School Inc. Episode 2: Push or Pull – Full Video

By | September 9, 2019


In the modern world, we ride the crest of a wave. Every day, innovators discover new and better ways of meeting our needs. The greatest innovations are routinely replicated, worldwide, except in education, which has remained stubbornly at anchor while the rest of the world has sailed past it. The pace of that modern life seems to provide an almost endless number of choices, some of which can have a far reaching impact. This seems to be especially true in American public schools, but what about independent private schools? In private schools, you have more autonomy and flexibility. Creativity is valued. At one U.S. high school, the melding of modern trends and traditional methods has clearly resulted in educational excellence. Michigan’s Cranbrook School offers students a unique educational experience. The first minute I walked into the classroom, I was just astonished by the freedom that students were given not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom. This school has fostered more than a love of education, but a love of learning, learning not only through books, but through people. In Texas, another school is part of an expanding network, offering excellence on a grand scale. What makes KIPP unique is our high expectations and a singular focus on college. Could the success of this unusual school network hold the secret that could transform educational innovation? And what might a natural disaster and the making of fine wine have to do with schooling? Join us as Andrew Coulson explores the challenge of replicating educational excellence in School Inc. In our quest to learn how educational excellence can be replicated on a mass scale, Korea’s private tutoring sector offers some enticing clues. Its top teachers reach tens – or even hundreds-of-thousands of students. We just have to figure out how they do it. And as long as we’re playing detective, it makes sense to look for the means, motive, and opportunity driving that growth. Could it be as simple as choice for families, competition for schools, and freedom for educators? If so, we’d expect to see the same kind of growth among U.S. private schools. College prep schools, in particular, seem like a prime suspect. They’re chosen by parents, and since many accept boarding students, they’re in competition with each other nationwide. And in one respect many prep schools have reached enormous proportions: their physical size. This, for instance, is the 315 acre campus of the Cranbrook Schools here in Bloomfield, Michigan. But despite their often spacious grounds, most prep schools serve only a few hundred students. Cranbrook is among the largest, enrolling roughly 1,700 pupils when its lower, middle, and upper schools are taken together. Clearly, there is some missing ingredient, something that Korea’s tutoring sector enjoys that America’s prep schools lack…but what? The people that are in the competitive market with us…each are going to offer something unique that fits each individual. I can’t imagine that one school could fit every need. We happen to have a place that I think works well for a lot of people. I come from a family of educators. And most of my family works in public schools, but I felt in private schools, you have more autonomy and flexibility. Creativity is valued, and so the practice of teaching is, at least for me, easier in an independent school. That’s the essence of what I think is a very important differentiator in terms of education. The freedom to hire faculty who you feel will be a good match to the mission of the school and its philosophy. I always think about how this place started as farm land. And an analogy for me is, you know, how land is cultivated to produce and to yield its bounty. And working in the classroom with the students here, you’re very much able to do that. You are cultivating learners. You are cultivating artists. You are cultivating scientists. You are working with these young people. Well, we’ve got an institute of science right here; and that staff will make themselves available for getting into the planetarium to give an astronomy class a unique view of retrograde motion of Mars, for example. Prep schools generally do well on traditional measures of educational outcomes: test scores, graduation rates, matriculation to selective colleges. But we have to put those outcomes in context. These schools are academically selective, so how can we tell how much of their success is due to effective teaching and how much to the bright, highly-advantaged students they happen to enroll? One way is to see how students’ performance changes from the time they are admitted to their graduating year. The bigger the gain, the greater the school’s contribution is likely to be. That contribution varies from one school to the next, but in some cases, like Cranbrook’s, it seems to be substantial. Another way to gauge school quality is just ask students themselves. The first minute I walked into the classroom, I was just astonished by the freedom that students were given not only in the classroom, but outside the classroom, and just the level of trust between the students and the teachers, and how there’s so much respect given to the teachers and also so much respect returned. For one of my classes it deals with the art institute and also, like, with the sculptures on campus. We have so many sculptures, so many statues. And so once a week, usually, the teacher takes us outside on like a mini-adventure, it’s great. One side of it is the faculty, which I personally think are fantastic. You know, they’re obviously well-educated on their subjects …But I think the other side is being surrounded by kids who are intellectually curious. This school has fostered more than a love of education, but a love of learning, learning not only through books, but through people. No single school is right for every child, but this