Charter Schools

How to Fix Our Schools

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Eva Moskowitz is the founder of Success Academy Charter Schools, a network of schools in New York City that aims to produce better educational outcomes than traditional unionized public institutions by holding students and their parents to higher standards. Reason TV's Nick Gillespie spoke with Moskowitz in September about how to fix our broken education system. To see more of the interview, click here or view the video below.

Q: Do you think your model is replicable, or how much of it revolves around you? With education reform, often there's a particular person who creates a model and then as that person fades out of the picture, things fall apart.

A: I don't think the [traditional public school] district is scalable. We have proof, at least in New York City, that scaling didn't work very well. In New York state we have close to a million kids who failed the test. I don't know under what measure that could be a successful scaling experience.

So maybe the [correct] model is not one giant system. Maybe the model is lots of social entrepreneurs who have school districts of various sizes. That's why I support everything from tax credits to charters to bold district reform. We've got to try a bunch of things and see if we can get real talent into the space.

Q: Are the parents of the 18,000 kids who apply for your schools radically different from the parents who either don't care or don't know about charter schools?

A: This is sort of an unknowable question, but I spent a lot of time with parents before I opened the first school. I did PTA meetings, hundreds and hundreds of meetings, and I have met very few parents who do not deeply, deeply love and care for their children.

Q: There is a fair amount of attrition in your schools.

A: No, actually, that's inaccurate. Our attrition is extremely low, both compared to the district and compared to our co-located schools.

Q: If you have 100 kids in first grade, how many will be in seventh grade?

A: We lose about 10 percent a year. The district loses about 20 percent a year, and some of our co-locateds lose between 30 and 40 percent. And we're educating kids for longer. An elementary school in the district goes K to 5. We're educating kids K to 8.

Q: One of the standard complaints against you is that you personally made over half a million dollars last year. Does that matter?

A: Well, I think it does matter, and I think we have to invest in talent. We pay our teachers more than the district, we pay our principals more. We pay at the home office more. We've got to attract as much talent as humanly possible into the sector. And if you want talent, you're going to have to reward people. Not as much as an investment banker can make on Wall Street, but I don't think because one is doing public education that that necessarily means one is worth less in terms of compensation.

Q: Are you hopeful that public education will improve in New York City?

A: I think it'll take the citizens of New York deciding that they've had enough of educational failure. I am very hopeful, though, that the public and parents are going to demand a change. It's just unsustainable to spend this much money to get so few great results. I just don't think you can go on forever like that. The reason there hasn't been more outcry is that before charters, there were no alternatives. Now, people are seeing that, between parochial schools and charter schools and moving out of New York and doing all these things, parents are voting with their feet one way or another. And I think that's going to change things.

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  1. I think diversity of options is a good thing. For too long, parents have been forced to choose from a smaller number of options. By increasing options and tying it with an incentive-based system, hopefully the entire education landscape will improve.

    1. Don’t be so equivocal. Diversity is what makes markets so good, and freedom practically gets down on bended knee asking for more participants.

  2. The big thing I notice here is pay. I have friends who work in traditional public schools and friends who work in charter schools. Around my area, the charter school teachers earn way less. It makes parents think that the school is being “fiscally responsible”, so the parents who don’t tend to like public schools send their kids there. What ends up happening, though, is that they perform really badly by every measure. Money (oddly enough) is an incentive, and quality teacher leave the charter schools for better paying traditional public schools in the suburbs as soon as they can.

    A lot of people love the idea of charter schools because, you know, “choice” and stuff, but they forget that they’re public schools. They can have exactly the same problems, and it can be worrying how they spend their money. If they spend most of their (again, taxpayer provided) funds on flashy prime time television advertisements, they may have issues in other areas.

    So people understand (reason commentators aren’t always good at it), I’m not saying that charter schools are bad, and public schools are good. I’m also not saying that all teachers deserve cushy jobs. I’m applauding the charter system in this article for investing their taxpayer money intelligently and cautioning people that not all charter schools are equal in performance.

    1. You dare to refute Matt Damon?

      1. I say, “Bring it on, Matt Damon. Bring it on.”

    2. A lot of people love the idea of charter schools because, you know, “choice” and stuff, but they forget that they’re public schools. They can have exactly the same problems but tend not to.

      . Money (oddly enough) is an incentive, and quality teacher leave the charter schools for better paying traditional public schools in the suburbs as soon as they can.

      Lies.

      1. “They can have exactly the same problems ‘but tend not to.'”
        Where are you getting your “information” on this? Also, what are you defining as problems? If it is under-performance on exams (which is how public [including charter] schools are rated), they often (not always- I never said they did) do worse than traditional schools in their area.

        “Lies.”
        I’m going to generously assume that you’re being sarcastic.

