Charters & Choice

Neil Campbell

Editor's note: This is the sixth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found hereherehere, here, and here.

What course would you have wanted to take in high school if you’d had the chance?

For me, it’s economics. I’ve started many meetings about course access with that question as an icebreaker. The first few times, I even had the “brilliant” idea to drop the responses into a word cloud. But that ended up being a dud when everyone gave different answers and astronomy, law and policy, psychology, photography, geometry, Japanese, physics, and accounting were all the same size.

Cool story, but what’s course access?

It is a policy under which kids get access to a range of supplemental courses approved by their states that may not otherwise be available in the schools they attend full-time. Think of it as an evolution from states solely being providers of supplemental courses through virtual programs. The state’s role in course access is one of quality assurance...

Matthew Joseph

Editor's note: This is the fifth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found hereherehere, and here.

Of the many provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the weighted student funding pilot program may have the most profound impact on school choice. By maximizing the money that follows students, including those with high needs, the pilots could lead to the expansion of high-quality choice programs.

The basics of weighted student funding

Weighted student funding—also known as student-centered funding, student-based budgeting, and fair student funding—devotes a base amount of funding to each student. Additional funds (or weights) are then provided for students who need additional services, such as low-income or disabled students and English language learners.

Schools receive funding based on the number of students they enroll and the characteristics of those students. If a student moves from one school to another, the receiving school gets the money designated for that student. This is very different from the vast majority of current funding...

Claire Voorhees

Editor's note: This is the fourth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found herehere, and here.

Education reformers and policy makers across the nation have spent the months since the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) passage debating the merits of various approaches to identifying low-performing schools—which indicators, how much weight, indexes or no indexes? We’ve spent a lot less time debating an even more important question: What are states going to do once those schools are identified? At the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) we’re hopeful that states will leverage the power of parental choice to spur rapid and dramatic turnaround in their lowest-performing districts and schools.

But in April 2016, we surveyed nearly one hundred of our state education reform partners on their plans for ESSA implementation. Respondents represented legislatures, state departments of education, state boards of education, governors’ offices, and advocacy organizations from over thirty states. Among other questions, we asked them which supports and interventions they anticipated their states would provide...

Mike Magee

Editor's note: This is the third post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found here and here.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) includes a new provision championed by Chiefs for Change that will provide SEAs and LEAs with the resources to support direct student services (DSS). Through a 3 percent discretionary state reservation of Title I funding, states will be allowed to work with districts to rethink the use of a portion of Title I funds. The hope is that this will generate innovative approaches to bringing value and service to educators, families, students, and taxpayers. This new authority follows initiatives that Chiefs for Change members have taken in recent years to expand parental choice options as a means of improving student academic achievement. If all states take advantage of the new provision, over $425 million annually would be available to involve families in choosing personalized, outcomes-driven services for their children. These funds are made available in addition to the 7 percent set-aside for school improvement activities....

Max Eden

Editor's note: This is the second post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? The first entry can be found here.

The anti-school-choice crowd can’t stop kvetching about corporate reformers trying to make a killing by privatizing public education. It’s an emotionally powerful argument, but an economically illiterate one. The “billionaire boys club” and hedge fund plutocrats no doubt have many more profitable prospects than philanthropically funding nonprofit charter management organizations.

And that’s kind of a shame, really. The private sector can deploy more resources more flexibly and at greater scale than the bureaucratic public sector. But the incentives haven’t been aligned for private investors to do well for themselves by doing good for kids—until ESSA.

There’s a “sleeper provision” in ESSA that holds the potential to reshape secondary education by enabling “pay-for-success” (PFS) partnerships for dropout prevention.

Despite its potential, PFS is still largely unknown to even the most seasoned education wonks, and only a handful of pilot programs are operating at the moment. PFS is an innovative funding tool that...

Lesley Lavery

Editor's note: This is the first post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? 

At the end of 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law with bipartisan support. Though the logic and mechanics of the policy distinguish it from its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, it is difficult to tell how and whether ESSA will create increased agency for students and their families. Parents’ interactions with policy opportunities depend on their demand for diverse and academically rigorous options, their ability to find and sort through materials on school quality and fit, and the supply of diverse schooling options within and outside of traditional public school districts. Answers to the following questions should help policy observers gauge ESSA’s likelihood of altering student enrollment patterns:

Does ESSA create or encourage new and different school models and approaches (i.e., will ESSA spur school variation within states)?

ESSA grants states considerable leeway in setting standards and goals and designing systems and supports best suited to the needs of their...

Editor's note: This post is the sixth and final entry in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? Prior entries can be found herehereherehere, and here.

Shoot, Jay, maybe I should have quit while we were ahead—or at least while we were closer to rapprochement.

Let me admit to being perplexed by your latest post, which has an Alice in Wonderland aspect to it—a suggestion that down is up and up is down. “Short-term changes in test scores are not very good predictors of success,” you write. But that’s not at all what the research I’ve pointed to shows.

Start with the David Deming study of Texas’s 1990s-era accountability system. Low-performing Lone Star State schools faced low ratings and responded by doing something to boost the achievement of their low-performing students. That yielded short-term test-score gains, which were related to positive long-term outcomes. This is the sort of thing we’d...

Editor's note: This post is the fifth in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? Prior entries can be found hereherehere, and here.

Mike, you say that we agree on the limitations of using test results for judging school quality, but I’m not sure how true that is. In order not to get too bogged down in the details of that question, I’ll try to keep this reply as brief as possible.

First, the evidence you’re citing actually supports the opposite of what you are arguing. You mention the Project Star study showing that test scores in kindergarten correlated with later life outcomes as proof that test scores are reliable indicators of school or program quality. But you don’t emphasize an important point: Whatever benefits students experienced in kindergarten that resulted in higher test scores, they did not cause higher test scores in later grades—even though they produced better later-life outcomes....

In K–12 education, states have historically granted monopolies to school districts. This tradition has left most parents and students with just one public school option—their local districts. Families seeking something different have had to pay handsomely (on top of their existing school tax obligations): They could pay for private school tuition, make a residential move, or homeschool. Recognizing the lack of school choices (and high-quality ones, too) facing many parents, Ohio policy makers have opened the school market to competition, whether through charter schools, inter-district open enrollment, or vouchers allowing students to attend private schools.

But tens of thousands of Buckeye families remain stuck with slim pickings when it comes to school choice. In rural, suburban, and small-town communities, most families don’t have charter school options (save for online schools, whose track record has been poor); and they are usually ineligible for vouchers that could open private school options, where available. Meanwhile, in Ohio’s urban areas, parents often have a fair number of choices. But as has been documented time and again, the quality of inner-city schools (district and charter) has not been consistently strong.

Ohio policy makers still have much work ahead to create a healthy, competitive...

I have two requests. The first is modest. The second is…well, let’s focus on the first for the time being.

Please go to your calendar and block off thirty minutes. You can call the item “Districts and the Achievement Gap.” It’s easy work; you’ll just need to do look at some pictures.

A new project by a team of researchers associated with Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis has produced a database that includes school district test scores, poverty rates, and racial demographics (report on the database’s creation here).

short article in the New York Times explains some of the findings that emerge when you start analyzing the data. But the major contributions of the article are its two interactive graphics.

The first displays the well-known relationship between family income and student achievement: Students from more affluent families have higher average achievement levels. The upshot, per the article, is that “children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.” The graphic allows you to search for any traditional school district in America. I did a quick comparison of one of New Jersey’s highest-performing and one of...

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