one seems well-liked by its students and academically effective. It’s easy to see why parents might want to send their children here. …which brings us to another possible reason why prep schools might not scale-up: insufficient demand. After all, they’re expensive. Financial assistance is available, but the full sticker price for day tuition can reach $40,000 a year. Cranbrook is a relative deal at $29,000 for its upper school. But, as it turns out, most prep schools have more applicants than they can accommodate. And in addition to having enough demand to justify expansion, prep schools have also had plenty of time for it. Most of them are venerable institutions whose histories and traditions are a key source of their appeal. This place was given away by a really wealthy family…and this was their land, and they built this school, and they wanted it to serve the community, and they wanted all the community, not just the well-off kids. And that continues today with various programs. The majority of prep schools can trace their histories back over a century or more. Linden Hall was founded in the 1740s, and Milton Academy the 1790s. By contrast, Korea’s tutoring firms didn’t debut until the 1970s, and most are more recent than that. Despite that novelty, they’ve grown explosively; or maybe- because of that novelty. What if the grand histories and traditions of prep schools have made them hide-bound? What if they’re too set in their ways to adopt the latest technologies? That theory is certainly plausible. It’s also wrong. Prep schools have begun to use internet video to reach students beyond their own campuses. The same technology used by Korean tutors to reach tens or even hundreds of thousands of students. But prep schools use it a little differently. We were among the founding schools of the global online academy. It brings us the capacity to offer our faculty to classrooms far beyond the Midwest. We have students now who are in our own global online classrooms here at school, who are in classrooms alongside of students in Hawaii, in Jordan, in Malaysia. Our belief is that online learning will never fill the space that bricks-and-mortar education holds. We are centrally committed to the presence of faculty and students in one space. We believe that there is no substitute for student and a faculty… being able to sit on two sides of the log and musing. So prep schools have the quality, demand, technology, and time to grow into national networks …they just don’t. We’re running out of plausible explanations here, so let’s turn to a counter-intuitive one: what if they just can’t afford it? That may seem unlikely given the substantial fees they charge, but tuition actually fails to cover their full operating costs. Virtually all prep schools raise additional funding for their operating budgets from annual donations. Maybe there just isn’t anything left over for expansion. Unfortunately, that explanation doesn’t hold water, either. In addition to their revenue from annual giving, most prep schools also have large endowments; over two hundred million dollars in the case of Cranbrook Schools.; and a billion dollars in the case of Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire. And yet, the best-endowed prep schools don’t invest their endowments in national expansion… why not? One answer is that it would be difficult to preserve the character of these institutions beyond their original locations. Because our campus is so unique and because the campus is so much embedded as part of the curriculum; that it would be difficult to duplicate that experience and still call it Cranbrook. But that just begs a deeper question: why is the focus on sustaining a particular experience rather than on reaching a wider audience? It might have something to do with the reasons people donate to these schools in the first place. Many times, it’s based on their own experience, meaning the donors are our alumni. And so based on the alumni’s experience, they want to be able to give back to the institution which helped them, nurtured them, supported them. So even if their donations could theoretically finance a major expansion, that’s generally not what they’re for. What we’ve learned, in other words, is that Sherlock Holmes and friends have it right: it’s not enough to find a suspect with the means and the opportunity, they also have the motive. And America’s prestigious prep schools, though they have many wonderful qualities, simply don’t have a motive to scale-up. They’re striving to perpetuate beloved traditions, not to start national franchises. Which raises an interesting question: What would happen if someone did deliberately set out to replicate educational excellence? That’s not a hypothetical question. In fact, it’s fairly easy to answer because there already is a large and growing category of schools that philanthropists are trying to scale-up: charter schools. Charters are public schools that are freed from some of the rules and red tape that apply to their regular, district-run counterparts. They have more control over what they teach, what methods they use, and how they measure student achievement. Charter schools also tend not to be unionized, which means that principals can hire whomever they want. That’s a lot different from traditional public school contracts that allow older teachers to bump younger ones out of a job, no matter what the principal thinks. Of course it’s not all sunshine and roses. Charter schools receive a lot less funding per-pupil than traditional public schools- $3,500 less every year. And charters also receive less funding from private sources. And that’s where it gets interesting. Charter schools and traditional public schools use their private funding very differently. If your local public school principal does a great job and gets a huge donation, she cannot use that money to open new public schools in other districts; charter school leaders