A Reform-Driven System

Via this ambitious strand of work, we seek to deepen and strengthen the K–12 system’s capacity to deliver quality education to every child, based on rigorous standards and ample choices, by ensuring that it possesses the requisite talent, technology, policies, practices, structures, and nimble governance arrangements to promote efficiency as well as effectiveness.

A recent study from the Education Trust called Funding Gaps 2015 illuminates the per-student funding disparities between affluent and poor districts. Findings show that, on average, more state and local tax dollars find their way to wealthier districts. For many, this overall trend is hardly surprising, but perhaps more interesting is where the trend is actually being reversed.

Authors Natasha Ushomirsky and David Williams examined the Census Bureau’s finance data, specifically focusing on each state’s state and local funding (excluding federal dollars). Nationally, the report concluded that districts with the highest poverty receive about 10 percent less in state and local funding (or about $1,200 less per student) than the wealthiest districts. Seventeen states, however, defied the national trend: Their highest-poverty districts receive at least 5 percent more than the lowest-poverty districts. According to the Education Trust’s analysis, Ohio was the national leader, boasting 22 percent more funding for its highest-poverty districts.

But when the authors accounted for the estimated 40 percent more funding needed to educate students in the highest-poverty districts—an estimate pulled from the Title I formula—the gap widens. When this is accounted for, the highest-poverty districts receive about $2,200 (or 18 percent) less per student than...

This book out of Harvard’s Public Educational Leadership Project (PELP) takes on one of the biggest challenges in managing school districts: the relationship between the central office and schools. In meeting needs that vary from building to building, do certain governance structures work better than others? For example, is it better to centralize and make all the decisions “downtown” or decentralize and give autonomy to schools?

Researchers analyzed five large urban districts in four states with varying approaches to their central office/schools relationships, all of which were selected based on improvements in student achievement. The districts shared other similarities, such as serving a wide range of schools and communities, and each enrolled more than sixty-thousand students (mostly of color). PELP’s methodology is best described as a case study approach that included combing through news sources and research reports and interviewing sixty-three district and school leaders.

Researchers reached a perplexing conclusion: Both styles can be successful if the central office and school coordinate their systems, strategies, and visions. Whether centralized, decentralized, or a blend of both, structure has no bearing on student performance. Instead, all that matters is that both parties openly communicate and readjust in order to figure out what...

Education reformers talk a lot about providing disadvantaged kids access to great schools, and for good reason. Countless institutional barriers exist to thwart students from choosing the best nearby schools, and solutions like open enrollment and private school scholarships are justly lauded as escape routes for families caged by circumstances of class.

But there are also much more literal obstructions to educational choice, and they aren’t arrayed solely against low-income learners trapped in huge, failing urban districts. To choose just one example, children enrolled in rural and remote schools—separated by hundreds of miles from the auxiliary services available in many cities, and usually passed over by the most sought-after teaching talent—are simply subjected to geographic dislocation instead of (or often in addition to) economic deprivation.

This new report by the Foundation for Excellence in Education (which has already released one worthy analysis of the issue) looks at the successful implementation of state-level course access policies by ten districts and charter management organizations across the country. The programs bring outstanding options to students who would otherwise have trouble finding them—typically through online tools that offer academic relief to district budgets, but also by incorporating embedded resources like...

As ESEA reauthorization heads to conference committee, debate is certain to center on whether federal law should require states to intervene if certain subgroups are falling behind in otherwise satisfactory schools. Civil rights groups tend to favor mandatory intervention. Conservatives (and the teachers’ unions) want states to decide how to craft their school ratings systems, and when and how to take action if schools don’t measure up. The Obama administration is siding with the civil rights groups; a recent White House release, clearly timed to influence the ESEA debate, notes that we “know that disadvantaged students often fall behind in higher-performing schools.”

But in how many cases do otherwise adequate schools leave their neediest students behind? Are there enough schools of this variety to justify a federal mandate? Fortunately, we have data—and the data show this type of school to be virtually nonexistent.

In a recent post, I looked at school-level results from Fordham’s home state of Ohio. That analysis uncovered very few high-performing schools in which low-achieving students made weak gains. (“Low-achieving” is defined as the lowest-performing fifth of students statewide.) Just seven schools (in a universe of more than 2,300) clearly performed well as a whole while allowing their...

For years, I worried that I was auditioning to be the Edward Gibbon of urban Catholic schooling, chronicling the decline and fall of an invaluable, sprawling institution.

Inner-city Catholic schools have long provided an incomparable education to millions of low-income kids. But a confluence of factors have caused fifty years of enrollment losses in the millions and school closures in the thousands.

Trying to draw greater attention to the issue, I’ve written blog postsop-edsmagazine piecesjournal articlescase studiesthink tank reports, and government manifestos. But the hemorrhaging continued. Every spring, another diocese would announce the shuttering of another dozen schools.

I was becoming resigned to the fact that these documents would look in hindsight like period pieces from the bygone era of urban Catholic schooling.

But this fall, two new publications will make the case that we may be on the leading edge of a renaissance of inner-city Catholic schooling. I don’t want to steal the reports’ thunder, but here’s a little foreshadowing.

