PRI’s Lance Izumi on Charter Schools & School Choice

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This week on The Learning Curve, Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute discussed the state of K-12 education reform, including declining test scores, COVID-related learning loss, and the growth of education bureaucracies and non-instructional staffing. He reflected on charter schools, school choice, and how knowledge of U.S. history and civics should be taught. Lance talked about efforts to rebuild coalitions to promote charter schools, and the impact of two recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings on expanding private and religious school choice for families.

Stories of the Week: Cara discussed a story in The Boston Globe about how colleges in Massachusetts are generally doing a poor job preparing teachers to instruct children in scientifically proven methods for learning to read. Gerard cited a story in The Hechinger Report on the many ways that the U.S. could improve math education.

Lance Izumi is Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He has written and produced books, studies, and films on a wide variety of education topics. He is the author of The Corrupt Classroom: Bias, Indoctrination, Violence, and Social Engineering Show Why America Needs School Choice (2017) and Choosing Diversity: How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children (2019). Lance received his juris doctorate from the University of Southern California School of Law, his master of art in political science from the University of California at Davis, and his bachelor of arts in economics and history from the University of California at Los Angeles.

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The Learning Curve with Lance Izumi, June 14, 2023

[00:00:00] Cara: Hey, Learning Curve. It is Cara Candal back from a little respite, perhaps a little bit of an illness. But I’ve recovered and I’m happy to be back with my friend Gerard. And grateful for a good friend, Charlie Chieppo stepping in. Gerard, I think you can probably still hear it a little bit in my voice, but I had no voice last week when we were supposed to do this together. It was so weird. Has that ever happened to you?

[00:00:45] GR: I’ve never lost my voice, although my wife, when I told her about your situation, prayed that the same Learning Curve, loss of voice bug might come my way.

[00:00:57] Cara: My family was so happy. I’m telling you, my kids actually, my six-year-old said to me like on Saturday or Sunday when my voice started coming back, my six year-old said, ‘Mommy, I liked it lots better when you couldn’t yell up the stairs.’ That’s cause Oh yeah. I’m always like screaming from the kitchen to the next floor, like, get down here and do something. So. Mm-hmm. Yeah. No. But it’s one of the few times that has happened to me in my adult life. But, you know, happy to be back and very happy to be chatting with you. We’re coming up on the end of the school year here. You guys are probably done right? You’re further south.

[00:01:33] GR: Yes. We ended, let me see, last Friday was the last day for both of the young Robinsons, and it was graduation at the high school graduation at the middle school level. So, people out and about, about enjoying campus. Yeah,

[00:01:48] Cara: Yea, well, we’re prepping for two graduations this week, kindergarten and third grade, two key inflection points in the Montessori cycle. So, Gerard, I have to dive in because I’m very, I, I’m very excited about my story of the week. Like I might be more excited about this story of the week than others.

[00:02:11] GR: OK, so what you got?

[00:02:12] Cara: Well, it’s not nice, so like, forgive me, the so, of taking pleasure in the pain of the commonwealth that I call home, because I really do love the state of Massachusetts, but I think sometimes state of Massachusetts, like, like anybody, any place anything needs a little bit of tough love. And today Naomi Martin of the Boston Globe is giving it. So, a refrain that we have talked about on this show many a time is that Massachusetts is well known for being number one for some. And, um, that is, we, we are very successful. We have in the past had very successful system of accountability, which some are trying to dismantle. We have had we do very well on international exams. We’ve talked about this just a couple weeks ago, but, but not all children do. And if you have been living under a rock, you might not know that early literacy is just the huge conversation in this country right now. As much as we talk about school choice, early literacy policy, based in the science of reading, is sweeping the states in a really positive way in no small part due to the hard work, I have to give a shout-out to my colleagues at ExcelinEd, especially the wonderful Dr. Kymyona Burk. She headed Mississippi’s Reading Revolution, which was modeled on the good work that had been done in Florida years prior. And what we’re talking about, Gerard is of course helping states create policies that teach children in methods that are based in the evidence that we have.

[00:03:41] Cara: We call it the science of reading, about how kids actually learn to read now. Now, I didn’t grow up using anything based in the science of reading. I was in the 1980s, what they call a whole language kid. Luckily that worked out okay for me, but for a lot of kids it doesn’t, for a lot of kids it doesn’t. Now what does this have to do with today in Massachusetts?

[00:04:01] Cara: Well, today in the Globe under the, the auspice of this series called The Great Divide, which is just amazing, it’s really excellent investigative reporting, the headline of this article is ‘Massachusetts fails to prepare educators on how to teach reading in an evidence-based manner new report shows.’ So of course, this is talking about a report hot off the presses from our friends NCTQ, an organization headed by Heather Peske, who used to work at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, doing teacher, teacher quality among other things.

[00:04:33] Cara: And what this report does is it brings to light a really important problem when it comes to how we implement the science of reading across states in districts and in schools. And that is, it’s all good to say, okay, we’re gonna pass a policy that says you have to use curricular materials that are based in phonics.

[00:04:54] Cara: Takes a while, but we get the bad textbooks out of the classrooms and we get you good ones in. Okay. We have to make sure that we’re assessing students, so we’re catching things like dyslexia early on. Those are policies that you can put on the books. And you either do them or you don’t do them. But there’s a stakeholder that needs to get on board in a really big way for these policies to make a difference. And that is institutions of higher education, because they produce the vast majority of teachers in this country, and institutions of higher education are in large part responsible for propagating myths about how to teach children to read or about how children learn to read. It turns out Massachusetts, they’re continuing to do that, and it’s not good for kids.

[00:05:37] Cara: So I just want to read a couple things. The report says, when it comes to how we teach teachers reading instruction, it ranked institutions nationwide. The state of Massachusetts scores thirty-fifth. Thirty-fifth! We love to be number one. We are Thirty-fifth for teaching new educators how to instruct students on phonics vocabulary and other core components of reading.