can. They can create whole networks of schools that share their mission and methods. And philanthropists know that. So, when they make donations to charters, it’s very often with that replication in mind…and it is working! There are now 130 charter school networks enrolling a quarter of a million students, and they’ve been growing in both size and number for over a decade. One of the fastest-growing is the Knowledge is Power Program, better known as KIPP. KIPP was founded in 1994 by Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, who were two young teachers in Houston public schools. They saw what was working in the schools where they were teaching. And they put all the things that they saw into an innovative kind of experimental one-classroom. And that experience led to a lot of success. And they grew that to operate a middle school in Houston, and a middle school in New York. Their goal was to help low-income children gain both the skills and the habits necessary to succeed in college. To do that, they stretched the school day and the school year, raised academic expectations, and studied the methods of the best teachers they could find. KIPP is different from other schools for many, many reasons. One of the first things that come to mind is our principals and our teachers. KIPP really innovated in how they train and select school leaders. And that’s created a network of amazing leaders who have been given the autonomy and to be empowered to run their schools. Not content to just run their own schools, Feinberg and Levin created training programs for teachers and principals. Everything they learned about success in and out the classroom was distilled so that it could be passed on to a new generation of educators. As Mike and Dave ran their schools, they got national attention and they got to the place where the question was asked: how are we going to replicate this? How are we going to take this nationally? And so they developed a theory of change for our country that really focused at first on the school leader. And they attracted this group of young teachers who wanted to drive change in different cities. Within a few years, people all over the country were asking them to open schools in their neighborhoods. So KIPP currently operates in 20 states and the District of Columbia. And we have 183 schools and serve 70,000 students. Of course, expansion like that costs money, but generous individuals and foundations came forward to make that expansion possible – contributing over 400 million dollars to grow the network. KIPP Austin was founded as a fifth grade middle school in 2002; and we grew one grade each year until we had our first class of eighth graders go off to high school. At that point we saw the demand in the community; we saw the success of the program for our students. We saw the student achievement levels and we decided to grow to become K through 12. We’ve been growing almost about one school a year. To this point we’re at nine schools, 4,400 students. And next year we’ll be at ten schools and 5,000 students. What is the slope of a line that is vertical, that looks like this? First group to finish gets the plus three, second group to finish gets the plus 1….Go! We have B, C, and D left. One of the best things about KIPP is the community we create between parents, teachers, and students. When you go to a KIPP school, you will see a principal who’ll make day-to-day decisions based on what’s best for kids. That, in turn, creates an environment where teachers are really able to thrive and do amazing things for our kids. The teachers at KIPP are different than a traditional school because the teachers care about you. They want you to go to college. They want you to succeed. The teachers are very exciting and very passionate about what they teach. They really enjoy it. You can tell they enjoy it by the passion in their voice and in their eyes and in their movement. It’s just – it’s good to see people who actually like what they’re doing. My old school was different from KIPP because here in KIPP teachers care about you more. They want you to master the subject and be able to go to college. It’s different because the teachers really challenge you a lot more than the teachers did before, because when they teach they didn’t really go over the lesson as the teachers do at this school. When I was at a different school I didn’t feel very challenged, because the classwork that they were giving us wasn’t really that hard. It was simple stuff that I could do any day. But once I came to KIPP I felt more challenged because the work was a lot harder than what I was given before. My old school was different because here at KIPP the classes are a lot smaller so teachers get to know you on a personal level. One thing that KIPP offers that I couldn’t get at another school is having a good relationship with your teacher and getting feedback on the work you do. I think KIPP is challenging because they give you hard subjects, but then you feel like when the teacher is teaching you, you can understand it better and you can master it. Are they succeeding? A recent Stanford University study compared charter school networks, both to each other and to traditional public schools. They found that students are learning more at KIPP. The differences aren’t large, but they appear in both mathematics and reading. And other researchers have found similar positive results. So now that we’ve made sure that we have the terminology… At KIPP, we believe that all children deserve an exemplary public education. Our mission is to get students to and through college. So, regardless of whether a student’s an elementary student, a middle school child or high school student, we’re focused on college and you see it from their first day. When a kindergartener will enroll into KIPP Austin, one of the first numbers they’ll learn is the year they’ll go to college. And they’ll soon be called the