Flypaper

Shortly before ten o’clock on a recent warm summer morning, the grand old Apollo Theater on Harlem's 125th Street filled up with the friends and families of the members of Democracy Prep Charter High School's third-ever graduating class. The soon-to-be graduates milled about in the lobby, hugging each other and taking selfies in their bright golden robes and mortarboards before filing in, grinning, for their moment of glory.

I got to know each of these sixty-one students in my senior seminar class this year. It was a deeply satisfying year for the school and an extraordinary one for the students, each of Latino and African descent, and nearly all of modest means. Come September, every single one of them will attending colleges, including several institutions that would be the envy of parents and students at the elite private schools just a few blocks south of here. Ashlynn and Chris will be heading to Dartmouth; Hawa turned down Stanford to attend Yale; Tyisha will join the freshman class at Princeton. Other members of Democracy Prep's Class of 2019 are bound for Emory, Smith, SUNY Albany, Boston College, and Brown, among many others.

Class of 2019 is not a typo. It...

You don’t have to be a diehard liberal to believe that it’s nuts to wait until kids—especially poor kids—are five years old to start their formal education. We know that many children arrive in kindergarten with major gaps in knowledge, vocabulary, and social skills. We know that first-rate preschools can make a big difference on the readiness front. And we know from the work of Richard Wenning and others that even those K–12 schools that are helping poor kids make significant progress aren’t fully catching them up to their more affluent peers. Six hours a day spread over thirteen years isn’t enough. Indeed, as our colleague Chester Finn calculated years ago, that amount of schooling adds up to just 9 percent of a person’s life on this planet by the age of eighteen. We need to start earlier and go faster.

But the challenge in pre-K, as in K–12 education, is one of quality at scale. As much as preschool education makes sense—as much as it should help kids get off to an even start, if not a “head start”—the actual experience has been consistently disappointing. Quality is uneven....

In a new study released today from Fordham, authors Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel examine thirty-six jurisdictions that have both charter schools and state-funded pre-K programs to determine where charters can provide state-funded pre-K. Among the findings:

  • Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have both state-funded pre-K and charter laws. Of those, thirty-two have at least one charter school serving preschoolers.
  • Charter schools in all but four states face at least one significant barrier to offering state pre-K. Nine have statutory or policy barriers that preclude charter schools from offering state-funded pre-K; twenty-three other states technically permit charters to offer state-funded pre-K but have created practical barriers that significantly limit their ability to do so in practice.

The most common practical barriers include low funding levels, small pre-K programs, barriers to kindergarten enrollment, and local district monopolies on pre-K funds.

Download the report to see individual profiles of thirty-five states and the District of Columbia, as well as policy recommendations for federal and state policymakers and other critical stakeholders.

This research was made possible through the generous support of the Joyce Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), and our sister...

Yesterday, the Senate debated an amendment proposed by Mike Lee (R-UT) that would have required states to allow parents to opt-out of federally-mandated tests without penalizing their schools or districts. After Senate HELP committee chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) voiced his opposition, it failed 32 to 64. However, a similar amendment succeeded last week in the House, so is now included in the Student Success Act that was approved along party lines.

Senator Alexander’s floor speech on the Lee amendment, as printed in the Congressional Record, follows.

Mr. President, I thank the senator from Utah for his comments. We will be voting on the senator’s amendment this afternoon at 4 o’clock, and I want to just make a couple of comments about it. I have a little different view of what his proposal is. He talks about our being opposed to Washington’s heavy-handed approach. The way I understand his proposal, it is even more of a heavy-handed approach than the bill we are voting on today, and this is why.

His proposal is that Washington tells Utah or Oklahoma or Tennessee or Washington State what to do about whether parents may opt out of these federally required tests. Now, they are not...

I have been and continue to be a strong supporter of parental choice. I joined this fight over twenty-five years ago because I believe it can help address the systemic inequities so many poor students face. In my mind, the primary purpose of parental choice is to provide those who do not currently have high-quality educational options with access to those options. So while I believe that every student deserves an excellent education in the school that best meets his needs, I also believe that parental choice should be used principally as a tool to empower communities that face systemic barriers to greater educational and economic opportunities. I did not join this movement to subsidize families like mine—which may not be rich, but which have resources and options. I joined the late Polly Williams in 1989 in her courageous fight to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children.

Since then, I have fought alongside many others for parental choice for low-income and working class families throughout the nation. From the beginning, some critics of the parental choice movement have claimed that Republican lawmakers and other conservatives who have...

