July 24, 2014

Charter Schools – More Bang For The Buck!


Whether it is chips at the grocery store or miles per gallon, it’s always good to get more for less. This is especially true in education. That is why a new report by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas is so important. A team of researchers, led by Patrick Wolf, Ph.D., calculated the return on investment of public charter schools. In other words, they looked to see if charter schools are providing more bang for the buck. It turns out they are.

Charter schools throughout the country, and especially in Missouri, spend less per student than traditional public schools. Charter schools, on average, also outperform their traditional counterparts. By combining these facts, the researchers calculated that the productivity advantage for charter schools in math and reading was 40 and 41 percent, respectively.

So, what do you call it when you get better outcomes for less money? I call it a big win for students, parents, and taxpayers.

July 22, 2014

This Illustration Of Missouri Pension Enhancements Says It All


Today, the Show-Me Institute released a new case study by Robert Costrell, professor of economics and education policy at the University of Arkansas. His paper, “Teacher Pension Enhancement In Missouri: 1975 to the Present,” illustrates how state lawmakers have consistently enhanced retirement benefits for teachers. These enhancements have helped create the system we have today, which has an incredible spike in benefits around a teacher’s 25th year and many other flaws.

For more information about pensions, I encourage you to check out our “Missouri Government Pension Fast Facts.”









July 18, 2014

If You Haven’t Registered For Our July 31 Friedman Legacy Day Events, What Are You Waiting For?



For a number of years now, we have partnered with the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice to celebrate the life and work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. In his 1955 piece, “The Role of Government in Education,” he introduced the modern concept of the school voucher. He wrote:

Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on “approved” educational services.

Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an “approved” institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions of various kinds.

Later in his life, he became an even stronger advocate for empowering parents through school choice.

This year, in honor of his efforts to expand school choice, we are hosting two Friedman Legacy Day events.

The first is at 8:30 a.m. in Saint Louis at De La Salle Middle School. Mike McShane, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, joins us for an interesting discussion about private schools closing and re-opening as charter schools.

The second event is at 6:30 p.m. at the Kansas City Central Library. Economist Mark Skousen will share stories of his long friendship and debates with Milton Friedman.

We hope you will join us for at least one of these events. For more information, please visit the events tab on the Show-Me Institute website.


July 16, 2014

Kansas City Schools Adopt CEE-Trust, Sort Of

In January 2014, Joe Robertson, of the Kansas City Star, wrote the following about the CEE-Trust proposal for Kansas City public school reform to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

The plan caters to charter schools — public schools that operate independently of school districts. But they would not be charter schools. They would be accountable to the district’s Community School Office.

Funding would flow through the district, and the school operators would maintain high degrees of independence only as long as they met their performance agreements.

The central office would own and maintain the buildings, operate bus services for all the schools and coordinate a lottery-based enrollment process with a standard expulsion policy.

In a Feb. 8 Kansas City Star editorial titled “Don’t Embrace Experimental Overhaul,” the paper opposed the proposed reform:

Sustained board leadership has been a challenge for many charter schools in Kansas City. We also question whether a collection of independently run schools, some of which would enroll students through a lottery, would appeal to families looking at Kansas City as a place to live. Strong neighborhood schools in a stable district seem a more reliable option.

As for the latter question, we’ve already written about independently run schools attracting students. But on June 26, the same Star editorial board heralded the school district partnership with Academie Lafayette, writing:

An unprecedented agreement with the Academie Lafayette charter school shows an encouraging willingness to be innovative.

Plans call for the district and Academie Lafayette to start up a high school that would offer the rigorous international baccalaureate program. It would be housed at the Southwest Early College Campus at 6512 Wornall Road, and could open as early as the fall of 2015…

The move puts children and families first and represents a radical departure from the often tense relationships among traditional districts and the charter schools that states have set up as alternative public options.

The Star at first decries the “experimental overhaul” of CEE-Trust, but just months later champions “an unprecedented” “radical departure,” which seems to amount to exactly the same thing. They write that this new option “puts children and families first,” but in fact it only does so for children and families at one school. Why not everyone in the district? What is it about the children and families at Academie Lafayette that warrants special attention?

