Flypaper

Patricia Levesque

Personalized learning presents a vital opportunity to provide rigorous, high-quality instruction while addressing students’ diverse educational experiences and pursuing their unique strengths, interests, and needs. Coupled with flexibility in pace and delivery, personalized learning is grounded in the idea of students progressing when they demonstrate mastery of skills and knowledge, regardless of the time, place, or pace at which such mastery occurs. For some students, it means removing artificial barriers to their engagement with more advanced work. For many others, it means providing tailored support as well as the time and opportunity to close learning gaps rather than leaving them behind year after year.

As interest in personalized learning has grown, so have efforts to take this new educational model to scale. Consider the recent spate of personalized learning initiatives launched in states like Florida, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, and Illinois (to name just a few). ExcelinEd has been excited and proud to be a partner with and supporter of many of these efforts. We see many examples around the country of schools implementing personalized learning—illustrations of the promise that this model holds to improve students’ lives and put each of them on a pathway...

We’ve always known about the giant schism on the Left when it comes to school choice, but we are now seeing a divide emerge on the Right around the same issue. And while most of the conversation and debate has been around accountability measures like test scores and graduation rates, there is another potential red flag that no one seems to be talking about.

For some, mostly of the more libertarian ilk, a parent’s satisfaction is all the accountability we need, and any kind of regulation or forced accountability measures are nothing more than unnecessary government intrusion. For others, there has to be a minimum standard that every school must meet before any parent should be able to choose it.

It’s not only a philosophical conundrum but also a moral one, and it has taken on even greater urgency in our current climate of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” We know certain things to be true and certain things to be false and wrong, and we need to teach these to children. So while we can and should debate ideology and policy, we can’t abdicate our responsibility of having an educated citizenry. Zero...

Don’t be misled by the provocative title and subtitle of John Merrow's new book, Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education, which might lead one to expect in these pages a back-to-the-future, Diane Ravitch–like defense of the education status quo—and which likely account for the book’s fawning jacket blurbs by Jonathan Kozol and by Lily Eskelsen García of the National Education Association, among others. Delve in and you find that Merrow, a veteran education journalist and PBS NewsHour habitué, is not exactly that sort of anti-reformer. Rather, he’s a sort of discombobulated radical who seeks many worthy changes in the American K–12 enterprise but whose “plan,” for all its dozen steps, isn’t likely to result in the overhaul he wants.

No devotee of the status quo, Merrow rightly reveres E. D. Hirsch and wants more schools to adopt a knowledge-rich curriculum. When it comes to making kids more independent and giving them “freedom to fail,” he even begins to resemble U.S. Senator Ben Sasse. His precepts also comport overall with those of Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of New York City’s Success Academy charter schools. He seeks a total reconstruction of teacher preparation and compensation, even of...

It might be the most common mistake in education writing and policy analysis today: declaring that a majority of public school students in the U.S. hail from “low income” families—or, even worse, that half of public school kids are “poor.” Let’s put a stake through the heart of these claims because they are simply not true—and paint a distorted picture of the challenges America’s schools are up against.

The problem starts with the use of the free-and-reduced-price lunch program (FRL) as a marker of economic disadvantage. Generally, students living at 130 percent of the poverty level or below are eligible for free lunches; those at 185 percent or below can get a reduced price lunch. This was always a crude and imperfect indicator, but as Matt Chingos explained last year, for two reasons it’s now completely divorced from reality.

First, Congress expanded “direct certification,” under which students are deemed FRL eligible because they receive other forms of public support, such as food stamps. Second, Congress expanded “community eligibility,” which allows schools with at least 40 percent of students identified as eligible for FRL through direct-certification-type means to provide free lunches to all of their...

A new study examines the effects of No Child Left Behind on children’s socioemotional outcomes. Prior studies have found that consequential accountability systems like NCLB have yielded positive gains in achievement; others have shown that they narrow the curriculum by focusing on tested subjects. But very few have looked at the potential impact of the legislation on socioemotional or “non-cognitive” outcomes.

The authors use student-reported survey data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Kindergarten Cohort of 1998–99 (also called ECLS-K), which is nationally representative. Data used for the study were collected in the spring of students’ third and fifth grade years—the same time of year that students typically take standardized tests. Note that NCLB legislation was signed in January 2002 in the middle of the third-grade year for the sample. During spring of that year, students took tests that established baseline scores for judging school performance in subsequent years. Schools could fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in 2002–03 (students’ fourth grade year); thus, by the time that they were surveyed during the fifth grade year in spring 2004, NCLB consequences were widely in effect. Authors use a “differences in differences” strategy where they compare states that already...