[00:06:02] Cara: And this is of a review of 19 college programs in Mass. that was expanded public-private, undergraduate, and graduate programs for future elementary school teachers. So, I mean, this is huge. It goes on to say that three quarters, fully three-quarters of the programs that were reviewed, promoted practices that are criticized by cognitive scientists as running counter to the science, let me say that word again, the science of learning. It promotes bad reading habits. And this is all according to NCTQ’s reporting. This is really important. NCTQ is a very reputable organization and I’d have to say Boston University, where I was on faculty for a little bit, received a D, received a D on the report card.

[00:06:49] Cara: There were only like two Massachusetts institutions that were in the A-B range. Why does this matter so much? It matters because, as I said at the outset, Gerard, if we are not effectively teaching kids to read, if we’re not effectively training educators to teach kids to read, then we are by definition leaving some number of students behind.

[00:07:09] Cara: You can guess who they are. They’re students who have special needs. They are students with unidentified learning needs, dyslexia, other conditions that make it difficult for children to learn how to read, which makes phonics education all the more important. And they’re also, of course, children who are coming from homes where their parents haven’t learned to read effectively, probably because of the education system that they went through.

[00:07:32] Cara: So, this is really huge and it really shines a light on one of the reasons why when you look for example, at NAEP scores, in a place like Boston compared to the state, that our lower socioeconomic status communities in the state of Massachusetts are the ones that are more likely to not be serving kids well in this regard. I give you, again, as I said a million times, only 33% of kids in Boston were proficient in reading on NAEP recently.

[00:08:01] Cara: So, this is huge. I am happy and excited about this report because I am so thankful for the push. It’s incredibly important to be transparent about these things, to lay these things out there. I will say that I think that under current leadership at DESE important changes are underway in the Boston public schools especially. I will give BU credit for answering to this report’s critiques by saying, ‘We’re aware of the problem and we’re fixing it,’ but not all of the institutions surveyed for this had that attitude. And I’m so happy that we are putting this in a major media outlet so that parents and others can see just exactly all of the things that go into providing a high-quality education for all kids. So, I’m gonna take a breath. I’ve now used up all of my remaining voice with this anxiety. Go ahead, Gerard, I know you’re thinking a lot about this topic, too.

[00:08:57] GR: Massachusetts is thirty-fifth?

[00:09:00] Cara: Thirty-firth out of all of the states in how we train our educators, the extent to which we prepare them to teach based in the science of reading, thirty-firth.

[00:09:08] GR: So, if you were to ask me that question, where does Massachusetts rank? And we had bet, let’s say a beer or wine, you know, we buy the other person a drink, I would’ve lost that bet.

Cara: Oh yeah you would.

[00:09:28] GR: I would have put  would’ve Massachusetts in the top 10. Yep. Just, just easily. And if I would’ve said ninth or 10th, that was because I was trying to hedge my bet. I am shocked that the state with the smartest city in America, being Boston, Pioneer Institute headquartered there, I just, I don’t know what to say because I’m just shocked that it’s so low. We’ve talked on our show with each other about some of the challenges with reading across the board. We’ve had experts on here to do that, but that’s, that’s, that’s just not great. Now, you may not have this number in front of you, but where did Virginia fall?

[00:09:57] Cara: Ooh, I don’t know because I was so concentrated on Massachusetts. Yeah, but you know what I think we can do, I think we can maybe link in the show notes. We can link to this NCTQ report, which, it’s very well done.

[00:10:10] GR: So, I’d like to see where Virginia is, because in the last two legislative sessions governor Glenn Youngkin and Secretary of Education, they made big reforms. So, for example, in 2022 we had bipartisan support for the Virginia Literacy Act, and the whole goal was to say, if you wanna take Virginia in the lead as regards, you know, uh, improving early literacy for young people. And so, beginning in 2024-25 school year, which is really only next year, every student in kindergarten to grade three will receive core literacy instruction based upon, as you said, scientifically based reading research. Every family in Virginia will have access to online resources to support their children at home. Possibly, one of the byproducts of what we learned from COVID, every teacher in Virginia will use evidence-based literacy curriculum. Every reading specialist, a group of people we often forget in consultation, of course, for classroom teachers will coordinate, oversee, intervention, and last to every division in Virginia, we call them divisions in Massachusetts, other states, we call them school districts, but every division will develop a literacy plan.

[00:11:17] GR: So, this was a really big push because Virginia arguably one of the top 10 states in terms of academic outcomes for students across the board. We definitely have our challenges with subgroups, but that is a big move for us. And so, I’m glad to see that happen, but I’m just shocked to hear that number for your state and in fact your former institution, place where you earned your doctorate as well.

[00:11:41] Cara: I hope it’s a wake-up call my friend. It’s a really. Really important one because I mean, we are the, you know, like the home of higher education in our country. Yeah. So, I strongly encourage our listeners to learn as much as you can about this and reading this report will be a great first step.

[00:12:02] GR: Our first public high school as we know it Boston Latin, obviously in Boston, Harvard University. Yeah. In 1636, you’ve got 250,000 students and 40 universities in the greater Boston area. Yeah. So, if your story was about reading then, you know, what we did well, because my story is about math. Yay math.

[00:12:24] GR: So here’s a question. When you receive an online invitation to participate in either an online survey or a phone call survey, if they say, click this button, we’ll call you. How often do you say yes?

[00:12:36] Cara: never. Yeah. Unless the only surveys I participated in are like graduate students trying to finish a dissertation.

[00:12:43] GR: I know as well, and I would say mine, if I know the organization, I’m more likely to say yes, but overall I don’t. So, I’m saying listeners upfront, I am guilty of what I’m getting ready to talk about right now. So The Hechinger Report, which many of our listeners read, there’s really interesting article and it’s by Liz Willman and Noble Ingram, and it’s called How Can We Improve Math Education in America? Help us count the ways. I’m a big fan of surveys and the work I do now in my previous job at the Center for Advance Opportunity in Washington, DC where we interviewed 18,000 people roughly covering every ZIP Code in the United States. I like reading reports on surveys where real people have an opportunity to weigh in.

