Flypaper

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...

Aided by a highly misleading New York Times article, the anti-Common Core crowd is pushing the narrative that Massachusetts’s recent testing decision (to use a blend of PARCC and its own assessment rather than go with PARCC alone) spells the end for the common standards effort. AEI’s Rick Hess and Jenn Hatfield called it a “bruising blow.” Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman described a testing system in “disarray.” Cato’s Neal McCluskey tweeted that Common Core is getting “crushed.”

It reminds me of my favorite Monty Python scene. I’m sorry, haters, but Common Core isn’t dead yet.


Sony Pictures Home Entertainment / Via here

First, let’s deal with Massachusetts, where the state board of education has decided to use a hybrid of PARCC and the Bay State’s own MCAS. In what must surely be a first, Commissioner Mitch Chester and Common Core opponent (and one-time senior associate commissioner) Sandra Stosky concur: This move is no repudiation of PARCC. As Chester wrote in a letter to the Times, “Neither my recommendation to the Massachusetts Board of...

Earlier this year, when it looked like ESEA finally had a chance of being reauthorized, I came up with a graphic for assessing the accountability provisions of the various proposals. I argued that, at least when it comes to federal policy, we should think about accountability as having four dimensions: tests, performance targets, school designations, and interventions.

My goal was to show that each dimension had a spectrum of possibilities, ranging from heavy-handed federal prescription to virtually no role for Uncle Sam. An upshot of this is that proposals could vary in countless ways—for example, one could be to beef up the federal government’s role in testing and targets, while another only had Uncle Sam active in designations, while another only had federal mandates on school interventions.

In this post, however, I showed that the eleven major proposals naturally sorted into three categories: some were prescriptive across the board, some were hands-off apart from testing, and some pushed hard on targets while backing off on designations and interventions. The big question was whether there was a single combination of approaches on the four dimensions that could garner sufficient support in both Houses of Congress and at the other...

Robin J. Lake

In refusing to reconsider its September ruling that public charter schools are unconstitutional and not entitled to receive public funds, the Washington State Supreme Court is bringing the state one step closer to shutting the door on promising educational opportunities for disadvantaged Washington students. Families in most other states have these options, and the charter sector continues to expand and thrive nationwide. Now that Washington students and families have seen what charters in our state can offer, however, it would be shameful to let that door close.  

State leaders are still scratching their heads over the logic of the initial ruling, which hinged on a nineteenth-century definition of “common schools.” State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the ruling was illogical and overly broad. Many agreed, including four previous Washington State attorneys general and a bipartisan group of legislators. Even former Democratic Governor and Attorney General Christine Gregoire joined the amicus brief and said the ruling was “not fair, not right.” Some believe that the ruling was influenced by the legislature’s standoff with the court over Washington’s failure to fully fund K–12 education, which was mandated in the well-publicized McCleary decision. The court has been displeased...

If every school in America was pretty good—if not better—our education policy debates would largely evaporate. Politicians would feel comfortable leaving educators alone to do their thing. And they would empower parents with the ability to choose the good (or great) school that best fit their values and their children’s needs.

And in fact, that’s how we should treat the vast majority of schools today — district, charter, and private. Do they keep kids safe? Check. Can they demonstrate reasonable evidence that they are putting young people on a pathway to success in what comes next (postsecondary education, the workplace, and citizenship, especially)? Check. Fantastic! Parents, take your pick, and send the taxpayers the bill.

All the talk of backlash, opt-outs, and teachers quitting in despair would simply melt away, because both parents and educators would feel in charge again. No more micromanagement from Tallahassee or Washington. No more second-guessing decisions made on the ground. No more desperation at feeling pressured to narrow the curriculum, teach to the test, or follow bureaucratic dictates. Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, we’d be free at last!

If I were king, that’s exactly how our system would work for the...

The ESEA reauthorization conferees delivered some good news for America’s high-achieving students last week. Absent further amending, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will include a necessary and long-overdue section provision that allows states to use computer-adaptive tests to assess students on content above their current grade level. That’s truly excellent news for kids who are “above grade level”—and for their parents, teachers, and schools.

Here’s the language, with emphasis added: 

The quality of state assessments matters enormously to children of all ability levels, but today’s tests do a grave disservice to high-achievers. Most current assessments do a lousy job of measuring academic growth by pupils who are well above grade level because they don’t contain enough “hard” questions to allow reliable measurement of achievement growth at the high end.

Doing that with paper-and-pencil tests would mean really long testing periods. But a major culprit is an NCLB provision requiring all students to take the “same tests” and (at least as interpreted during both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies) barring material from those tests that’s significantly above or below the students’ formal grade levels. Though the intentions behind this decision were honorable—to...

Gary Kaplan

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education wisely decided this week to tack between the Scylla of MCAS and the Charybdis of PARCC. Following Commissioner Mitchell Chester’s recommendation, they chose to adopt MCAS 2.0, a yet-to-be-developed hybrid of the two options. Their adroit navigation calms the troubled waters for the time being. But choosing a test is only the beginning of the voyage. Strong and sustained tailwinds will be needed to swell the sails of student achievement.

A test is a measuring instrument. It shows where a student needs to improve, but it doesn’t provide instructional strategies and tools to achieve that improvement. Even without a new test, current state, local, and national assessments already generate more data than anyone can digest.   

Assessment data should directly drive instruction, and the instruction should be individualized to the student. This is the intent. But data-driven, individualized instruction can only take place online. Teachers can’t cut and paste textbooks—but software can be customized with a keystroke. Still, very few schools have the computers and software to support individualized online instruction.

MCAS 2.0 can be an effective driver of instruction if the state invests in a computer for every student (along with the...

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