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RS 225 - Neerav Kingsland on "The case for charter schools"

Release date: January 20th, 2019

Neerav Kingsland

This episode features Neerav Kingsland, who helped rebuild New Orleans' public school system after Hurricane Katrina, converting it into the country's first nearly-100% charter school system. Neerav and Julia discuss: why Neerav believes the evidence shows charter schools work better than regular public schools, his responses to the main arguments against charters, and what we know about how parents choose schools for their children.


Neerav's Blog: relinquishment

Jay Green's blog

"The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money" by Bryan Caplan

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (11)

No surprise that an adaptable, flexible system outperformed a massive inefficient socialist bureaucratic monopoly. Also no surprise that charter schools operate more efficiently with a budget of 20% or 25% less than the public monopoly schools.

The fact that the State of Louisiana and the Federal Government had Republican Administrations during the Katrina rebuilding probably had a lot to do with why New Orleans had to opportunity to pursue a charter system.

The design of most Public Monopoly Schools principally benefits the teachers, and especially the administrators, not the students. For instance, many Public Monopoly Schools have rules and labor practices in place making it almost impossible to actually terminate a teacher, no matter how incompetent or abusive has proven themselves. As an example, California offers Lifetime Tenure to its teachers after just two years of full time teaching. New York has a teacher review process that requires over 50 steps and several years to terminate a bad teacher.

Signaling definitely has a lot to do with school choice. And signaling definitely has a real effect on further future signaling. Many parents will pay out $25K/Year or more to send their kids to private high schools simply due to the fact that those high schools have a really good record of getting their kids into prestigious colleges. This occurs without regard to the fact that many of those prep schools actually have mediocre academics and actually pay their teachers quite poorly.

Neerav Kingsland correctly states that the government cannot force desegregation. Busing programs, for instance, just create resentment, avoidance, and strong political resistance. Families must voluntarily agree to desegregate schools and communities.

Private Schools will outperform Charters, just as Charters outperform Public Monopoly Schools, for the simple reason that parents and students have more choice, the schools have more flexibility, and the schools have to compete more. The free market and the power of choice work, whereas socialism and bureaucracy fail.

For everything pre college, home schooling provides the best mode of education. If every family cannot home school, then neighborhood schools, where some families in a neighborhood run a home school and other parents send their kids there, would work equally well. In this model, the government need not waste resources on teachers and facilities, and the kids need not travel any significant distance to get an education. At about age 12 or 14, the best 1/3 of students could pass a standard test and go on to college. The middle 1/3 of students could go to vocational / technical school and learn a trade, and the bottom 1/3 could go to work and also obtain some type of stewardship certificate. This would make much more sense than lumping all the different types of students together into a massive and ineffectual bureaucratic institution. The brightest 1/3 of students would get the PhD level professors they really need, the middle 1/3 would get the training they need, and the bottom 1/3 would get the wonderful benefit of actual work experience. Some of the Nordic countries in Europe already have a system somewhat like this, and they have very high levels of employment and job satisfaction.
January 21, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
i love this podcast, but i am getting slightly irritated that it is on the whole quite right-wing libertarian leaning economically and politically, at least as far as guests' orientation, and this is especially bothersome as a skeptic podcast. it would do it good to have more "left-wing" critiques and speakers on the podcast (i put "left wing" in parentheses because in the u.s even a universal healthcare system for example is considered a radical left-wing policy).
January 21, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterisrael
Here's a group that offers another perspective on K-12 education.
January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTC
An analysis of the New Orleans results:
January 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTC
In addition to the two posts above NEPC, I would like to add the fact that all charter schools are so varied, I found it ridiculous to analyze them as a whole. You can have a charter that hides a lot of religious instruction, or basically a military school, or a hippy school, or a non-profit that is a subsidiary of a for-profit company (that is trying to indirectly make money through the school). Further, when asked important questions about how we know it was the charter schools that had led to improvement, he just answered by saying: “my life experience,”— which is a non-answer. If we can just use ancedotes of that kind, I will provide one. I know a few teachers that worked for charter schools and due to not being unionized, the hours were too demanding and the pay was too little to be sustainable. As a result, all of them had to either leave the school (For a traditional public school) or leave the profession. Just because these charter schools in this area or an improvement compared to the old school in Louisiana, does not mean that this is the national solution to improving education.
February 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Von Glahn
This study shows that private schools and parochial schools grossly outperform public schools in EVERY metric. These metrics include outperformance in all subjects, higher SAT, higher ACT, higher parent satisfaction, higher student morale, and successfully decreasing the gap between minority and white students:

Private Schools necessarily outperform Public Schools since they have to compete with one another for students. This competition ensures quality. To the extent that Charter Schools also have to compete, this competition will improve performance as well.

