Category Archives: Charter schools

New Orleans, the New Yorker, and the perils of flawed comparisons

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 5.49.26 PM

Gary Sernovitz just wrote an interesting piece in the New Yorker on the New Orleans public school system.  He argues that the New Orleans public school system is designed around free market principles that are, at times, being poorly applied to the public sector. Gary draws lessons from his time serving on the board of a charter school that eventually lost its charter for financial reasons.

Before considering his arguments, I just want to give a thank you to Gary. He joined a charter school board and devoted a lot time trying to make public education better. It’s great to see people with his commitment and intelligence serving on charter boards. I hope more people follow his lead.

__

Gary argues that the New Orleans public education system is designed around “the engines of the free market – autonomy, competition, and customer choice” but that these design principles are currently inadequate to meet the aims of public education in New Orleans.

Gary points to three main problems with the New Orleans system: rewards, incentives, and start-up capital.

Rewards

Gary argues that New Orleans’ schools demand crazy work hours but offer mediocre compensation. Unlike for-profit founders, there is no dream of a financial exit for charter founders or their teams.

I don’t disagree with these facts. If you want to get rich, starting a non-profit charter school in New Orleans is not the way to go.

But this is the problem with Gary’s premise: the New Orleans public school system was never designed to mimic all parts of the free market. The goal of working in a charter school is not to get rich; it’s to do good while earning enough to live a middle or upper middle class lifestyle.

The reward model provides a different set of rewards for different kinds of educators.

Many teachers teach in charter schools for 3-5 years, work long hours, and are rewarded with the meaning that comes with knowing you helped others. They then go onto other things.

A minority of teachers find that teaching is their lifelong calling. Their hours tend to go down overtime as their mastery of teaching goes up. The most skilled teachers in New Orleans can achieve in 50 hours a week what it takes a novice to achieve in 70 hours a week. Their rewards come from the joy of doing good work, building meaningful relationships with children, and earning a stable middle class income.

Another set of teachers move into administrative roles. They tend to spend another 5-10 years working in leadership positions. Their rewards come from the challenges of leadership, seeing impact at a larger scale, and earning an upper middle class income.

Yes, current model does rely on younger teachers, who work more hours, and leave the classroom more frequently than their traditional peers. But this model is delivering better results for children than the old talent model. And it has been doing so for over a decade, which leads me to believe that the talent model is sustainable.

That being said, I’m open to the idea the current model is not optimal. I can think of two potential improvements: raising taxes to increase educator salaries, or simply encouraging charters to be for-profits so there can actually be financially exits and equity based compensation. But New Orleans is a poor city in a poor state, so I’m skeptical that New Orleans will be able to raise salaries by large amounts. As for for-profit charters, while a reasonable idea in theory, their results to date have been underwhelming, so I’m not holding my breath here either.

Rather, I think New Orleans has organically evolved to the best talent model under very imperfect conditions.

Incentives 

Gary’s main criticism of the New Orleans public school system is that it does not fully fund the costs for students with special needs. In market terms, it gets the price wrong.

Gary sat on the board of Cypress Academy, which intentionally enrolled a lot of students with special needs. These students cost more money to serve well.

The New Orleans per-pupil revenue system is designed with this reality in mind: I believe New Orleans has the most weighted per-pupil system in the country. Schools receive up to 3x of the regular per-pupil to serves students with severe special needs.

Because of this model, numerous schools in the city are able to serve a lot of students with special needs. Many networks have even developed specialized programs for high needs students.

I’m open to the idea that the weights need to be further increased. But the Cypress financial model should have been built around the existing financial regulatory regime. It is well known to all charter operators in the city, and Cypress should not have opened if they did not have a viable financial model to serve the students they wanted to serve.

If Cypress thought the per-pupil funding system was wrong, it should have advocated for policy change before opening its doors. Instead, it opened with an unsustainable model. This was a mistake.

Start-up Capital 

Gary argues that there is not enough start-up money to help a new charter school get to scale.

I don’t think this is true.

When I worked at New Schools for New Orleans, we helped 10+ new charter school start-ups open schools, and none failed for financial reasons. Rather, all of them received enough funds (usually $500K to $1m in philanthropy) to cover their operations until they reached scale.

My understanding is that Cypress Academy received start-up grants in the range of other successful start-up charter schools in New Orleans, such as Bricolage Academy.

And, again, none of the financial realities should have been a surprise to the founders of Cypress. If they knew they were going to run a deficit over the first few years, they should not have opened unless they were fairly certain they could raise the necessary philanthropy to cover this gap.