class of 2023 or the class of 2025. They’ll visit colleges starting all the way in elementary school, all their way through their high school. One thing that KIPP offers that you can’t get at another school is all of the information about college and all of the focus towards college. KIPP is different from the school I went to before because KIPP has pushed us more to focus onto college. It has boosted my standards of college that I want to go to way higher than I had before. After I graduate I would either like to attend Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, and study chemistry/physics. Once I finish going to school at KIPP I am planning on going to college. I’m not sure where yet, but I would like to major in language interpretation and translation. I would like to study environmental science and music. What makes KIPP unique is our high expectations and a singular focus on college. Our mission is to get students to and through college. Eighty percent of KIPP graduates have gone on to college. And KIPP graduates aren’t just more likely to be accepted into college, they’re also much more likely to complete it. KIPP currently has a college completion rate of 51 percent for students who completed eighth grade with us. That’s approximately five times the national average for students from a similar background. Not only do we work with our children to make sure that they apply to the best colleges possible, but we will stay with them and provide support, provide mentorship, provide coaching all the way until they complete college. Of course, KIPP has its critics. Some of whom have claimed that it only succeeds by cherry-picking the best students. But the Stanford study actually controlled for students’ prior test scores, and KIPP kids still learned more. KIPP proves that it’s possible to run a successful, popular network of charter schools, and to grow it thanks to philanthropic investment. It’s doing something that traditional public schools cannot do, and that elite prep schools choose not to do. It’s a really good opportunity to come to school here. I really, really enjoy it and I think it’s important for people to come here. I wish that everyone could come here. The demand in our community from our families for schools like KIPP is extremely high. Next year when we’ll be at 5,000 students, we’ll still have 2,000 students on our wait list. The students here really feel known for who they are. And the parents really come to trust their teachers and that they’re all acting together in the best interest for their child. But is KIPP’s story representative of charter schooling as a whole? To find out, I studied all the charter networks in California: how well they had performed academically, and how much funding they had received from donors. For the broadest possible picture, I looked at both the state’s own tests and also the Advanced Placement tests administered by the College Board. What I found is that the correlation between performance and grant funding is tiny. To put it in perspective, I also measured the correlation between how well the charter networks perform and the number of letters in their names. That one is small, too, but it’s actually bigger than the link between performance and total donations received. What that means is that philanthropists have been scaling-up California’s charter networks more or less at random. If the same thing is happening in other states, that might explain why the networks are not out-performing independent charters. But that may not be the only problem. In order to open a new charter school, you have to be approved by an official agency. And sometimes that agency is part of the same public school system that will be competing to attract students with the new charter. It’s like allowing athletes to eliminate certain players from the opposing team. That sounds like a classic conflict of interest. It gives authorizers an incentive to reject promising proposals. But surely that doesn’t happen in practice. We decided to start our first charter school in Massachusetts because, at the time, the City of Springfield wanted to introduce some competition. The city was not performing well and the superintendent saw that as an opportunity to bring in charter schools. We were selected to take over the second lowest-performing school in the district. We opened as a K-7 school and grew over time to a full K-12 school. And we graduated our first senior class in 2001. And since then, we have been sending kids off with 100 percent college acceptance rates. But despite its record of success in Massachusetts, a proposal to open a SABIS Charter school in Brockton was rejected by the state board of education. The motivation for rejection, no doubt, was political. We learned the hard way that in the charter movement, politics is very much part of the process. Unfortunately, it is not only about identifying a need and proposing a solution. There is a lot of politics in the mix. Is that true? A good person to ask is Basan Nembirkow, because a few years before he acknowledged that SABIS has a good educational model, he successfully campaigned to stop their proposed charter school from opening in his district. At the same event at which Nembirkow praised the SABIS model, the moderator raised this question: Why wasn’t SABIS good enough for Brockton…whenever that was… five years or so ago? Why wasn’t it good enough for you to support them to come to Brockton? My title was “Superintendent of Brockton Public Schools.” So right off the bat- there’s an enlightened self-interest involved in that. Basically the issue was finance and politics. It had nothing to do- or very little to do- with the quality of the program. SABIS came, and we saw that as a threat. Simply a financial threat to us if it took money away from us, which was about 4 or 5 million dollars. Based upon that, our progress would have been substantially affected. So my job, defending