Of course Private Schools will demand more of teachers and students. They have to compete with one another and have to post their performance record publicly to attract students. However, the entire free market works this way. Moreover, when students graduate they have to compete in the free market. Schools should have to compete with one another, just like any other industry. You would not want the government to tell you what car or what phone to buy. You want choices, and you want the producers of goods and services to compete with one another to provide you with superior price, quality, and features.
February 16, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
A private school organization producing data that private schools outperform public schools. Hardly what anyone can call an unbiased source. Bias against public education is virtually a national past time, we're taught from day one to hate public education.

The only data of some value are test scores. And test scores hardly show the entire picture. (More on that in a bit.)

Parent satisfaction is of zero value. It's nothing more than herd mentality. A parent who chooses a school will always be satisfied. Even when student performance is lower, parents will not move their children. (Defeating the alleged "free market" model of charter schools.) So, it's not about better education, it's about the ability to choose. Brand loyalty.

There are two main problems with charter schools. The first is the "free market" model of it. Parents shop around, they are customers. Education is a commodity. (Notice all the capitalistic terms used to describe education. Capitalism is less about producing better and more about popularity - if you can market better, you sell more. Same with charter schools.) Very few parents don't pull kids out of underperforming schools. And when a charter school collapses, leaving parents in a lurch, thousands of kids get dumped on the public education system.

The second is many, not all, charter schools are for profit, so they have to reduce their costs to maximize profits. While I'm not a fan of unions, they at least prevent abuse of employees. (Unions come with their own set of problems.) Think of the lowest bidder problem on all government contracts.

"Competition" will only reduce charter schools to test score manufacturers, the same thing laws did to public schools.

Thomas Jefferson viewed public education as a pillar of democracy. Not only does it educate, but it also prepares children to be citizens. Our emphasis on test scores and producing workers has reduced it from a place that can enrich society to a numbers mill. Public education can be vastly improved, but we're stuck with the industrial age model designed to produce factory workers. Charter schools are no different. The emphasis is on numbers and test scores using rote cramming of information so that children can achieve on tests, yet they quickly forget what they "learned." It forms a lifelong habit of reward-based extrinsic motivation.

What we are producing are future workers who are only motivated by money, fame, and rewards. Then we wonder why depression and suicide are huge problems.

The problem isn't public education, it's the way we approach education in general.

I recommend reading What the Best College Teachers Do, Learner Centered Innovation, and American Public Education and the Responsibilities of Its Citizens. They're more informative than google-centered, Search Engine Optimized propaganda.
February 16, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterskeptic42

I only found one source that objectively compared private school to public school performance, CAPE, a private school advocacy group. If I could have found any other data I would have cited it.

I'm not sure what metric to use other than test scores. Perhaps teachers do "teach to the test" but at least this shows the students can perform the skill required by the test, and the private schools did obviously outperform.

I actually dislike K-12 "education" to the point that I want to replace it by home/neighborhood schools followed at about age 14 by either early college, vocational school, or work, dependent on the student's interests, and yes test scores.

I'll take a look at those three articles, thanks.
February 22, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

Actually, their books.

Thanks for the response. At the moment, I happen to be studying the education process for researching a book I'm writing (which takes place in a university), so I've found the timing of all this is quite fortuitous. The book What the Best College Teachers Do put it best, bulimic education best describes the current system we have. Kids are force fed the "correct answers" to be repeated for the test then purge to make room for more information. Studies show that student retention is actually very low, even for those who scored high on test. The extrinsic reward/punishment system (getting good grades or avoiding getting in trouble) can negate our natural intrinsic curiosity to learn. Plus the education system was geared toward producing factory workers instilling obedience and Pavlovian responses to bells (like for break times and lunch breaks) and submission to authority.

I agree that we do need something different. What I am leery of in the model you propose is the insular nature it can foster. The limited exposure to people outside one's socioeconomic strata can instill a sense of tribalism which can foster intolerance and create pockets of isolated communities. So, parents would have to work hard to avoid this. The other thing I would worry about is the ability and knowledge of the teachers, creating pockets of knowledge that focus on what the community cares about most. It could disadvantage students that drift outside their community comfort zones. But no system is perfect, and I think we seriously need to revamp our education system, whether private, charter, or public. We need one that fosters our natural curiosity and is developed to accommodate different learning styles.
February 23, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterskeptic42
Yes, I noticed they are books. I think I'll read just one, "What the Best College Teachers Do".

In a first world country, with the availability of mass media and internet, and with an ultimate test administered that includes a diverse curriculum, young kids would probably get a thorough exposure to lots of topics. But really, they need how to learn.
February 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
@skeptic42, good luck with your book.
February 23, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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