___

Dozens of new charter schools have opened successfully over the past decade. These schools operate sustainable talent models, serve students with special needs, and scaled with the support of philanthropy.

Cypress Academy failed for reasons that seem to be mostly predictable. The balance of the fault appears to be with the school, not with system.

Lastly, it’s worth emphasizing that the New Orleans public school system is not designed to be a free market. It’s a publicly funded system operated by non-profit organizations.

Yes, it has more market mechanisms than a traditional government operated system, but it’s so far from being a free market that most comparisons to free markets obscure more than they illuminate.

What is California telling us about what parents want from public education?

I sit on the board of the California Charter School Association (CCSA), which is one of most effective charter associations in the nation.

Their data team put this slide together.

It’s a little complicated, but it’s very informative.

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 8.08.33 PM

To build the chart, CCSA looked at schools that are serving the same type of demographics and then compares their test scores.

A school that outperforms similar schools, gets a higher score (8-10 is really good); a school that underperforms similar schools, gets a lower school (1-3 is pretty bad).

This methodology – absolute test scores controlled for demographics – is imperfect, but it’s the best methodology you can use given California does not publicly report student growth scores.

Charter schools serving students in poverty outperform district schools on state tests 

43% of charter schools with higher concentrations of poverty outperform similar schools.

In California, if you are a low-income Hispanic or African-American child, you are more likely get a better education (as measured by test scores and parent demand) if you attend a charter school.

This is good news for the educators and families who are working together to create better educational outcomes in at-risk communities.

If parents are demanding schools with good test score impacts, the government’s response should be obvious: let more of these schools open.

Charter schools serving middle class students underperform district schools on state tests 

But not all charter schools are outperforming their peers on tests scores.

47% of charter schools serving middle class students perform worse than similar schools. And only 26% perform better.

So perhaps California should close some of these charter schools that serve middle class families? Research covered in this post shows that schools with negative test impacts tend not to have large positive life outcome impacts.

But here’s the odd thing: presumably, middle class families have a decent amount of information at hand when making school choices. It takes all of two minutes to scan Zillow or Great Schools to get a quick read on the absolute test score performance of any school in the state.

So why are all these relatively well resourced families sending their children to lower-performing charter schools as measured by state tests?

I’m not sure. It would be interesting to focus group and poll them to learn more.

And with regards to closure, while I surely disagree with middle class Californians on many policy issues, I’m not sure that I think I know enough about their children to close schools that have modest negative test impacts but high enrollment demand.

Charter schools don’t exist unless parents want their children to attend them 

One of the best features of charter schools is that they don’t exist unless parents choose them. No one is assigned to a charter school.

So what are we to make of this data where families in living in poverty are choosing schools with positive test scores impacts and middle class families are choosing schools with negative test score impacts?

I think the starting point should be to assume that families, on average, are in a better position to make an informed choice than government is.

Remember, government’s default assignment algorithm is to look at your family’s address and then assign your child to the nearest school. It’s not very nuanced!

My guess is that parent choice will outperform geographic assignment when it comes to finding great fits between kids and schools.

But I do think we should be open to the idea that parents, sometimes en masse, can make mistakes. And, at times, this can warrant government intervention.

Sometimes performance might be an indicator, such as when families keep sending their children to high schools with below 40% graduation rates and /or schools with extremely negative value-add scores. If less than half the kids are graduating, and those that do are barely literate, government should step in.

Sometimes lack of alignment with our nation’s professed values might be an indicator: certain public schools have at times been captured by groups, sometimes religious, that do not teach basic democratic values.

In these cases of significant performance or culture malfeasance, government should consider intervention, ideally by handing over management of the school to a non-profit organization that can achieve better results.

I don’t know enough about individual school performance to know if what’s happening in California with middle class families equates to education malfeasance, but I’m a bit skeptical.

My hunch is that once absolute test score levels surpass a certain floor (as they tend to in middle class schools), families just care a lot about other factors.

Even if I might make a different choice, I don’t know that the situation warrants government intervention.

When government should not intervene 

While it’s difficult to decide when government should intervene, it’s still pretty clear to me when government should not intervene.

When schools have both high demand and high test score impacts with students living in poverty, government should not prevent these schools from serving more students!

California should follow this common sense policy.

Unfortunately, too many school districts do not.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Is Nashville Progressive?

Nashville is a thriving city with an amazing culture and a booming economy.

It’s also a progressive city in a very red state.