  3. Sounds like he knows what he is doing. Wow.

    http://www.FullAnon.tk

  4. Eliminate the public funding part of schools and have each child’s parents pay for the services that said child is using.

    1. Interesting idea. Perhaps before we try it in a country of 310 million people with 54 million students K-12, and about 4 million teachers, you could identify some country where this approach is used and where it works.

      1. It was used and worked in this country for several centuries.

        And the homeschool model in this country produces better scores on the (public education system used and endorsed) standardized tests.

        Perhaps folks who grostulate over voting wealth and rights away from productive people could find an approach to fund their failed institutions using something other than coercion.

        1. When I asked for an example, maybe I should have added “since the invention of the light bulb.”

          1. I gave you one: home school

            Here’s another: private school

            If the trillion dollar educational industrial complex were instead something even close to a free market, I could provide more.

            Now it is my turn to ask for an example: what other outlets do you feel are acceptable to use coercion to fund?

            1. Not just coercion to fund, but an almost complete lack of accountability.

              maddarter is simply concerned that he might get fired from his ridiculously over-paid babysitting job. He should really read his Bastiat.

              A one size fits all system that has to coerce funding? Works about as well as one would expect.

      2. It would have to be phased out. There are far too many people who have grown up believing it’s the government’s job to teach their children. There is no way you could just abolish the public schools overnight and not cause utter chaos.

        As for the teachers, if they really do add value to the education of children, then I’m sure parents will use the money that’s been returned to them to continue to employ good teachers. Concerning the rest of the teachers, well I won’t shed any tears.

        1. They would be notified by certified letter before the end of the school year.

        2. Were you spanked too many times in class as a child ;-P

          1. I’m not interested in being forced to pay for any good or service that I do not use.

            1. If you don’t mind my asking, what do you do (in general terms)?

              1. I am a design engineer.

        3. It would have to be phased out. There are far too many people who have grown up believing it’s the government’s job to teach their children.

          Personally, I hope they go the other way, and socialize medicine like public schools.

          Divide everything into zones, and open public clinics with public employee doctors who serve the public. Just walk in and get free treatment. Paid for by property taxes, of course.

          Then, let those who can afford it still buy private medicine and insurance. That way, people like me can still take care of the poor, without having to endure that type of health care myself.

          Someone needs to be on top of that.

      3. Sweden comes closest.

  5. In terms of national opinion, education is like health care and every other emotionally charged issue: Suggest that free market incentives be established, and woeful shrieks of horror fill the skies.

    People think that an electoral process guarantees them input. They’re too god damned stupid to realize that their money does the exact same thing, only much more efficiently.

  6. In Finland, a high performing system, they have virtually all public schools, and teachers unions. It’s difficult to fire teachers (per Ripley, it is in most countries).

    (See Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World, and http://hechingerreport.org/an-…..education/)

    Finland values teachers, and believes in training and professional development. In the US, development and training seem to be viewed as a waste of time, and a way to spend more money for fewer teaching hours. See also Elizabeth Green’s book on how teaching is usually thought of something you have or do not have, and not a profession to be learned and developed. We have 3.5 – 4.0 million teachers, and seem to think anyone can do it (this means there are over 350,000 in the bottom 10%).

    We also have states that have no teachers unions and collective bargaining (SC, NC, GA, AL, MS); so why do you not compare those states to others? Of course, the unionized states will look better overall. Compare Michigan to Georgia, similar average income, but better results in Michigan on average.

    I suspect if this were some other area of study, Reason would look at US versus foreign, unionized state versus non-unionized to compare to see what the problem is. But here, we just *know* they are the problem, and that public education must be a problem.

    I do not love teachers unions, but shouldn’t we look at the right things, instead of getting hung up on other things?

    1. Finland is also a very homogenous country.

      [We] seem to think anyone can do it

      Nonsense. Teaching requires at least a four-year degree and a concentration in a bunch of useless claptrap like “Leadership to Enhance Human Resources” (to pick the first example I found via Google).

      1. Finland is also a very homogenous country

        This euphemism always cracks me up.

          1. If you mean “white,” I would disagree — when I think homogenous, the first country I think of is Japan, where they think it’s a big strength.

            1. It’s funny because it really means “doesn’t have low performing minorities.” Finland could be 1/3 Ashkenazim and 1/3 Japanese and people would still say it’s homogeneous.

      2. True, mostly, although the two cites I give above indicate there are schools in parts of Helsinki with 30% immigrants. The Finns encourage students to keep their mother tongue while also teaching Finnish and English.

    2. No one bothers to actually identify what it is about Finland, or some other “great” country, that makes their schools better. All we can do, in this country, is address things that stand in the way of better education.

      Teaching is not a job that just anyone can do, this much is true. However, this does not make it special. It is, just like virtually every other job, a profession where quality is demonstrated through practice, not credentials. Good teachers will always find employment because there will always be demand for their services.