[00:13:32] GR: And so there were 465 readers who responded to Hechinger’s survey about education. And it’s really a part of the organization’s big push to talk about America’s math crisis. And one of the people who responds to that is named Dixie Ross. It’s such a cool name. Dixie said, listen, I’ve taught every level of math in Texas that’s been offered in public schools, and I’ve trained hundreds, not 50, hundreds of AP calculus teachers in summer institutes. She’s been doing this for 40 years and over a 40-year period she has developed really strong views about what’s wrong with America’s math education process. And when they asked her a question, here’s her quote, she said, listen, quote, there are kids who can be successful in math, but the opportunities are not there for them.

[00:14:23] GR: And she went further. She said, I wish I had a magic bullet solution, but I haven’t found it. And I’ve been looking for one for—drum roll—four decades. So when one of your top teachers in the state, arguably someone who would be put into a national category of math expert says, I’ve been looking for this for 40 years, you know you have trouble. So she went on to say, we’ve gotta do a better idea of being honest about who can learn, who can’t. She’s a good believer that all students can, but she says, guess what? We have students who do not. Same reason. You mentioned some of the subgroups who aren’t doing well in reading.

[00:15:00] GR: We know students who have dyslexia, students who have special needs. We know students who are in poverty. Lot of challenges with reading. But what she said was, that isn’t why we shouldn’t do it. That’s the reason we should double down and do more. So, this report in part was put together based upon a survey from a recent report, in fact, a joint report from Education Trust and Equal Education Opportunity Schools.

[00:15:27] GR: And they were interviewing students on STEM subjects, something you and I are working on right now with Pioneer on a report. And what they identified is that, listen, two out of five black or Latino students who were in the report say they have a passion for studying STEM and they wanna go to college. But guess what, only 3 percent were enrolled in AP STEM classes. Now we know if you’re not in AP STEM classes in high school, not that you can’t go to a four-year institution, you can, you can enroll into a community college, technical college, junior college, but the opportunity of going to a BU or some of the other institutions in the Boston area are pretty slim.

[00:16:07] GR: 3%, even though two of five said they were interested. Now, you couple that. With the issue of learning loss and recent NAEP scores, largest declines that we’ve had that were recorded, we have a number of challenges. So, few weeks ago, we had a conversation about my trip to Germany and to Norway to learn lessons about what they’re doing to change its criminal justice system, particularly what do we do with people who are in prison? And I think even since then, we’ve had a conversation about international test scores and the fact that Massachusetts one time identified itself as a country to participate in an OECD comparison, which you guys did really well in. Well, let’s look at another international comparison.

[00:16:52] GR: Our 15-year-olds today ranked behind 30 countries and one region on one international test, while our fourth graders trailed 14 other countries in another subject. This is a problem for us because when we say we are the best, we compare ourselves to other nations. I would say role alike nations, not the case.

[00:17:16] GR: So, one of the readers who completed the surveys raised the question: Are there schools that replicate best practices from countries like Japan and Finland and demonstrate best outcomes? The answer to that reader, whom I don’t know, is yes. Paul Peterson and a group of scholars who are at the education policy and governance group at Harvard School of Government, they’ve been talking about this for years. I would say, look at their research. But here’s my takeaway. I believe what Dixie’s saying. We have a challenge. We know we can meet it. But we often say, well, can these kids really matter? So, let’s talk about someone who was one of Ross’s students. Her name was Carla Brak.

[00:17:59] GR: She’s a former [00:18:00] student of Dixie. And she was at the time was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She was living in Texas and she was in one of Ross’s classes. After she left class, really after she left school she had to work at nights at a local McDonald’s. And it’s worth noting that approximately one of eight every adults in the United States at one point has worked for McDonald’s. So, she’s one of those people. And she worked really hard and she loved the math and she thought she was good in the subject. But guess what? She fell asleep in class. She works late. And so, Ross said, rather than saying, because she’s undocumented, because she’s a woman, she can’t do well in math and she’s got a job, I too bad she’s sleepy.

[00:18:40] GR: She said, no. I’m not gonna give up on her. She pushed her and she pushed her in class. And Ross is a believer that you should not pass from one math class to another. If you fail it, guess what? You don’t pass go. Not that you go to jail, you stay in class, if I’m using a Monopoly example, and she said you stay in until you pass it, then you move forward.

[00:19:01] GR: Well, guess what? Carla stayed on board. Ross pushed her to apply for scholarships. Brayton, who’s now 29, she’s a civil engineer. She’s a mother of two. She’s the first in her family, like I am, to attend college. She graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2017, and she is a homeowner.

[00:19:19] GR: You and I both know as homeowners, one of the five best ways to increase the economic wealth of your children is through homeownership. So, she’s fallen into that category in one generation. She says she loves her school. She says she wouldn’t be successful without a Ross. So, my takeaway from this is one, readers, both educators and non-educators asked a lot of questions about basic things. Why can’t we make this happen? We leave the story with an example of someone who made it,happen. We know a lot of people can, but let’s be real clear: This is not a knowledge problem. This is not a money problem. In some ways, it’s a political problem, but in some ways it’s really an expectations problem.

[00:20:04] GR: If we think we’re going to remain a first-world country to compete against people where math is almost like a worldview or part of your DNA, we’re fooling ourselves. We have to get serious about math, and this is the wake-up call for math, as yours was for reading. Your thoughts?

[00:20:21] Cara: My thoughts are this, like exactly what you just said, that last sentence. We need a wake-up call for math, like reading uh, NAEP results should have been a wake-up call, but what’s really exciting to me, what I’ve heard some folks talking about in the space is, is there a corollary to the science of reading for math? Now, scientifically speaking, I don’t know that there is, I’m sure we’ll be learning lots more in the near future about how kids learn math and it might not be the same for every child.

