Ep. 34: Reviewing the International School Choice and Reform Conference

February 20, 2018

In today’s episode of EdChoice Chats, Director of State Research and Policy Analysis Drew Catt chats with Research Assistant Mike Shaw about their experience at the International School Choice and Reform Conference. They talk about who was there, forthcoming research they got to preview and panels they watched or participated in.

Drew Catt: Hello. EdChoice’s Director of State Research and Policy Analysis Drew Catt here, and we’re back with the new EdChoice chat. In this episode, I’m joined by my research team colleague Michael Shaw. Mike?

Michael Shaw: Hey Drew. Great to be here, and happy to chat about a fantastic event we just returned from.

Drew Catt: Yes. As you said, we are here to discuss the International School Choice and Reform Conference. Now for me, this was the fourth iteration of this conference that I attended, but Mike, this was your first, I believe. Correct?

Michael Shaw: Yes. I was definitely the rookie on the team, and in the room often. A lot of great insight to be had from the conference, which was held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but definitely had an international flavor among education researchers and reformers.

Drew Catt: Yeah. I think part of that comes from looking at the geographic diversity of the conference committee, chaired by Robert Fox from the University of Hawaii, but also with committee members from University of Stockholm, from Portugal, Kennesaw State in Georgia, University of Arkansas, and as I said, all the way west to Hawaii. Yeah. So from my perspective, this is a nice academic conference that touches a little on methodologies, but overall it’s still fairly fun, and we don’t quite have the island vibe down on the lower part of Florida. It was still fairly relaxed for my opinion, although I still had my bow tie when I was presenting of course.

Michael Shaw: Of course.

Drew Catt: But yeah, what were your thoughts on how it felt?

Michael Shaw: Yeah. As a first time attendee, but also having been to a fair amount of conferences and events on behalf of EdChoice this past year, it was a really healthy mix, I thought, of size but also constructive feedback among presenters and panels. There was just a really interesting mix of researchers, but also parent advocates, coalition members, think tanks, both national and international, and just a really nice, diverse mix of people who were involved in education reform and policy, but that were able to give opinions and advice that you may not see in just a typical advocate conference, or a research conference by themselves.

Drew Catt: Yeah, it’s always nice to have that mix of academics and practitioners in the room. Let’s dive into some of the content. That first morning, on that Saturday the other week, personally I really liked a presentation by Dick Carpenter out of University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, some of his research that he did with Marcus Winters at Boston University. They were looking at how the students that leave charter schools and traditional public schools, when it’s not a structural move, that is not a move from, say, elementary to secondary school, or elementary to middle, middle to high, so to speak, but what was the result on the students that stayed? The cohort of remaining students. Yeah. Raised some interesting questions, and I’m looking forward to seeing that in full print hopefully later this year.

Michael Shaw: Yeah. I wasn’t able to attend that session, but having read the abstract and knowing some of the other research those presenters conduct, I assumed you had some interest in it for some of the work you’re doing here in Indiana for EdChoice.

Drew Catt: Yeah, and especially since I’d worked on a paper with Dick in the past. As much as we had talked on the phone and had traded emails, we’d never actually met in person. It’s kind of funny how that can happen within the world in which we live, that we’re constantly corresponding with some people that we have never met in person before.

Michael Shaw: Definitely. On that same day, there was someone I meet frequently and work with a lot, Ben Scafidi, shared a panel with me on fiscal issues in private school choice. For anyone in attendance, I’d have to just thank and give a shout out to you for being there. That was my first presentation on behalf of EdChoice. It was a great learning experience, and a really invigorating conversation following our very differing, but related presentations regarding finance and fiscal issues.

Drew Catt: Yeah. Your presentation is currently available on our website in brief form, not necessarily the updated and expanded version that you presented for the international conference.

Michael Shaw: Correct. I updated a tax-credit scholarship brief that Marty Lueken on our team and I’d co-authored last summer, summer of 2017. That was kind of a reaction piece to tax-credit scholarship issues that were reaching national media attention, but good old Washington had to go in and change the tax code, so we had to update the paper and presentation calculations for that. That was a great first crack, I thought, of presenting that data and information and receiving feedback. Hopefully, we can continue that sort of deep dive into tax policy related to tax-credit scholarships and see where it leads us.

Drew Catt: That’s interesting how that interplay works between what is done policy-wise at the federal level, and the implications for the tax-credit scholarship programs at the state level.

Michael Shaw: Definitely.

Drew Catt: Yeah. Then there was a nice lunch session featuring EdChoice CEO Robert Enlow, with representatives also from American Federation for Children and ExcelinEd, Halli Faulkner and Adam Peshek being those two respective in order.

Michael Shaw: Yeah. This was a group I thought that just had a lot of experience and perspective on the school choice movement, and kind of gave their recollections of the past 20 or so years of ed reform in the United States, but also had some great insight for what we could expect in the future.