      The lack of unionization and public funding has not harmed plenty of other professions. Ultimately, though, teacher welfare is ancillary. If the students aren’t learning, then it doesn’t matter how the teachers are treated. They don’t deserve to keep their jobs. Any of the “it’s not my fault, the parents don’t care” excuses are irrelevant: if you can’t add value, you don’t get a paycheck.

      The more education gets elevated to a vaunted position, the less accountable it becomes. Teachers are not heroes valiantly struggling against the woes of society, they are professionals and need to act like it.

    3. Also, correlation is not causation. Examining the union-vs-non union divide in public education will not necessarily lead to useful conclusions, especially when those boundaries are going to basically line up with state boundaries.

      A poor non-union state might look bad next to a wealthy union state, and a wealthy non-union state might look good next to a poor union state. And that’s just one possible explanatory factor for the differences. States will have different laws concerning textbooks, curriculum, teacher retention, student performance, discipline, etc.

      It is practically impossible to evaluate all of these variables holistically. Would you rather have the worst-performing school in Finland or the best-performing school in the United States?

      Choices in education should be left up to the parents. This is not just about the rich parents, but the poor as well. What good does it do to throw millions of dollars at a failing school that will just churn out young adults who can’t read or write?

      1. Correlation is not causation, but the lack of correlation tends to disprove causation. So the fact that the best and worst schools have unionized teachers suggest little causation.

        I am not saying unions are a good thing — only that I believe unionization per se has little effect, and lots of energy and rancor is wasted on this issue.

        I would suggest we treat teaching more like many other professions, where people are expected to improve significantly over time, and where senior people spend a lot of time training the junior ones.

        1. I suggest we treat it like a free market service. The bad schools and teachers disappear quickly. The folks that value efucation get to vote where their kid goes with their wallet. And people that would rather use the money taken from them to fund it can instead use it to bolster their retirement plan and help offest the tremendous increase in insurance premiums after the ACA kicked in.

        2. So the fact that the best and worst schools have unionized teachers suggest little causation.

          Indeed, the issue of unionization is not about the qualify of the schools in union vs non-union locations.

          Unionization becomes an issue when unions stand in the way of improvement and turn education into a battle between parents and teachers, rather than a cooperate relationship.

          The best way to mitigate this factor is to keep education as closely tied to the individual as possible. No top-down solution can achieve this end, no matter how many overcredentialed educationists you throw at it. The public school system by its very nature as a bureaucratic entity tends toward centralized decision making and local unaccountability.

          The best way to reverse this trend is to return control to the parents. The only justification ever offered for removing this control in the first place is because of bad parents, but as the failure of the system has shown, you cannot overcome bad parenting with good intentions.

    4. The last time I looked at the NAEP, the highest performing white students were in Massachusetts and Texas. There’s a lesson there …

    5. 1) Finland’s scores are falling
      2) it accepts the top 10% of university students into teacher training, not the bottom 10% as we do
      3) culture matters. Finns celebrate ‘sisu’ which means determination or guts
      4) and some US minorities do drag down test scores. White US kids score the same as their European counterparts while Asian American students score as well as peers in Asia.

  7. The right thing is individualism, not collectivism, because voluntary contracts can emulate collectivism, but collectivism can’t even tolerate individualism, let alone emulate it.

    We make decisions as individuals. We are held accountable as individuals. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again and again: when authority exceeds accountability, you have corruption. When accountability exceeds authority, you have scapegoats.

    Unions and mandatory government schools paid for by mandatory taxes throw this balance out the window. No one is ever held accountable; they don’t even have scapegoats other than the Koch brothers and kulaks in general.

    To delve deeper into exactly how to fix teacher unions and government schools is like putting lipstick on a pig or gilding a turd.

  8. “… a network of schools in New York City that aims to produce better educational outcomes than traditional unionized public institutions by holding students and their parents to higher standards.”

    We can talk about this until we’re blue in the face, but the only thing that propels students forward are their parents, period. Next you’ll be telling me that only students whose parents have the resources and time to contribute to their child’s education, should be allowed to attend school. In every charter school success story, there has been an ethics code parents must adhere to acknowledging their own responsibilities as parents. It is not surprising at all why these schools succeed.

    1. I see no evidence for your claims.

      1. A couple free peer-reviewed sources taken from a quick Google search:

        http://www.udec.edu.mx/Bibliot…..o/UISchool A The Effects of Parental Involvement on Minority Childrens Academic Achievement.pdf

        http://multiculturaleducole.pb…..1/Parental School Involvement and Children’s Academic Achievement.pdf

        There are lots more available if you’re willing to pay for them.

        1. So if parents are the determinant, why are we paying the teachers?

          1. It keeps a lot of window makers employed.

  9. the only thing that propels students forward are their parents, period

    I wouldn’t say it’s the only thing – but it is largely ignored in the current climate. We talk about “failing schools” as if there’s some magical property of the building causing students to perform poorly when in reality a lot of these schools are just full of kids who don’t want to learn.

