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Travis Pillow

This is the twelfth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy SmarickNeerav KingslandLindsey M. BurkeJason BedrickAdam Peshek, and Robin Lake.

Private school choice programs have historically targeted students who need extra help, like low-income kids or children with special needs. Nevada’s education savings accounts have gotten a lot of buzz, in part, because they break that tradition. Their availability to nearly all students gives them an unprecedented chance to spur innovation for students who haven’t typically been the focus of school choice advocates.

The providers that emerge to serve these students could look quite different from ordinary schools. Picture micro-schools that meet one day a week for a single subject and share course materials digitally, or traditional private schools that allow students to come in for just an hour or two of classes a day, which they pay for a la carte.

Take advantage of parents as active...

This is the eleventh entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy SmarickNeerav KingslandLindsey M. BurkeJason Bedrick, and Adam Peshek.

Nevada’s new education savings account program is big news. It’s a “universal” program, meaning that any parent whose child attends a neighborhood public school can opt out of that school and instead receive access to a pot of funds that can go toward a variety of schooling services—online courses, private school, homeschool curricula etc. Unlike more limited voucher programs with restricted funds (some could only be used by poor students or those with disabilities, and most could only be used for private school tuition), Nevada’s decision to make education funds available to everyone is a potential game-changer for school choice. And it resurrects the viability of school vouchers, which have been relegated to the policy fringe for the past decade.

For years, voucher advocates and economists argued that the...

Adam Peshek

This is the tenth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy SmarickNeerav KingslandLindsey M. Burke, and Jason Bedrick.

Believe the hype. The creation of a universal education savings account (ESA) program in Nevada is the most momentous event in the history of the school choice movement. Soon, parents of all K–12 public school students in the state will have the ability to direct their children’s state education funds to the schools, programs, courses, and services of their choice. Along with Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee, nearly one million students will be eligible for an ESA in 2016. Despite their massive promise, education savings accounts require a much-needed evolution in the role of the state in education. 

The challenges in implementing ESA programs will be twofold. The first will be similar to any startup: securing funds, setting up infrastructure, creating processes and workflows, etc. The second set may prove to...

Jason Bedrick

This is the ninth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy SmarickNeerav Kingsland, and Lindsey M. Burke.

Earlier this month, Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law the nation’s first nearly universal education savings account (ESA) program. Education reformers are right to be excited, but now comes the hard part: resisting the temptation to overregulate.

At the core of the market-based approach is a deep epistemological modesty. We do not know the best way to educate students, or even if there is a “best” way. There is a legitimate diversity of views regarding what students should know and how to teach them, and different children have different learning needs.

There is no perfect system. All our institutions are constructed from the crooked timber of humanity. Ultimately, there will be failures in the private sector, just as there are in the public. Education providers will try new things only to discover that they...

What is the role of authorizers in charter school policy? It’s a question that the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) dive into in this new brief. Based on the assumption that authorizers should be accountable for the quality of schools they authorize and that “authorizer accountability and school accountability are inextricably linked,” NAPCS and NACSA examine recent developments in four states: Colorado, Minnesota, Hawaii, and Fordham’s beloved Ohio (sometimes called the Wild West of charter schools).

In Ohio, a 2012 law mandated that every authorizer would receive an annual performance rating—we were judged an “exemplary” authorizer—based on three components: academic performance of the authorizer’s charter schools, adherence to quality practices, and compliance with laws and regulations.

 Policy recommendations include sanctioning and terminating authorizers that fail in essential duties, defining more clearly what happens when a state terminates an authorizer, and detailing the fate of schools “orphaned” by authorizer termination. These policies are critical and ensure that parents and students are not left in the dark when a charter school loses its authorizer; they also help prevent “authorizer hopping,” whereby schools set for closure (either by their...

A new National Bureau of Economic Research paper examines the impact of access to Sesame Street on various short- and long-term academic and labor market outcomes. Analysts focus on cohorts of children born from 1959 to 1968. These subjects would have entered first grade between 1965 and 1974, around the time of Sesame Street’s birth in 1969.

