Flypaper

Victory is inevitable. That’s my biggest takeaway from Fordham’s new report on America’s best and worst cities for school choice.

This conclusion may strike some readers as premature, but while profiling the thirty cities included in the study, I was struck by how consistent the dominant narrative was across sites: School choice has grown rapidly in the past decade, and in most cities, that growth seems poised to continue indefinitely.

I don’t mean to advocate complacency or downplay the differences between cities (a central theme of the report). But from a national perspective, it’s increasingly clear that—despite the occasional legislative or judicial setback—school choice is winning and will continue to win. It’s easier to kill a bill than an idea, especially one that has grown into a movement because it works for kids.

Take caps on charter schools, for example: Of the thirty cities in our study, nineteen are located in states with some sort of cap; in some (such as Boston), this constitutes a needless and galling constraint on the growth of the sector. But ask yourself: How many charter caps have been lowered in the last ten years? (Answer: almost none) And how many have been raised?...

Our friend and colleague Mike Petrilli is right about many things, but he’s wrong to dismiss solid interstate comparisons of academic performance as a “nice to have,” not a “must-have.” He acknowledges that the Common Core standards have largely failed to usher in an era of timely, valid, and informative comparisons, but then he says, in effect, never mind, we still have NAEP, PISA, and other measures by which to know how one state is doing academically versus another and in comparison with the country as a whole.

It is indeed a good thing that we have those other measures because it’s true that the Common Core era has failed to deliver on what many of us saw as one of its most valuable and important features: a platinum meter stick to be used to measure, monitor, and compare student achievement, not just between states but also among districts, individual schools, even individual classrooms and children. That’s how the superintendent in Springfield, Illinois, could determine how his schools—even just his fifth-graders—compare with their counterparts in Springfield, Oregon, Springfield, Ohio, and Springfield, Massachusetts, both in absolute achievement and in academic growth trajectories in math and English. That’s how a principal...

Nancy Brynelson, Corley Dennison, Daniel Doerger, Jacqueline E. King, William Moore, and Faith Muirhead

As states have implemented college and career readiness standards, it has sometimes been assumed that most of the work and attention has occurred at the elementary grades. In truth, many states have been working for some time to ensure that grade twelve prepares all students for post-secondary success. Programs like AP, IB, and dual enrollment are the most touted offerings for well-prepared students. But there has also been a great effort to create courses for students who are not yet college-ready and who can use senior year to close academic gaps and avoid the remedial instruction that so often acts as a drain on the time, finances, and morale of ascending college students. Just last month, the Fordham Institute held an event called “Pre-medial Education” that discussed ways to bring high school-based college readiness programs to scale.

For colleges and universities, “fixing” remediation is a major priority. According to Complete College America, three out of five students entering community colleges and one out of five students entering four-year institutions require remediation. The vast majority of these students (78 percent at community colleges and 63 percent at four-year institutions) do not go on to successfully complete gateway credit-bearing courses....

There’s something about the sight of an abandoned school that tears at your heart. Far more than the caved-in factories, theaters, and hospitals that populate countless online photo galleries, those stacked-up chairs and warped chalkboards represent the decay of a childhood space that all of us recognize. Earlier this week, the Atlantic’s Jacoba Urist wrote about the efforts of artists to commemorate these ruins in faltering metropolises like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit, where recent waves of school closures have displaced thousands of students and stuck in the craws of local voters. The resultant creations, from photo collections to unique off-site installations, are being used to shame and galvanize local policy makers into action. “My work is political,” said one artist, who is working with Philadelphia kids to partially recreate a shuttered elementary school. “But at the same time, I’m interested in the real grief and pain these students feel.”

Work like this has genuine value. It gives a voice to those most affected by the often-harrowing process of closure, and it can also direct attention to the unforgiveable malfunction of major school districts. (Simply as a political act, it’s also a hell of a lot more appealing...

The dominant narrative about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is that it shifts authority over schools back to state governments. But this belies a key feature of the legislation. Indeed, my biggest complaint about ESSA is that it leapfrogs the state government in important places, creating an unwelcome federal government-school district relationship.

My objections are both legal and practical.

Excepting for issues involving federally protected rights (such as discrimination), state governments are ultimately responsible for K-12. This is a matter of the Tenth Amendment’s reserved powers and its education-related case law, like San Antonio v. Rodriguez.

It’s also explicit in state constitutions, which give state governments authority over primary and secondary schooling and place them squarely on the hook for delivering results. This is why, when plaintiffs sue over school funding or tenure rules, state governments—not districts—are the defendants. It’s also clear from state statutes. State laws create school districts and delegate power to them. State governments can decommission districts, consolidate them, take control of them, create new ones, or authorize other entities to deliver or oversee K-12 education.

