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Are you a Columbus-area parent that wants to live in or near a culturally vibrant neighborhood, and send your child to a school that serves a variety of racial and socioeconomic backgrounds? But you find yourself wondering, Will the public schools in the city provide a strong education for my kid?

If you are looking for the best school for your child and finding it hard to navigate all the options, join us as author, father, and education policy expert (and Fordham Executive Vice President) Michael J. Petrilli details his family’s journey.

Columbus International High School

Tuesday, February 26 · 5:30pm to 7:00 pm

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Switching it up

In a surprise twist, Dara Zeehandelaar hosts Fordham president Checker Finn on this week’s Gadfly Show. They discuss Tom Harkin’s retirement, wheelchair basketball, and the flap over the MAP. Amber intervenes with a word on late interventions.

Amber's Research Minute

Late Interventions Matter Too: The Case of College Coaching in New Hampshire by Scott Carell and Bruce Sacerdote (National Bureau of Education Research, Dartmouth College, University of California Davis, July 2012).

School closures
School closures are traumatic.
Photo by Thomas Hawk

Secretary Duncan and his team were mobbed the other day by agitated parents and kids protesting the closing of public schools around the land. Though Uncle Sam has no real control over this, it's true that Duncan came to Washington promising to close (or overhaul) a thousand schools a year and, more recently, has been pressing for radical action in the lowest-performing 5 percent—i.e., about 5000 schools. Actual data in this realm are scarce, but NCES reports roughly a thousand closings a year among “regular” public schools (meaning that, in one sense, Duncan's promise is being kept, though not by him), as well as who knows how many charter and private schools that bite the dust. But even if the total is closer to 2000, in a country with 100,000 schools that's just 2 percent a year. Moreover, schools keep opening, too, hundreds of them every year in every sector.

Nobody likes to close schools. Secretary Duncan remarked to the crowd, “I don't know any educator who wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to close schools.’” And it’s self-evident that nobody likes to have his or her own school closed. It's traumatic for families, teachers, students, neighborhoods, communities, even entire villages and towns.

But there are three big reasons why schools close and will continue to close—while others open.

First and most obviously, big demographic shifts....


Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who is regarded as perhaps the most powerful lawmaker in U.S. education policy, will not seek re-election in 2014. While he was an impediment to change—making this good news for reformers—the word on the grapevine about his possible successor is troubling. Namely, there is talk that if Sen. Patty Murray does not take on the role due to her role on the Senate Budget Committee, the next name on the list is—Sen. Bernie Sanders? We shudder to think.

Last week, the Education Department—with nary a nod to Congress or public debate—declared what Mike Petrilli dubbed a “right to wheelchair basketball” via its new “guidance” on the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. While few oppose the desirability of making reasonable accommodations for the disabled in school sports, the guidance, as pointed out by Politics K–12, “goes farther and says that if reasonable accommodations can’t be made, students with disabilities ‘should still have an equal opportunity to receive the benefits of extracurricular activities,’” thus turning “guidance” into a fully fledged unfunded mandate. For more on this debate, check out Mike’s appearance on NPR’s “On Point” show.

In its latest foray into the study of charter-school quality, Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has a major new study out, reporting that schools’ long-term success can be predicted by how they performed in their first year. Schools that start the game swinging will generally continue to do well, while those...


In the mid-1990s—channeling Pygmalion—the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided 4,600 low-income families  with housing vouchers and relocation counseling to move them into lower-poverty neighborhoods. According to this new analysis in Cityscape, this Moving to Opportunity (MTO) initiative was “disappointing” as regards education: It did very little to improve student achievement and related schooling outcomes (such as attendance and graduation rates). This was true across all age cohorts, including children six and younger. The one statistically significant effect of the program was an increase in “health awareness” among female participants. Why such a flop? The analysts found that the socioeconomic makeup of the schools to which the program moved children was still very similar to the schools in their old neighborhood; for example, youth in the study moved into schools with a free-or-reduced-price-lunch rate only 10 percentage points lower than those of the schools they exited. And they were unable to ensure that the quality of the schools was any better. As this report makes painstakingly clear, social engineering is no antidote for the opportunity gap. Instead, we might think about opening stronger educational options for students, no matter their zip code, and giving parents the options to choose their child’s academic setting.

A version of this review originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.

SOURCE: Lisa A Gennetian, Matthew Sciandra, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, et al., “The Long-Term Effects of Moving to Opportunity on Youth Outcomes (Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research, Volume 14, Number...


