck this worldwide slump? Certainly it would be wrong to dismiss Chile’s education system out of hand as part of the explanation.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> But rather than spending much time trying to dispute this evidence that contradicts their original claim, the authors try to change the subject, proposing that “testing is neither the only nor the best way or criterion to determine the quality of an educational system, it is simply the way favoured by market-oriented systems.” It was also, recall, <em>the very first way in which Gaete and Jones themselves proposed to evaluate Chilean education in their op-ed</em>, with their mistaken claim about a lack of test score improvement. But rather than seriously confronting the evidence that refutes them, the authors choose to change the subject, asserting that: “there are no big differences between the private and public system in the [domestic Chilean] SIMCE [test].” This new claim is entirely beside their original point, which was the <em>trend in academic performance for the nation’s students as a whole</em>.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> But, having addressed the authors’ original claim, I have no objection to addressing this new one. The effects of a competitive education system are not limited to—or even chiefly comprised by—differences in performance between the sectors. One the contrary, <em>it is the overall performance of all schools and children that is of interest</em>. Alas, Gaete and Jones seem unaware that increased competition from private voucher schools <em>improves the performance of nearby government schools</em>. This has been shown empirically by Francisco Gallego in his study “<a href="http://www.economia.puc.cl/docs/dt_429.pdf">When does Inter-School Competition Matter</a>? <a href="http://www.economia.puc.cl/docs/dt_429.pdf">Evidence from the Chilean `Voucher' System</a>.”&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Next, Gaete and Jones attack Chile’s education system on the grounds that it suffers from an educational gap between its wealthier and poorer students. That it does, but so do other nations. It is more meaningful to ask how Chile compares in this respect to its peer Latin American nations. Inequality can be measured using several different metrics, one of which is to look at differences in test scores between wealthier and poorer students. These results vary somewhat by subject, grade, and test, but as an example we can look at the PISA test of reading among 15-year-olds. Here, Chile’s achievement gap is statistically indistinguishable from the overall average of all participating countries and significantly smaller than the gaps in most other Latin American countries. Chile’s achievement gap is also significantly smaller than the gaps in the United States, France, Belgium, and several other rich nations ("PISA 2009 Results: Learning to Learn," Vol. III, Table III A, 2010).&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Another way of measuring educational inequality is the average number of years of schooling completed by the wealthiest versus the poorest students. On this point, professor Claudio Sapelli summarizes the <a href="http://cedlas.econo.unlp.edu.ar/archivos_upload/doc_cedlas135.pdf">evidence</a> for <em><a href="http://www.elmercurio.com/blogs/2013/03/27/10402/Acusacion-constitucional-III.aspx">El Mercurio</a>:</em> “Chile has the lowest average educational inequality in Latin America. To measure inequality using the education gap between quintile 5 (richest) and 1 (poorest). In terms of change in this gap in the last 20 years, <em>Chile is among the few countries in Latin America to decrease it</em>.” So, here again, the data on Chile’s education system seem encouraging.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Looking beyond the education system to the broader economy, income inequality has also been falling in recent decades, as has poverty. “The fraction of the population living under the poverty line in Chile fell from 45.1% to 13.7% between 1987 and 2006” (<a href="http://www.econ.uchile.cl/uploads/publicacion/8f844d69943abc6adeff8d0dbdb47e38a05ff5d9.pdf">Eberhard &amp; Engel, 2008</a>). Meanwhile, “from 1990 onwards the wage of the 10th percentile [poorest] and the median wage [middle class] grew faster than [that of the] the 90th percentile [the wealthy]” (<a href="http://www.econ.uchile.cl/uploads/publicacion/8f844d69943abc6adeff8d0dbdb47e38a05ff5d9.pdf">Eberhard &amp; Engel, 2008</a>).&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> As for public sentiment toward the program, to which Gaete and Jones make reference, I leave explaining that to the political scientists and sociologists.</p> <p></p> Mon, 30 Mar 2015 09:16:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/disagreement-over-chiles-national-school-choice-program National School Choice Proposal Heartening, Frightening https://www.cato.org/blog/national-school-choice-proposal-heartening-frightening Andrew J. Coulson <p>According to <a href="http://www.federationforchildren.org/rubio-rokita-propose-scholarship-tax-credit-program/">the American Federation for Children</a>,&nbsp;Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) have reintroduced “the Educational Opportunities Act, which would create an individual and corporate tax credit for donations that pay for scholarships for students to attend a&nbsp;private school of their parents’ choice.” <br><br /> <br> It is encouraging to see growing support for scholarship tax credit school choice programs, which have been found to simultaneously <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/ed-policy-reality-check-now-more-reality">boost achievement for students who switch to private schools, do the same for students who remain in public schools, and save taxpayers millions of dollars every year</a>–a win‐​win‐​win scenario. Nevertheless, it is ill advised to pursue such a&nbsp;program (or other school choice programs) at the federal level. <br><br /> <br> Years ago I&nbsp;summarized those problems when <a href="https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/why-federal-school-vouchers-are-bad-idea">President George W. Bush advocated creating a&nbsp;federal school voucher program</a>. Such programs are not only beyond the mandate accorded to Congress by the Constitution, they bear the risk of suffocating private schools nationwide with a&nbsp;raft of new regulation, defeating their very purpose of increasing the range of educational options available to families with limited means. <br><br /> <br> In the past few years I&nbsp;have visited Sweden and Chile and studied their federal school chioce programs. Both confirm my earlier worries about national programs. Chile’s entrepreneurial voucher schools grew rapidly at first, but <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/chiles-proposed-education-reforms-would-kill-goose-lays-golden-eggs">with a&nbsp;recent change of government hostile to the program </a>they have sensed the new climate and stopped expanding.The new government is trying to enact regulations to diminish the scope and freedom of private schooling in Chile. <br><br /> <br> Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/education-under-new-swedish-order">something similar is happening in Sweden</a>. Among other things, the government has mandated that all schools hire graduates of government‐​certified teacher training programs, despite the well known fact that those programs are currently attracting the lowest‐​achieving college students. <br><br /> <br> National school choice programs have proven to be a&nbsp;prime case of “staff car legislating.” The legislators who enact them are not always the ones in the official staff cars, making the rules. New lawmakers with different preferences ultimately come to power and can wreak havok on a&nbsp;nation’s entire K-12 education sector. <br><br /> <br> This problem can be minimized by leaving school choice legislation to the state level, where the Constitution rightfully leaves it. We thus have a “laboratory of federalism”–a variety of different policies across states that make it easier to determine how best to design such programs.</p> Fri, 20 Mar 2015 16:06:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/national-school-choice-proposal-heartening-frightening Disappointed Broad Foundation Pauses its $1 Million Prize for Urban Schools. Foreseeable? https://www.cato.org/blog/disappoined-broad-foundation-pauses-its-20-yr-old-prize-urban-schools-foreseeable Andrew J. Coulson <p>The Broad Foundation has decided to halt its 13‐​yr‐​old prize for <a href="http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/broad-foundation-hits-pause-on-school-reform-prize/">academic improvement</a>.The idea of the prize was that recognizing and celebrating top performance within our traditional district‐​based school system would lead to widespread emulation of the most successful practices. The proximate cause of the decision is reportedly the Foundation’s disappointment at the paucity of high performing districts. It may also have to do with the the fact that earlier prize‐​winners did not spark the mass replication of successful methods, as hoped. <br><br /> <br> While no doubt frustrating for the Foundation, it was neither unforeseeable nor unforseen. Two years before the Prize for Urban Districts was launched, I&nbsp;reviewed the Foundation’s programs and plans. Concerned, I&nbsp;addressed a&nbsp;letter to Mr. Broad, which I&nbsp;reproduce in its entirety below. <br> </p> <blockquote><p>March 14, 2000</p> <p>Dear Mr. Broad: <br><br /> <br> It was with great pleasure that I&nbsp;read your letter describing the creation of the Broad Foundation. Your organization’s dedication to encouraging exemplary educational leadership has the potential to do great things for our nation’s children. <br><br /> <br> Having also read the brief prospectus enclosed with your letter, I&nbsp;wonder if I&nbsp;might raise a&nbsp;question which I&nbsp;consider crucial to the Foundation’s success? It seems as though the Foundation will be promoting pockets of excellent leadership in urban districts around the country. My question is this: Does the Foundation have a&nbsp;plan for ensuring that these pockets of excellence will 1) consistently endure beyond the lifetime of the individuals involved, and 2) systematically expand to reach all students rather than remaining isolated? <br><br /> <br> Much of my research on educational governance has been historical, chronicling the relative merits of education systems from 500 BC to the present. One of my findings is that, while there have been few periods that lacked isolated pockets of excellence, these pockets very rarely lasted for more than a&nbsp;generation or two, and very rarely spread beyond a&nbsp;tiny fraction of the population. <br><br /> <br> There have been only a&nbsp;handful of exceptions to this sad historical record, such as classical Athens, the early medieval Islamic world, and early 19<sup>th</sup> century England and America. The difference between these remarkably successful periods and their less successful counterparts was that they enjoyed a&nbsp;mechanism that reliably perpetuated excellence over time, and relentlessly drove its spread to an ever