“Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools”

The latest Forward Institute study has been released, titled “Habitual Truancy and School Report Cards in Milwaukee Schools” (full study in pdf at link). The full raw data set will be posted in the coming days.

The following is the text of remarks from Scott Wittkopf, lead author of the study, at the press conference this morning in Spring Green with State Senator Dale Schultz(Power Point at the link):

Introduction

Why are we here today? It may seem odd to release a study about Milwaukee schools in Spring Green. In truth, public education is about community. In fact, public schools are the heart of the community – and as goes a community, so go the public schools. Show me a community in distress, and I’ll show you a school district in distress. That fact is true whether the “community” is considered rural, urban, a state or the entire nation. As a community we invest in public education because every child requires, and deserves, an equal opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge to pursue what is meaningful in life. It is our responsibility as a community to provide for that equal opportunity through public education. The very future of our communities, large and small, depends on it.

This study, while focused on Milwaukee School Report Cards, tells us something critically important about what is happening in the Milwaukee education system. Our study of significant factors associated with Report Card Scores, why 2R charter schools APPEAR to have higher Report Card Scores, and how publicly subsidized “opt-out” schools impact public schools has statewide implications. As Milwaukee now serves as the laboratory for education experimentation in Wisconsin and the nation, we can extrapolate what is happening in Milwaukee to examine the impact of such a system if it were to be expanded statewide – into rural districts like River Valley. 

Summary of most significant findings

1. School to school comparisons:

  • MPS/2R raw scores – We need to take into account that 2R charter schools have lower truancy and student poverty rates. When we equalize for those factors, the difference becomes insignificant. This means that the 2R Charter school type is NOT creating higher scores.
  • 2R/MPS Charters – We need to take into account that 2R charter schools have lower truancy rates and higher rate of fully licensed teachers. When we equalize for those factors, the difference becomes insignificant. This means that the 2R Charter type is NOT creating higher scores.
  • MPS public/MPS Charters – We need to take into account that MPS public schools have higher disabled enrollment, teacher experience, and student poverty rates than MPS charter schools.  When we equalize for these factors, we find that the difference BECOMES significant. This means that MPS public school Report Card Scores actually ARE higher than MPS charter schools. 

2. The most significant factor in the Milwaukee School Report Card scores is habitual truancy (Truancy effect slope figure). We can explain almost the entire effect on Report Card scores by three significant factors – habitual truancy rate, student poverty, and the percent of teachers with at least five years of experience. It is important to underscore that “Percent of Teachers with 5 years experience” have the same POSITIVE effect with scores as student poverty has negative effect. The negative truancy effect is 3 times that of the teacher and student poverty effects.

3. The negative effect of truancy is equal across schools. No school type counters these effects through educational effectiveness. 

4. The data presented in this study along with other cited research indicates a strong likelihood of student selectivity (“skimming”) by 2R charter schools. This factor creates perceived positive effects which are overstated and unrelated to school type. 

5. We suggest that school and parental bias factors are theorized to have a negative effect on the students left behind by an opt-out system which functions as a new form of segregation based on prior student achievement, parental participation, and schools picking “desirable students.” (Power Point Slides on truancy) 

  • 9-year truancy trend – WI and MKE stable, as student poverty increases; 2R sees 50% decrease.
  • Zip Code – Community level – 2R charters not characteristic of community school. 53210 – stark difference in truancy rate/report card score.
  • 2012 – 2013 – Effects of truancy across all schools. No school type counters effect, only through selection. 

The big picture presented in this study is consistent with a large body of research which tells us that these multiple levels of selection bias are occurring in “opt out” parallel school systems as in Milwaukee. It also tells us a great deal of how that system is fundamentally flawed, and that expansion of this type of system statewide would have devastating effects on community school districts like River Valley.

Connecting the dots

                1. There is strong evidence that 2R charter schools have selection biases which reinforce each other, and have nothing to do with educational efficacy – confirming theorized “skimming” effects.