Fourth-quarter drives—even the most impressive—are often not enough to alter game outcomes. So it is with educational interventions: Getting students on track by third grade (and keeping them there) yields greater long-term results than high school interventions. However, this paper from two Dartmouth and UC Davis professors argues that certain late-game pushes can help college-going and college-persistence rates for some K–12 pupils. Analysts targeted “college-ready” high school seniors in twelve large New Hampshire high schools who had shown interest in college but had made little to no progress on their applications (guidance counselors helped ID these students). They randomly assigned about half of these students to receive targeted college coaching, meaning college-application mentoring from a Dartmouth student, money to cover application fees and ACT/SAT exams, and a $100 bonus if they completed the application and filing process. The authors found no statistically significant impact from the program for men but did find one for women: Young women who completed the treatment were 24 percent likelier to enroll in college than their control-group peers. Even those who received only part of the treatment saw a bump in college attendance. And this positive effect appeared greater for large, resource-challenged high schools with comparatively low baseline college-going rates. Further, when analysts examined persistence in four-year college—defined as attending three or more semesters or being enrolled for two years—the treatment effect was also 12 percentage points higher than the control group of women. (Analysts speculate that this gendered success story may be because...


The Moving to Opportunity for Fair Housing Program (MTO), the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s twenty-year attempt at a real-life Pygmalion, has failed. The department experimentally relocated low-income families and children out of poverty-stricken areas and into ones populated by the middle class. Unfortunately, these children did not achieve better schooling results. As said by the journal Cityscape, “MTO’s effects on achievement and related schooling outcomes were disappointing, particularly among the youngest cohort of children.” The results, while disappointing, are no big shocker. This program takes an approach that is far too hands-off for comfort. Imagine Pygmalion’s Mr. Higgins asking Eliza Doolittle to come live in his house but neglecting to provide her with lessons in grammar or etiquette.

MTO provided 4,600 families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York with housing vouchers and additional housing counseling to help them move out of impoverished neighborhoods. The goal of the program is to help these families “choose modestly priced private housing in neighborhoods that can offer ample educational, employment, and social opportunities.” But there is no guarantee that the schools in the new neighborhood will be much better or more affluent than the ones in the school districts they left. The Cityscape analysis found that the socioeconomic makeup of the schools to which the program moved children was still very similar to the schools in their old neighborhood; for example, youth in the control group, on average, attended schools that were around 90 percent minority enrollment, while youth...


Inaugurations and graduations

Mike and Kathleen are skeptical about the President’s education agenda and newly released high school graduation rate data. Amber thinks about low-income high-flyers.

Amber's Research Minute

The Missing "One-Offs": The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low Income Students by Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery, The National Bureau of Economic Research

This report by Stanford’s Martin Carnoy and the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein offers a catchy press-release headline: The U.S. Fares Better on International Assessments than Previously Thought. But that isn't actually true. Analyzing PISA data, Carnoy and Rothstein argue that the U.S. educates its disadvantaged students about as well as similar nations—and, for that, America should be praised. But the problems with the study are myriad. First, the authors use a “very approximate” index—the number of books in a student’s home—to determine social class. Others have explained the methodological flaws with this approach. Second, the authors engage in some dangerous statistical gymnastics to prove their point: Based on the assumption that students of low “social class” bring down average U.S. scores, Carnoy and Rothstein re-estimate PISA attainment (by using the books-in-the-home index) to norm the proportion of students in each class. They find that, if the U.S. had the same proportion of students in lower social classes as other nations, then it would rank fourth in reading (instead of fourteenth) and tenth in math (instead of twenty-fifth). The conclusions of this report only affirm the very significant education problem that it’s trying to downplay: We have a greater proportion—and a significantly greater number—of low-scoring and low-income students than other OECD countries. Carnoy’s and Rothstein’s flawed analysis and misleading primary conclusion is at best a diversionary ploy.

SOURCE:Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein, What do International Tests Really Show About U.S. Student Performance? (Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute, January 15, 2013)....

Diverse Schools Dilemma

Mike’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools, continues to garner attention. Here are some recent articles and interviews worth checking out. (And if you haven’t yet, buy the book now!)

  • Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of All Together Now, reviewed Mike’s book in the Washington Monthly: “… This book may be a significant—and hopeful—harbinger that the center-right school reform community, battered down by the humbling experience of trying to make separate schools for rich and poor work, may be willing to take a new look at how to reinvent Brown v. Board of Education for the twenty-first century.” (1/13–2/13)
  • In Education Next, Michael Thomas Duffy called Diverse Schools “nifty” and unflinchingly honest: “The strength of The Diverse Schools Dilemma as a handbook for urban middle-class parents is borne of Petrilli’s willingness to steer clear of cant. No pious lectures from him, and once he finishes making the case for enrolling in a multi-racial public school containing large numbers of poor kids, he turns around and makes equally strong counter arguments: schools serving affluent students are safer; the disruptive students found in greater numbers in low-income urban schools slow the pace at which lessons are delivered and learning happens; plus, what’s
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