wider group of children. <br><br /> <br> The specific nature of that mechanism is not the point of my letter. My point is to highlight the compelling need for <em>some such</em> mechanism given the patently transitory nature of nearly every education reform effort in the history of civilization. The goals of the Broad Foundation, which I&nbsp;share, are too important to be left to erode in the sands of time like the mighty works of Ozymandius, or to burn like a&nbsp;few solitary candles amidst a&nbsp;vast and lingering educational darkness. <br><br /> <br> There have been many foundations created for the improvement of education over the years. The ones that will be remembered will be those that understand excellence is not intrinsically self-perpetuating—that it only endures and thrives within systems whose incentive structures inexorably drive people to perpetuate it. I&nbsp;hope that your organization will be among this rare group of insightful foundations. <br><br /> <br> Please feel free to call or e‐​mail me if you would like to discuss this issue in detail. <br><br /> <br> Yours very truly, <br><br /> <br> Andrew J. Coulson</p> </blockquote> Mon, 16 Feb 2015 12:01:00 -0500 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/disappoined-broad-foundation-pauses-its-20-yr-old-prize-urban-schools-foreseeable Georgia Has it Right on School Choice–Though on Too Small a Scale https://www.cato.org/blog/georgia-has-it-right-school-choice-though-too-small-scale Andrew J. Coulson <p>Georgia has a&nbsp;schoalrship donation tax credit program that makes it easier for lower‐​income families to afford private schooling—if that’s what they think is best for their children. The program is so popular that the cap imposed upon it by the legislature was reached within the first few hours of January 1st, this year. Over at <a href="http://educationnext.org/improving-educational-options-georgia-children/">Education Next </a>I&nbsp;argue today that raising the cap would do a&nbsp;lot of good for Georgia children.</p> Thu, 29 Jan 2015 13:00:00 -0500 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/georgia-has-it-right-school-choice-though-too-small-scale Improving Educational Options for Georgia Children https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/improving-educational-options-georgia-children Andrew J. Coulson <div class="lead mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>Like a&nbsp;dozen or so other states, Georgia has a&nbsp;K-12 scholarship tax credit program. It allows individuals and businesses to donate to non‐​profit Student Scholarship Organizations (SSOs), and the SSOs help families pay tuition at their preferred private elementary and high schools. The donors receive a&nbsp;state tax cut in the amount of their donation, in return for having made a&nbsp;host of new educational options available to children.</p> </div> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>One catch is that the program’s total size is tightly capped at $58 million, limiting the number of children who can be served. This year, that cap was reached within a&nbsp;few hours on January 1st. Legislators will debate in the coming session whether or not to raise the cap. There is good reason for them to do so.</p> <p>Studies of a&nbsp;similar program in Florida have found that it improves the academic achievement of students who switch from public to independent schools and that it&nbsp;<a href="https://www.cato.org/blog/ed-policy-reality-check-now-more-reality">also improves achievement among students remaining in public schools</a>. Moreover, the program has been found to&nbsp;<a href="http://www.oppaga.state.fl.us/Reports/pdf/0868rpt.pdf" target="_blank">save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year</a> because the private sector educates students more economically than does the public sector.</p> <p></p> </div> , <aside class="aside--right aside pb-lg-0 pt-lg-2"> <div class="pullquote pullquote--default"> <div class="pullquote__content h2"> <p>It is the freest and most market‐​like systems that best serve families.</p> </div> </div> </aside> , <div class="mb-3 spacer--nomargin--last-child text-default"> <p>In recognition of these advantages, the Florida legislature has repeatedly raised the cap on its scholarship tax credit program. In fact, it has added an automatic growth provision to the law. As a&nbsp;result, the program’s cap now rises annually so long as total donations in the preceding year either closely approached or hit the cap.</p> <p>In doing this, Florida has been following the consensus of international research on education system quality. Several years ago&nbsp;<a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/">I&nbsp;reviewed the research from all over the world</a>&nbsp;comparing alternative approaches to running and funding schools. A&nbsp;key challenge in drawing lessons from foreign studies is that there are many economic and cultural factors that also affect student achievement, besides the design of the school system itself. Fortunately, many countries have different types of school systems operating side‐​by‐​side&nbsp;<em>within their own borders</em>.</p> <p>By focusing on studies of these within‐​country differences in education systems, I&nbsp;discovered a&nbsp;clear pattern: it is the freest and most market‐​like systems that best serve families. These systems treat both educators and parents with respect. Educators are free to use the curricula and methods they deem best, and parents are free to choose among them according to their own values and the needs of their children.