the Brockton public schools, as a superintendent, was to do whatever I could to stop that particular threat at that particular time. So we mounted a very good political campaign. SABIS’s experience in Massachusetts is hardly unique. In fact, public school officials not only prevent promising new charter schools from opening, they sometimes shut down successful existing ones. In the spring of 2014, the Los Angeles Unified School District decided to close two high-performing charter schools serving low-income Hispanic students. The reason was that the charters had opted not to use the district’s own special education services. Instead, they chose an independent service provider that was already working with 300 other schools, something they had every right to do under California law. So why did the district want to shut them down? According to county school board member Douglas Boyd, the district has been trying to blackmail charter schools into using its own special education services, shutting them down if they refuse, because it wants the money that the state attaches to each special needs child. Fortunately, for these two charter schools and the children they serve, the county school board overturned the district’s decision, but no one expects the district to stop trying to get what it wants. One of the most striking cases of a district voting to shut down high-performing charter schools played-out in Oakland, California. As a whole, students here perform far below their peers in the rest of the state. And the district has its own armed police force. But, over the course of a decade, one of Oakland’s worst schools was gradually turned-into the highest-scoring school in California. It’s called the American Indian Public Charter School. For the past 6 years, it has ranked among the top middle schools in California. And it’s part of a small network that includes a second middle school and a high school, both of which are also in Oakland and also among the top-performers in the state. And that’s not because of their demographics. Every racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic subgroup of students at these schools easily out-performs its statewide peers. And all of them beat the average for wealthier white students. The high school has topped the Washington Post’s list of the nation’s best. All of its students take Advanced Placement courses and they score remarkably well on the year-end tests administered by the College Board. How do they do it? The fact that the high school classes, and the 8th grade classes, too, can be so productive, that’s entirely predicated on what happens in 6th grade. That’s where it’s the roughest adjustment. So we get kids from neighboring elementary schools. They come in, and I think it’s a shock to them, their first three weeks maybe month, month-and-a-half, And it’s about acclimation and it’s about “this is how you conduct yourself at this school.” There’s a student contract, there’s a code of conduct for students and the parents, and students are required to review it and sign it prior to applying. And it helps because the students know exactly what’s expected. When I came here in the 7th grade I was failing. So, yeah, it was really hard for me to get used to it. It was just a really big transition. Because the school that I went to, they actually gave me a text book and put us in the back of the classroom to learn and teach ourselves. I’ve actually experienced some of this. I’m the tutor at the downtown campus, and I usually do one-on-one sessions with some of the students that are struggling. And most of the students that I’ve tutored actually are just transferring from different schools. Some of them are at a 4th or 5th grade level, when they should be at a 9th or 10th grade level. I was nervous going into the 7th grade because I knew I was going to be getting new students. You know…there’s just a lot to catch up to in terms of, like, the workload, just the school culture, and then, just yeah, behavioral adjustments. But, because the core group of students that I’d had since the beginning of 6th grade was so well-behaved, new students just kind of adjust. In some schools, children may not try adjusting because the teachers don’t try If they don’t do a couple of assignments the teacher won’t mind, because that’s just one less for the teacher to grade. But I think at this school it’s more, like they’re not attacking- but they’re more on you in what you do. When it comes to, like, catching them up on academic stuff, I’ll take on that extra work if it means that that student makes the progress. So, after-school tutoring, in-school tutoring, before-school tutoring, you know, taking them aside during class time and working with them one-on-one, because that’s the other good thing about having really well-behaved classes, is that the students can work independently; and that really does free the teacher up to work one-on-one with the students who do need help. Usually, this school…people may feel that though the workload may be stressful, but they get used to it. And the fact that our school creates a sense of community, that sense of community in itself motivates us. The thing that keeps this school together is definitely the teachers. And, I feel like the students kind of accept- after they’ve seen so much that they can do- that they accept the fact that these teachers are doing something right. But in the spring of 2013, the Oakland Public School District voted to shut-down all three American Indian charter schools. They based their decision on alleged financial improprieties by the school’s former administrator, who had retired the previous year. The schools responded that he was no longer affiliated with them, and that they would address any shortcomings in their accounting practices. They also emphasized that, while they received less per-pupil funding than district schools, they prioritized instructional