Last month the Urban Institute added to the rapidly accumulating body of conflicting evidence about the impacts of private school choice on student achievement. While early studies showed positive effects on test scores, more recent evidence from Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio showed private school choice programs having neutral to negative effects. This report differs from most of its predecessors by measuring long-term outcomes, namely college enrollment and attainment. Urban’s investigation of the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) scholarship program is the first study to look at these outcomes at the state level, and the results are encouraging.

While not a traditional voucher system, the FTC program allows Florida taxpayers to receive a 100 percent tax credit for donations to scholarship funding organizations, which provide tuition assistance for low-income students to attend private schools. Participants in the program must have family incomes of up to 260 percent of the US poverty threshold and receive scholarships worth up to $6000. Started during the 2002–03 school year, FTC is now the largest private school choice program in the country, with 100,000 current participants.

Analysts compare FTC participants to non-FTC students, controlling for test scores, age, gender, race or ethnicity,...

Nat Malkus

Last week, the US Supreme Court announced that it would hear Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). While it is among the biggest cases on the court’s docket next year, it certainly holds the biggest stakes when it comes to public education. The case deals with mandatory union agency fees, which plaintiff Mark Janus, a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, argues violate his First Amendment rights to free speech and free association.

Illinois state law “compels state employees to pay agency fees to an exclusive representative for speaking and contracting with the state over governmental policies.” In short, non-union employees must pay unions, as the exclusive employee representatives in collective bargaining, to negotiate contracts on their behalf. Janus has long been critical of both the union and forced association through agency fees. He wrote last year in the Chicago Tribune, “The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of association. I don’t want to be associated with a union that claims to represent my interests and me when it really doesn’t.”

Janus targets a forty-year-old precedent set by Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, which...

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in The 74.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos just had the best week of her tenure so far, thanks to a well-orchestrated back-to-school tour that ended in Indiana on September 15. She had a clear, attractive message and stuck to it: We need to unleash the creativity and innovation of our schools and educators, and stop trying to make one size fit all. She also demonstrated a true commitment to sector-agnosticism—she visited traditional public schools, not just private and charter ones—and celebrated schools that are as far from her own conservative Christian upbringing as one can imagine—and did it all with grace and humor. Well done, Madame Secretary!

The best part, in my view, came toward the end, when she toured the 21st Century Charter in Gary, Indiana. I’m biased; it’s run by a friend, Kevin Teasley, who has been around the choice and charter schools movement for a long time, and once even dabbled in punditry and policy wonkery. But unlike some of us unreformed reformers, he’s done penance by actually starting and running schools. He will be the first to...

Public school enrollments in the U.S. rose from 41 million in 1990 to almost 51 million today. That’s a nearly 25 percent increase in twenty-seven years—and the growth has been almost constant over that period, albeit much slower during the past decade. NCES projects that nearly 1.5 million more students will further swell the ranks of American public education by 2024.

Why, then, is enrollment decline an issue for schools and school systems? There are, as always, two possible—and obvious—explanations for why the number of kids attending a particular school or district shrinks even as national totals rise.

First, families may move from one community or region to another, as in the well- known shift from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt that’s been evident since the 1970s—a major demographic transformation brought about by economic changes (and the pursuit of better weather). That’s why Arizona today has nine House members versus three in 1970—and why Michigan has fourteen now versus nineteen then.

Second, families may change their child’s school—by shifting to a nearby district, by availing themselves of public school choice within the district, by opting to home-school, or by transferring to a private or charter school.

Private...

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Is School Choice Enough?,” the lead article in the fall issue of National Affairs.

As with so many issues—from trade and immigration to Russia and taxes—the Trump presidency has exposed a schism within the conservative movement when it comes to education policy. While expanding parental choice is a paramount objective on the right, a key question is whether choice alone is enough, or if results-based accountability ought to be sustained and strengthened, too. How this question is resolved will have wide-ranging consequences—for education reform in general and for the design of school-choice initiatives in particular.

Though it’s easy to lump conservative school-choice advocates into a single category, there are some major disagreements between those who argue for school choice alone and those who wish to combine it with other reform strategies. The first and perhaps the most fundamental of these disagreements can be reduced to one question: Is parental satisfaction enough?

To better understand this question, a simple thought experiment is clarifying: Imagine that conservatives are wildly successful in expanding school choice. Every parent in America, however poor or rich, gains access to several educational options, including religious schools. In...

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