    1. My daughter has a class of very low students and exceptionally high students.
      She decided to group them together so that the high students could tutor the lower students. After a week of observing the student’s instruction she told her high group that teachers are graded solely by how well her students have learned. She said after that those students were in a panic, constantly asking their counterparts if they truly understood the curriculum and if they needed them to explain it in another way.
      I thought the story was cute, until I realized there are probably thousands of teachers in a perpetual state of panic their entire careers.

      1. I thought the story was cute, until I realized there are probably thousands of teachers in a perpetual state of panic their entire careers.

        God forbid we hold them accountable.

        1. Teachers do not condone, nor do they tolerate poor performance teachers. They
          understand better than we all do that a bad teacher is the catalyst that brings them all down. I do not have any insights into unionized teachers, so I cannot address those concerns.

          1. (teachers stomp feet then cross their arms)

            Somebody condones it and seemingly encourages it given the prevalence. Additionally, peer pressure apparently has zero effect.

          2. Teachers do not condone, nor do they tolerate poor performance teachers.

            Except, actually, they do. Stated vs revealed preferences.

            Teachers who give their monthly dues without fail to a union that condones, tolerates, and protects bad teachers can say they don’t want bad teachers kept around but their actions say otherwise.

            In reality, there is a lot of sympathy for and guilt over “poor performance teachers” among the rest because many of them are in situations that other teachers don’t want to be in: working in the bad schools, babysitting the troublemakers, chaperoning the severely disabled, etc.

            The shared narrative of teachers as valiant heroes struggling against society and bad parents doesn’t help, either. A similar narrative, taken to a greater extreme, has polluted the unionized police forces pretty badly already.

  10. The only way to correct this education mess it to go back to a private education system as it once was and return all ” PUBLIC INDOCTRINATION” monies back to the “Taxpayers” and keep the unions out of education, period. The maybe we have a education system that wholeheartedly believes in education and not indoctrination first and only. The system is broke both financially and philosophically. Move on, nothing new here and nothing to save.

    1. This. Education, not indoctrination.

      Eliminate Dept of Ed, require matriculation fees versus public funding (as Chumby notes above).

  11. Socialist ideology has taken over the media, the political system and the bureaucracies that support all levels of government. That destroys any expectation of having a discussion aimed at identifying genuine problems with “education”, and eliminates any hope of reasoned and efficient solutions to whatever the real problems are.
    IMHO the first thing people have to do is accept that some percentage of children are not going to be scholars, that they come from environments not conducive to academic “success” in the terms of the socialist academics. They are the responsibility of their families and communities. We have ruined our productive economy so that it provides less per capita opportunity for productive employment.
    But, because so many of our cultural prejudices go unquestioned, we will NEVER proceed much beyond the place we are – if it doesn’t get far worse.
    A very large portion of this debate is mental masturbation.

    1. Ok. Good idea. Since we know that socioeconomic status is the best indicator of school achievement, let’s set a cut score: if you are at or below the poverty line, you can’t go to public school. That way, our test scores will look good internationally. And we won’t spend so much money! Win-win!
      The kids will be the responsibility of their families and communities- until they grow up, uneducated and incapable of getting a job. Then you will complain because they suck up welfare and commit crimes.

      1. “The kids will be the responsibility of their families and communities- until they grow up, uneducated and incapable of getting a job.”

        Unlike now, when they’re the responsibility of the gov’t education bureaucracy – until they grow up, uneducated and incapable of getting a job.

        1. Dammit, I have no excuse.

      2. “Uneducated” does not directly correlate with incapable of getting a job. That is a statist liberal trope. Look at the millions of people through out history who have lived great lives in prosperous economies when “education” (read socialist bureaucratic schools)was rare.
        I’m saying that you can’t reach peak fuel efficiency if you don’t have control over the “mixture”. (A reference to carburetors.)

      3. The kids will be the responsibility of their families and communities- until they grow up, uneducated and incapable of getting a job

        As opposed to now, where they are the responsibility of the government–until they grow up, uneducated and incapable of getting a job?

        The status quo is so much better thanks to good intentions!

  12. “It’s just unsustainable to spend this much money to get so few great results. I just don’t think you can go on forever like that.”

    Really? The left’s answer is to spend even more money …. forever. The left could care less about education, but rather wishes to perpetuate the educational SYSTEM that supports them politically while kicking and screaming like a spoiled child at any suggestion of reform.

  13. It would be nice if you would put one of your interns on debunking this Salon article on “Exposing the charter school lie… phony education reform revealed its true colors,” which looks like a lot of horse shit, although many people nevertheless take it seriously. http://www.salon.com/2015/01/0…..ue_colors/

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