[00:20:48] Cara: I mean, we have certain scientifically based methods now that we can understand just like how the brain process is language, right? Math is a language. How does the brain process numbers [00:21:00] and how should that translate? Not only into like how we train teachers, etc., but also how should that translate into the curricular materials that we use? How should that translate into the courses that we have kids take, what do they really need to know to be successful in life? Are we teaching the right things? Are we expecting the right things? And I want to just pick up on one last point, which is, if you can’t master the content, you don’t get to go on to the next.

[00:21:25] Cara: We have to start using that mentality in all things, whether it’s math, reading, etc., that being retained is not a punishment. Being a retained is our investment in you, child, to make sure that you can do the things we know are going to help you to flourish in life. And we have this very negative mentality about what it means to have to do over. Well, you failed. I’m retaining you. No, this is about support. And so, I love that your article really highlighted an educator who believes in that philosophy.

Gerard, as always, we could go on forever, but you know, we’ve got our guest waiting and you know who it is. It’s a friend that we’ve had on the show before.

We are going to be speaking with Lance Izumi. He’s a lot of fun. And he’s the Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. So, Gerard, if you can just hang tight, we’re going to bring Lance in, OK?

GR: Will do.

[00:23:05] Cara: Hey, Learning Curve listeners, as promised, we have Lance Izumi with us. He is the Senior Director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He’s written and produced books, studies, and films on a wide variety of education topics. He’s the author of the 2017 book, The Corrupt Classroom: Bias, Indoctrination, Violence, and Social Engineering Show Why America Needs School Choice. And the 2019 book, choosing Diversity, How Charter Schools Promote Diverse Learning Models and Meet the Diverse Needs of Parents and Children. Lance received his jurist doctorate from the University of Southern California School of Law, his master of Art and Political Science from the University of California at Davis, and his Bachelor of Arts in Economics and history from the University of California at Los Angeles.

[00:23:51] Cara: Lance, welcome back to the show.

[00:23:54] Lance: It’s great to be on the show with you, Cara and with Gerard. It’s a real pleasure to be with all of you.

[00:24:00] Cara: Yeah, we’re so happy to have you back. Now, we were just talking about this the last time you joined us, I think it was before the pandemic, it was early 2020 before like things got nuts and obviously we are living in a different K-12 landscape in a variety of ways now. So, let’s level set here,  Lance. What’s your thinking these days on what’s going on, especially with, as Gerard and I were just talking about at the outset of the show, NAEP reading and math results and what we know about achievement gaps. How would you grade the state of our country right now when it comes to education?

[00:24:40] Lance: Well, first of all, I mean, what a huge difference in the world from 2020 to you and I and Gerard talking right now in 2023. I mean, the world really has changed, especially in education. And, you have to say that you look at all the research that’s been coming in about the state of education in the United States, and, the grades have to be, if not an F certainly a D minus in many places.

[00:25:05] Lance: Overall, you know, you’re seeing huge drops in the NAEP scores as you pointed out, Cara, in eighth grade math proficiency, for example, you went from 34%, which about a third of kids at the eighth grade level who are proficient in mathematics in 2019, but in 2022, that dropped from a third down to only a quarter, 26% of eighth graders proficient.

[00:25:27] Lance: So huge drops in proficiency. You had drops in reading as well. So, you have the NAEP scores showing a real decline. And then you also have research from places like Harvard and Stanford, which just came out with a joint study showing big learning losses in both reading and mathematics.

[00:25:44] Lance: Quarter of a year in reading, half a year in mathematics. And in some places like New Haven, Connecticut or St. Louis or Richmond, Virginia, you’re seeing a year and a half of learning loss. what’s interesting is—and unfortunate—is that that learning loss is not selective in the sense that it’s only about you know, pertains to a certain demographic.

[00:26:04] Lance: It actually applies all across the board. Virtually all demographics have experienced learning loss, and I think that when you look at that huge learning loss, and it’s not just things at the margin, these are massive losses. And I think that parents really realized what was going on in their children’s school.

[00:26:24] Lance: Partly because, the schools closed. There was remote distance learning. Parents could see what was going on, and they could see that what was going on was ineffective. In many cases, the school’s academic rigor fell through the pandemic. You had schools not requiring as much homework, not allowing kids to take tests multiple times, not requiring final projects, etc. etc. And then, and allowing passing grades to be lowered so that more kids passed. Now, I think that what this ended up — it’s unsurprising that when you have a lack of rigor in the classroom, you end up with these terrible test results, like on the NAEP and the research that Harvard did.

[00:27:04] Lance: And so, parents in response to that, I think, you know, have done the commonsensical thing is that they voted with their feet. First of all, they’ve left the public school system in droves. You have a million to 2 million. kids who have left the public school system have unenrolled in the public schools during the pandemic.

[00:27:22] Lance: You’ve seen an increase in charter school enrollment because the charter schools were much more nimble in being able to address the requirements of the pandemic. They were much more adept at engaging technology for the use of their kids. And so, you saw an increase about a quarter million in charter schools.

[00:27:39] Lance: And I think you’re also seeing, you know, parents who are just simply sick and tired of the way the regular public schools are being run. And so, you’re having basically what I call the Great Parent Revolt. They’re not only sick of the poor performance, but they’re also very concerned about what’s being taught to their kids. They want to see what’s been going on because of the distance learning and looking over the shoulders of their kids. And so therefore, you’re seeing parents who are attending school board meetings, but also running for school boards and winning in many places. And that’s a huge phenomenon that you didn’t see before the pandemic.

