Flypaper

I believe people are generally at their angriest when they feel powerless.

It’s one thing to be unhappy with the current state of your life—heck, we’ve all been there. But it’s entirely different when there’s nothing you can do about it. That causes fury.

My practiced instinct now, when I see a person or a group of people acting out in rage, is to assume that they’ve been dispossessed of something important. I try my best to understand what’s keeping them from exerting an influence on their situation.

You can see this in revolts against brutal despots and in centuries of civil uprisings across the globe when there are food shortages. You can see it in urban unrest when residents can’t fix crime, housing, jobs, law enforcement, or transportation. But you can also see it in an abused child’s explosion of anger—or the uncorked temper of an adult who’s been subjected to a behemoth organization’s purposely unending cavalcade of customer service representatives. In a recent article, I applied this frame to our current politics, likening the dominant story of the 2016 campaign to a riot.

There are countless such examples in education. Think of the parent whose child has been...

Terry Ryan

I was the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s point person in Ohio for twelve years. I never met Robert Pondiscio but have followed his writing since leaving Fordham in 2013. I am also a former New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) Pahara fellow (class of 2008). Pondiscio’s piece, “The Left’s drive to push conservatives out of education reform,” has triggered an important conversation about race, power, politics, and school reform.

I was the only Republican in my cohort of Pahara fellows, which included the likes of progressive education leaders John King, Cami Anderson, and Andy Rotherham. I had philosophical disagreements with some of my New Schools colleagues, and I wasn’t nearly as excited about the election of President Barack Obama back in 2008 as they were. But every single one of my NSVF friends treated me and my opinions with respect. What’s more, they actually wanted to hear what I had to say.  

I attended the New Schools Venture Fund Conference in California that was at the center of Pondiscio’s piece. My take is different from his. I was less offended by the “push” of the political Left than I was disappointed by how voiceless the conservative ideas around...

As I reflected the post written by my friend and colleague Robert Pondiscio this week, and why it hit such a nerve, I was struck by a simple but stark conclusion: Education reform leaders on the Right and Left cannot claim the mantle of civil rights when it suits us and then reject it when it starts to feel uncomfortable.

For many years, white conservatives gave moral urgency to the push for education reform by adopting the language of civil rights struggles. In 2002, President Bush used called it “the civil rights issue of our time”—a frame that found its way into the keynote addresses and panel discussions of many white-dominated education reform conferences. John McCain used the same frame while accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, calling education “the civil rights issue of the century.”

These are moving words because they evoke times of great struggle and American heroes like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Little Rock Nine.

I remember first hearing this language coming from fellow white reformers after I left the classroom in 2002, and I remember thinking even then that it sounded hollow. Not because it was wrong—ensuring equity and...

In a thick of a presidential campaign, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. Education commentators are justifiably curious about the possible schools agenda of a President Trump, Sanders, or Clinton, sometimes to the exclusion of candidates in the down-ballot races. But even though the past few months have largely been given over to the looming fall contest, that’s certainly not the only meaningful election being held. This week, for example, millions of Texas families wisely rejected the candidacy of Mary Lou Bruner, the hard-right zealot who nearly won the Republican primary for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education.

First things first: Though she was ultimately defeated by rival Keven Ellis in Tuesday’s runoff vote, Bruner came within a few national headlines of holding office. She was the big winner in the original primary election several months ago, horsewhipping Ellis by seventeen points and coming within two points of the clinching 50 percent mark. The good people of her district have shown themselves to be very comfortable with the thundering oddballs who tend to prevail at the local level, and that played to Bruner’s strengths: She proved a Trumpian conjurer of free publicity, earning national fame by...

Earlier this month, eleven scholars, analysts, and advocates participated in our annual Wonkathon. The challenge we put to them was to find provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act that could be used to expand parental choice.

Our participants did not disappoint; I strongly recommend checking out their ideas on course access, school turnarounds, and charter quality. (All eleven posts are available here.)

But the argument that I found most compelling was one made by wonks Matthew JosephBrian Kisida and Travis Pillow: that the law could catalyze efforts to overhaul state and local school finance systems. That could unleash charters and choice more than anything else.

Indeed, school finance reform is the next front in the school choice war. As Matthew Joseph explained in his post, charter schools are shortchanged, on average, by more than 20 percent; for publicly funded scholarship programs, the deficit is 50 percent or more.

Twenty-odd years ago, some of us naively claimed that schools of choice would be able to deliver better learning at lower costs. That was a mistake. As long as schools are competing with one another for talent, not being able to pay competitive salaries is a major barrier to quality. (That goes for poorly...