The researchers examine the progress of students who would have been at least six years old and already in elementary school at the time of the first airing, as well as those five years of age and below (who would have been exposed to the program during their preschool years). They make use of the natural variation in exposure to the program by calculating, by county, the share of television-owning households that were able to receive a signal over which Sesame Street was broadcast. Two-thirds of the population is estimated to have lived in areas where Sesame Street could be received on their televisions.

Using U.S. Census data as their primary measure, the analysts find that kids with access to the program were more likely to proceed through school in the grade appropriate for their age; in other words, they were not held...

It wasn’t that long ago when you could go from one end of your K–12 education to the other without even laying eyes a student with a disability. “In the early 1970s, these youths were marginalized both in school and in life, with only one-fifth of children with disabilities even enrolled in public schools,” notes Education Week, whose tenth annual Diplomas Count report focuses this year on students with disabilities. Today, nearly six million such students are enrolled in U.S. public schools, with the vast majority studying alongside non-disabled peers. They are “coming of age at a time when they, like all high school students, are increasingly expected to perform to high academic standards and to prepare for further education or training and a productive role in the workplace,” the authors observe.

How are they doing? Eighty-one percent of our public high schools students can now expect to march across stage and be handed a diploma within four years; that’s both a historic high and the headline finding of Diplomas Count 2015. However, the graduation rate among students with disabilities is 62 percent—a figure that masks wild (and somewhat suspicious) variations from state to state: from a low of 23...

For decades, policymakers have piled regulations onto public schools. This top-down, input-driven approach made sense back in an era when too many students weren’t receiving even a rudimentary education and nobody was as fussy about academic results. As Netflix’s Reed Hastings once said, the only thing worse than a regulated monopoly is an unregulated monopoly.

But times have changed. We now realize that students need strong minds, not just strong backs, to compete for jobs in a competitive and knowledge-based economy. Rigorous academic expectations are the coin of the realm in contemporary education policy, but there is also near-universal consensus that youngsters deserve schooling experiences tailored to their individual needs, gifts, and interests. And parental choice is no longer a distant dream of Milton Friedman’s; it’s a reality in most urban communities in America.

These powerful forces demand a radically different approach to public education—and especially to the old regulatory regime that ruled it. States must demand that schools raise their academic performance to prepare all students for success in college or a career. In return, educators should have the autonomy to design instruction aimed at achieving these ambitious goals and to customize their approaches to accord with their pupils’...

Years into America’s quest to fix its failing schools, everyone agrees that it is extraordinarily hard work to turn them around. But that hasn’t stopped us from trying.

Indeed, the federal government has spent over $5.7 billion on school improvement grants (SIG) to date and has very little to show for it. Data from 2013 indicated that roughly two-thirds of schools that received SIG funds saw incremental gains in student proficiency—in line with the performance trend for all U.S. schools, including those that didn’t get SIG dollars. Even more disappointingly, one-third of SIG schools did worse after receiving the funding. (A small percentage stayed the same.)

A May 2015 study helped to explain these sobering results. It found that most states lack the expertise to turn around persistently failing schools. In fact, 80 percent of state officials reported “significant gaps” in this realm.

Even when we stumble upon promising strategies, the old familiar barriers make implementation difficult. In 2012, for example, the Center on Education Policy found that a majority of state officials believed that replacing the principal or staff of low-performing schools was a key element in improving student achievement there. Yet many also reported that...

Lindsey M. Burke

This is the eighth entry in Fordham’s education savings account Wonkathon. This year, Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to opine on ESAs. Click to read earlier entries from Michael GoldsteinSeth RauMatthew LadnerJonathan ButcherTracey WeinsteinAndy Smarick, and Neerav Kingsland.

Recently in Florida, an eleven-year-old boy was taken by Child Protective Services for playing basketball in his own back yard without parent supervision. More than 150,000 parents opted their children out of state tests in New York this past school year. Police in Texas shut down a lemonade stand set up by two little girls who were hoping to earn a few dollars to buy their dad a Father’s Day present. And there are more children being diagnosed with Youthful Tendency Disorder than ever before.

(Sorry, that last one was an Onion headline.)

Although these headlines appear unrelated, they’re actually representative of the same phenomenon: Regardless of the merits of the policy (e.g., state testing requirements), there is a growing perception that accountability has morphed into overregulation.

In order for Nevada’s ESA option to flourish, it cannot die a death by...

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