July 8, 2014

I’ll Scratch Your Back, If You Comply With This Federal Mandate

Last October, my students learned a few vocabulary words — amendment, judicial review, and furlough. The government shutdown created what educators like to call “a teachable moment.” I seized the opportunity to discuss topics such as division of power and how a bill becomes a law. Overwhelmingly, I was asked the same question, “If the federal government is shut down, why am I at school?”

My students then received a lesson about the 10th amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Because education is not explicitly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, education is a power that belongs to the states.

Tell that to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The U.S. Department of Education unveiled its 50-state strategy on Monday. The strategy, a neglected measure of the 12-year-old No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), readdresses the uneven distribution of effective teachers across low- and high-poverty schools. It requires states to create new plans that address teacher distribution by April 2015, and Missouri is not immune.

For fewer than half the states that submitted plans post-NCLB, many have not been updated in several years. Below is a table from Missouri’s original analysis identifying core academic subjects (math, science, etc.) taught by highly qualified teachers. The data, though last revised in 2006, shows a lower percentage of highly qualified teachers in high-poverty schools.

core acadmic highly qualified percentages

Missouri is one of 42 states to receive a waiver from parts of NCLB, including the infamous accountability decree, “All students will be proficient by 2014.” In May, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) submitted a request for a one-year extension to the 2012 waiver. DESE will have to renew again next May.

Not coincidentally, the Department of Education’s requirement for updated teacher equity plans will have to be submitted one month prior to DESE’s 2015 extension request. The Department of Education gets equity plans, Missouri gets NCLB waiver. The Department of Education gets unified curriculum, states get Race to the Top money. “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” seems to be the Department of Education’s M.O.

Of course, teacher equity is an issue that ought to be addressed, but the U.S. Constitution did not grant federal authority over education. This power belongs to Missourians. This whole incentive game the Department of Education is playing isn’t fooling anyone. Teacher equity may be a problem, but federal overreach is a bigger one.

July 7, 2014

School Vouchers: NOT A Party Issue?

how republicans and democrats feel about school vouchers

When it comes to political issues, Americans often are polarized, except about education. School vouchers are one example. In a recent national survey, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that almost three-fourths of Republicans and nearly two-thirds of Democrats favor vouchers. The difference between Republican and Democrat Party support was only 11 percentage points. Overall, 63 percent of Americans said they support school vouchers, compared to 33 percent who said they opposed the system.

The survey also found that more respondents perceived Democrats to oppose (54 percent) than favor (46 percent) school vouchers, which contradicts actual findings. This suggests that Americans may think that school voucher programs are a party issue, but in reality, they aren’t.

Last month, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bipartisan transfer bill that would have allowed students in unaccredited public school districts the opportunity to attend non-religious private schools using public funds. He called the bill, “a dangerous voucher scheme.” He also claimed Missourians do not support school vouchers.

Vouchers are simply a method of giving students educational options. Thirteen states have adopted voucher programs, and yes, Missourians seem to be on board (62 percent favor school vouchers; 32 percent oppose).

The bipartisan effort was an important first step toward providing opportunities to kids with few options — and it was neither dangerous nor scheme-like. Studies such as the Friedman Foundation’s show the majority of Americans (and Missourians) want educational choice no matter which party most closely aligns with their beliefs.

July 2, 2014

IFF Provides Map for “Quality” Charter Schools

iff widget

IFF, a nonprofit community development financial institution based out of Chicago, released its latest widget last week. The widget is an interactive map, which allows St. Louisans to directly manipulate variable layers like educational attainment, non-English speakers, poverty, and age. The most stunning layer is zip code rank.

The zip code rank layer shows which St. Louis City zip codes have the most need for quality schools—the lighter the gray, the higher the need. Need is based on what IFF calls the service gap, or the difference between supply (capacity of districts designated as “Accredited” or “Accredited with Distinction”) and demand (students enrolled in district and charter schools). IFF found that St. Louis needs 18, 987 more seats in accredited schools to serve all of its K-12 students. IFF also found that 63 percent of the service gap was concentrated in six neighborhoods. With support from Mayor Francis Slay and St. Louis Public Schools superintendent Kelvin Adams, the institution made a few recommendations, including: Encourage district partnerships with charter schools like KIPP.