[00:28:10] Lance: And so, this Great Parent Revolt, which I talk about in my new book by that title, the Great Parent Revolt, is all about, you know, how these grassroots parents are rising up. And I think that what they’re pushing for is for more individualized learning because they see that the one size fits all, that the schools have pushed all these years, and especially during the pandemic is not working. And so therefore you’re seeing, I think also too, this, that’s one of the reasons you’re seeing a huge increase in homeschooling during the pandemic the proportion of homeschoolers in this country has doubled, and that you’ve seen, especially in minority communities, you’ve seen a huge increase, like, for example, amongst African-Americans the proportion of homeschoolers has gone from 3% of African-American families to 16% during the pandemic, a five-fold increase. And so, you’re seeing this whole realignment of education so that people are no longer satisfied with the old model and the old ways of doing things. And they are much more likely to look at for something new because they realize that what’s at stake is really the future of their children. And that they cannot entrust it to a system that has so failed so many kids. Largely, greatly.

[00:29:30] Cara: So you’re giving some really good examples of like what we know parents are doing. They’re, choosing homeschooling, they’re choosing charter schools, they’re leaving the system. I’m really interested in the one about, you know, they’re running for school board. Without getting into sort of the culture war aspect of what’s get going on with many school boards in our country right now, I’m really curious about your thoughts on, if you’re a parent and you want to continue to use your local public school, but you are all for improving it, and you’ve seen things throughout the course of the past couple of years that have really left you feeling dismayed, what kind of advice, what I what is it that you would want those parents to do? What conversations, what should they, what policies should they be promoting at the local level and, what would you advise schools to do as they take in what these parents are saying?

[00:30:17] Lance: I think that’s a very important question, Cara, really parents and these new school board members should be looking at what really works. I mean, there is evidence of what works. I mean, yes, there’s a lot of bad news. But if you just look around, there’s also some good news too, and good news that can be replicated and scaled up.

[00:30:40] Lance: I mean, you just have to look at an example like Mississippi, which had one of the worst reading scores of in the country. It was the caboose of the country for so many years when it came to reading, for example. And yet Mississippi in the mid-2010s decided to totally revamp the way they taught reading. And they focused on the science of reading, which means focusing on phonemic awareness, which is the attaching of sounds to letters and then phonics, which is then grouping those sounds together to form words. And that’s a proven way of teaching reading. Because Mississippi changed the way they taught reading, Mississippi went from being at the bottom of the country when it came to reading scores to then being above average the 21st, and amongst low-income kids, they went from being last in the country to being second in the country. And I think that’s the kind of thing that local school board members can look at.

[00:31:35] Lance: A recent study just came out by the National Council and Teacher Equality, a great study, which  —

[00:31:41] Cara: Yeah, we were talking about it right before we brought you in, Lance. Yes. Well continue —

[00:31:45] Lance: Well, you know, it’s such a great study. We should talk about it as much as possible because you know, what it showed is that more than half of the states, or teacher training programs receive D minus or failing grades because they are actually focused on reading techniques, teaching, reading in ways that are not scientific, that have resulted in these poor test scores. And so, we need to look at the ways that are effective. And this National Council of Teacher Quality study looks at those effective teacher training programs and lays out recommendations for both state lawmakers, but also school board members, people at the district level, what they can do in order to implement those types of teaching methods into their schools so that their kids, especially if they’re performing really poorly in reading that they can be able to have that type of success that Mississippi was able to exhibit.

[00:32:44] Lance: And so, I think that there’s real hope, it’s going to require a lot of will and strength and fortitude amongst the. People who are elected to the school boards in order to fight against the education establishment that has grown up a around these failed programs. And so there’s a lot of special interest groups and unless you are able to fight and fight back and implement those effective programs, you’re not going to get the results.

[00:33:08] Lance: And so, I think that’s one of the real important things. I would also say one last thing about what parents should consider is that. You know, I wrote a book uh, a couple years ago called A Kite in a Hurricane No More, and I co-authored it with a young woman named Mia Giradano, who actually at the time was a high school student.

[00:33:27] Lance: And she and I authored this book because I found her story so compelling. she was diagnosed with a brain injury. And so therefore, because of that she was not able to read or speak very well or to do math. So, she was not able to do well in a conventional school. And so, her mother pulled her out and through homeschooling she was able to access a innovative Canadian program that basically retrained the weak part of her brain to be as strong as the strong parts.

[00:33:56] Lance: And therefore, she was able to go from not being able to read to, after four years of this Canadian program, during homeschooling, to be able to read 50 books during the summer. And so, I think that’s the kind of thing that you can achieve if you have the flexibility that homeschooling gives. And then if you look at programs like Florida, which gives parents funding in order to pursue these types of programs. You see in Florida a lot of private schools that take that type of funding offering this innovative Canadian program that was so successful for my co-author.

[00:34:29] Cara: That’s really fascinating. I’m gonna have to go back and read. So now I have one last question, Lance, because another thing that’s happened since we last spoke is that there’s been this huge infusion of cash into the system. And we know that a lot of school districts are going to be running out of their federal ESSER funds coming up in 2024. I think we’re going to see some real instability, especially in terms of hiring when, districts and states made questionable decisions about how to spend those funds.

[00:34:55] Cara: But the question I have for you, because I know you’ve thought a lot about this is how these sort of bureaucracies that have—not sort of, let’s clarify that—how the bureaucracies that have grown up around education seem to have been more and more so in the past couple of decades, things like non-instructional staffing, a lot of which I think one could argue was important. Like I think a lot of, we, we know that some teachers were saying like, the support staff that I have in my classroom are going to make the difference to me closing gaps for kids, etc. But that’s not to say that all of this instructional staffing and all of the things that we’re sort of piling on, not just at the school level, but I would say even more so at the district level, how are they affecting our ability to educate kids while we pour more and more cash into the system, but get no return seemingly on that investment in terms of academic outcomes. What do you think?