Given the progressive value of supporting  public education, my hope was that this progressive city would be delivering a great public education to its children.

But, after digging into the data, it’s clear that Nashville’s public education system is not giving kids a great education, especially African-American and Latino children.

This is troubling for the future of the city, as it means that a whole generation of Nashville children may be locked out from benefiting from the city’s growing economy.

A Divided City

 The last few school board elections in Nashville have been contentious. Public charter schools were at the heart of the electoral fights, with some officials calling for a moratorium on charter school growth.

The supporters of the charter school moratorium made two arguments: the charter schools are not as good as people say they are, and if the charters schools expanded they would hurt the education of students in the traditional public schools.

Both of these claims deserve some attention.

Are the Public Charter Schools in Nashville Good Public Schools?

One of the best way to understand the quality of a school is to measure how much a student increases her learning by attending that school. Tennessee measures this impact on student learning by calculating a value-added score for each school. A score of 5 is really good, a score of 1 is pretty bad.*

Here’s the score for every public school in Nashville that received a composite value-added score and does not have an academic entrance requirement.** Charter schools are represented by the green bars, traditional schools by the blue bars.

Screen Shot 2018-03-18 at 8.49.11 AM.png

The results are stunning:

56% of public schools in Nashville that received a rating received the state’s lowest rating. 

Of the 73 public schools that received a state rating, 41 of them received a “1.” Elementary schools don’t receive composite state ratings, so this is mostly a reflection of middle and high school performance. Nashville may be a booming city, but the city’s public schools are providing a poor public education to the majority of the city’s public school students.

90% of the 41 schools that received the lowest performance rating are traditional schools.

41 schools received the lowest rating. 37 of them are traditional public schools. Nearly all of the lowest performing schools are traditional schools. The traditional school sector is in vast need of improvement.

89% of the 19 schools that received the state’s highest rating are public charter schools. 

19 schools received a top tier rating. 17 of those are public charter schools.

And these charter schools aren’t outliers. 74% of charter schools in the city received a top tier rating. Only 4% of traditional schools received a top tier rating.

Nashville’s public charter school sector may be amongst the best in the country. The educators in these schools are accomplishing amazing things.

The traditional schools, on the other hand, are really struggling. Too many kids in Nashville are getting a subpar education.

Would it be Progressive to Allow Public Charter Schools to Grow?

Chidren who attend charter schools in Nashville learn a lot more than children who attend traditional schools. It follows that the progressive thing to do is to allow more children to attend these schools.

However, if expanding these schools hurts the existing traditional schools, there might be a trade-off between growing these schools and improving existing schools.

Fortunately, research can help us answer this dilemma. Journalist Matt Barnum accurately summarizes the research:

“Charter schools are unlikely to have significant negative effects on student achievement in traditional public schools — and may, in fact, have small positive effects on nearby schools. At the same time, there is research indicating that charters may in fact harm school district finances.”

If anything, public charter schools tend to increase the academic performance of students in traditional public, likely due to increased competition.

That being said, it’s undeniable that when the traditional system loses students, it also loses money. Given that this does not lead to a drop student achievement, it’s unclear to me that this issue needs to be solved. However, in cases of rapid charter school growth, the state might consider giving the local district some transition aid.

But the bottom line is that expanding high-performing public charter schools can increase the academic performance of students in both charter and traditional public schools.

It’s hard to get more progressive that.

Here’s hoping that Nashville’s progressive leaders do the right thing over the coming decade: they should allow great public schools to serve more children.

 

 

*See below for TN description of each level of performance:

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 8.34.13 AM

** I excluded the following schools for having selective requirements: Martin Luther King, Jr. Magnet High School, Hume-Fogg Magnet High School, Meigs Magnet Middle School, and Middle College High School. If I got this wrong, let me know!

SaveSave

A great report from Princeton on charter schools… with one major mistake

Screen Shot 2018-02-08 at 9.51.57 PM

Sarah Cohodes just published a report on charter schools in a joint Princeton and Brookings publication.

Sarah does a great job of summarizing the research on charter schools: on average, charter school do not outperform traditional schools, but urban charter schools (particularly the No Excuses model), perform much better than traditional urban public schools.

It is so rare in publicly policy that something… works best for disadvantaged students, gets better as it scales, costs 20% cheaper than the existing system, and has positive to neutral effects on the existing system’s performance.

With urban charter schools, we’ve found something that works at scale with almost no trade-offs.

It’s truly amazing and makes me hopeful for public education in this country.