2. Recent published research (Dr. Kern Alexander, U of I, Journal of Education Finance, Fall 2012)[1] confirms what is now known from 20 years of Cognitive Science research[2] – that people make decisions based on deeply held values, beliefs, and cultural biases – not from best information. This is critical in understanding how ANY publicly subsidized, parallel education system is based on a false premise – that people will select a school based on educational effectiveness. THIS IS FALSE. In education decisions, as in economics, people do not behave as rational actors. WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

3. The system in Milwaukee is leading to selection bias on the part of schools and parents, which is causing predictably higher performing students to opt out of public schools for multiple bias reasons, leaving higher concentrations of higher needs student in the public schools.

4. Higher concentrations of higher needs students places more stress on a school, requiring more resources – which are not there because of funding required for the parallel, publicly subsidized schools which are skimming funding as well as students.

5. The cycle is now continuous as funding for higher needs, public school students continues to be cut. These are the schools in our most distressed communities which will be faced with closure, only to be replaced by 2R style charter schools which do NOT offer a better education for a more select group of students – leaving many behind.

This is becoming a vicious, downward spiral in Milwaukee. Current policy being debated would perpetuate this cycle through inappropriate use of School Report Cards. School Report Cards provide local schools with another rung on the educational ladder of success. They provide insights into what works, and what requires further development and investment to ensure educational opportunity for every child. Instead, there are policymakers who would have the Report Cards be used as a wrecking ball – to literally wreck public schools in our most distressed communities, and replace them with schools that do not provide equal opportunity for every child. 

Policy Recommendations

                1. The entire Milwaukee community (and the state of Wisconsin) should commit to a proactive, wide reaching truancy project. One place to start is the model program “Walking School Bus” which has been successful in getting kids to school in other urban areas.

2. A ten year plan to sunset the 2R charter and any publicly subsidized private schools. A 20 year experiment has cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and shown no real educational benefit or effectiveness beyond what is available in public schools.

3. Develop criteria for proper use of School Report Cards as another means for local districts to gauge successes and further needs – not as a wrecking ball.

4. Address the issue of inequitable funding in Wisconsin Public Schools in the face of increasing populations of high needs students.

5. The state needs to begin addressing the real issues facing communities in distress, as schools will follow.

[1] Alexander, Kern, “Asymmetric Information, Parental Choice, Vouchers, Charter Schools and Stiglitz”, From the Journal of Education Finance,  Fall 2012

[2] Damasio, Anthony, “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain,” Penguin Books, 1994

New Forward Institute study to be released

The Forward Institute will be releasing a new study next week in public press events which will be announced soon. The latest research began in August, 2013 and examines School Report Card scores in MPS, MPS charter, and 2R charter schools.

The report will have significant implications for education policy both in Milwaukee and statewide. It is also the first to examine the differences between the two charter school and public schools sets while controlling for multiple independent variables through multivariable regression analyses.

Press event notices will be posted on the Forward Institute website as soon as available. Follow Forward Institute to get instant notification of the event schedule.

 

Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education

Forward Institute has released its new study at a press conference in Milwaukee’s City Hall. The following remarks were made by Chair Scott Wittkopf, highlighting the most important findings of the comprehensive study.

Wisconsin has always been a leader in K-12 public education because we have long valued the right of every child to receive a quality public education. The fundamental nature of our values is reflected in the State Constitution, which guarantees all children equal access to educational opportunity in our public schools. That constitutional right is now being systematically eroded and defunded. The research presented in this report shows that current fiscal policy and education funding are depriving our poorest students access to a sound public education. Public schools are not failing our children, Wisconsin legislators and policymakers are failing the public schools that serve our children.

Our comprehensive report documents in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the state funding they receive.

