Commentary, News

New study: Voucher students doing significantly worse than public school counterparts

School vouchersBrookings Institution Senior Fellow Mark Dynarski is out with a new report that summarizes some damning new findings about the performance of students receiving school vouchers. The report, “On negative effects of vouchers,” looked at data from Indiana and Louisiana.

This is from the executive summary:

“Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability.”

The bottom line: Obviously, North Carolina’s experiment with school vouchers remains in its early stages, but these new data provide powerful evidence that the General Assembly’s ongoing, ideologically-driven effort to rapidly expand the program before we have any evidence of success is a move in the wrong direction.

Commentary

Editorial: It’s time to move past petty politics and clean up the coal ash mess

Coal ash clean upIn case you missed it over the holiday weekend, the Greensboro News & Record featured a fine editorial about the confusing ongoing battle between the General Assembly and the Governor over coal ash.

The basic message: stop the petty feuding over who’s in charge and get the damned job done.

At present, the two sides  are locked in a rerun of a previous battle over who should oversee the clean-up and, a cynic might say, be in the best position to demand the maximum amount of campaign contributions from Duke Energy. The state House has advanced a bill that proposes a new version of an oversight commission that the courts previously struck down as unconstitutionally infringing on executive authority. McCrory says this one is no better. Here’s the N&R:

“In other words, legislators accuse the McCrory administration of delaying progress, while McCrory accuses legislators of seeking delays.

Maybe everyone is right.

If the original commission was struck down, how can a new one be formed? Legislators think they’ve solved the problem by giving the governor five of the seven appointments to the new commission. They placed the majority of members the last time. In effect, they created an executive authority without giving the state’s chief executive any control over it.

McCrory said SB 71 is still unconstitutional, but that’s an assertion that probably would have to be tested in court once again.

More distressing is the way the governor and legislature are addressing this environmental challenge. This began with the Dan River coal ash spill in February 2004, which made apparent that Duke Energy had been sitting for decades on ticking time bombs in the form of coal ash storage ponds. It became a top state priority to do something about them. Some good steps have been taken, but the process has been marred by this wrestling match between the governor and legislative leaders over constitutional separation of powers and other issues that, frankly, are beside the point.

They all should focus on doing their job, which is to see that coal ash ponds are made safe and that people who live near them have clean water to drink. The public doesn’t really care whether it’s McCrory’s DEQ or a coal ash commission that makes key decisions, as long as they’re the right decisions. It’s hard to have confidence in that so far.”

Commentary

Sigh…Texas congressman’s bizarre anti-LGBT speech gives voice to the spirit behind HB2 (Video)

In case you missed it last week, you should take a few minutes to check out some of the “highlights” of Texas congressman Louis Gohmert’s recent speech on the floor of the U.S House of Representatives. In it, the poor fellow neatly sums up much of the fear and ignorance that underlie laws like HB2. This is from the good people at People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch:

“Earlier today, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, put a new spin on his “gay island” story, arguing on the House floor that the push for LGBT rights is wrong because we would never choose to send gay couples or gay animals into space to start a new colony like in the Matt Damon movie “The Martian.”

He said that if lawmakers had to decide ‘whether humanity would go forward or not’ in case of an imminent asteroid collision by putting people in a ‘space ship that can go, as Matt Damon did in the movie, plant a colony somewhere, we can have humans survive this terrible disaster about to befall, if you could decide what 40 people you put on the spacecraft that would save humanity, how many of those would be same-sex couples? You’re wanting to save humankind for posterity, basically a modern-day Noah, you have that ability to be a modern day Noah, you can preserve life. How many same-sex couples would you take from the animal kingdom and from humans to put on a spacecraft to perpetuate humanity and the wildlife kingdom?’

But due to the attacks on ‘natural order’ and religious freedom, Gohmert said, ‘we don’t have much longer to go.’

Gohmert also cited the work of Jonathan Cahn, a far-right End Times preacher who believes God is punishing America (and Francedue to gay marriage with events such as the 9/11 attacks, to assert that the end is near.

He also claimed that transgender people are disordered and ‘perverse’ individuals who need help.”

Commentary, News

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

Budget cuts1. Locking in North Carolina’s decline
The 2017 budget promises nothing but more distress for North Carolina 

Gov. Pat McCrory, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore love to boast that North Carolina is in the midst (or, perhaps, on the cusp) of a rousing economic “comeback.” Hardly a day goes by anymore in which one or more of these men isn’t issuing some kind of release claiming that conservative fiscal policies have somehow turned around the state’s economy and “unleashed the private sector” to create all sorts of new jobs and development.

Recently, the mantra has been all about how North Carolina was rated the third best state in the country “for business” by yet another “CEO” magazine. Never mind that it won virtually identical (if not more glowing) plaudits throughout the Perdue and Easley administrations and even during the Great Recession. [Continue reading…]

LGBT equality2. HB2 makes me feel less welcome, but the fight against it gives me hope

Six years ago, I moved to North Carolina to accept a one-year teaching position at Elon University School of Law in Greensboro. My wife, also named Angela, and I, had just made the final repair on our home in Florida, where we planned to live for the rest of our lives. But during my year in North Carolina, I fell in love with the state, and I began looking for a job that would allow Angela and me to relocate here permanently.