</p> <p>Another ingredient of the best‐​performing systems is that parents directly pay at least a&nbsp;fraction of the cost of their own children’s education. When they do so, schools are more responsive to their demands and they also operate more efficiently—delivering higher student performance per dollar spent. In India, for example, government‐​funded schools (whether public or private) tend to teach in the local language despite widespread parental preference for instruction to be given in English. By contrast, parent‐​funded schools teach in English across the curriculum, to meet parent demand.</p> <p>While there are other school choice policies in the U.S. besides education tax credits, a&nbsp;careful statistical analysis shows that&nbsp;<a href="https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/WorkingPaper-1-Coulson.pdf">tax credits impose less red tape on educators</a>&nbsp;than other programs. This is crucially important given that parental choice becomes meaningless if all schools are regulated into conformity by the state.</p> <p>Heavy‐​handed regulation also restrains the cycle of innovation we have enjoyed in the truly free enterprise sectors of our economy. The improvements we’ve seen in everything from television sets to grocery stores have not been driven by state or federal mandates. They have been the result of entrepreneurs freely competing with one another to discover new and better ways of meeting our needs. Educators have too long been shut out of this free enterprise sector, straight‐​jacketed by reams of regulation, and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/escalante-stood-delivered-its-our-turn">unrewarded (or even punished)</a>&nbsp;for successful innovations.</p> <p>Raising the cap on Georgia’s scholarship tax credit program is thus an ideal way to bring freedom and excellence to K-12 education. Of course if Georgia fails to do so, its citizens and businesses will still have the option of relocating to Florida.</p> </div> Thu, 29 Jan 2015 12:34:00 -0500 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/improving-educational-options-georgia-children Philadelphia Teachers Disrupt School Board Meeting https://www.cato.org/blog/philadelphia-teachers-disrupt-school-board-meeting Andrew J. Coulson <p> </p><div data-embed-button="embed" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="067dfc3b-f5f6-4376-8785-e8c8bfd7eece" data-langcode="und" class="embedded-entity"> <div class="embed embed--youtube js-embed js-embed--youtube"> <div class="responsive-embed"></div> </div> </div> <p>In poll after poll, parents tell us that they care about academic achievement, but that they also want schools to help instill good values. And since children are adept at drawing lessons from adults’ behavior as well as from their words, it’s always nice when teachers conduct themselves with decorum and sensitivity. Which begs the question, how many parents would want their children to emulate the teachers who disrupted last week’s meeting of the Philadelphia School Reform Commission—the district’s governing body? For that matter, how many of these teachers would want their students to behave this way in class? <br /><br /><br /> All the shouting, incidentally, was over the Reform Commission’s decision <a href="http://eagnews.org/philadelphia-school-district-ditches-teachers-union-contract/">to require teachers to contribute for the first time to their health insurance premiums</a>. For what it’s worth, Philadelphia was one of only two districts in the state that had not yet required this.</p> Thu, 23 Oct 2014 12:59:00 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/philadelphia-teachers-disrupt-school-board-meeting Addressing the Critics of This Purportedly No Good, Very Bad Chart https://www.cato.org/blog/addressing-critics-purportedly-no-good-very-bad-chart Andrew J. Coulson <p>For the past few years I have charted the trends in American education spending and performance (see below). The goal is to see what the national data suggest about the productivity of our education system over time. Clearly, these data suggest that our educational productivity has collapsed: the inflation-adjusted cost of sending a student all the way through the K-12 system has almost tripled while test scores near the end of high-school remain largely unchanged. Put another way, per-pupil spending and achievement are not obviously correlated.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p> </p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="0eb51762-097f-47e8-813f-aa1639502cf0" data-langcode="und" class="embedded-entity"> <img srcset="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/coulson_nat_ed_trends_chart_sept_2014.gif?itok=-1s9MIBE 1x, /sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs_2x/public/wp-content/uploads/coulson_nat_ed_trends_chart_sept_2014.gif?itok=zsPw-017 1.5x" width="619" height="481" src="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/coulson_nat_ed_trends_chart_sept_2014.gif?itok=-1s9MIBE" alt="Media Name: coulson_nat_ed_trends_chart_sept_2014.gif" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> <p>Not everyone is happy with these charts, and in this post I'll respond to the critics, starting with the most recent: <a href="http://shankerblog.org/?p=10566">Matt DiCarlo of the Albert Shanker Institute</a>, an organization that honors the life and legacy of the late president of the American Federation of Teachers. DiCarlo finds the chart "misleading," "exasperating," and seemingly designed to "start a conversation by ending it." Since we're actually having a conversation about the chart and what it shows, and since I've had countless such conversations over the years, perhaps we can agree that the last of those accusations is more of a rhetorical flourish than a serious argument.