The following seven points highlight critical findings of our study:

1. The number of students in poverty has nearly doubled since 1997, increasing from 24% of all students to 42% (Reference Poster Figure 1). At the same time, inflation-adjusted state funding of public education has fallen to its lowest level in over 17 years. On average, schools with higher poverty enrollment levels have experienced per-pupil funding cuts over 2 times the cuts in the most affluent districts.

2. Analyzing state testing data revealed a paradox within economically disadvantaged (ED) students scoring proficient or advanced. As ED enrollment increased, the percentage of ED students scoring proficient or advanced also increased. Our analysis discovered that as more children dropped into ED due to economic circumstances, they brought their typically higher test scores into the ED group. This has resulted in the false perception that poorer students’ test proficiency rates have been rising. Further, as ED enrollment approaches 50%, we are seeing a plateau and beginning of a downward trend in ED scores. A student who begins in poverty does not have previously higher scores to bring into a cohort, as we observed over the past decade. Therefore, we can expect to see a growing achievement gap between ED and non-ED test scores in the coming decade. 

3. If the Walker proposal to increase voucher school funding is adopted, over $2,000 more will go to a K-8 voucher student than a public school student. A voucher high school student will receive nearly $3000 more in state aid than a public school student (Reference Poster Figure #2). When controlling for inflation, K-8 voucher schools will have seen a $400 increase, and voucher high schools a $1000 increase in per student funding from the 1999 school year. In comparison, public schools will have seen a $1000 per student decrease from the 1999 level. The economic disparities in state funding between voucher and public schools are important in the education funding debate. As we will demonstrate, there is evidence that voucher schools have no positive effect on student graduation/attainment levels or test scores. This raises the question, is there sufficient evidence to support the claim of voucher advocates that voucher schools afford a better educational opportunity to students? Based on the data, we conclude the evidence does not support this claim.

4. The new School Report Card scores released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) have a strong correlation to the level of poverty in any given school and school district (reference poster figure #3). Nearly half of the school-to-school difference in Report Card Scores can be explained by the difference in poverty level from school to school. When compared to other factors at the school district level such as teacher experience, racial demographics, and per pupil revenue limits, poverty still accounts for 44% of the school district difference in Report Card scores. This fact makes any use of the DPI School Report Cards for significant funding or incentive decisions poor public policy.

5. The Walker budget proposes to expand voucher schools into districts where School Report Card scores “fail to meet expectations.”  This proposal will assure that more schools and school districts of high poverty will lose resources. As we have shown, School Report Card scores are directly correlated to level of poverty, and districts with underperforming schools are therefore districts with schools of higher poverty. Funding to operate the voucher school expansion will come directly out of those public schools of highest poverty. 

6. Milwaukee voucher program students underperform Milwaukee Public School (MPS) students on statewide tests, with a lower percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced. In the Milwaukee voucher program (based on two years’ (2010-2012) data) over 20 children graduate for every child testing proficient in 10th grade reading. The statewide ratio is about 1:1. The MPS ratio is about 2:1. In mathematics, the statewide ratio is about 1:1, MPS ratio is about 3:1, and the voucher student ratio is over 50:1.That means over 20 voucher students graduate for every voucher student proficient in 10th grade reading, and over 50 voucher students graduate for every voucher student proficient in 10th grade mathematics. This translates into a much higher cost in state aid for a voucher student to become proficient or advanced than an MPS or high poverty statewide student to become proficient or advanced (reference poster figure #4).  This provides a stark illustration of the high cost to taxpayers for low student proficiency in the voucher program, and raises a significant question of educational adequacy for voucher schools, as the expectation should be for a high school graduate to be proficient in reading and math.

7. As a result of recent budget decisions resulting in education austerity, there is strong evidence that the current public education funding and delivery system in Wisconsin is unconstitutional. When compared to their more affluent peers, students of poverty are not receiving an adequate public education as defined by State Supreme Court precedent, statutes, and the State Constitution. Further, the system has created two distinct classes of students, those of poverty and non-poverty. Both groups have predictable outcomes based on level of poverty. Recent budgeting decisions are exacerbating this dichotomy.