Scott Walker announced today that he’s running for president. The governor of Wisconsin is the fifteenth Republican candidate and the twentieth overall. He’s also the latest subject of our Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Walker has been involved in state politics for over twenty-two years. He was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from 1993 to 2002, when he was elected executive of Milwaukee County. After serving in that office for eight years, he took the helm as governor in 2011. During his tenure, Walker has focused heavily on education reform—and hasn’t shied away from controversial decisions. Here’s a sampling of his stances:

1. Teacher tenure and pay: “In 2011, we changed that broken system in Wisconsin. Today, the requirements for seniority and tenure are gone. Schools can hire based on merit and pay based on performance. That means they can keep the best and the brightest in the classroom.” June 2015.

2. School choice: “[W]e increased the number of quality education choices all over Wisconsin. Over the past four years, we expanded the number of charter schools, lifted the limits on virtual schools, and provided more help for families choosing to...

In a National Review piece last month, Mike Petrilli raised the important issue of how schools can build on the existing social capital in low-income neighborhoods. Yet he was unduly skeptical about the social-capital-building potential of a “typical Head Start center.” In fact, building social capital is the exact purpose that Head Start programs are designed to fill, and many of them do an outstanding job of it. In this regard, they are models for the public school system.

Head Start programs are expected to partner with communities and feature dedicated capacity and strategies for engagement that build on existing assets and networks. Their functions often take these shapes:

  • A social services hub. Many of the children in struggling neighborhoods will enter with a wide range of needs. Head Start programs address them by partnering with existing, trusted service providers that both serve students directly and educate teachers and school leaders about common warning signs. If schools did the same—instead of just trying to provide those services on their own—they could better attend to their students’ comprehensive needs. 
  • A family support hub. Parents in low-income communities often lack social capital, and research shows that building it up through social assistance
  • ...

Jim Webb recently declared his candidacy for president. The former U.S. senator from Virginia is just the fifth Democrat to do so, a number that contrasts sharply with the fourteen Republicans gunning for their party’s primary. He’s also the subject of the nineteenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Webb has served his country much of his adult life, only becoming a politician in 2007. Before that, he was an officer in the Marine Corps, a counsel for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, the assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, the secretary of the navy, an author of ten books (both fiction and nonfiction), and an Emmy-winning filmmaker. American education hasn’t been a major focus of his career, so he’s said less on the subject than most candidates. Nevertheless, here’s a sampling:

1. Pre-K: “The first [challenge we face in American education] is the benefit we can get through pre-K programs that would allow less privileged children to begin socialization and education at an earlier age.” July 2015.

2. Cost of college: “The second [challenge we face in American education] is the huge student loan debt that is hanging...

When thinking about innovation in America, our thoughts typically turn to tech-driven creative capitals like New York City and San Francisco. Yet this report from the Rural Opportunities Consortium, which argues that rural education is primed for innovation, demonstrates that change can also be bred outside of cities.

Author Terry Ryan, president of the Idaho Charter School Network and a former member of the Thomas B. Fordham team, focuses on three main advancements that rural schools have adopted: expanding school choice through charter schools, introducing new online technologies, and increasing collaboration between charter schools and local districts. All three give rural schools and districts greater autonomy and freedom to experiment with new programs and concepts.

To prove that rural areas can successfully implement these changes, Ryan profiles districts that have instituted them. For example, the Dublin City School District in southeast Georgia has followed in the footsteps of big cities like New Orleans and Washington, D.C. by embracing charter-driven school choice. Dublin’s increased administrative flexibility has allowed them to pilot new ideas, develop more direct lines of accountability, and ultimately raise high school graduation rates. Another example, the Vail School District in Arizona, created Beyond Textbooks, an online tool that...

Career and technical education (CTE) is the reform de jour. And the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), created following the Second World War to improve social and economic life for sixteen southern states, has taken notice. In an April report, the commission outlines the career and technical pathways that can help job seekers find employment and improve struggling economies.

Advanced credentials and CTE programs could be a game-changer in the South. Among the sixteen SREB states, at least a quarter of adults fail to complete any form of education after high school. In West Virginia and Arkansas, those numbers are as high as 40 percent and 34 percent respectively. An additional 20 percent of adults in each of the states complete some postsecondary work but receive no credential. And this lack of credentialing doesn’t just hurt working class adults. The report notes that “even youth born to middle-income families are as likely to move down the economic ladder as they are to move up.”

To reverse this dismal trend, the report calls for increasing the percentage of students who leave high school academically prepared for college and career to 80 percent (authors repeatedly call for higher and more rigorous standards,...

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