Drew Catt: Yeah. Then following that, there were some interesting afternoon sessions. Personally, I liked one that kind of spoke to one of my side interests that I have been incorporating more into my work, which is geographic information systems, or GIS, and mapping. There was a nice presentation that I saw from a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin and a professor at Auburn University looking at the commute times in Philadelphia choice sets, that is, within districts the charter schools and the district schools. It was kind of interesting, and it was nice to be able to provide someone else with some methodological feedback, and be like, “Hey, did you think about looking at this variable, or did you incorporate this variable?”

Michael Shaw: Yeah, I definitely got a lot of takeaways from that presentation as well, in thinking about ways to apply that to Indiana research you and I will be conducting regarding areas of the state that don’t have a lot of high-quality schooling options, but using and adapting some methodology that was presented there.

Drew Catt: Yeah. I was really intrigued by a larger session the following morning, featuring some Cato and University of Arkansas and Harvard University folks, focusing on school choice and non-cognitive skills. Yeah, Neal McCluskey started it off by kind of looking at public schooling and religious neutrality, and then Corey DeAngelis looking at the effect of private schooling on non-cognitive skills, such as social-emotional learning, et cetera.

Michael Shaw: Yeah. That’s definitely a growing field of education research in general, but definitely applying it to school choice and private school choice programs. This is one of those conferences where a lot of the presentations and papers may be just getting their first pass, or revisions and reviews are currently in place, but I did hear from a lot of the Arkansas researchers in particular that it was a great chance to kind of present and refine their research in a moderate sized room, and receive great, constructive feedback, but then be able to apply that, and continue with their research.

Drew Catt: Yeah, and as someone that, I believe works in research, it’s nice from my perspective to be able to see some of these potential future papers or journal articles on their first or second pass, and feel like I’m able to provide feedback in that moment after the presentation that could potentially be incorporated into a final version.

Michael Shaw: Definitely. But what was nice about this conference too, it wasn’t strictly quantitative presentations. You also had a nice mix of symposiums, one on that Sunday was a faith-based private school symposium, which had a lot of interesting topics related to faith-based schools and missions. Another one I really liked, which was a systematic panel on effects of differences in school choice, was a mission statement presentation by Julie Dallavis of Notre Dame. It had me thinking a lot of the process of collecting and analyzing mission statements, and what those mean to schools. It just opened up a whole new world of thinking of academic settings and schools as organizations.

Drew Catt: Yeah. There has been a little research looking at parents’ choices in schools, and school mission statements, with Pat Wolf doing some of the work, looking at D.C., and then Pat working with Albert Cheng to look at Milwaukee. Hopefully, we’ll see some more of that type of research in the future.

Michael Shaw: Then, that day was closed with another symposium, but this one related to polls and surveys with school choice, that you presented in, as well as a cohort of EdChoice associates and fellows.

Drew Catt: Yeah, that was a nice symposium for me to put together and bring everyone in, and try to figure out how to talk about these various publications that we have put out, or will be putting out. For me, this was my first time presenting something that was already in its final form, since we’d already released the Indiana parent survey from 2017, but it was still nice to be able to present it to a larger crowd, because parent surveys are the sort of thing that I will continue to be working on in the future. So it’s always nice to get feedback, especially related to what other types of questions should we be asking. What other data points should we be looking at?

Michael Shaw: Definitely. Even though the four papers, or forthcoming papers, presented were from EdChoice, in addition to Drew’s Indiana parent survey, there was our national Schooling in America survey, our military survey that came out last year as well, and the forthcoming Florida ESA satisfaction and usage survey. So even though they were all from our organization, I thought that they highly differed, and offered a good snapshot of various types of surveys and questions and answers that can be derived from survey and polling work.

Drew Catt: Yeah, and those two Florida pieces that Jason Bedrick presented, that he’s working on with Lindsey Burke, who’s one of our EdChoice fellows, some of those findings, that was the first time that I had ever seen them, since some of them are still in draft form, and they’re still working on preliminary drafts.

Michael Shaw: Forthcoming reports, be sure to always update EdChoice’s website to access our latest research.

Drew Catt: Yeah. Speaking of forthcoming reports, one thing that I was extremely interested in was a session that was performance metrics and impacts of choice. John Mills presented the effects of the Louisiana scholarship program on student achievements, which I had seen that presentation evolve over the years. Looking forward to them incorporating an additional year of data. Sorry for those that are listening, we’re trying not to give away any findings, since a lot of these papers have not been released yet and are still in draft form.

Michael Shaw: Yeah, the researcher’s credo right there.

Drew Catt: Yes. But it was also interesting to me to see a presentation, also on the Louisiana scholarship program, that will be focusing on high school graduation, data forthcoming, and college enrollment. That was presented by Heidi Holmes Erickson with the University of Arkansas, and it was really fascinating to hear of this research connecting the students that have participated in the Louisiana scholarship program, and looking at their enrollment within college.

Michael Shaw: Yeah. I was wondering, Drew, was that something that surprised you, having been … As our team is an onlooker of the ongoing Louisiana research, just a new kind of component that inspired you or surprised you when hearing that presentation?