This is a recommendation we support. Research points to the effectiveness of quality charter schools in urban areas, but simply saying “we need quality charter schools” isn’t enough.  The next step is to identify what a “quality charter school” is.  Harvard economist Roland Fryer points to five qualities: frequent teacher feedback, data driven instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and relentless focus on academic achievement.  Schools like KIPP echo Fryer’s findings (KIPP teachers work Monday through Friday from 7:10 am to 5:00 pm and every other Saturday).

Studies like Fryer’s and real world examples like KIPP serve as a road map for building quality charter schools, but the path to quality education starts with parents.  Parents need the right tools to make the best choices for their children, and IFF’s interactive map is one of those tools.

July 1, 2014

What’s in a name?

Normandy rose

That which we call an unaccredited school by any other name would perform as well.  William Shakespeare spoke of roses, but his four-century-old logic applies to Normandy Schools Collaborative’s “nonaccredited” status.  The Missouri State Board of Education’s decision to give Normandy a “nonaccredited status” allowed the Board to take control of operations.  It essentially gave the district a do-over, but left many with questions concerning the legality of subsequent decisions:

  1. Can the Missouri State School Board set a tuition ceiling?
  2. Can receiving schools reject transfer students?
  3. Can Normandy prohibit new students from transferring?

These questions stem from the transfer law’s wording regarding unaccredited schools.   The law refers to a “district not accredited”.  According to the state board, Normandy’s new unclassified status of “nonaccredited” is somehow different than “unaccredited” (even though, non is Latin for not, non making this up).  Because of the new classification, schools like Francis Howell decided not to allow transfer students to return.   Using the same rationale, Normandy Schools Collaborative might not receive extra money from the 2015 state budget.  The additional funding is earmarked for intensive reading instruction and pre-K programs, programs meant to help low-performing, unaccredited schools like Normandy.

Normandy has a history of low-performance—low-achievement, high drop-out rates, and low college readiness.  If the goal of the state Board of Education is to give Normandy students access to high-performing, quality schools, calling the district by another name is not the answer.

June 26, 2014

Allowing Normandy Students To Return Makes Sense To The Head And The Heart

A Joint Statement From Adolphus M. Pruitt and James V. Shuls

In the fall of 2013, students from the unaccredited Normandy School District stepped out in faith. They placed their hope and trust in the hands of nearby schools, sometimes more than 20 miles away from home. Over the course of the past year, these students have overcome great obstacles to get to school in their search for better educational opportunities. Now, area school leaders have a decision to make. They can choose to honor the decisions and sacrifices of these students or they can choose to deny them access to the schools they have worked so hard to attend.

It seems clear what the decision should be.

Financially, the transfer program is a winning proposition for accredited school districts. In most cases, the transfer students – even with the lower $7,200 tuition rate that the State Board of Education set – bring more money to the district than a student moving into the district would generate. Schools are funded primarily through local property taxes and state appropriations. The local property taxes are essentially fixed, they don’t rise when one new student moves into an apartment complex, and the state provides every area school district less than $7,200 per student. Most, in fact, receive less than $2,000 per pupil from the state.

Furthermore, the $7,200 is more than enough to cover the marginal cost of an additional student. That is, it does not cost a district $7,200 to add one student to an existing classroom. As the schools have demonstrated over the past year, they have the capacity to accept and educate these students. Few have needed to hire additional teachers or faculty. They simply have been able to assimilate the students into the day-to-day operations of the school. For many schools, it simply has been business as usual.

This decision, however, is not just about the bottom line. It is a decision that has a direct impact on students themselves. We recognize that most educators enter the profession because they want to make a difference in the lives of students. This is an opportunity to do just that.

Students transferring from the unaccredited Normandy School District are among the most disadvantaged students in the state. In Normandy, nearly half of the students will not graduate on time and among those who do, their future prospects are slim. With an average ACT score of 16.8, many of these students cannot even get into state colleges and universities.

Educators – teachers, principals, and superintendents – throughout the area have an opportunity to change these statistics for the transfer students. They have the opportunity to make a difference.

