Flypaper

Perhaps you’ve been on vacation or caught up in the historic events of recent weeks, but over the past ten days, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute hosted our second annual Wonkathon. Last year’s was about charter school quality; this year’s focused on how to implement the brand-new (and groundbreaking) Nevada education savings account program. (Congratulations to Seth Rau of Nevada Succeeds, the winner of the Wonkathon, who both seized his home field advantage and proved that when it comes to using similes, you’d better go big or go home.)

As Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute rightly concluded, our blogfest demonstrated remarkable consensus, at least among the scholars, policy analysts, and practitioners who participated. Nobody wants Nevada to micromanage the program; everyone understands—and wants regulators to address—the risk of financial malfeasance. Most agreed that making educational providers assess their results with a nationally norm-referenced test was a reasonable approach.

Yet lurking behind the apparent consensus is an unspoken question: What’s this reform trying to accomplish? The law itself says it wants to increase student achievement and parental satisfaction. But go back and read the fourteen posts and you’ll find that the ones most enthusiastic...

In the last four years, thirty states have transformed their teacher evaluation systems to improve student outcomes—and fourteen more are expected to follow suit by 2017. Too often, however, states focus more on the design of the systems than on how schools will and should implement them. This report from Education First argues that this is a mistake. We ought to also provide teachers the feedback and support they need to succeed. The report identifies five districts (Aldine, Texas; Greene County, Tennessee; Salem-Keizer, Oregon; Fulton County, Georgia; and St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana) that seem to be doing this right—a collection that’s diverse enough in location, racial makeup, and student body size to be applicable to myriad locales across the country.

The authors pinpoint a handful of essential teacher evaluation practices that hold the promise to improve student outcomes. First, schools need to make feedback and support a top priority and treat it as an ongoing process, including regular conversations centered on teachers’ professional development goals. Educators must be an integral part of the process, which creates an environment in which feedback is an expected and positive aspect of the job rather than a punitive one. For example, teachers and evaluators...

In the midst of debates about whether school is the best place to combat the effects of poverty, several educational institutions have taken it upon themselves to integrate non-academic poverty-relief supports into their academic programs. According to a new report from the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, these schools offer unique on-the-ground efforts to support high-need students above and beyond the traditional academic model. They include KIPP, SEED schools, the Harlem Children's Zone, and community-based schools like those found in Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS).

Each organization offers its own take on anti-poverty programming. KIPP focuses on extended school days and longer school years, character education, and initiatives like KIPP Through College, which includes step-by-step assistance in the college admission process as well as after-school tutoring and counseling. These are services that other high-poverty schools struggle to offer. KIPP is also extending its services in specific locations; KIPP Houston, for instance, features a school-based health clinic called KIPP Care. The SEED schools, meanwhile, take efforts even further with a one-of-a-kind public boarding school model: Those enrolled live on campus five days a week, then head home for the weekend. Students, many of whom...

A new report by researchers at the University of Arkansas examines non-public revenue in public charters and traditional public schools (TPS). This is the same group of researchers that the Thomas B. Fordham Institute commissioned to do our first charter-district finance study—and thankfully, they’re at it again, dispelling the myth that charters get all the philanthropic dollars they need to make up the existing funding deficit. Not so.

Analysts engage in an in-depth examination of non-public funds for Fiscal Year 2011 in public charter and TPS sectors in the fifteen states where they possess sufficient data (which means this isn’t a representative sample). Non-public funds include revenues from areas such as food service (that yummy cafeteria food), investment revenue, program revenue, rental revenue, philanthropic funds, and others.

Key findings: TPS received $6.4 billion and charters $379 million of non-public revenue in 2011. For TPS, this amounts to an average of $353 per pupil; for charters, an average of $579 per pupil. Yet these numbers vary by state. For instance, in Michigan charters receive 50 percent less in per-pupil revenue from non-public sources than do the TPS. The types of non-public revenue coming in also change by sector. In TPS,...

Over the past two weeks, we received fourteen responses to Fordham’s second annual Wonkathon prompt:

As Nevada implements its groundbreaking education savings account program, what must it get right in order to provide positive outcomes for kids and taxpayers? Should state authorities stay out of the way? Or are there certain areas that demand oversight and regulation?

This year’s posts offered a wide-range of oversight models from some of the wonkiest wonks in education reform. But there can only be one Wisest Wonk.

Without further ado, the winner of Fordham’s 2015 Wonkathon is Seth Rau, whose “Nevada should regulate ESAs like brothels” came in with 39 percent of the vote.

Tracey Weinstein’s “Does Nevada’s new ESA law hold promise for kids?” came in second with 17 percent.

And Rabbi A.D. Motzen’s “Why almost universal is not good enough” came in third with 15 percent.

Thanks to all the participants for another great Wonkathon, and congratulations to this year’s Wisest Wonk, Seth Rau! You can re-read the individual responses below or get the short and sweet version from Jason Bedrick’s recap.