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p>DiCarlo links to a couple of earlier critics to do the heavy lifting in support of his antipathy, but he does admonish the use of a single percent-change y-axis as "not appropriate for and totally obscur[ing] changes in NAEP scale scores." This is ironic. When I first began to publish these charts, I used two separate y-axes, as shown in the image below which dates back to around 2009.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p> </p><div data-embed-button="image" data-entity-embed-display="view_mode:media.blog_post" data-entity-type="media" data-entity-uuid="3af85b29-0347-434d-ab68-a511eea682b4" data-langcode="und" class="embedded-entity"> <img srcset="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/2009_spending_naep_chart_2_y_axes.jpg?itok=IhD5Pkq- 1x, /sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs_2x/public/wp-content/uploads/2009_spending_naep_chart_2_y_axes.jpg?itok=lZRCdq99 1.5x" width="533" height="447" src="/sites/cato.org/files/styles/pubs/public/wp-content/uploads/2009_spending_naep_chart_2_y_axes.jpg?itok=IhD5Pkq-" alt="Media Name: 2009_spending_naep_chart_2_y_axes.jpg" typeof="Image" class="component-image" /></div> <p>This, DiCarlo may be exasperated to hear, was roundly critized for the ostensible crime of using... 2 separate y-axes, which, apparently, is only done by knaves and charlatans according to several e-mails I received at the time. But of course the use of 2 separate y axes is not inherently misleading. It depends on why they are used, whether or not the scales are sensible, etc. But when you are trying to reach a suspicious audience, it's not very effective to just say: "no, you're mistaken, there's nothing wrong with this use of 2 y-axes." They'll just put that down to more knavery on your part. So, thinking I would eliminate one source of spurious objections, I switched to a single percent-change axis. And now we have DiCarlo's objection to that. <em>Catch-22</em>.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> But let's investigate DiCarlo's criticism. Does the percent change scale obscure important changes in the NAEP scores? Looking at the first chart, it is easy to see that the science score fell and never quite recovered to its original level before the test was discontinued, while the reading and math scores seem largely unchanged. As it happens, the raw NAEP score for math rose from 304 to 306, while the raw reading score rose from 285 to 287, and the raw science score fell from 305 to 295. We can see the science decline quite clearly, so it hasn't been obscured. But the two-point gains in math and reading look essentially like flat lines. Which raises the question: is a two point gain essentially equivalent to a flat line, or is it substantial?&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Some people like to answer that question by saying that a gain of <em>x</em> points on the NAEP is equivalent to one school-year's worth of learning. But, according to a <a href="http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED528992.pdf">2012 paper commissioned by the NAEP Validity Studies Panel</a>, claims of that sort are unempirical guesswork.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Fortunately, there is a tried-and-true metric that researchers use to quantify effect sizes: they express them in terms of standard deviations, and those measures can in turn be <a href="http://www.measuringusability.com/pcalcz.php">converted to percentile scores</a>. For example, the earliest available std deviation for the mean reading score of 17-year-olds was 46 points. Dividing 2 by 46, we get an effect size of 0.0435 SDs. That would take you from being in the middle of the pack in the early 1970s (that is, the 50th percentile), to being at the 51.7<sup>th</sup>percentile. So instead of outscoring half your peers, you'd outscore 51.7 percent of them. That’s not a huge difference is it? That’s not a spike-the-football, endzone dance, “In. Your. <em>Face</em>!” kind of improvement. It’s really pretty small.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> In math, the story is similar. The earliest SD available is for the 1978 admin of the test, and it was 35. A two-point gain would be an effect size of 0.057 SDs, which would raise you from median performer to the 52.3<sup>rd</sup> percentile. Again, this is not winning the lottery. This is not an “I’d like to thank the Academy” kind of moment.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> So the fact that the reading and math scores look essentially flat in the chart at the top of this post is an accurate representation of the trend in raw NAEP scores. They <em>are</em> essentially flat.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Next, turning to the cost series in the top chart, both of the earlier critics cited by DiCarlo believed they smelled a rat. The legend of the version of the chart they reviewed referred to the cost trend line as a "13yr running total, i.e. K-12, spending per pupil," which I thought was self-explanatory. It wasn't. It seems that at least one of the critics was unfamiliar with the concept of a running total, thinking it was equivalent to simply multiplying the current year figure by 13. It's not. Because of his misunderstanding, he wrote: "the cost figure increases (supposedly the total cost of a K-12 education taken by multiplying per-pupil costs by 13) are false." Of course the error was his own, the result of failing to understand that a running 13yr total is the annual per-pupil spending for the given year, plus the corresponding figures for the preceding 12 years. This is an estimate of what was spent to put a graduate in the given year all the way through the K-12 system--i.e., the total cost of <em>that graduate's</em> K-12 public schooling.