Drew Catt: I mean, I think the results so far aren’t too surprising, since the program is relatively new compared to, say, Milwaukee or D.C. or Cleveland. It’ll be interesting to see how robust the findings are as more observables come into play, that is, as more years of students matriculate into college.

Michael Shaw: Yeah, I totally agree. In general, for plugging this conference, but education and reform conferences in general, these sorts of sessions where there’s ongoing studies and research and data collection are great, because you see the evolution of a process of what will eventually become a published study. Especially for Louisiana and school choice related issues, something that gets a lot of publicity, and listeners of this podcast will probably be aware of any given study and the national press it receives, but actually being able to attend, interact with these researchers, and realizing it’s a process more than just a final data point or effects can but really enlightening, and really make you appreciate the academic process.

Drew Catt: Yeah. It’ll be really interesting to see that paper in final form. I believe the author said that the plan is for it to release sometime this spring. Similar to something that Patrick Wolf presented looking at attainment and the Milwaukee parental choice program. Again, not sharing any results, but it’s just exciting for me personally to see the evolution of research focusing more on attainment and not just achievement.

Michael Shaw: Yeah. Patrick is a researcher and professor who has been doing this for a really long time, but I really like where he’s going with this new frontier of moving beyond test scores, but trying to see these longer term effects, which I think many would agree are kind of ultimate goal of education and our education system. He is really exploring these questions and the results, when released, are sure to be enlightening.

Drew Catt: Yeah. It’s a lot easier for a program such as the one in Milwaukee that has been around since 1990 to see some of those life outcomes, compared to a program like Louisiana where some of the students are just now getting into college.

Michael Shaw: Definitely.

Drew Catt: Yeah, so it will be interesting to see a decade from now, looking back, how students participating in these school choice programs today, what their long-term life outcomes are.

Michael Shaw: Definitely. Drew, we’ve kind of run through the presentations and the research, but the event has now passed, and there may be listeners wondering, “Is this the type of conference that might be suited for me?” I was wondering what you thought, what type of people may want to attend an International School Choice and Reform Conference in the future.

Drew Catt: Yeah. I think it’s a wide variety of folks in academia and some practitioners as well. It’s a great place to be able to present research and get some methodological feedback. It’s a great place to present research for the first time, and it’s nice to see a whole range of school choice options. Presentations on magnet schools, on charter schools, on traditional public school transfers, and then of course in our area, private school choice.

Michael Shaw: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more with that assessment with regard to the different sectors. We even had an entire panel on homeschooling, which was really enlightening, I thought. It’s a sector that doesn’t always get the most attention, but is definitely worth discussing and researching. Even within the charter sector, a lot of ed reform conferences will have plenty of panels and discussions regarding charter schools. But to your second point about a great opportunity for new researchers, there were a few panels, including one with Kendra Delaine from Howard that focused on charter schools, but definitely showcased some younger researchers or current students, and myself included, gave us a great chance to present and receive feedback like you mentioned.

Drew Catt: Yeah. It’s also, from my perspective, one of the few times that I get to interact with academic researchers from around the world. It’s really interesting to hear these country-to-country differences, and how education is or isn’t funded, or how the various countries’ legal systems interact with educational policy.

Michael Shaw: Definitely. That would be the one caveat I’d say to folks who may be considering such a conference, is it can be overwhelming at times to hear all these different systems and perspectives. I think everyone can always do a better job of setting context for these international comparisons, but with that, you end up learning a lot, and really just learning and being inspired from these other countries, and maybe be able to adapt certain things from their research to your own.

Drew Catt: Yeah. No, most definitely. It’ll be interesting to see where the conference is held next year, and depending on location, who does or does not attend, and how many proposals are submitted and accepted.

Michael Shaw: Yeah. I believe, from what I’ve heard, that this conference every other year has to be in Fort Lauderdale, but the other years in between kind of moves around. Like you said, it’ll be interesting to see, and maybe see how location affects participants, panels, and just the overall conference.

Drew Catt: Yeah. That gets into the more of the conference logistics stuff that I’m glad I don’t have to personally be in charge of.

Michael Shaw: Agreed.

Drew Catt: Yeah. That’s a whole other issue of getting everyone everywhere, and determining the best date and everything. But it is nice that it is early in the year, for us. It’s before, at least for our research team, we fully get into some of the state based research and some of the policy analysis as legislatures are heating up. Any other thoughts before we depart, Mike?

Michael Shaw: Yeah. I would just like to again thank the organizing committee of this conference, our team at EdChoice, as well as everyone who participated. Again, for someone who’s been going to a lot of conferences this past year, but as a first time presenter, it was a whirlwind, but in the best way possible. I really think they all did a great job of preparing us and putting forth just a great program.

Drew Catt: Yeah. There you have it. Don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss another EdChoice chat. If you’d like to read Mike Shaw’s tax-credit brief with Marty Lueken, or any of the polling papers that were presented in the polling symposium, caveat being the ones that have been released, make sure to visit www.edchoice.org/research. For all of us at EdChoice, I’m Drew Catt. Thanks for listening, and take care.