Fortunately, North Carolina Central University School of Law was looking for someone to teach courses that I taught and they extended an offer to me to join the faculty. The pull of North Carolina was so strong that Angela left a teaching job that she loved in Miami, and I tendered my resignation to the law school where I had taught for almost 20 years.

In North Carolina, and particularly in Durham, we found more than a home; we found a community. We live in the cul de sac of a small neighborhood and we’re a part of that community. We’re friends with our neighbors, we go to their kids’ birthday parties, and we watch each others’ homes when someone is on vacation. Our neighborhood is exactly the kind of neighborhood we hoped to find.  We are not the only African American family, nor are we the only LGBT family. [Continue reading…]

virtualschool23. State lawmakers poised to loosen rules for virtual charter schools
Move would come despite high dropout rates, big questions about academics

In the space of one day last week, North Carolina’s virtual charter schools saw their controversial plans for overhauling attendance requirements axed, and then, mostly, restored.

Such is the often rapid-fire speed of amendments lobbed in state House and Senate committees as North Carolina lawmakers wrangle over their budget plan this month.

But as House leaders approved their spending plan last week and Senate budget chiefs prepared to unveil their proposals this week, one thing is clear, according to the state’s public school advocates: The virtual charters, besieged by high dropout rates and nationwide concerns about poor academic performance, are bound for relaxed regulations in North Carolina anyway [Continue reading…]

virtual24. Virtual charter schools are a bust. So why did the NC House loosen state regulations even further?

Public school students in North Carolina are expected to be able to weigh evidence and make sound, logical decisions based on that evidence. Should we expect the same from our legislators?

That was the question before the General Assembly during the recent House Budget debate, as legislators argued whether to pull the plug on virtual charter schools. Virtual charters, authorized as part of the 2014 budget, are for-profit, online schools. With grim results in other states, it’s unclear why North Carolina’s policymakers are pushing us down the same path.

The educational results are truly grim. The most careful, comprehensive study of virtual charter schools, from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, found that virtual charter students achieved the equivalent of 180 fewer days of learning in math and 72 fewer days of learning in reading than students in traditional public schools. In the words of lead researcher Margaret Raymond, the math results are “literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”  Not surprisingly, the average graduation rate at online schools is 40%, less than half the national average graduation rate of 82%. [Continue reading…]

Payday loans5. Feds to issue new rules on “payday” and “car title” lending; Here’s why North Carolinians should be paying very close attention

Payday loansNorth Carolinians can be forgiven if they haven’t thought a lot about the predatory “payday lending” business in recent years. Indeed, it was one of the great accomplishments of our state government in the early part of the last decade when it officially ended North Carolina’s four-year experiment with the business and made these inherently predatory loans illegal. The last of the payday shops was chased out of the state in 2006.

Since that time, there have been periodic efforts to bring the practice back into North Carolina, but consumer advocates have repeatedly succeeded in beating them back. A few years ago, an Alabama bank attempted to exploit a loophole in federal law that allowed banks to evade state usury caps and reintroduce a form of payday lending into the state. Amidst sustained protests, however, the bank backed down and North Carolinians have since remained blessedly free of this deceptive and destructive “product.” [Continue reading…]

***Upcoming event on Monday, June 6th: Crucial Conversation — A year after the Charleston tragedy: Growing hope for saner anti-gun violence policies.

Commentary

Rick Glazier: NCGA’s “never mind” budget lacking — fails, hurts North Carolina

Rick Glazier, Executive director of the North Carolina Justice Center, wrote an editorial that appeared in the News and Observer yesterday saying the budget from N.C. legislators falls short of not only meeting the needs of the state but also departs from a history of commitment to public investments like the state’s university system and neglects foundations for a strong future. (Note: N.C. Justice Center is the parent organization of N.C. Policy Watch.)

From the News and Observer:

The state is about to adopt a budget for the coming year based not on what our state needs and what it will reasonably take to meet those needs but on a number lawmakers pretty much picked out of thin air.

Instead of considering how to help communities thrive, give all kids a top-flight education or invest in a strong future, they opted to let a formula take the place of reasoned deliberation. Judgment is giving way to rigid numbers. For no common-sense reason, they decided the state’s public investments over the next year couldn’t exceed the percentage growth in the state’s population plus inflation.

Why? That’s what happens when you so deplete public resources through a string of tax cuts that benefit mostly the wealthiest that you lack the revenue to meet actual needs. That’s what happens when you try to permanently cap the income tax at 5.5 percent to further limit resources.

Never mind that the number of North Carolina children and elderly will likely grow faster than the population as a whole.

Never mind that some important expenses — like health care — often grow by far more than the relatively low inflation rate these days.

Never mind that many dedicated public workers have gone a long time without real salary increases, leaving them to struggle to meet rising costs for the basics.

Never mind that some students in North Carolina are trying to learn from frayed, out-of-date text books.

Never mind that our courts are stretched and can no longer ensure all have access to representation or that the delivery of justice is efficient.

You could say North Carolina is about to adopt a “never mind” budget. And that’s a shame.
[Read more here]