 “Nevada needs...

Jason Bedrick

As the Fordham Institute’s education savings account (ESA) Wonkathon comes to a close, I thought it would be useful to summarize the views of the participants to identify areas of consensus and contention. As readers may recall, Fordham’s central question was:

As Nevada implements its groundbreaking education savings account program, what must it get right in order to provide positive outcomes for kids and taxpayers? Should state authorities stay out of the way? Or are there certain areas that demand oversight and regulation?

Inevitably, such summaries will lack the depth and nuance of the complete essays, but I will endeavor to faithfully record what I take to be the main recommendations from each wonk. The following summaries appear in the order that Fordham posted the originals:

Michael Goldstein (Match Education): Nevada needs an “individual, organization, or coalition of champions who take it upon themselves to ensure that their [state] provides excellent school options to all children and families.” This “harbormaster” would recruit high-quality providers to the state and provide parents with good information.

Seth Rau (Nevada Succeeds): Nevada should ensure that all ESA students take NNR tests and track...

It wasn't cool to be a "no-excuses," tough-love teacher for poor minority kids in the 1970s. That was the era of access centered "equity" for one and all, and most educators fretted more about kids struggling in school than about boosting their achievement. So academic standards (to the extent that there were any) were dumbed down, and lots of folks just took for granted the idea that environment was destiny. Kids from tough backgrounds, some thought, couldn't be expected to do all that well in school. 
 
Marva Collins thought otherwise. She believed—and said—that "kids don’t fail. Teachers fail, school systems fail. The people who teach children that they are failures—they are the problem.”
 
Then she put her own money and reputation on the line to prove that it didn't have to be that way. Along with a handful of other education renegades of the era (Jaime Escalante comes immediately to mind), she demonstrated that poor minority kids from inner-city environments could succeed just fine if given the right kinds of expectations, encouragement, and instruction. Today, we have plenty of these "proof points" in programs like KIPP, Achievement First, Success Academy, and many more. Most educators now understand that...

I taught fifth grade for many years at P.S. 277, in New York City’s South Bronx. But the school's full name was the Dr. Evelina Lopez-Antonetty Children's Literacy Center. I'd wager heavily there's not a student in that elementary school, or more than two or three adults, who could tell you a single fact about Lopez-Antonetty, whose name is on the door they walk through every morning and whose portrait (last time I looked) hangs in the school auditorium. I always found this odd and irksome. If it's important enough to put someone's name on a public building, it should be important enough to know why.

In the wake of the horrific, racially motivated shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, there have been demands to remove the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds in Charleston and wherever else it appears. Activists are demanding the removal of statues of Confederate Civil War figures and the rechristening of roads, bridges, and military bases bearing their names. There are nearly two hundred K–12 schools in America named after Confederate leaders, and now the calls have begun to strip the names from those buildings as...

This special edition of the Cowen Institute’s annual report marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a horrific event that devastated New Orleans and its people—yet also offered a unique opportunity to rebuild one of the poorest-performing school districts in the country. Authors Vincent Rossmeier and Patrick Sims offer a comprehensive look at the city’s progress thus far, as well as the unusual circumstances that have turned the Big Easy into a petri dish of education innovation.

The New Orleans system is unique for a number of reasons. Ninety-three percent of its public school students attend charters, making it the most decentralized education system in the country. (Detroit comes in second with 55 percent.) It relies heavily on nonprofit services, such as arts education, after-school programming, professional training, family services, and more. And while each charter management organization (CMO) operates autonomously, all schools in the Recovery School District work together to coordinate services that require economies of scale or are needed by every child in the district. These include a centralized enrollment system, city-wide transportation, standards of discipline and expulsion, and shared funding to special needs services and facility maintenance (demonstrating that commonsense policies can find a home in...

In school choice debates, the role that magnet schools can and should play often gets drowned out by arguments over charters, vouchers, ESAs, and the like. That’s a shame. Many of our best public high schools are magnets, and there have been several compelling—albeit anecdotal— analyses showing that rigorous magnet programs can be a boon for low-income kids (including, of course, a book by Chester Finn).

Since the 1970s, however, the definition of magnet schools has broadened to include any kind of specialized curriculum, from arts and languages to experiential learning and STEM. In many cases, the schools are not selective (or particularly selective). Magnet schools have been created by district administrators for purposes beyond academic rigor—most notably to promote desegregation or to offer more choices to families. The American Institute for Research’s recent study takes a look at whether magnet elementary schools are able to achieve their intended aims.

The study follows twenty-one schools that receive funds from the Department of Education’s Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) to convert into magnets. The analysts found a mixed legacy of success: The schools surveyed showed some indications of increased diversity, and “traditional magnets”—those with lower pre-conversion achievement rates—improved in English...

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