spending and paid their teachers higher salaries. The district refused to reconsider its decision. And, so the schools filed suit to overturn it. For over a year, they struggled under this legal cloud. Their previously rising enrollment stalled. Finally, in the summer of 2014, a state court ruled that the district had broken California law in deciding to close the schools, because it had not given enough weight to their students’ academic success. That sort of opposition would certainly stifle the growth of good charter schools, but it doesn’t seem to be a problem here in New Orleans, where support for charter schooling spiked in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. When the storm hit in August of 2005, it closed every school in the city, and damaged most. It took six weeks for the first school to re-open; a small Catholic school in the French Quarter called Cathedral Academy. The staff there had to make hundreds of calls to track down students who’d been scattered to other cities and other states. Cathedral Academy not only opened its doors to its own students, but also to those of another Catholic school that had been more badly damaged by the storm, having sat under 10 feet of water for weeks. The students attended in shifts, and the staff of both schools alternated management duties. Not every school was able to find places for its students within the city. But determined educators still found ways to keep teaching. Two other Catholic schools, Cabrini High and Holy Cross, located a Christian school in Baton Rouge that was willing to host their lessons in the evening at no charge. So, for weeks, the students made daily three-hour round-trips to Baton Rouge, returning home long after dark. Finally, after a grueling two-month cleanup effort, Cabrini High itself was able to reopen. But not wanting to leave the students of Holy Cross in the lurch, it too, adopted a shift schedule… minus the three hour commute. By November, eight Catholic schools had re-opened, but none of the public schools. And by the following May, 60 private schools were serving students, but only 25 public schools had reopened, and virtually all of those were charters. That wasn’t lost on state and local officials, and charter schooling in the Big Easy was cleared for takeoff. Today, three-quarters of New Orleans public school students attend charters, a higher share than anywhere else in the country. And charters here are more likely to belong to networks. As a result, New Orleans is seen as a test case for charter school expansion. So how is it working out? According to the researchers at Stanford, charter schools in Louisiana are out-performing traditional public schools, and that’s particularly noticeable in New Orleans. The difference isn’t enormous, but it’s good news. But there is one disappointing element to the story. Networks of charter schools in Louisiana are actually performing slightly worse than independent charters. The best are not crowding out the rest, at least, not yet. It’s a similar picture to the one I found in California, and that others have found nationwide. There’s a lot of scaling-up in the charter sector. But it’s indiscriminate. If we want to find a place where the schools being replicated are out-performing the rest, we’ll have to keep looking. Which is why we’re headed… to Casablanca. No, not that Casablanca… “Because you are getting on that plane.” Welcome to the Casablanca Valley, just outside Santiago, Chile. We haven’t come here for the waters, or even the wines. Your pinot, señor. Oh, thank you very much! We haven’t come just for the wines. But as long as we’re here… Winemaking in Chile goes back almost 500 years. But in 1938, the government capped wine production, restricted the creation of new vineyards, and outlawed the importation of foreign machinery. Officially, the import ban was supposed to boost domestic manufacturing. But cutting it off from foreign competition actually caused it to stagnate. In the meantime, European vintners developed ever-improving wine presses, fermentation tanks, and bottling systems, virtually none of which made it to Chile. With so little consumer choice and competition, winemakers could pretty much put anything in a jug and sell it. At least they could until trade barriers were slashed in the 1970s. Suddenly, Chileans had access to wines from all over the world; which they promptly ignored in favor of newly available soft drinks and beer. Wine consumption fell off a cliff. That put Chile’s wineries in a bind. Their domestic market dried up, and they couldn’t export what they’d been making because it just wasn’t good enough. For a few years the industry was badly shaken. But then it stirred. With the trade barriers gone, Chileans could finally import the latest equipment. And new players could easily enter the marketplace. Even foreign investors were allowed to come to Chile to start joint ventures or launch labels of their own. One of those new labels was Lapostolle, founded by the makers of Grand Marnier liqueur and Chateau de Sancerre wines. Companies like Lapostolle didn’t just bring a lot of foreign dollars into Chile; they also brought the knowledge of how to run a cutting-edge wine business. Some of that know-how is evident in the construction of Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta Winery. Half of the six-story building is underground, for temperature control, and the wine flows from one floor to the next by gravity, eliminating the need for pumps. After the final barrel stage, the wine is bottled and shipped to 60 different countries around the world. In 2008, several of those bottles wound up in blind tastings by the Wine Spectator. Apparently their dump buckets didn’t see a lot of use that day, because Clos Apalta was named the #1 wine in the world, for the money. But the knowledge of how to make good wines at competitive prices didn’t stay locked up in the vaults of foreign