Flypaper

Tomorrow in Columbia, South Carolina, the Jack Kemp Foundation will receive a coterie of scholars, policy mavens, and politicos at its Kemp Forum on Expanding Opportunity. The event is hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott—two rising GOP stars, both notably focused on policy solutions to America’s inequality crisis—and holds great potential as a podium for presidential candidates to exchange ideas. In the midst of a conspicuously policy-light 2016 campaign (especially when it comes to the issue of K–12 schooling, where vowing to eradicate the Department of Education counts as some candidates’ most probing insight), it will be healthy for participants to lay out their opportunity agendas in an important early primary state.

The host organization is just as fitting as the venue. Its namesake, congressman and cabinet secretary (and quarterback!) Jack Kemp, was one of the most energetic policy entrepreneurs of the Reagan era. He was a self-styled “bleeding-heart conservative” who championed novel schemes to conquer poverty through tax and housing policy. His nomination as the Republican vice presidential nominee in 1996 was a credit to the party, and conservative voices are now trumpeting the “Kemp model” as an example for future Republican...

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research examines how Louisiana’s statewide voucher program affects student achievement. The Pelican State expanded its program statewide in 2012; by 2014, twelve thousand students had applied for more than six thousand slots to attend 126 private schools. Because the program was oversubscribed, the vouchers were randomly assigned such that some kids were offered vouchers and some weren’t. This study focuses on roughly 1,400 grade students in grades 3–8 who applied in fall 2012—the first application cohort after the program expanded.

The primary (and surprising) finding is that attending a voucher-eligible private school reduces voucher students’ test scores in math, ELA, science, and social studies (though ELA is not significantly lower). Math scores go down by 0.4 standard deviation one year after the lottery, and for other subjects, the drop is between one-quarter and one-third of a standard deviation. Voucher use also reduces the probability of being promoted to the next grade and shifts students into lower state performance categories. The outcomes are even bleaker for younger children.

In short, this is all very bad news. But remember that these are first-year outcomes, and first-year evaluations of anything ought to be...

I encountered a bit of advice this week that my dear mother would have welcomed during her brief and inglorious career as my pre-Algebra tutor: When it comes to assisting kids with their math assignments, parents can afford to do less.

After struggling to help her first grader with some unfamiliar addition and subtraction formats, the Hechinger Report’s Kathleen Lucadamo sought advice from teachers and parents on how to cope with changing curricular materials and methods. The group recommendation was basically to act as the highway patrol rather than a chauffeur—that is, be on the lookout for breakdowns and give directions when necessary, but don’t pick the route and do the driving yourself. In the words of Jason Zimba, a physicist and the lead writer of the Common Core math standards, “The math instruction on the part of parents should be low. The teacher is there to explain the curriculum.”

This consensus is more than just a remedy for the brain-melting feuds erupting at American kitchen tables over the spiffiest way to factor a polynomial. It also offers a shortcut around one of the least enlightening discourses of modern education politics, which is the squabble over why none of us can...

This study compares “diverse” and “non-diverse” charter schools in Washington, D.C., focusing on three areas: academic proficiency, academic growth, and suspensions. It focuses particularly on the eighty-seven D.C. charter schools (out of 112 total) where more than twenty-five students took the DC CAS test between 2011 and 2014, of which twenty-seven are “diverse”—defined as having a student population that is less than 80 percent African American. (No other race accounts for more than 80 percent of the student body at any school in the study, though a few schools that were excluded for technical reasons are more than 80 percent Hispanic.)

Overall, the study finds no statistically significant differences between diverse and non-diverse schools when it comes to proficiency and growth. When the results are broken down by subgroup, however, some interesting differences emerge. For example, African American and at-risk students have higher proficiency rates and lower suspension rates at diverse schools, but they exhibit no differences in growth; on the other hand, there are no significant differences for Hispanic students in any of these areas. (Unfortunately, there are too few white students at non-diverse schools to make any comparisons.)

A secondary analysis that restricts the sample to diverse schools...

A fascinating new study in Education Finance and Policy examines discretionary layoff policies in Charlotte Mecklenburg. In general, there are two non-discretionary, mechanical approaches to reducing the number of school employees. One is seniority-based layoffs: last in, first out (LIFO). There is also an approach known as “inverse student performance”: those with the worst value-added scores are the first to be fired. Neither of these is particularly desirable. In LIFO’s case, the reasons are obvious and legion. And using only value added might result in teachers focusing solely on test scores or in the loss of instructors who fill organizational needs (e.g., teaching specific grade levels or subjects) or otherwise contribute to a school’s educational priorities.

In contrast, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools use a discretionary policy. Candidates for layoffs are identified using a variety of factors, including the lack of formal job qualifications, length of service, and performance as determined by principal evaluations, plus the particular needs and goals of the school. Student test scores are not part of the process. Between 2008 and 2010, the district laid off over a thousand teachers because of the recession. The study’s author, Brown University’s Matthew Kraft, asked two questions: Which teachers actually...

