Flypaper

In Fordham’s third annual Wonkathon, eleven wonks opined on ESSA and parental choice:

Many observers credit No Child Left Behind with contributing to the significant expansion of parental choice in American education over the past fifteen years. It wasn't necessarily the school choice provisions contained in the law (which were limited and poorly designed), but what its passage did to shine a spotlight on school failure and create a sense that better schools were desperately needed.

Likewise, some in the school choice movement are disappointed that the new Every Student Succeeds Act doesn't do much legislatively to promote choice. But are they overlooking the law's potential? What do you think are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity?

But who was the wisest, wonkiest wonk of all? Vote for the best policy discussion on education savings accounts. Polls close on Wednesday, May 18, at 12:00 p.m. EDT. One vote per person, please. (And may the best wonk win!)

UPDATE: Voting is now closed. Click here to see the results.

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On May 5, the Congressional Research Service released a report on proposed U.S. Department of Education spending regulations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The nonpartisan group concluded that the deparment's regulations could be in violation of ESSA's "supplement, not supplant" edict, which prohibits federal Title I dollars from replacing state and local spending on K–12 education. On May 11, Senator Lamar Alexander addressed the report in this speech on the Senate floor.

I have come across an embarrassing situation. The United States Department of Education has apparently earned an F from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service in its first attempt to write a regulation under the new law fixing No Child Left Behind that passed this body with 85 votes last year, that passed the House overwhelmingly, and that President Obama signed into law in December, calling it a “Christmas miracle.” Most of us will remember this law. I know the senator from Pennsylvania had a major role in some provisions in it. This was a law to fix a law that everybody wanted fixed. It was eight years overdue.

The law that needed fixing was called No Child Left Behind. Over the last several years, the U.S. Department of...

Alex Medler

Editor's note: This is the final post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found herehereherehereherehereherehere, here, and here.

I nominate one of the smallest pieces of the ESSA as a potential high-leverage point for choice. Hidden in the Charter School Program (CSP) amid language shaping the grants administered by State Education Agencies (SEAs) is a little provision that could eventually lead to big changes regarding school choice. States can now spend 7 percent of their grants on system-level changes to support charter school expansion and quality.

Most everyone in the charter world knows that the CSP received more than $330 million this year. The biggest portion of that money goes to SEAs in the form of grants (which underwrite the sub-grants the SEAs themselves award to would-be charters in order to meet start-up costs). Let’s consider how a small bit—if people are smart about how they use it—could drive big change.

The SEA grant program traditionally allowed...

Brian Kisida

Editor's note: This is the tenth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found herehereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

There isn’t much in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that explicitly addresses school choice. Still, there will likely be indirect effects from some ESSA policies. Specifically, I think there are two key areas where ESSA will have important implications for school choice. First, both the weighted student funding pilot program and the new requirement to report school-level expenditures will further solidify the idea that dollars should follow students, which will likely lead to increases in school choice funding levels. Second, the requirement for more diverse measures in state accountability systems aligns with school choice’s focus on innovation and specialization. With academic success defined across a broader set of outcomes, the ability for choice schools to pursue broader academic outcomes will be less constrained.

School-level spending transparency and student-based budgeting

Under ESSA, states will be required to report expenditures at the school...

Jordan Posamentier

Editor's note: This is the ninth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found hereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

ESSA provides states with the opportunity to incentivize school districts to expand parent choice. States now have the freedom to relax their NCLB-driven state laws while incentivizing local authorities to go about improving choice in their school systems.

ESSA replaced NCLB, but the law of the land leading up to reauthorization was shaped by the Obama administration’s waiver program. The Department of Education used those waivers to compel states to pass a number of rather prescriptive laws, which tied the hands of districts in some policy areas. Perhaps the most onerous requirement was performance-based teacher evaluations, which—while well intentioned—were also highly constraining.

ESSA cleared the regulatory deck established by the waiver program, but by and large, the state laws that passed because of those waivers are still on the books. To unbind districts from those laws, states can now do one of three...

Ronald F. Ferguson, Ph.D.

