Beware of Evidence: It Probably Came from the Current System

If something is found to work, great, but remember it may not work in a transformed system. More important, keep in mind that empirically grounded assertions that something, say merit pay, or school choice, has been found to not work, or have only small effects, arise from studies of the practice or policy in use in the current system. It may only mean that it may not work, or not make much of a difference, in traditional public schools. But the allegedly ineffective policy or practice may work well in a different system; that is in the context of different governance and funding practices. Charles Silberman‘s endorsement of open / informal schooling is quite likely one of those. The weak incentives of the current system may have undermined an instructional approach that can work well for some children as a school of choice in a system lacking public schools’ public finance monopoly.

How Some Community Colleges Are Improving Student Performance

Approximately 40% of college freshmen must take remedial courses for which they do not receive credit. Too often they do little better in these English and math courses than they did in high school. Of those who attend community colleges, just 15% graduate from a four-year-old college within six years.

The University of Virginia Community College System, including Northern Virginia Community College, seems to have found a solution with their “modular placement test system.”

The experiment began in 2012 with a new exam, the Virginia Placement Test for Math, which identifies the skills needed for students to enroll in the introductory for-credit math course. Instead of retaking the high school basic math course, students take a remedial course — labeled “developmental”— that focuses on what they do not know. Instead of a semester course, the remedial requirement is one-credit hour, four-week course.

In 2013, the Virginia Placement Test for English was launched with the purpose of identifying a student’s weaknesses. Missing in the previous multiple choice English placement test was an essay component to evaluate a student’s writing ability.

A two-hour credit course was developed for students whose scores showed that, although they were not college ready, they were close. Those students took the developmental course in tandem with the for-credit introductory College Composition course.

A study by the Community College Research Center Teachers College, Columbia University, found that at least in the initial phases of the Virginia experiment there was an increase in the number of students who enrolled in for-credit courses.

Of those students enrolling in a Virginia community college for the first time, the percentage of those placed in math development courses went from 81% in 2010 down to 57% in 2012 after the new test and placement policies became effective.

In English the number of students in remedial courses fell from 58% in 2010 to 42% in 2013 after the redesign was implemented.

Research by three Teachers College at Columbia University scholars identified Virginia as one of the leaders for refining requirements for credit-level math courses and providing the developmental courses to support them.

Can One Size Fit All with “Micro-Choice”?

This Wall Street Journal article on a traditional school district reforming its instructional approaches to much more extensively deploy computer software reminded me of my extensive conversations with Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson (R-Salt Lake) at the 2014 meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Senator Stephenson is not opposed to school choice expansion, but because of the resistance to it he spends a lot of time trying to promote what he calls micro-choice through technology. Micro-choice through technology can ease the differentiated instruction task for a diverse classroom for some subjects. That it seems to make a big difference in some cases is another testament to how poorly one size fits all in the current system.

U.S. Senate Passes Every Child Achieves Act — Embeds Common Core

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act 2001. NCLB was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007 but was not until now.

The House version, Student Success Act, was passed on July 8th. The U.S. Senate passed its own version, Every Child Achieves Act, on July 16th.

U.S. House Passes H.R. 5 to Reauthorize NCLB…Common Core Embedded

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) was reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act 2001 and expired in 2007. It is being reauthorized this year.

The House version, Student Success Act (SSA – H.R. 5), was passed on July 8th.

Tuition Vouchers Okay, but Obsolete

Recent, ongoing huge improvements in the quality and accessibility of online instruction have changed school choice advocates’ avoidance of the “V-word” (tuition vouchers) from a dubious rhetorical practice to a good idea. The appropriate avoidance also applies to the publicly-funded scholarship version of “tuition voucher.” The persistence of the Friedman/Merrifield vs. Coons/Sugarman/X sharp disagreement on co-payment permission is another very good reason to prefer price-control-immune tuition tax credits and price-control-immune Education Savings Accounts (ESA) to price-control-vulnerable tuition vouchers. The sharp disagreement is over the efficiency vs. equity implications of mandating that publicly-funded school must be free vs. not all “free” (0 tuition); allowing families to supplement voucher funds with their own money (i.e. co-pay).

Clinton’s Higher Ed Plan Costs Even More than President Obama’s Free Community College Plan

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s higher education plan, New College Compact, proposes refinancing at lower interests rates for those currently repaying student loans. The plan would expand income-based repayment programs, allowing student borrowers to enroll in plans that would cap their payments at 10 percent of their income, with remaining debt forgiven after 20 years.

Accountability and One-Dimensional Thinking

Justin Minkel, Arkansas’ 2007 Teacher of the Year, has been a frequent critic of school grading rubrics. So have I, but with different explanations and conclusions; for example that we need to empower clients to impose subjective accountability through school choice, assisted by multi-dimensional data systems. As I said then, “attempts to characterize multi-dimensional schooling services with a single metric is a hazardous task, not just for the consumers of the product, but also its producers.”

The High Cost of Seeing “Pricelessness” as an Efficiency/Equity Trade-off Issue

A very active Texas school choice advocate and I recently had an often heated discussion of the supposed pros and cons of more equal opportunity vs. price decontrol. We’d had the nearly identical, critical discussion many years prior. Mostly because I believe in a non-personal, vigorous discussion of ideas and principles, I will not name this person (X) that I mostly agree with, and greatly admire for dedication to this critical cause. A secondary reason for not naming them is concern that I might misrepresent some aspect of X’s position.