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> The other critic cited by DiCarlo seems not to have read the chart's legend at all, claiming that I use "total rather than per pupil spending (and call it 'cost')." The legend explicitly states that it is a running 13yr total of <em>per-pupil</em> spending.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> But, though both these critics were mistaken, I did learn (to my great surprise) that the idea of a running total is not universally understood. So, since that time, I have elaborated the explanation in the legend and raised it to the top of the chart in an effort to make the cost trend line easier to understand.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Yet other critics have alleged that the overall flat performance of 17-year-olds is purely the result of changing demographics---i.e., the increasing test participation rates of historically lower-scoring groups, and so the aggregate data are misleading. There is a little something to the premise of this argument, but the conclusion still doesn't follow. I explained why in my 2011 <a href="http://edworkforce.house.gov/uploadedfiles/02.10.11_coulson.pdf">testimony before the House Education and the Workforce Committee</a>, but I'll summarize it here for completeness. &#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> It is true that both black and Hispanic students now score higher than they did in the early 1970s, and the difference isn't negligible as it is with the overall aggregate trend. The first caveat is the that the trends for white students, who still make up the majority of test takers, are only marginally better than the overall trends. Whites gained four points in each of reading and math, and lost six points in science. The overall picture for whites is thus also essentially a flat line, and it is their performance that is chiefly responsible for the stagnation in the overall average scores, not the increasing participation of historically lower-scoring groups.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> The second caveat is that all of the improvement in the scores of Hispanic and black students had occurred by around 1990, and their scores have stagnated or even declined slightly since that time (see the testimony link above). While the improvements for these subgroups of students are not negligible, they have no relationship to the relentlessly rising spending trend. Spending increased before, during, and after the period during which black and Hispanic students enjoyed their score gains. If per-pupil spending were an important cause of those gains, we would expect more uniform progress, and that is not what the data show.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Finally, what of the claims that it is unfair to chart test scores over this period because students have become harder to teach---because of poverty, single-parent families, low-birthweight or other factors associated with student performance. Claims like this are seldom accompanied by any sort of systematic numerical analysis. That's too bad, because if the overall trend in such factors really has been negative, then they might well be dragging down student performance and skewing the NAEP scores lower. Fortunately, several years ago, prof. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas decided to take these criticisms seriously, tabulating the trends in 16 different factors known to be associated with student achievement (including the ones listed above), and combining them into a single overall <a href="http://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/ewp_06.pdf">index of "teachability." </a>What Greene found is that, if anything, children have become marginally <em>more</em> teachable over this period. So we should expect some improvement in scores even if schools haven't improved at all.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> In sum, while I grant that this particular chart does not capture every interesting piece of the puzzle---no single chart could---it is both useful and an accurate depiction of the lack of correspondence between spending and student achievement in U.S. schools over the past two generations, and of the fact that spending has risen out of all proportion with the academic performance of students near the end of high school.</p> <p></p> Mon, 29 Sep 2014 15:52:22 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/addressing-critics-purportedly-no-good-very-bad-chart Education under the New Swedish Order https://www.cato.org/blog/education-under-new-swedish-order Andrew J. Coulson <p>Just over a&nbsp;week ago, Swedes threw out the relatively pro‐​market coalition that had goverened the country for the past 8&nbsp;years, handing power (though not an outright majority) to a&nbsp;new left‐​of‐​center coalition. Swedish students’ falling scores on international tests were a&nbsp;key cause of public dissatisfaction, and they have been widely blamed on a&nbsp;nationwide voucher‐​like school choice program introduced during the early 1990s. But as I&nbsp;point out in an op‐​ed in yesterday’s <a href="http://www.svd.se/opinion/ledarsidan/grovt-felaktig-bild-av-svensk-utbildning_3938610.svd"><em>Svenska Dagbladet</em></a>, the facts simply don’t support that narrative. Here’s the English draft of the op‐​ed: <br><br /> <br> Sweden’s collapsing performance