[00:35:54] Lance: I think that’s a really good point, good question, great question, cara. Because, well first of all, if you look, and you mentioned this growth in the bureaucratic states within education, public education, it’s been huge. I mean, you look back in 2000, for example, versus 2019, you know, it’s about 20 years and student enrollment growth during that time period went up about 7.5 percent. But if you look at the growth in district administrators, it grew 87 percent, more than 10 times the growth of the number of students. And so, you know, the question is, and then, you know, you mentioned that, well, maybe some of those administrators may actually, or non-teaching personnel, maybe they’re doing some good things, and maybe they are. But here’s the question: What percentage of those new administrators, new non-teaching folks are actually doing things that actually improve the performance of those students? I’ll take an example from my book, The Great Parent Revolt. I profiled a woman named Ezra Nomani, who’s a parent in Virginia, and she wanted to have more transparency about how her schools were spending money. And so, she actually filed 200 public records requests for various school districts for her area in Virginia in order to find out what kind of contracts were they signing for increasing the number of consultants who are providing diversity, equity, and inclusion services to the districts.

[00:37:21] Lance: I mean, without getting into whether DEI is a good or bad thing, one of the things we know is that it is caused a huge growth industry in DEI in the schools and in districts and in higher education. And so, what she found out was that there were lots and lots of contracts being let out for these DEI consultants and that it had created in the words of Ezra Nomani, a woke-industrial complex.

[00:37:48] Lance: And so, you know, I think that again, you have to look at how the money is being spent. And,we talk about will money make a difference? Well, is spending money again, without going into the right or wrong of DEI, is spending money on DEI going to improve your reading methodologies? Is it gonna improve the way you teach math? Maybe, but most likely not. And so therefore, is that money being well spent in those areas? I also think that you have to look at again, how these monies are being spent. you look at Pioneer Institute, for example, has been in the forefront along with the Pacific Research Institute, and we’ve often cooperated on issues involving Common Core.Well, that was a federal intrusion. That was and forced states to spend money on a new set of standards called Common Core, which, just before the pandemic, a study, a federal study was released saying that math and reading actually went down because of Common Core. And so, again, it’s how that money is being spent.

[00:38:47] Lance: And finally, I’d mentioned that this federal intrusion into the state and local policy making in education has been a disaster when it comes to school safety. And, you know, it’s resulted in the weakening of school discipline policies. And you see school crime violent incidents, for example campuses reaching a million, just about a million before COVID. And we all know that since COVID, the safety situation has worsened in schools across this country. And I’ll leave you with just one final story with about that. In my book, The Homeschool Boom, I profile a mom whose son was put on a kill list by another student. And because of the lax of discipline policies at that school the only thing that happened was there was a restorative justice conference between the perpetrator, the victim, and a school personnel. And nothing ever happened to the perpetrator, hence the mom pulled the kid out of school and is now homeschooling her child. So that goes to show you, you know, that this growth and bureaucracy growth in intrusion by higher government levels has not resulted oftentimes in anything  positive.

[00:40:00] GR: Let me follow up on something Cara had mentioned with math and science. I’m gonna take mine to history and civic education. So, we know that the recent NAEP scores for civics was not great. In fact, it’s gone down pretty quickly. And so, we think about our American tapestry. When we think about our civic values, it’s pretty interesting that when you look at NAEP results, they’re only disappointing, but it raises questions about, you know, our founding documents.

[00:40:30] GR: So when I think of the Civil War, when I think about American slavery, when I think about the two world wars as well as the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement, all of that, having to link one way or another to the founding documents we have to teach students about basic civics and shared American ideas. Are we doing that? If so, are we doing it well or not? What are your thoughts?

[00:40:52] Lance: Well, Gerard we’re certainly doing it very, very poorly shockingly poorly in this country. if you reference the results on the National Assessment for Educational Progress tests in history and in civics, I mean, the proficiency rates are just shocking. You look at the NAEP civics results, only 22% of the kids who were tested were proficient in civics even worse, way worse in history where only 14% of the kids were proficient in history. What that means is that these kids lack oftentimes a basic understanding of history, American history, and world history.

[00:41:29] Lance: And so therefore how can you expect these young people to end up growing up to become citizens who are going to be able to make those informed choices about their leadership. Who’s going to represent them, who are going to make those best decisions for this country when they don’t know the basics of how their own government works, how their history has been formed, and, you know, to be able to draw the lessons from that.

[00:41:56] Lance: One of the problems we’re facing in America right now is that too much of the education establishment is more concerned with infusing ideology into the classroom as opposed to making sure that the kids actually understand the workings of civics and their government and, you know, the basic facts of American and world history and when you look at, and again, without getting into, you know, the specifics about these things, when you look at things like The 1619 Project pushed by the New York Times that is now you know, in so many schools, and you look for example, in my own home state o of California where we just issued a history and social science curriculum framework, which, shockingly referred to the communist China’s Great Leap Forward, which caused the greatest famine in world history with 43 million people dying because of these communist policies during Mao.

[00:42:51] Lance: But referring to that as simply being a time of turmoil disorder and unrest without mentioning the fact that tens of millions of people were killed by communist policies. I mean, I think that’s the kind of thing that produces unfortunately a historically illiterate person who is not going to be able to then make the best decisions when it comes to looking at our current confrontations with communist China, for example. And, say this too, and you know, this idea that America is an inherently sinful country inherently racist or whatever you want to call it. And that we have to continue to deal with that is, I think, just simply wrong.

[00:43:30] Lance: I mean, if you look in my case, for example, my grandfather was interned in a camp in Arkansas that was built in a swamp during World War II, simply because he was Japanese. And it’s important to be able to talk about the good and the dark parts of American history, like the Japanese internment and slavery, I think it’s wrong to say that, you know, America is systemically sinful or racist. When you look at somebody like my own father who went from actually working on a plantation. My father actually worked on a sugar plantation, grew up working on a sugar cane plantation in Hawaii to then, you know, joining the United States Coast Guard, taking advantage of the GI Bill, getting his college education and becoming a landscape architect and then eventually becoming the head trail planner for Los Angeles County. That’s a success story. And that’s the type of story that doesn’t happen if you are to believe the narrative that is being pushed by the Left.