producers. It was contagious. As soon as these high-tech operations arrived around 1980, their techniques began to be copied. That international cross-pollination has spawned a whole new generation of wineries. So over the last quarter century, both the scale and the quality of Chilean winemaking rose dramatically. But what does that have to do with education? Well, just after Chile opened up its wine industry to consumer choice and competition, it did the same thing for schools. First, they decentralized public schools from the Ministry of Education to the municipalities. There are about 345 municipalities in Chile. And second, they introduced a flat, per-pupil voucher which has since been differentiated, so parents can choose between a public or a municipal and a private voucher school, which are for profit and nonprofit. And the per-pupil voucher follows the student to the school. The voucher is differentiated by a student’s socioeconomic background characteristics. So when a school enrolls a low-income student, the school receives approximately 60 to 80 percent more per pupil than if they enroll a student from the middle class or upper-middle class. So, what did all those reforms accomplish? Did opening up the marketplace do as much for education as it did for the wine industry? Chile spends about $2,000 per pupil in primary and secondary school; it’s more than most Latin American countries spend. And Chile spends about a sixth of what they spend in the United States per pupil in K to 12. Chile out-performs all other Latin American countries that participate in the international tests. And Chile is the country that has showed the most improvement on the most recent PISA test. Between 2000 and 2009, Chile’s overall quality showed the most improvement. In 1990, about half of Chileans lived under the poverty line. Today, it’s, you know, less than 15 percent. Many people here and around the world have noticed these improvements; but not everyone is impressed. Large-scale student protests erupted in 2011, led most visibly by a college geography major named Camila Vallejo. Now a Communist Party Congresswoman, Vallejo’s central demand was that the government provide universal free access to college. But the protesters also called for changes in Chile’s system of elementary and secondary education. They demanded: a moratorium or an outright ban on the creation of new private voucher schools, a ban on copayments by parents, a ban on for-profit voucher schools replacing local control of public schools with nationwide central planning and even an end to school choice itself in favor of mandatory student assignment to schools by the government. Chile’s young protesters believe that their nation’s education system is short-changing low-income families. According to Camila Vallejo, “Children who are born poor will receive a poor education and continue to be poor.” But Chile’s education outcome-gaps between the rich and poor are actually smaller than those in most other Latin American countries; in some cases, the smallest in the entire region. And Chile’s education gaps are shrinking, because the students at the low end of the performance range are improving faster than those at the top. Chile’s improvement is mainly explained by the improvement of the lower-income students. So there has been a closing of the achievement gap over the last 10 years. And this is reflected on international tests and also on national tests. Another way to measure educational outcomes is the number of years of schooling that students complete, called “educational attainment.” By that measure, Chile has the lowest level of educational inequality of any country in Latin America. As for income inequality, it is high in all developing countries, but that’s been shrinking in Chile, too. And several teams of researchers have attributed the improvement, in part, to its system of public and private school choice, which just happens to have been introduced during the 1980s, under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. And there’s the rub. Regardless of its success, Chile’s education system is tainted in many people’s eyes because it was favored by a brutal dictator. That’s understandable. But should we condemn something solely because it appealed to a tyrant? “Here comes the car.” “Okay, now watch me.” “I’m gonna use number one, keep your eye on that thumb, baby, and see what happens.” One of the biggest box office hits of 1934 was the romantic comedy “It Happened One Night.” It swept the Academy Awards and is still delighting audiences nearly a century later. It was also one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite films. The fact that Hitler liked the movie doesn’t make it any less charming. Nor does its charm make Hitler any less hateful. It doesn’t make sense to judge one based on the qualities of the other. Under President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela introduced a curriculum whose central goal is to promote the official government ideology. All public and private schools must follow it, or be shut down. The government acknowledges this by name as indoctrination, but maintains that it is necessary to eliminate capitalist ideas. And they might be right. But that’s not one of the goals that Chilean people ever mention in public opinion surveys. What they really care about is academic quality. Parents choose private schools partly because they think the schools are going to respond to their preferences, so the school owners listen to parents. Parents feel that they have, you know, a more active voice in the schools. Private schools have more flexibility in hiring and firing teachers, recruiting good teachers, firing poorly-performing teachers. Of course, not all private schools perform well. But, most studies find that they out-perform Chile’s public schools, after controlling for differences in the students and families they serve. An even more