on international tests was clearly a&nbsp;factor in the recent election, and redressing that slide will be a&nbsp;priority for the new government. A&nbsp;good first step in charting the way forward is to understand what has gone wrong and what has gone right in the past. Unfortunately, the most popular narrative about Swedish education trends is badly mistaken. <br><br /> <br> Many have blamed Sweden’s falling international test scores on the proliferation of free schools, merely because the decline is thought to have followed their large‐​scale expansion. This would be a&nbsp;common logical fallacy even if the timing were correct—but it isn’t. <br><br /> <br> Between 1995 and 2011, Swedish math scores on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) fell by a&nbsp;massive 56 points. But the vast majority of that decline—41 points—had already taken place by 2003. In that year, 96 percent of Swedish students were still enrolled in government schools. <br><br /> <br> Another international test, the Programme on International Student Assessment (PISA), began in the year 2000 and has the advantage of breaking out the scores for government and private schools. The last PISA test was administered in 2012, by which time government school scores had fallen by 34 points while free school scores had fallen by only 6&nbsp;points. <br><br /> <br> Anders Böhlmark and Mikael Lindahl’s long‐​term nationwide study helps to explain these trends: increased local competition from free schools actually raises the performance of students in both sectors—on both national and international tests. But, since free schools still enroll a&nbsp;small fraction of students nationwide, the benefits of this competition have yet to be felt in many areas. <br><br /> <br> Of course, none of this is to suggest that there are no bad private schools. There has never been an education system in history capable of producing only good schools. The best that can be hoped for is that unsuccessful schools close while good schools expand. And that is precisely what has been happening in Sweden.&nbsp;<br><br /> <br> Much has been made of the failure of JB Education, which attracted too few students to remain financially viable, and was forced to shut down. This was regrettable for everyone directly concerned, in the short run. In the long run, it is better than any realistic alternative. In most countries, including the United States, atrocious government‐​run schools are able to continue operating indefinitely because they face no meaningful competition—the poor parents they most often serve simply cannot afford any alternative. These schools are numerous enough that a&nbsp;term has been coined to describe them: “dropout factories.” Swedish families are lucky that they can far more easily escape such schools. <br><br /> <br> Not only does the Swedish system pressure failing schools to close, it encourages good ones to expand. International English Schools is one of the highest‐​performing school networks in the country, even after controlling for the parental level of education and immigrant background of its students. It is also one of the fastest growing, now operating 25 schools serving nearly 18,000 students. IES has plans to continue growing so long as demand for its services remains unmet. But if IES’s emphasis on academics and civil classroom behavior seems too traditional for some families, there are many other options to choose from. Another large and successful network is Kunskapsskolan, which allows students to proceed through the curriculum at their own pace, combining tremendous student autonomy with weekly one‐​on‐​one meetings with teachers. <br><br /> <br> But not <em>all</em> good private schools grow. Specifically, non‐​profit schools tend not to build large networks, no matter how good they are. As a&nbsp;result, thousands of students who might benefit from their services never get the chance to do so. The only good schools that consistently “scale‐​up” in response to rising demand are those operated as for‐​profit enterprises. This is not a&nbsp;coincidence. Building a&nbsp;network is both risky and expensive. The profit‐​and‐​loss system provides both the resources and the incentives that allow and encourage successful enterprises to grow.&nbsp;<br><br /> <br> Sweden is fortunate to have harnessed that system to spur the growth of its high performing schools. Chile does the same thing, and has become not only the highest‐​performing nation in Latin America but also one of the fastest‐​improving countries in the entire world on international tests. If Sweden wishes to become a&nbsp;fast‐​improving nation educationally, the evidence strongly supports preserving the entrepreneurial freedoms and incentives that promote the growth of successful education networks.</p> Mon, 22 Sep 2014 08:50:04 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/education-under-new-swedish-order Chile’s Proposed Education Reforms Would Kill the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs https://www.cato.org/blog/chiles-proposed-education-reforms-would-kill-goose-lays-golden-eggs Andrew J. Coulson <p>For the past three decades, Chile has had a nationwide voucher-like school choice program. Parents can choose among public and private schools, and the government picks up most or all of the tab. But, since the election last fall of a left-leaning government led by Michelle Bachelet, the future of the program has been in doubt. In May, President Bachelet introduced a first round of reforms aimed at dismantling aspects of the program, though these are still under debate. I've written about what that could mean for Chile's educational performance and equality in today's edition of the Santiago-based <a href="http://www.elmercurio.com/blogs/2014/09/15/25230/La-reforma-educativa-mataria-la-gallina-de-los-huevos-de-oro.aspx#disqus_thread"><em>El Mercurio</em></a>. Here's the original English version:&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Chile’s elementary and secondary education system has been harshly criticized in recent years for academic underperformance and for having large gaps in achievement between lower-income and higher-income students. There is significant truth to both charges. What is less widely known is that Chile has been improving substantially in both respects for at least a decade, and that president Bachelet’s proposed reforms are likely to reverse that improvement.