Civics is at or very close to the top of my education priority list. I’ve often lamented how far we’ve strayed from the founding ideals of public education, which had more to do with preparing young people for effective self-government than college and career readiness. NAEP results reinforce just how badly starved for oxygen civics and history are in our schools. If reading and math proficiency are at crisis levels, civics and history have reached a state of advanced decay. Fewer than one in four eighth graders score “proficient” in civics; in history, it’s even worse—just 18 percent at or above proficient. We don’t even bother to test in twelfth grade anymore. Perhaps we just don’t want to know.

From the Education Commission of the States comes a new brief, “Youth Voting: State and city approaches to early civic engagement.” The report notes that opportunities for youth participation in city and state elections “are becoming part of the policymakers’ toolkit to create engaged citizens and lifelong voters.” Specific initiatives—preregistration to vote of individuals as young as sixteen in twelve states and the District of Columbia; allowing seventeen-year-olds to vote in primaries, municipal races, and school...

It’s said that failure is an orphan, but success has a thousand fathers. If that’s true, what conspiracy of malefactors do we have to thank for the oafish presidential candidacy of Donald Trump? Even as he continuously fails the tests of maturity, credibility, and good taste, the second-generation merchant landlord has proceeded from strength to strength in Republican primary polls (as he’ll be the first to tell you).

Some will attribute his rise to the anger of disaffected working-class whites or his near-monopoly of election press coverage, but these strike me as only offering proximate explanations. My own theory is a little more ethereal: Trump’s gravity-defying candidacy represents the predictable outburst of an electorate whose civic awareness has been all but hollowed out. Just think of the 2016 primary follies as the bill come due for our decades of failure in teaching American students the foundational concepts of their history and political system.

This failure has been abundantly publicized in recent months. April saw the release of the “Nation’s Report Card” for civics and American history (among other subjects). The results, as any number of panic-stricken reports made clear at the time, were abysmal: A pathetic 23 percent of eighth graders scored at or...

If my Dad were alive today—and fifty years younger—I suspect he'd be a Trump voter.

My father got a high school education, enlisted in the Army, and fought in the South Pacific during World War II. After the war, he was hired by American Airlines, the only company whose paychecks he would ever cash. In forty-plus years on the job, he went from working as a mechanic to flying transcontinental routes as a flight engineer (a job made obsolete long ago by microprocessors). 

He earned enough to move his family from Yonkers to Long Island, with its affordable houses and good schools. His own father had been an immigrant pick-and-shovel man. My Dad did him one better by following the playbook common to men of his moment and mindset: learn a trade, work hard, play by the rules, and things will work out. On the day he dropped me off at college (I was the first in my family to attend), he was still badgering me to learn TV repair, plumbing, or heating and air conditioning. College was fine, but its benefits seemed nebulous to Depression-era guys like Dad. It wouldn't hurt, he insisted, to have "a skill to fall...

I re-read about fifty major articles, blog posts, and other missives about ESSA over the break, since this written record will serve as the foundation for years of commentary and analysis. Below are the five major themes that jumped out (along with gobs of the supporting links).

1. The diminished role of Uncle Sam in schools

The biggest ESSA takeaway is the dramatically reduced role for the federal government. The New York Times called it a “sweeping bill” that ends Washington’s “aggressive polic(ing) of public school performance.” Politics K-12 explained that it represents an about-face after a quarter century of increasing federal authority. Politico wrote of NCLB’s being “killed.”

Hess and English wrote that “conservatives scored a smashing educational triumph.” David Kirp wrote that in the “first time since the Reagan years, the balance of power (shifts) away from Washington and back to the states.” Longtime congressional aide Jack Jennings noted, "The federal government overstepped its bounds, and it got a smackdown from Congress."

(For more details, see Mike Petrilli’s chart and Politics K–12’s cheat sheet.)

2. A major loss for Arne Duncan?

There’s broad agreement—with two exceptions noted below—that ESSA dealt a blow to Arne Duncan’s legacy. Observers quickly saw that...

As everyone knows, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—was approved by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate and signed into law by the president in December. The law grants much greater authority to the states over the design of their school accountability systems, especially in contrast to No Child Left Behind.

States now enjoy the opportunity—and face the challenge—of creating school rating systems that can vastly improve upon the model required by NCLB. To help spur creative thinking about how they might do so—and also to inform the Department of Education as it develops its ESSA regulations—the Fordham Institute hereby declares an “accountability design competition.” (We are focused on school ratings, not the interventions that may result from them.) Participants will be tasked with suggesting specific indicators for states to use in grading schools, along with working through the various decisions that states will struggle with as they determine how to calculate ratings. Judges will evaluate the recommendations, and all of us will get to watch and weigh in online.

By January 26, participants will submit their proposals with the following elements included. To keep things from getting too complex,...

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