These documents (I’ve co-authored both) detail a wave of Catholic education innovation and entrepreneurialism that we probably haven’t seen since the 1880s, when the nation’s Catholic bishops mandated the creation of thousands of parish schools...

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) undoubtedly increased the federal footprint in education. As Congress debates how to rewrite the law, a new analysis from Bellwether Education Partners couldn’t be timelier.

The report starts with a look at the history of federal involvement in K–12 education and how NCLB tilted the balance of power toward Uncle Sam. Although NCLB started as a bipartisan bill with broad support, critics multiplied as the deadline for universal proficiency approached, interventions for low-performing schools mounted, and conditional waivers from the law were granted by the Department of Education. Among its shortfalls, NCLB included “over-prescriptive” provisions that mandate how a state education system should be run and a misguided one-size-fits-all approach.

But the law wasn’t all bad. Evidence suggests that NCLB’s accountability measures were effective in improving schools and student performance. These improvements were particularly evident among black and Hispanic students. The authors of this report applaud a requirement that states break down testing data into disadvantaged subgroups, thereby shining a light on students who are most at risk.

So how can policymakers keep the good (transparency and accountability) while ditching the bad (micromanagement)? The Bellwether analysts turn to the charter concept and argue...

Trailing only Medicaid, school spending is the second-largest public expenditure in Ohio’s $65 billion annual budget. Over the next biennium, the state is slated to spend $12 billion per year on education (including $2 billion per year in federal funds administered by the state), on top of $8 billion per year raised via local property taxes. Altogether, annual education expenditures will clock in at around $11,000 per student.

The bulk of state education spending—$7.4 billion in fiscal year 2016 (FY 16) and $7.7 billion in fiscal year 2017 (FY 17)—is sent to districts via block grants, meaning that districts can allocate funds as they choose. The value of the block grant is determined by a funding formula. FY 16’s formula aid represents an increase of 4.9 percent relative to FY 15, and the amount in FY 17 adds another 4.2 percent on top of that. These are generous increases, especially since statewide enrollment is slightly declining; they also exceed the recent rate of inflation.

Without a doubt, Ohio taxpayers are making big financial contributions to education. But one of the perennial (and perplexing) questions is whether taxpayer dollars are being properly allocated. Oftentimes—and this spring was...

Nominally, private schools (or “chartered nonpublic schools,” as they are known in the Ohio Revised Code) operate with a minimal amount of state oversight. Practically, however, there is a long history of state involvement with them. In exchange for added oversight, private schools receive transportation services for students (or parents can receive payment in lieu of transportation) through the district in which they are located; they can also seek state reimbursement, also passing through the district, for costs like textbook purchasing and school administration. Since Ohio began voucher programs in 1996, the bond has become even stronger.

On June 30, 2015, Governor John Kasich signed into law the new biennial budget (House Bill 64), which included a number of provisions impacting private schools. Here is a review of the most significant provisions.

Auxiliary Services (AS) and Administrative Cost Reimbursement (ACR)

As boring as their names may sound, these budget line items are the primary mechanism by which the state and private schools interact. Chartered nonpublic schools can request and receive reimbursements for textbooks, diagnostic/therapeutic/remedial personnel services, and “educational equipment” through the AS process. Transportation services provided to private school students are also funded via the AS...

Earlier this year, Forbes released a celebration of edu-wunderkinds, its “30 under 30” in education. Reading the descriptions of their innovative, tech-focused work made me feel totally old and out of touch. Though we’re separated by only 10–15 years, the gap in worldview felt enormous.

But I refuse to be put out to pasture before my fortieth birthday, so I tracked down some of this year’s selectees (and a previous winner) and asked if they’d be willing to chat. I just wanted to learn from them. The conversations were eye-opening, and I’ve been mulling over the lessons for the last few months.

But AEI recently hosted a terrific confab on K–12 entrepreneurship (short summary podcast here). The papers and panels touched on some of the issues that surfaced during my time with the “30-under-30” crew.

Since so many of us are either involved in K–12 innovations or simply trying to understand what’s going on, I thought I’d share the six biggest takeaways from my discussions with these young overachievers.

(Note: If you’re looking for gossip, a competitive advantage, or investment opportunities, this list will disappoint. I don’t name any organization or individual for three reasons. First, those I talked to were forthcoming, and I’m...

  • Teachers at “no-excuses” charter schools are widely thought to fit in a single, aggrieved category: twenty-two years old, working twenty-two hours a day, and earning $22,000 per year. It’s assumed that the exhausting daily schedule and prolonged school year, so crucial to the mission of lifting disadvantaged kids out of poverty, also ends up churning many depleted young educators out of the profession. But according to a new analysis from Education Week, that phenomenon may be overstated. The item, which builds on a more in-depth look published in the same outlet last month, points to Education Department data showing that charter teacher turnover dropped by 5.3 percent between the 2008–09 and 2012–13 school years—even while it ticked up slightly in traditional district schools. Imperfect collection methods and the sector’s rapid recent expansion make the signs hard to read, but this development certainly doesn’t qualify as bad news.
  • And it’s not the only upbeat story this week. In an American nerd triumph worthy of the great Rick Moranis, Team American took gold in last week’s International Mathematical Olympiad for the first time since 1994. The scrappy team of adolescents who will someday employ us all edged out
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