[00:44:30] Lance: And I, so I think that we need to look very critically at what’s going on in the classroom with these new type of curriculum standards. Look at other type of standards that are being proposed ,whether it is by Hillsdale College, for example, or that recent standards that have been adopted by South Dakota, which have been highly praised.

[00:44:50] Lance: And ultimately though, for parents who are worried about what’s going on in their classroom, it’s, the important thing is to really push for greatest school choice. Because, if you’re forced to go to a school that is not teaching history and civics, well then you should have a choice of going someplace else.

[00:45:09] GR: Well, Lance, first of all, thank you so much for sharing your family history with our listeners because there are probably a lot of people who had no idea about internment camps in Arkansas. I happen to know about them in part because a mentor of mine, in fact, who did her PhD  at Claremont University in Southern Cal met some of the people later in life. And some of them were at internment camps. And there were 16,000 Japanese Americans there between 1942 and 1945. And so, thanks for bringing that up. And then when you mentioned Mao, I’m thinking about one of our former guests who, who was on our show Jung Chang, who’s an international bestseller, who’s the author of Wild Swans, Three Daughters of China who talked about what it was like to be there with Mao.

[00:45:53] GR: So, thanks for connecting often the talk of it, but the lived experience. So let me actually shift to California. You and I are both uh, guys from California. California was a second state in the nation to create a charter law. Behind Minnesota there was a big push for charter schools. I had a chance to interview, I guess a year and a half ago, Yvonne Chan, who was one of the founders of one of the first charter schools in the country in a really tough ZIP Code in south Los Angeles. And she’s still talking about the great things we’ve done where even though we’re celebrating 30 plus years for charter schools, you’re in California, a very solidly blue state. Over the last five years, there’s been a really big shift in terms of bipartisan support for charters. Basically blue, bleeding away from charters. And I’m trying to figure out how do we build a wider coalitions to advocate for charters? Talk to us about what you’ve seen in California and through your own research.

[00:46:50] Lance: That’s a really good summary of what’s been happening about charters in general, but especially in California. Gerard as Californians everything in California seems to be going south and certainly things aren’t going the best for charter schools, at least when it comes to policy from Sacramento. You look before Gavin Newsom became governor, charter schools had bipartisan support. One of the biggest supporters of charter schools was actually Jerry Brown. And yes, he was always the person who Was the rock. You could not get anti-charter school legislation through Jerry Brown’s governor’s office because he would veto that stuff. And anti-charter forces in the legislature knew that, so they didn’t really push as much of that stuff. But now, because Gavin Newsom was endorsed by the California Teachers Association, our largest teachers’ union in this state, he has basically hued to the CTA’s anti-charter policies. And so, he signed legislation that is explicitly anti-charter. For example, early in his governorship, he signed a law that would give local districts greater power to stop the creation of charter schools.

[00:48:00] Lance: So, he had reasons in this bill such as, oh, if a charter is not in a community’s interest, a school board would have the power to prevent the establishment of a charter school. And so, you give these school boards in California, which are oftentimes with a pro-union majority, the power to stop charter schools, despite the fact that the kids in that district may be performing at very low levels and therefore need an alternative to the failure factories in the regular public school system here in California, they unfortunately at least in many districts are not getting that opportunity because the charter schools are simply not being allowed to form anymore.

[00:48:41] Lance: Newsom has also frozen funding for non-classroom-based charter schools. So, schools like you mentioned in the opening. I authored a book called Choosing Diversity, which is about model charter schools across the country. And one of the schools I profile in that book is a place called Classical Academy, which is in San Diego County, and it is part homeschool, part in-class instruction. And well, I would say that one of the important things to point out is that during COVID, while so many of the schools in California took a huge nosedive in performance of their students, Classical Academy actually had their students achievement rise during the pandemic. And this was across all demographic groups.

[00:49:25] Lance: And yet, because it is considered a non-classroom-based charter school, its funding was frozen by Newsom and the legislature, at least the majority of the legislature. And so therefore, I think that it’s really shocking that state that had been in the forefront of the charter school revolution has taken so many steps backwards and is actually undercutting those very types of schools that parents really want. And you look at the charter school waiting list, you look at the new types of innovations that are coming in charter schools andreally, it’s just a crying shame that uh, the is not more support in Sacramento for not just increasing, but simply, you know, equally funding these charter schools.

[00:50:11] Lance: I mean, a study just came out from the University of Arkansas under Patrick Wolf showing that charter schools and places like Los Angeles are hugely underfunded when they are compared to the regular public schools in LA Unified, for example. And that’s even with the fact that they basically have the very same demographics when it comes to race, ethnicity, low-income status, etc. And yet the charter schools, which are outperforming the regular public schools, are being underfunded compared to the regular public schools, which is again, hugely disappointing.

[00:50:45] GR: It’s so great to hear you talk about California and being a part of the early charter Revolution because it was in mentioning Jerry Brown.

I was a kid in the seventies when he was governor, the first go around and had a chance to meet him in his second iteration in D.C. at an event on parental choice. But, you know, it’s people like Gary Hart who’s a state senator, Democrat in California who sponsored the charter school bill, and so California to be so blue, so reformed, so ahead of the game to now come back.

[00:51:13] GR: It’s interesting and also glad you’re mentioning Gavin, because there are at least hints that he may throw his hat into the ring in 2024. So, if he does, I guess he’ll bring his charter school theme with him. Here’s the last question for you, and it’s got a lot to do about private school choice.

[00:51:29] GR: You’re one of the pioneers in helping us think about this, both as a scholar and an advocate. Since you were last on the show with us, Espinoza v Montana DOR became the law of the land, Carson v. Makin did the same. And there are the numerous, you know, school choice programs that have grown particularly in the last 24 months.Would you give us your view on the remarkable progress and growth of private school choice in the past few years?

[00:51:53] Lance: At least we’re going to end this podcast on something positive. It’s not going to be all gloom and doom. So yes, there is something really great going on in the education sector, and it’s something to smile about. Yes, as you mentioned, the U.S. Supreme Court has delivered some pro-school choice decisions over the last couple years or so, that plus the utter failure of the regular public schools to deal with COVID I think has combined to really create this groundswell of grassroots pressure on states to do something about the number of options that are available for parents to empower parents to be able to choose the best education that best meet the needs of their children.

