Category Archives: Structural Reform

More Money or More Charter Schools?

I review some of the recent research in a post at Education Next.

Here’s some math from the post:

Increasing Funding by Even 10% is Insanely Expensive

Consider a hypothetical town with 50,000 students, all of them who are in poverty, and a per-pupil allocation of $10,000.

Over ten years, increasing per-pupil by 10% will cost the town a half a billion dollars.

To put the costs in context: on average, it costs around $1,000,000 to launch a new charter school that serves 500 students.

This puts the cost of the charter intervention at roughly $100,000,000.

Also: the charter costs are one-time costs.

So over a ten-year period, the total bill for increasing funding by 10%: $500 million.

The total cost for scaling urban charters to serve all 50,000 students: $100 million.

For a fifth of the cost, you probably get 3-5X the achievement impact.

Do read the whole piece.

How to Increase Funding for Public Schooling by ~10 Billion a Year

Facilities are very expensive, and all things being equal, spending less on facilities allows for more money to be spent on instruction.

This report found that in Chicago charters spend 46% less on facilities than does Chicago Public Schools.

I imagine this is a larger deferential than in most districts. And while I don’t I have time to do a full research review, in most jurisdictions I work in I deal with facility costs, and it’s generally the case that charters spend less per student than the district does.

__

Instead of 46%, let’s consider a lower end estimate of a 15% differential.

Here’s what we spend national on facilities, according to the NCES:

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.39.32 PM.png

So about ~1K for capital outlay and .37K for interest on debt (which I imagine has a facilities component to it) out of a total of 12.4K.

Let’s call roughly 10% of the per-pupil or 1.2K per student.

Reducing this cost by 15% would save us $180 dollars per student or a 1.5% decrease in total spending.

On an overall budget of $621 billion, we’d save about $9 billion a year.

Let me know if I got my math wrong….

___

These are all very rough estimates, and while they are fairly conservative, they could be wrong.

But it’s surely plausible that we could shift $10 billion a year from facilities costs to instructional costs by moving to an all charter school system.

Spent well, this could support tutoring, field trips, class size reductions – or whatever educators and families thought best.

To the extent you believe money matters in schooling, it’s worth considering how increasing charter school development can drive more money into educational experiences rather than overpriced buildings.

The Complexity of the New Orleans Reform Effort Might Actually Make It Easier to Scale

nasa

A recent study found that the New Orleans education reforms achieved a ~.4 effect size, which is the largest citywide effect the researchers have ever seen an effect that surpasses most of what you see in pre-k and class size reduction studies (at about a quarter of the cost).

In their write-up of the study, the researchers made a very important point about comparing the New Orleans reforms to pre-k interventions.

While it might seem hard to compare such different strategies, the heart of the larger school-reform debate is between systemic reforms like the portfolio model and resource-oriented strategies.

Readers of this blog will know that I’m a structuralist.

I believe that changing the structure of public education, by handing power back to educators and families, is likely to achieve much better long term results than any specific programmatic intervention. The researchers were right to point out this difference within the reform debate.

The researchers also note:

Unfortunately, the effects of even the most successful programs are often not replicated when tried elsewhere, and there are good reasons to think the conditions were especially ripe for success in New Orleans.

The researchers site New Orleans low absolute performance and the city’s ability to attract talent as reasons that replicability may be difficult to achieve.

Perhaps, though I do think there are plenty of cities in the country that have very little where to go but up and have access to a lot of talent (Oakland, Atlanta, Philly, Camden, etc.).

But here’s a point I think the researchers missed.

My guess is that because New Orleans took on a structural reform, and not a specific programmatic reform, the effort might actually be easier to scale. 

Often times, interventions that show the largest effects, such as labor intensive pre-k programs, require a lot of specialized expertise, high fidelity to implementation, and significant resources.

The confluence of organizational talent, strategy, and implementation is very hard to replicate.

But the New Orleans reforms were not particularly operational in nature. There was no multifacteded curriculum that had to be adopted, no teacher coaching model that required years of training, no wrap-around model that necessitated the coordination of numerous agencies.

Instead, most of what needed to happen was for the government to approve charters that had a decent shot at succeeding, close the schools that didn’t work, and expand the schools that did.

Of course, certain caveats deserve mention: these regulatory functions require building some expertise; they need a lot of political leadership; and an intentionally nurtured non-profit sector provided many supports.

But, even considering these issues, the fact is that the New Orleans model is predicated more on layering in a structure and strategy over a complex system than it is on executing an operational heavy, resource intensive intervention.

In the long run, this is exactly why I think the New Orleans model has the potential to scale.

Time will tell if it can.