interesting finding is that competition from private schools actually improves the performance of nearby public schools. But the extent to which public schools improve as a result of competition depends on how tightly their budgets are tied to their enrollment. All government funding for private voucher schools is based on enrollment. But that’s not the case in the public sector. In some municipalities, public schools are given substantial extra funding regardless of the number of students they serve. When that happens, those public schools don’t improve as much in response to growing competition. Makes sense…they don’t have to improve to remain financially viable. A second crucial discovery researchers have made about Chile is that chains of private schools have a large advantage over independent, mom ‘n’ pop schools. On top of that, the larger school networks perform even better than the smaller ones. Successful private schools grow. This is a very key difference between the public-run system and the private-run system… In a privately-run school, what we would do is take advantage of that opportunity and we will expand the school. We will invest to grow and from having 1,400 students, like here, we will go to 2,000. We will purchase a site next door and build a new building, you see. But in the case of a public-run school, who might be interested in something like that? The principal doesn’t have the money. He cannot influence; that runs through another system. But this doesn’t mean that the public-run don’t do anything. You know what they do? The good teachers from those schools start giving private lessons. So large school like the Instituto Nacional- which is a famous public school- we should ask ourselves, how come don’t we have 30 Institutos Nacionales all over the country, all over Santiago? Because you don’t have the incentives, the people who have developed, and conserve, and run the Instituto Nacional don’t have the incentives to duplicate the Instituto Nacional. But they do duplicate their personal earnings by giving private lessons. But the research on the role of incentives and entrepreneurship has not been widely discussed in Chile. The public conversation here has been dominated by the demands of the country’s young protestors. And since the protesters helped to bring the current government to power, its policies naturally reflect their views. In the spring of 2014, the Chilean government proposed banning tuition co-payments by parents, re-centralizing control over public schools at the national level, and outlawing for-profit private voucher schools. Not everyone thinks that these ideas have been carefully thought through. People will feel the impact if they do ban for-profit schools. One-third of families send their children to for-profit schools. If they ban for-profit schools, one million students are going to have to find a new school. I think it’s unfortunate because I think, really, what we need to be doing is focusing on guaranteeing access to high-quality schools, improving the quality of our teaching force, and other reforms that are going to have- are much more likely to have an impact on improving the quality and equity of our school system. However, I think that when the politicians start to talk about banning for-profit schools, if you talk to school owners, they stop investing. They think that they’re going to lose their school. We had the plan to develop and build many schools. But as you probably know, the public politics and orientations in Chile are not moving in that direction. It’s moving in the direction of more public schools. We did have some sites already selected to build new schools, but we have decided not to. It’s very hard for nonprofits to get loans from the bank to kind of expand operations. So nonprofit schools that don’t belong to… like, a religious organization or, you know, a large foundation run by a wealthy individual, it’s very hard for them to actually get money from the bank and expand their operations. Basically, the school’s owner that you interviewed is right. Therefore, we have uncertainty. Obviously, it is not just happening to this school’s owner- but also to all the school owners around the country- who are waiting for the new policies to see if they are going to keep investing. Logically, if the current policies change, the owners are going to stop working and they are going to start selling schools. In fact, there are cases where that is already happening. We can still hope that Chile won’t abandon the policies that have brought it such academic and economic success, but even if it does, it has already taught the world a great deal about replicating educational excellence. What makes Chile so exciting is that its most successful educators are building networks of schools. And the better they are, the bigger they grow. Professional freedom, consumer choice, and competition are having the same beneficial effect in education as in winemaking. The catch is that the increasingly uncertain future of Chile’s parental choice program is discouraging the growth of school networks. And we’re still left with a couple of nagging questions. Why do growth and quality go hand-in-hand in Chile? And even if we figure that out, how do we know that model could be replicated in other countries? One way to answer those questions would be to find that model working in a totally different place. Maybe somewhere like… On the final episode of School Inc. Andrew Coulson continues his personal exploration around the globe, to discover the secrets to educational innovation. In Sweden, lessons of the past provide a warning for educational policymakers today. And in India, a population explosion sparks something dramatic in their educational landscape. With so much at stake, can we ride the wave of innovation and replicate educational excellence on a scale never before imagined?

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