So kudos to Sarah for writing this report.

But she does make one mistake, and it’s a common mistake, so it feels worth addressing.

Sarah writes:

The charter sector is growing by 300 to 400 schools a year. Let’s consider a thought experiment in which further expansion focuses on high-quality charters. What would happen to the achievement gap in the United States if all of those new charter schools were opened in urban areas serving low-income children, had no excuses policies, and had large impacts on test scores like Boston, New York, Denver, and KIPP charters?

So far so good. I think about this thought experiment a lot.

Sarah continues:

Expanding charters in this way certainly could transform the educational trajectories of the students who attend. But if we consider the US achievement gap as a whole, it would have a negligible effect. Charter schools represent too small a proportion of overall enrollment for such an expansion to reduce nationwide achievement gaps.

Notice the mistake? Sarah focuses on the absolute number of annual charter school openings rather than the annual percentage enrollment increase of charter schools.

Yes, the charter sector is growing by 300-400 schools a year.

But the charter sector’s enrollment has grown between 7-10% a year for almost a decade.

So here’s another way to answer Sara’s thought experiment: if the charter sector continues to grow at ~10% annually, it will double in size every 7 years. Currently there are ~2 million students in charter schools. That means in 25 years, charters would serve over ~20 million students, or nearly 40% of students in the United States, if current growth rates continued.

Of course, this might not occur. But it’s surely possible. I have deep experience in working in cities across the country, and I remain convinced that any major city in the America can get to ~50% charter enrollment in a 10-15 year period, if they so desire.

Again, it’s not inevitable that charters will continue to maintain quality and grow at 10% annually.

But it’s also not inevitable that districts can adopt the best practices of urban charter schools.

To the extent that there are major resource allocation considerations, I would bet more on charter school scaling than district adoption.

But I don’t think there are major resource allocation debates. Urban charters are an open book. District best practice adoption is less a matter of money than it is a matter of will.

So I think we should keep on scaling urban charters, with the hope that districts get better and all boats rise. If districts get better, more kids will get in great schools faster. If they don’t get better, charter school expansion can continue to increase opportunity.

Someone once asked me: how much charter school growth is enough?

My answer then, and now, remains the same: we should keep growing charter schools until every kid in American attends an amazing public school.

What will be normal for superintendents in 2028?

Education change happens slowly until it happens everywhere. And then a new normal exists.

Right now, it is normal for superintendents to directly control all the public schools in their city. It also normal for them to fight off educators (either within their system or external charter operators) who threaten this control.

But this is changing. A new wave of superintendents are looking to charter operators to help them solve their toughest problems. And they’re not doing so in light touch ways, like best practice sharing. Instead, they’re handing over control of some of their most struggling schools to charter schools.

Atlanta 

In Atlanta, the superintendent is partnering with the city’s best charter operators to operate underperforming schools in the city.

Here is how one Atlanta high school student responded to her plan:

Omari Hargrove, a junior at Carver School of the Arts, isn’t looking for guarantees.

At a recent community meeting, Carver students spoke about daily fights on campus, gambling at school and classmates more focused on selling drugs, than studying.

“I’m not sure if the changes they’re introducing are the ones they need, but the situation we have now is not acceptable,” Hargrove said.

“Maybe they’ll work,” he added. “At least it’s a plan.”

San Antonio 

The superintendent in San Antonio is taking a similar approach. Texas recently passed a law, Senate Bill 1882, which encourages both superintendents and charter operators to work together to turnaround failing schools.

Denver

In Denver, the district partnered with a charter operator, University Prep, to turnaround a struggling school. A year later, the school posted the highest math growth in the state of Colorado.

Indianapolis 

In Indianaplis, the district utilized the state’s Innovation law to partner with charter operators, and the first wave of schools saw an increase in test scores. One of those schools, while managed by a charter operator (Phalen Academies), was actually led by a group of district leaders who wanted more freedom (Project Restore).

Memphis

Over the past few years, the state, frustrated with local inaction, has forced charter partnerships in Memphis. But last week, the superintendent told the local paper he was willing to lead the partnership effort himself. A locally elected board member also indicated willingness: “As we look at what’s best for kids, we have to look at all options,” she said.

What will be normal in 2028?

That’s hard to tell. But I hope that what we’re seeing from this courageous superintendents becomes the new normal.

A superintendent’s job is to get the highest number of kids in the best schools as quickly as possible.

That’s a job that requires all hands on deck.

Any group of educators who can make things better quickly should be given that opportunity, charter schools included.