As everyone knows, the Department of Education released its latest package of proposed regulations today. Among other issues, this round addresses the heart of the Every Student Succeeds Act: its accountability provisions.

The law, as you may recall, represented a major departure from No Child Left Behind, sending significant authority back to the states. It didn’t give them carte blanche, but Congress certainly intended them to have lots more sway over key education policy issues, including the design of their school rating systems.

Apparently Secretary of Education John King and his colleagues didn’t get the memo. While they're not a total disaster, the regulations proposed today miss opportunities at every turn to provide important flexibility to the states so that they might design systems that work.

Here are a few of the issues that state officials, and members of Congress, should complain about:

1. The regulations set an arbitrary standard for the “other indicators of student success or school quality”—and then make sure those indicators won’t matter anyway. One of ESSA’s key innovations was the allowance of non-test indicators in state accountability systems. While some accountability hawks saw this move as a way to water down expectations, others viewed it as a...

In theory, competition has the potential to boost quality and lower prices. But how is this theory working in education? This report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice provides an overview of the research on competition in American K–12 education and offers suggestions to enhance the competitive environment.

The report finds that competition in the form of charters, vouchers, and tax credits does indeed inspire competitive gains. But these gains are relatively small. An in-depth literature review reveals that forty of the forty-two studies on the impact of competition on public school students’ test scores find neutral-to-moderately-positive effects. These findings run counter to one of the most common arguments against choice programs—namely, that school choice does academic harm to those “left behind” at traditional public schools.

The report also examines whether school choice acts as a lever to exert market pressure and decrease educational costs. While the answer to that question is unclear, the report did note a discrepancy in the efficiency—defined as effectiveness per dollar—between traditional public and choice options. Charter schools appear to be doing more with less. Although they receive about 28 percent less funding per student than local district schools, they are achieving greater student gains. ...

In economics, it’s commonly accepted that specialization maximizes productivity. As Adam Smith preached, specialized workers are better able to hone their skills, become more efficient, and require less transition time between tasks. When Henry Ford divided automobile production into many smaller tasks along an assembly line, for example, output improved significantly.

A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) applies this philosophy to education, exploring whether teacher specialization (strategically assigning teachers to fewer subjects like math, reading, science, and/or social studies) improves productivity in elementary schools. Proponents of specialization argue that sorting teachers by areas of strength allows them to master subject content and spend more time on lesson planning. It may even increase teacher retention rates. In addition, some argue that early specialization might also ease the transition into middle and high school, where single-subject teaching in norm. Others caution that while specialized instructors teach less content, they teach it to a larger number of students. When specialized teachers aren’t able to get to know their students as well and tailor instruction accordingly, do learning outcomes suffer?

Author Roland Fryer explores these potential tradeoffs by randomly assigning fifty elementary schools in Houston to treatment and...

A new study uses twenty-five years of data on the Milwaukee voucher program to examine the extent to which factors like school newness, institutional affiliation, market share, and regulatory environment put voucher schools at risk of failure.

Examining data for every private school that participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) between years 1991 and 2015, analysts find that 41 percent of the 247 schools that participated for at least one year failed—meaning that they were terminated via regulatory action or else voluntarily shut their doors. Another 11 percent either merged with another school or converted to a charter school. The analysis includes information on both the likelihood of leaving the program and the risk of failing.

Start-up voucher schools and those unaffiliated with a religious institution have comparatively higher risks of failure over time. Simply being a start-up increases the risk of failure by 332 percent, and the risk of leaving MPCP for any reason increases it by about 218 percent. (The average time to reach failure for a failed start-up is 4.3 years, compared to 8.7 for existing schools.) On average, start-up MPCP schools enroll 90 percent of their students via vouchers.

Having a religious affiliation, however,...

Is there a more annoying manifestation of our political and cultural divisions than the debate over school discipline? On the Left is the “restorative justice” crowd, clamoring for an end to “exclusionary” practices before critical questions about the impact of this step have been answered; on the Right are the “no-excuses” folks, asserting the necessity and efficacy of suspensions based on the blithe assumption that they promote order and safety.

At times, both sides seem to view dialogue and consequences as mutually exclusive, even though common sense suggests they might be usefully combined. Any decent parent penalizes bad behavior and insists on an apology when one is warranted (as do many educators). Yet at the policy level, in loco parentis is too bipolar for that. For the discipline doves, disparate suspension rates are proof not just of racial bias (which is only part of the story), but of the indefensible and counterproductive nature of punishment generally. (Never mind that this logic would obviate the need for courts and prisons if applied outside the schoolhouse.) For the hawks, no policy is too shortsighted and socio-emotionally indifferent to rationalize by invoking the sanctity of the learning environment. The possibility that suspended students might return to class...

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