The following text is an excerpt from Aiming Higher Together: Strategizing Better Educational Outcomes for Boys and Young Men of Color, an Urban Institute report authored by Ronald F. Ferguson of Harvard University. The report proposes ways to improve the educational outcomes of boys and men of color by altering conditions in homes, schools, and communities to create “person-environment fits” that better foster achievement. Dr. Ferguson’s strategies for accomplishing this span from birth to adulthood, and concern everything from preschool nurturing to respect outside of the classroom during the school years.

In the report, Dr. Ferguson splits these strategies into three sections, one of which he calls “disproportionality and bias.”

Ferguson defines bias as the absence of neutrality. He distinguishes three types of neutrality: equal application of criteria (for example, the test scores and grades required to qualify for a particular placement is the same for students of different groups); equal quality of options (for example, the quality of instruction is the same in different tracks); and equal quality of access (in this case, the criteria are biased insofar as they do not treat equally qualified people equally). He uses these distinctions to put several issues in perspective, including tracking...

Travis Pillow

Editor's note: This is the eighth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found herehereherehereherehere, and here.

Regardless of exactly how they're funded, schools all over the United States face a basic problem. Many of those serving the most disadvantaged students tend to have the fewest resources.

In a nod to equity advocates, the new federal education law includes a modest attempt to entice school districts toward a solution: weighted funding. The Every Student Succeeds Act includes a pilot program that, in its first three years, would allow up to fifty districts to allocate funding to schools based on the characteristics of students they enroll. Schools would receive more funding for children who have special needs, speak a native language other than English, or come from a low-income families.

Many of the school finance reforms sought by choice advocates, such as true funding portability, didn't make it into the new statute. While the pilot program won't usher in a financing system in...

Christy Wolfe

Editor's note: This was a submission to Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Of the eleven submissions, this was selected as the winner by a poll of our readers.

One of my biggest concerns about ESSA has been its lack of a meaningful “safety valve” for kids in failing schools. There is no getting around the fact that this version of ESEA does not spell out parent-directed education options the same way No Child Left Behind did, with its explicit provisions for supplemental educational services and school choice. When ESSA eliminated the “cascade of sanctions” for schools deemed “in need ofimprovement”, explicit references to closing schools and reopening them as charters also disappeared. There are no requirements (let alone incentives) for choice and transportation.

What we learned from NCLB, though, is that unwanted mandates don’t usually lead to much real access to seats in better schools. Washington can tell a district it must offer school choice regardless of capacity, but in the real world the absence of high-quality...

This study examines the impact of test-based accountability on teacher attendance and student achievement using data from North Carolina. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), schools that failed to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) toward universal proficiency in consecutive years faced a series of escalating sanctions. Thus, teachers at schools that failed one year had a strong incentive to boost achievement in the next, while those at other schools faced a weaker incentive.

Using a difference-in-differences approach that compares these groups, the author estimates that failing to make AYP in NCLB’s first year led to a 10 percent decline in teacher absences in the following year (or roughly one less absence per teacher). He also estimates that an additional teacher absence reduces math achievement by about .002 standard deviations, implying that schools that failed to make AYP saw a similar boost in achievement because of improved teacher attendance. However, in a separate analysis, he shows that the threat of sanctions led to a .06 standard deviation improvement in math achievement in the following year, suggesting that improved teacher attendance accounted for just 3 percent of all accountability-driven achievement gains.

In addition to the general decline in teacher absences,...

In 2014, for the first time, the overall number of Latino, African American, and Asian students in public K–12 classrooms in America surpassed the number of non-Hispanic white students. To better understand what this “majority minority” student body might mean for public education going forward, the folks at the Leadership Conference Education Fund asked Latino and African American parents what they thought about America’s K–12 system, as well as what sort of education they want for their children.

Researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of eight hundred African American and Latino adults (parents, grandparents, etc.) actively involved in raising a school-aged child, also conducting focus groups in Chicago (Latinos) and Philadelphia (African Americans).

As with other such surveys, a large majority of parents rated their own children’s schools as “excellent” or “good” at preparing students for success in the future. (It is interesting to note, however, that parents whose children attended schools that were mostly white were more likely to rate those schools positively.) Yet parents were also pessimistic about the quality of public schools writ large—especially for students of color. And they felt that funding, technology, and excellent teachers were inequitably distributed in favor of predominantly white and high-income schools.

The survey...

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