Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Alabama Accountability Act - the bright side

I flogged the Alabama Accountability Act a few days ago, and I've been turning it over in my head.  If I was to vote on it today, I would vote "no".  However, I am coming around to the idea of the act.  The reason I like the act: it gives a framework for starting an independent school in Alabama.

School Funding Framework for Innovation

Imagine this: a group of people capable of obtaining accreditation can start a school, and they know they can get $3,500 per year per student.  This is AWESOME!  There are so many ways to do low cost (or free), above average course delivery:

* Khan Academy
* Coursera
* Harvard Online Courses
MIT Online Courses
Stanford Online Courses

And 1000s more sites with online training, exercises and more.  With the online courses, a school could teach students to take charge of their education.  This school could also focus on partnering with local businesses to bring back apprenticeships.  Imagine the value of a school that delivered 4-hours per day of structured liberal arts training paired with practical real world apprenticeship programs.

Anyone willing to take this risk, would know the budget would guarantee: $3,500 / student / year.  Optimizing student improvement per dollar spent would be a good metric to start building an innovative education platform.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Retort to Del Marsh's Opinion of 'Alabama Accountability Act'

The shortsightedness of Del Marsh's summary of the "Alabama Accountability Act" misses many major points about the economics of education in Alabama.  In fact, he speaks of Alabama Education like he does not know the past, like he is an alien who landed on a planet looking to solve a problem.

The "Alabama Accountability Act" is not innovative.  It will not advance education of the state.  I could have predicted this bill 35 years ago during school integration.  The Act will have effects, but none of them will improve education.

Alabama Inequality of Schools is Due to Racism

Del Marsh begins his article with:
Image for a moment that you are a parent of a child forced to attend a public school with reading and math scores that rank at the bottom of the state ...
You know your child shows promise, but circumstances seem to conspire against putting them in a better learning environment. 
Then, he goes on for another two paragraphs about how we should rescue children from failing schools.  Little does Del Marsh realize, he is the one who puts kids in failing schools (as we all are).
Birmingham's "over the mountain schools" have world-class school systems that were explicitly created  to legally avoid integration.  Montgomery private schools are built for the same purpose.

We have an opportunity for equality with schools, and that is with true integration.  Until then, it is my belief that all plans such as the "Alabama Accountability Act" are more of the same.

Alabama Schools Have Competition

The competition to poor education is to move your family to a better school district.  In Alabama cities a family can move 2 - 3 miles and be in another school district.  Del Marsh should know.  He is zoned for Anniston City Schools, but he sent his children to Oxford City Schools.  Del Marsh found the competition and utilized it.

In Alabama, to move your family is much cheaper than attending a private school.  Often, it is a $600 rent versus $800 rent.

Private Schools Can Discriminate

Unlike public schools, private schools can discriminate.  This discrimination is not blatant, it is disparate.  They do this with entrance exams and higher tuition.

All types of entrance exams have been found to be racially discriminatory.  Just like the "Alabama Accountability Act", the entrance exams seem simple at face value.  Only when uncovering the statistical effects, does one realize the outcome.

Let's do some math on the $3500 tax credit. The tax credit is in arrears.  Any parent who wishes to send their child to private schools must first pay private school tuition for one year before receiving the tax credit.

The price for tuition and fees at Shades Mountain Christian School is $4,695 / year for one student plus a $500 signup fee, plus a $95 book fee.  Just to get started, we are talking about $5,290 / year.  The closest public transit to the school is the 31 express bus on MAX.  In research, this is the average cost of the average lower level private school.

90% of Birmingham City Schools are students who received free and reduced lunch.  The free and reduced lunch program is based on the federal poverty levels, which is $19,530 for a family of 3.  Since 90% of Birmingham City Schools students participate in free and reduced lunch, it is a fair assumption that the average family income for a Birmingham Student is around $19,530.  Assuming a standard deviation of +- $15,000, a majority of families will make less than $35,000 / year.  It will not be possible for the average family to pay $1,500 up front to get started.

Majority white private schools will remain majority white private schools.

Consequences of the Bill

* Subpar private schools will spring up chasing $3,500 / student tax credit.  Think for-profit colleges chasing federal govern backed student loans.  These private schools will minimize costs and set a tuition cost of $3,500.

* An industry for subprime high school student loans will spring up.  These industries will advance families $2,000 or $2,500 with a claim on the families $3,500 tax credit.

* Only people currently paying a private school bill will see a benefit.  Everyone else will just incur more costs.

How to Improve Schools

* Set a clear mission for the Alabama School system.  Teachers are trying to optimize for too many variables: college prep, paperwork, testing, teaching time, classroom time, etc.  Instead of adding days, and adding responsibility -- simplify.  Simplify the goal and simplify the process.

* Moneyball metrics for schools.  Schools have statistics on everything -- use them.  Use the statistics to find kids who change patterns early.  Use those statistics to intervene, and hold students accountable.

* Put Superintendents back in the classroom for 7 hours per week.  The unions are against this because it takes a teacher out of the class room, but who cares what the AEA says.  Superintendents need to remember what teaching is like.  Superintendents should be teachers first.

* Measure teachers on the grades of their students for all courses the students take.  Mrs. Frye told me: "There is not such thing as a math person and an English person.  Anyone can do anything."  Athletes are judged by a plus-minus differential while they are on the floor (i.e. when this athlete is on the floor, one with a positive differential means he increases leads).  Measure teachers the same way for students across all of their courses.  A math teacher should encourage English capabilities as much as math.  Measure teachers on a plus-minus system across all their students in all subjects.