As representatives of the Saint Louis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Show-Me Institute, a free-market think tank, it is not often that we find ourselves in complete agreement on an issue. On this, we stand in unity. Local school districts should reward the hard work and sacrifice of these students. Allowing them to return is a decision that makes sense to the head and to the heart.

Adolphus M. Pruitt is 1st vice president of the Missouri NAACP and president of the Saint Louis NAACP. James V. Shuls, Ph.D., is the director of education policy at the Show-Me Institute. 


Joe Knodell – Executive Director, Missouri Education Reform Roundtable

Courtney Allen Curtis – Missouri State Representative (D – 73)

June 24, 2014

The Francis Howell Transfer Decision: One Family’s Disappointment

“It’s a slap in the face.” That was parent Cameral Cotton’s response to the Francis Howell School District’s decision to not allow students from the Normandy School District to return this fall. A series of decisions from the Missouri State Board of Education and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education made the action possible. Freshman Mar’Kita Fields, senior Mark Fields, and fifth grader Georgina Montgomery are among the 350 Normandy students who had applied to return to Francis Howell.

Some Normandy residents complained that the transfer law made it possible to move into the district and transfer without having attended a Normandy school. Now, some parents are talking about moving just to avoid the non-accredited district.

Cotton said her children won’t be returning to Normandy. “I’ll move out of the district,” Cotton said. Cotton, like so many Normandy parents, said she will do anything to ensure her kids have access to a quality education.

When Cotton and I first met, she was hopeful that all three of her children would be able to return to Francis Howell. She smiled as she spoke about what the district had done for her kids. Watch the Show-Me Institute video below to find out her reaction to Francis Howell’s decision to turn away transfer students.

June 20, 2014

Transfer Decisions Begging For A Lawsuit?

Carla Hargrove

Recent decisions that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the State Board of Education have made raise some real questions about their ability to read the law.

First, the State Board of Education voted to remove the transfer right from any student who did not attend class in the Normandy School District in 2012-13, relegating at least 130 students who had transferred back to the struggling district. Yesterday, it was announced that DESE has instituted new regulations that impose the same restrictions on new transfers from the Riverview Gardens School District. Both of these decisions are begging for a lawsuit.

I’m thinking specifically about Carla, a parent from the Riverview Gardens School District who applied to transfer her children this year. She has lived within the district for some time, but realized that the schools were not where she wanted to send her children. Through hard work and sacrifice, she has been able to put her children in a private school. Now, she is being punished for that decision.

Carla and the hundreds of other families like her are being singled out unnecessarily and possibly in violation of the law. This is a true injustice and it should be corrected.

June 19, 2014

The Transfer Program – Curbing The Decade-Long Drop In Enrollment?

sold home

According to data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, enrollment in the Normandy School District has been dropping for years. The district has been losing approximately 122 students per year and has 1,100 fewer students than it did in 2004. That is with the influx of students the district received when it absorbed nearly 600 students from Wellston in 2010.

The Normandy School District has some of the worst academic results in the state. About half of Normandy students fail to graduate high school on time. Among those who do, the prospects are slim. The average ACT score for Normandy students is just 16.8. That is not high enough to gain admittance to most state universities. On top of that, the district’s property tax rate of $6.3974 per $100 of assessed valuation is among the highest in the state. That is $1.50 per $100 higher than the average Saint Louis County school district.

Despite these facts, there seems to be a force strong enough to get 130 students to move into the district – the school transfer law.

As I explained yesterday on the blog, I don’t really believe that all of these families moved into the district simply to take advantage of the program. Normandy Superintendent Ty McNichols seems to believe a slight uptick in occupancy permits proves otherwise.

Let’s just assume for argument’s sake that he is correct. Let’s assume that all 130 students who had not attended Normandy schools in the 2012-13 school year moved into the district simply to transfer to a better school. That would mean that now the families of those 130 students are paying property taxes on their homes or through the rent payments in the Normandy School District. It would mean the transfer program is helping to curb the decade-long trend of families fleeing the Normandy area. These are good things.

The fact that some individuals may be willing to move to take advantage of the transfer program is not an indictment of the program. Rather, it demonstrates how important educational choice is for families.

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