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Though Chilean students perform in the bottom half of countries on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, many of the nations that participate in that test are rich and fully industrialized. When compared to other Latin American countries, Chile is number one across all subjects. More importantly, Chile is one of the fastest-improving countries in the world on international tests, and so it is gradually closing the gap with rich nations.&#13;<br /> &#13;</p> <p>Crucially, the bulk of Chile’s improvement has been coming from traditionally lower-performing, lower-income students, so the nation has also been narrowing its own achievement gap between rich and poor. One way that researchers measure inequality is to compare the performance of students who have many economic and educational resources in the home with the performance of those who lack such resources. By 2009, the gap in performance between the high- and low-resource students was already smaller in Chile than in most industrialized countries, including Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, and the United States. Another measure of inequality is the difference in the number of years of schooling that high- and low-income children complete. By that measure, Chile has the least inequality of any country in Latin America.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Chile, in other words, is the top performer in the region and one of the fastest improving in the world. Not only have researchers noticed these golden eggs of Chilean education, they have also begun to understand the goose that lays them. Most studies find that Chilean private schools outperform municipal schools, but the difference is sometimes quite small. A more important discovery, by Professor Francisco Gallego and others, is that increased competition from private schools improves outcomes across the board. As the ratio of private to municipal schools in a given area rises, so too does the performance of students in both sectors.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Professor Gregory Elacqua has added another important insight: chains of private schools tend to outperform independent private schools. On top of that, the larger chains outperform the smaller ones.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> And which type of private schools are the most likely to grow and form new chains? The answer is for-profit schools. Though Catholic schools can also be thought of as a network or chain, and though they, too, perform well academically, they have not expanded as rapidly as for-profit schools in recent decades and they have been less likely to locate in the very poorest neighborhoods.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> So an obvious recipe for continuing Chile’s pattern of educational improvement and the shrinking of its educational gaps is to encourage the growth of networks of high-performing for-profit schools. This is of course the precise opposite of the reforms proposed by president Bachelet, who wishes to ban for-profit schools and forbid parental co-payments. If implemented, schools serving roughly one million students would have to shut down.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> Sadly, the government seems unaware of how successful the existing system has been. It wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs without even having noticed the eggs. The Bachelet government, and the student leaders who encouraged it to adopt these reforms, want to believe that a centrally planned school system would work better than the more free enterprise approach that exists today. Camila Vallejo, for instance, once said that Venezuela’s centrally planned education system is more advanced than Chile’s. But on the famous PISA international test, Venezuela’s most developed state performs far below Chile’s national average. And the avowed mission of Venezuela’s system is to indoctrinate youth with the government’s ideology. There seems to be little appetite for that sort of system in Chile.&#13;<br /> &#13;<br /> It is good that Chileans are unsatisfied with the status quo and eager to improve it. High standards are crucial for the advancement of nations as well as individuals. But if the desire for improvement is to be satisfied, it must be accompanied by an honest appraisal of what works and what does not—in the real world. Chile’s entrepreneurial approach to education has elevated it above its regional peers, narrowed its educational gaps, and is helping it to improve overall. Central planning, as Venezuelans are rediscovering, has a less encouraging record.</p> <p></p> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:17:34 -0400 Andrew J. Coulson https://www.cato.org/blog/chiles-proposed-education-reforms-would-kill-goose-lays-golden-eggs