Over the coming decade, I hope what we see in Atlanta, San Antonio, Denver, Indianapolis, and Memphis is the new normal.

Does anyone know why Chicago children are getting smarter?

If you just read the headlines, you might suspect that Chicago’s public schools are in a terrible tailspin. Part of this is the noise of big city politics. Part of this stems from cloud of violence that hangs over the city.

But Chicago has improved on academic test scores more than most other cities in the country. Rather than one of the worst, Chicago is one of the best.

A recent report by Sean Reardon and Rebecca Hinze-Pifer found that between 2009 and 2014:

“This [student achievement] growth rate [of Chicago] is higher than 96% of all districts in the US. Among the 100 largest districts in the country, the average growth rate from third to eighth grade is 0.95 grade equivalents per year; Chicago has the highest growth rate between third and eighth grade of any large district in the United States.”

The authors admit that they don’t know why this occurred.

I can’t prove why Chicago kids are getting smarter, but I have a hypothesis.

What’s Been Going on in Chicago Public Schools? 

One way to try and solve the mystery of why Chicago children are getting smarter is to look at the district’s previous major initiatives.

As this report details, between roughy 1990 and 2010 there were three overarching eras of reform in Chicago: the decentralization era, the the accountability era, and the do a lot of things era.

The authors are very careful to not attribute a causal relationship between reform eras and outcomes. The reforms were messy and not rolled out in an experimental manner – so fair enough.

But in this post I’ll try and make my best guess on what was causal and what was not.

The Decentralization Era

The decentralization era was best known for the creation of Local School Councils. This reform gave local councils real control over decisions about how schools were run. The councils were made up of school leadership, parents, and community members.

The councils always seemed like a terrible idea to me. It’s basically taking all we know about charter schools (good central offices, scalable instructional programs, governance matters) and doing the exact opposite!

Not surprisingly, research on the reforms found that the councils had some positive effects on advantage communities, but were least likely to improve schools in low-income communites. Communities with low social capital didn’t gain a lot from ad-hoc and poorly constructed local boards.

I’m very skeptical that the decentralization era and school councils were the root cause of later gains.

The Accountability Era

In 1995 Mayor Daly put in Paul Valls as the superintendent (I later worked with Paul when he was the superintendent of the RSD in Louisiana). Vallas, who did not have deep instructional expertise, used test driven accountability to try and make things better.

New tests, promotional standards, and interventions for failing schools were all put in place.

The reforms had better impacts for low-performing schools; the researchers noted:

“This was the only era to show large improvements in the lowest- achieving schools. However, the patterns in test scores in the lowest-performing schools suggest that some of the improvements resulted from instruction that was aligned specifically to the high stakes tests.”

This matches other research on accountability reforms: you tend to see gains in the lowest preforming schools, but the high stakes can cause narrowing of the curriculum.

 

The Do a Lot of Things Era

Arne Duncan came in after Vallas, and he instituted a lot of reforms.

Arne launched 100 new schools, implemented internal district instructional and curricular reforms, overhauled school leadership pipelines, and placed a deep focus on on-time high school progression.

Perhaps the biggest initiative of this era was the Renaissance 2010 project, which launched about a 100 new district, charter, and contract schools between 2005 and 2010.

Unfortunately, no one has conducted a full evaluation of the program. Someone should do this!

Two interim research reports came out around 2010. One study, which only included a few years of data from the early Renaissance cohorts, found that the new schools performed about the same as the existing district schools. The other study was inconclusive.

Not much help from the research community.

A lot of work was also done on school leadership. The Chicago Public Education Fund, in partnership with the district, invested heavily in school leader development, placing bets on both district based and non-profit providers.

The lastest research I could find on these programs found that “results indicate that one-year learning gains in elementary and high schools led by Fund-supported principals were not different than those in other similar schools.”

Another major reform, another mediocre result.

All told, researchers found that this era produced more gains in high school than elementary schools, but wrote: “while the effects of the dominant policies of Eras 1 and 2 are largely understood, much research remains to be done to understand both the positive and problematic effects of the policies in Era 3.”

Not super helpful, especially since this is the era that preceded the large gains in test scores that occurred after 2009.

What About the Charter Sector? 

CREDO published a report on Chicago charters that covered test scores from 2010 to 2012, which is right in the middle of the period where Chicago saw a lot of gains.

The study found +.01 effects in reading and +.03 effects in math. These effects amount to about a month or so of extra learning per year, maybe a bit less. Given Chicago’s relatively small charter market share, and the modest size of these positive effects, it’s unlikely that charters themselves accounted for the 2009-2014 gains.