When a federal education law does an end-run around the state...

Laura Overdeck

We’ve seen a lot of hand wringing over math achievement in this country. Our students continue to underperform against their peers in other countries, lighting a fire under educators and politicians to push new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programming in schools. While these panicked efforts have admirable intentions, they are mostly barking up the wrong tree. Kids spend vastly more time outside school than in it—four or five times as many waking hours—and one-on-one attention during that time is a major unpulled lever for generating change. Sadly, the large majority of our population misses out on that opportunity completely.

It begins with parents, who are their children’s first teachers. Kids respond to the in-person presence of their parents more strongly than to anyone else. Patricia Kuhl at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) has shown that when a baby sees someone touch her mother’s hand, the same region of the baby’s brain lights up as when someone touches the baby’shand. But when the baby instead watches a video of the person touching her mom’s hand, those regions don’t light up. Nor do they light up when a stranger’s hand is touched. Moreover, babies respond more strongly...

A new AEI report argues that private schools have a problem: They need more space. As more states use vouchers, tuition tax credits, and education savings accounts to help families access private education, schools will need to scale up and create new seats for incoming students. And the best way to do this, writes author Michael McShane, is to explore new funding mechanisms that will give the schools the necessary resources to handle growing enrollments.

One solution is for private schools to seek bond financing to help offset expansion costs. Public school districts already tap these financial instruments for capital projects because they expose investors to very little risk and the district itself pays less in interest than if it were to get a loan for the same amount from the bank (such financing for educational organizations is often tax-exempt). In 2012, the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority (CECFA) gave $9 million to the Catholic Educational Capital Corporation, which then offered it to Iona Prep, an all-boys high school in New York, to help purchase real estate that would allow it to open an elementary school. CECFA is not a state agency, but it is able to provide bond...

Is there such a thing as too much parental involvement in a student’s education? Lack of parental involvement is often cited anecdotally as an impediment to student achievement. On the other hand, so-called “helicopter parents” can run their children’s education like drill sergeants. The goal is educational and occupational success, but there is increasing concern that such intense involvement could instead lead to dangerous dead ends. A new study in the latest issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology adds much-needed data to the discussion. (Disclaimer: The study is from Germany, so mind the culture gap.)

There have been a number of studies over the last forty years looking at parents’ aspirations for their children, which is a useful way for psychological and sociological researchers to measure parental involvement. However, the current study’s authors noted two gaps in previous research. First, temporal ordering of effects was not generally considered (i.e., it was assumed that parents’ involvement led to certain academic outcomes in the future, but the current research supposes that kids’ past achievement could lead to more/different parental involvement in the future). Moreover, little effort was made to separate parental aspiration (“We want...

This study examines whether information supplied about a student’s ability helps inform that student’s decision to enroll in Advanced Placement classes. Specifically, the information “signal” is the “AP Potential” message on the student’s PSAT Results Report, as written by the College Board. Students who score at a certain cut point on the PSAT get a message that says, “Congratulations! Your score shows you have potential for success in an at least one AP course!” or else a message that says, “Be sure to talk to your counselor about how to increase your preparedness.”

Students in Oakland Technical High School who took the PSAT in 2013 made up the sample of roughly five hundred sophomores. The intervention was as follows: Right before and after they received their PSAT results that included one of the AP Potential messages above, they were given a survey that asked them (1) how they perceived their academic abilities and their plans relative to attending college; (2) the number of AP courses they plan to take; (3) whether they would take the SAT; (4) the probability that they’d pass the exit exam; and (5) the probability that they’d graduate high school.

Analysts found that the AP signal...

Like many, I’m convinced that what happens inside the classroom—curriculum and instruction—has as much of an impact (if not more) on student outcomes than structural reforms. For those who believe as I do, the revamped Elementary and Secondary Education Act has the potential to help states figure out how to hold schools accountable for student learning and what, if anything, to do about teacher evaluations. Let me throw out a few ideas.

“If you want more of something, subsidize it,” Ronald Reagan famously quipped. “If you want less of something, tax it.” During the No Child Left Behind era, test-driven accountability has too often stood Reagan’s maxim on its ear. Annual reading tests have practically required schools and teachers to forsake the patient, long-term investment in knowledge and vocabulary that builds strong readers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers. High-stakes accountability with annual tests that are not tied to course content (which reading tests are not) amounted to a tax on good things and a subsidy for bad practice: curriculum narrowing, test preparation, and more time spent on a “skills and strategies” approach to learning that doesn’t serve children well. Under the new ESEA, states will still have to test students...

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