[00:52:44] Lance: And I think that you see this in this slew of education savings account programs, these school choice programs that have been enacted over the last couple years, Iowa Utah, Florida, Arizona, West Virginia, Arkansas. I mean, some of those states that have been enacted, some wide ranging universal, actually universal school choice program. And I think that is what’s one of the things that I’m, I’m so pleased about and just makes me giddy, is that we’re not talking about pilot programs now, which are limited to only a few hundred kids or a few thousand kids. Gerard, I’m sure you remember like when all of us education reformers were so happy when Milwaukee had its first school choice program and it actually applied to only a few thousand kids.

[00:53:31] Lance: And that, right, and we were, that we, that was something to pop the champagne corpse about. But now we have states enacting full universal programs so that every parent and student has that opportunity to choose the best education that fits their needs. And I think that’s the thing that is just a massive Richter scale difference in what went on previously to what’s been going on just recently. And I think that augers so well for the direction of this country. And I think that you’re going to see even more states that are going to eventually enact those types of programs. I think, you know, again, this rise in homeschooling is just another way of implementing school choice, at least for parents.

[00:54:18] Lance: I mean, in those states like California, where, you know, the chances of getting a universal education savings account are about as likely as snow falling in Hawaii, you know, oh, I, I should say actually in Honolulu, because snow does fall, in the volcanoes up there. But, you know, it’s so, unlikely in a place like California, that parents, even in California are opting for school choice options like homeschooling. So that during the pandemic you had a doubling of the number of kids who are taking advantage of homeschooling in California.

[00:54:54] Lance: And so I think that you’re going to see, you know, an explosion of both legislation and an explosion of a continued explosion of homeschooling, because I think that one of the things that we can take a lesson from the pandemic is that when it’s not going back to the old model and that people are never going to just settle for a one size fits all program anymore, they want something that is individualized, that is personalized, and that actually makes a difference in their kids’ lives. And that is only through school choice. And I think the future is certainly bright when it comes to enacting those sorts of policies across this country.

[00:55:32] GR: Well, definitely appreciate ending on a great note. I also want to compliment this good note spirit in two ways for our listeners. Lance mentioned Pat Wolf, who’s also been on our show before, prolific author, also a person, him, Jay Green, and others, they’ve created a generation of scholars who are now decisions of research at think tanks and other places. So, as we’re thinking about scholars who write about school choice, about politics, remember lance. And you need to remember Lance, because Lance was writing about this going back to the ‘90s when it wasn’t a big issue when California was only the second state Lance and I remember the 1993 voucher initiative in California, soundly defeated in 2000 by the voters, 70 percent to 30 percent followed up in 2000 by another serious trouncing by the voters.

[00:56:22] GR: And yet today we’re talking about education savings accounts. When Lance was doing some of the early work on this, you don’t have ESAs without having to push for vouchers. And even though California twice said no to vouchers, Lance was on the cusp of helping us think about this. And so, let’s bring his research and his thoughts and ideas into the conversation. That’s number one. Number two, on a personal note, and I know Lance knows this story. In 1992-93, I was a Senate fellow in California. I worked for then California State Senator Bill Leonard, and I had gone to his office in part because he was an education leader, but I also was interested in trying to figure out how could we rebuild Los Angeles after the response to the verdict in the Rodney King case, I was a fifth grade teacher in in LA, city went on fire, all the things that we know. But we ended up putting together a build to focus on rebuilding Los Angeles. And I found Lance’s work early on the board Pacific Institute when he was doing some of the research helping me think about parental options, about opportunities. So Lance, I wanna say thank you for the years of work that you’ve done in the field. Oftentimes people are overlooked. You’re not, in my book. I want to thank you. Both Cara and I for joining us today and let us know what we can do to continue to further your work.

Lance: Well, thank you very much, Gerard, for those really kind words. I really appreciate that. Yes. You know, you and I have been in the trenches for a long, long time, and so it’s been great to be a partner with you, especially here in California. Going back to those early days, gosh, you know, you bring up State Senator Bill Leonard a good friend of mine and a great proponent for a lot of the  ideas we’ve discussed here on this podcast. And so, you know, I’m glad to be able to continue to partner with you as you continue your education reform efforts and I, I continue mine and, you know, I think that because of efforts like ours, plus the efforts of so many others who have been tilling the fields for so many years, we’re seeing the fruits of that labor now when it comes to school choice and other education reforms. And I think that while there is always that danger that uh, America backslides, there’s still hope for this country. And I think that people like you and Pioneer Institute, my institute, the Pacific Research Institute, we continue to give hope for the American people here.

[00:58:40] GR: Hear, hear! Thank you so much and until we  speak again, keep doing what you do. Take care.

[00:59:26] Cara: All right, listeners, it’s Tweet of the Week time. This one was, I think it was a really nice article from Education Next the tweet from Education Next that links to the article is Passing Universal Education Savings Accounts Is the Base Camp. Don’t Mistake It for the Peak. This was by our friend Garrett Ballengee, the Cardinal Institute in West Virginia talking about implementation in West Virginia. At some point I’d like to talk more Garrett, if you’re listening about, hmm, how we doing on Universal, that notion of universal and should we be going a little bit more slowly? I don’t know, showing my bias there. Gerard, next week we will be back. Maybe I will sound a little less like the legendary Kathleen Turner, but I’m kind of liking it. We’re going to be speaking with Eric Rossbach, and he is the Vice President and Senior council at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. We’ve had some great conversations with folks from the Becket Fund, but never Mr. Rossbach, so looking forward to it. Until then, Gerard, take care of yourself. Go home, like do some math tonight, you know, just challenge yourself. Take care.

GR: Sounds good.

Tweet of the Week