Based on our conclusions, we present the following 5 policy recommendations:

1. Fair Funding – The Legislature should approve, and the Governor should sign, Dr. Tony Evers’ “Fair Funding” formula into law. This would be a first step toward addressing the increasing needs of rural and urban districts most affected by poverty.

2. Address Issues of Poverty and Education – The two greatest challenges to ensuring a prosperous and vibrant Wisconsin for future generations are poverty and education. The Governor should join with non-partisan, bi-partisan, broad-based constituent groups to appoint a “Blue Ribbon Commission.” This commission should be charged with a one-year mission to develop a statewide plan bringing parents and communities (rural and urban) impacted by poverty together for the purpose of implementing an intervention plan to address poverty and education issues. There are already successful models in communities that address the external poverty issues that have negative effects on education. Achievement gaps are largely attributable to factors outside of school walls. If Wisconsin is to substantially narrow these gaps, education policy must incorporate health and nutrition supports and after-school enrichment to address barriers to learning that are driven by child poverty.

3. Voucher Program Sunset – The twenty-year Milwaukee and one-year Racine private school voucher experiment should be sunsetted by the Legislature in 2024. The voucher experiment can show no positive voucher school effects on student outcomes and attainment, beyond what already can be attributed to the voucher schools’ select student demographic and parental factors. Taxpayers should not be forced to fund a second statewide school district, nor an expensive entitlement program, when the public schools are not failing. It is, in fact, the state of Wisconsin that is failing public schools and the children they serve. Dividing resources between two statewide school districts exacerbates this growing problem in the face of increasing poverty rates.

4. Charter Schools – Charter schools eligible for state aid should be allowed only under the auspices and as an instrumentality of an existing public school district to ensure public accountability in fiscal, academic, staff, and student functions.

5. School Report Cards – School Report Cards issued by DPI should be used as part of the big picture to measure overall school and student performance along with other standards and measures, balancing “input” (educational access, quality, services, resources, etc.) and “output” (student results). It should be acknowledged that the use of School Report Cards exclusively for reward, incentive, funding, penalty, or other fiscal consequence is improper, poor public policy, and would further erode access to educational opportunity.

This report demonstrates in detail that the resources being afforded schools and students of poverty are insufficient, and indeed are facing further reduction. Moreover, the resources being diverted from schools of poverty into non-traditional alternative education programs are producing questionable results with little to no accountability for the funding they receive. The failure of Wisconsin policy makers to acknowledge and address these issues is creating a generation of economically disadvantaged students that will lag far behind their more fortunate peers.

Public schools are not failing Wisconsin’s students, the state of Wisconsin is failing the public schools which serve these students.

The full report can be accessed here:

Wisconsin Budget Policy and Poverty in Education 2013

The full data will be posted within two days on our “Research” page.

Forward Institute to release Wisconsin School Report Card Study

The Forward Institute and State Senator Kathleen Vinehout will hold a Press Conference on Wednesday, December 5th at 10:00 am, in the Senate Parlor at the Wisconsin State Capitol to release a new study on the Wisconsin School Report Cards.

The study analyzed all available Report Card score data for Wisconsin Schools, and the results will have a significant impact on the statewide Education Policy discussion for the coming Legislative Session.  Representatives from the Forward Institute will be on hand to brief the press and public on the study findings and answer questions.

The study addresses critical links between poverty and education in Wisconsin public and non-traditional charter schools.

While the public is invited to the Press Conference on December 5th, Forward Institute will post the full study with all supporting data and references on this website and our Facebook page early on Wednesday, December 5th – BEFORE the Press Conference at the Capitol.

To receive the report before it is released to the public, follow Forward Institute on this website, Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/ForwardInstitute), or Twitter                        (@ForwardInstWI).

Link to Press Conference Invitation