A more recent study, which just looked at charter high school performance from 2010-2013, found much larger effects: +.2 effects on ACT related tests and much higher college enrollment rates.

These are large effects, but they are for high school only. The study lauding Chicago’s gains only covered grades 3-8.

So WTF Happened in Chicago to Make Kids Smarter?

To summarize: Chicago improved its test scores more than any other big city in the country, and researchers really don’t know why.

So why are Chicago kids getting smarter?

Here’s my guess: competition and accountability lifted all boats.

When you put accountability in place (the Vallas era) and then launch a 100 new schools (the Duncan era) you get a city where school leaders know there are consequences for failure and the best of the new schools begin to raise the bar for what’s possible.

This theory helps explain why the Renaissance schools and charter effects were a bit muted. In the studies on these reforms, researchers compared the new schools to existing schools. So if the existing schools were improving due to increased competition, you would not see large relative effects for the new schools.

I can’t prove that accountability and competition caused the results, but in many sectors accountability and competition make everyone better. It also fits stories we’ve seen elsewhere. In place like Denver and Washington D.C. increased competition led to all boats rising in the public school system.

If you have a better theory, let me know.

What Should Chicago Do Now? 

Here’s another tough question: if it was accountability and competition that caused Chicago’s gains, how should this impact Chicago’s future strategy?

Since 2002 (while the district was getting much better!) Chicago enrollment plummeted from 440,000 students to 370,000 students.

This means that there are lot of under-enrolled schools in the district and the city might have to go through another round of painful closures.

This also it means it’s harder to push the very reform (opening new schools) that might have driven Chicago’s previous gains in achievement.

So what should the city do?

Reasonable people can surely disagree, but I would continue to create new schools, albeit in a different fashion.

First, I’d open new schools in the areas where population is increasing. Chicago is made up of a lot of neighborhoods, and not all neighborhoods are losing children.

Second, I would do some replacement work. Instead of closing all the under-enrolled schools, I’d try and select some neighborhoods where there’s enough child density that you could imagine families coming back to the public schools if there were better options. I’d launch replacement schools in these neighborhoods.

There are clear drawbacks to this strategy. Politically, it’s hard to justify opening schools when you’re in the midst of closures. Programmatically, it’s hard sell to get the operators of new schools to open up in neighbors with shrinking enrollment.

But I think it’s the best thing for children.

Lastly, I might also try and launch some diverse by design schools.

In a city as diverse as Chicago, it’s sad that it’s schools are so segregated.

The Last Word

Chicago’s Chief Education Officer, Janice Jackson, recently gave her take on why things are better.

Her list: pre-k, better professional development, better curriculum, competition from private and charter schools, and clear accountability standards.

In her own words:

“I believe the level of transparency we have provided around what a quality school is has been transformational in this district.”

Don’t sacrifice the truth about charter schools in order to be agreeable

The New York Times just wrote a positive editorial about charter schools.

The editorial opened with this sentence [emphasis mine]:

“New York City is one of the rare places in the country where charter schools generally have made good on the promise to outperform conventional public schools in exchange for flexibility from the state that lets them lengthen the school day, alter the curriculum, do away with tenure and change how teachers are compensated.”

As a reminder, here’s the average effect of urban charter schools – from a study by the same researchers that the New York Times linked to in the above lead!

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 8.51.23 AM

So why did the New York Times write such a factually incorrect lead?

I think they probably did it to disarm those who might oppose them. By saying that most charter sectors have failed, they are aligning themselves with those suspicious of charter schools, which perhaps increases their ability to influence those on the fence.

This is a bad tactic. And it’s a habit I’ve been trying to kick: I too sometimes publicly hedge on the actual facts in order to relate to an audience.

This type of hedging is doubly dangerous.

First, it prizes short-term affiliation over the truth, which will eventually reduce your credibility when people find out what you really believe.

Second, you risk starting to believe yourself. It’s very difficult to maintain thoughtful and evidence driven policies under the best of circumstances. If you consistently say things you don’t really believe, you’ll soon forget what you really believe.

Here’s a better tactic: be expressive about values while you’re being direct about your beliefs.

Constantly talk about why you care about children, poverty, and the future of our country – at the same time you defend policies (like charter schools) that are controversial but impactful.

It’s good practice to expand the tent through shared values.

But don’t trade the truth for agreeableness.

It’s dishonest and counterproductive.