Flypaper

More than sixty years after Brown v. Board, traditional district schools are still more often than not havens of homogeneity. Static land use guidelines, assignment zones, feeder patterns, and transportation monopolies reinforce boundaries that functionally segregate schools and give rise to the adage that ZIP code means destiny for K–12 students. Asserting that student diversity is an object of increasing parental demand, at least among a certain subset of parents of school-age kids, the National Charter School Resource Center has issued a toolkit for charter school leaders looking to leverage their schools’ unique attributes and flexibilities to build diverse student communities not found in nearby district schools. The report cites a number of studies showing academic benefits of desegregated schools, especially for low-income and minority students. School quality is a strong selling point for any type of school, but this toolkit sets aside that discussion to focus on deliberately building a multi-cultural student body for its own sake. Bear that in mind as we go forward.

Building diversity is not easy, even in a flexibly run and technically borderless charter school. The toolkit provides “context about research and the legal and regulatory guidance” in four main areas...

When Trump named Betsy DeVos—a market-loving school reformer from Michigan—as his pick for Secretary of Education a few weeks back, some panicked. The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association lashed out right away. But they’re the establishment.

To people who work in the barrio, who sit in school lunchrooms that buzz with a mixture of English and Spanish; who hear the hopes of immigrant parents with work-hardened hands and soft warm hearts, the prospect of serious change is thrilling. DeVos and Trump just might have the guts to bring it.

We care about school choice, which means giving parents the information and freedom to decide what’s best for their kids. It strikes us that Trump is a non-ideological leader, especially when it comes to this issue. He’s a man of business. He looks for results without the filter of some ideological construct. There’s a pragmatism there that is deeply American and that resonates with hard-working immigrants and their descendants.

It’s telling that a man who embraces healthy competition would endorse school choice and chose a Secretary to push it. It’s empowering to parents when the President-elect says to them, “I trust you with freedom. Here’s the information,...

Andy Smarick

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution hosted a timely event, “A New Federal Push on Private School Choice? Three Options to Consider.” This week we are running guest posts by the event’s panelists, offering their advice for the new Administration and Congress. Below is an article by Andy Smarick, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. These posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Many education reformers are excited by President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal to create a large-scale federal school choice program. However, others worry that Uncle Sam’s inevitably clumsy meddling in what has been a successful state-led movement would warp the policies, complicate the politics, and undermine the popularity of school choice. Yet there’s a way—based largely on the lessons of the highly successful federal Charter Schools Program (CSP)—for the Trump administration to boost school choice while empowering families and educators and respects state K–12 authority.

Over the past fifteen years, the most prominent (and polarizing) K–12 reforms have tended to be centralizing, standardizing initiatives led by the federal or state governments, such as federally prescribed school classifications and interventions, new statewide content standards and...

Joanne Weiss

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution are hosting a timely event, “A New Federal Push on Private School Choice? Three Options to Consider.” This week we are running guest posts by the event’s panelists, offering their advice for the new Administration and Congress. Below is the first of a two-part series by former Obama Administration official Joanne Weiss. These posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The incoming Trump administration’s early policy announcements promise to spur renewed conversation on the meaning, goals, and mechanisms of school choice. For the past two decades, I have worked on issues related to choice with teachers and principals, charter school and district leaders, school board members, and city and state leaders. Based on all I have learned from them, I suggest a set of principles to ensure that policy aims are clear, guardrails support success, and implementation is coherent. I will also propose, in tomorrow’s post, a new competition—mounted by a large foundation, a city, a state, or the federal government—that’s designed to encourage locales to develop approaches to school choice that put families first.

School choice, in a variety...

Where’s the Latino leadership when it comes to education reform? Latinos themselves support education reform at higher levels than other groups, but their elected officials—whether Latino or not—often reject school choice. The leading Latino civil rights organizations follow suit.

Last month, both the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) joined other organizations in expressing a “deep concern” about the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. The groups decry DeVos’s support of “voucher schemes which siphon away all-too-limited education funds” and suggest her positions on women’s healthcare (read: ‘abortion’) and affirmative action are reasons to scuttle her appointment.

I’m not suggesting that all Latinos agree on every issue. Since the DeVos nomination, a lot of ink has been spilled about whether she will make a good Secretary of Education—for Latinos or anyone else. Many reasonable people have reservations. So be it. As Michael Petrilli pointed out, the education reform world is composed of many voices, and that should be celebrated.

But when Latino organizations stridently contradict what many surveys tell us are the desires of Latino voters, they must be called to account. LULAC’s education policy platform...

Last month, Education Next released additional findings from their 2016 EdNext Poll, a national public opinion survey conducted from May 6 to June 13 of last year. The newly released data focus on parents’ satisfaction with various features of the schools their children attend, such as teacher quality, school discipline, and safety. More specifically, the analysis compares parents’ responses by school sector—traditional public, private, and charter schools—to look for differences in the satisfaction among parents nationwide, making it the first of its kind to do so across all three sectors.

The results reveal that charter school parents tend to be more satisfied with most aspects of their schools than traditional district school parents, yet less satisfied than private school parents. This trend was evident in matters such as teacher quality, school discipline, safety, teaching of values, and achievement expectations for students. On average, charter school parents reported being more satisfied than district school parents in these five categories by 13 percentage points and less satisfied than private school parents by an average of 12 percentage points.

When asked about problems in their children’s schools, few parents reported seeing any major shortcomings. The issue that received the most amount of concern...

This twenty-first edition of Quality Counts from Education Week builds on past annual installments to look at the state of K–12 education in the U.S. at the beginning of 2017. With a changing of the guard at the White House and the Department of Education, this year’s report focuses on the challenges faced by state and district leaders to ensure that the provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will be met by the beginning of the 2017–18 school year.

Though ESSA affords state and district leaders greater flexibility, the business of crafting a more nuanced accountability system that effectively balances contentious areas such as teacher evaluation with other indicators of school quality is not straightforward. This report serves as the latest opportunity to gauge the success of efforts undertaken so far, and to guide state and district leaders on where to focus their energies over the coming year.

To determine the quality of U.S. K–12 education, authors looked at thirty-nine distinct indicators based on analyses of state and federal data to determine a letter-grade ranking for each state and the nation as a whole. These were divided into three research indices: 1) chance-for-success, which includes indicators from...

A new report from the Education Commission of the States looks at the quality of K–12 civic education requirements in all fifty states. While each requires its students to participate in some form of social studies or civics education, the scope and depth of these requirements vary greatly.

Reviewers used seven indicators to analyze each state’s approach to civic education. These indicators include graduation requirements, standards, curriculum, assessments and accountability systems, and statutes. The purpose is not to rank or critique the civic education programs in each state. Rather the report is meant to be informational and highlight general trends in civics education so as to help states learn from the practices and policies of others and improve their own civics education criteria.

The report found that every state addresses civic education in some form within a state statute. Typically this is accomplished in one of two ways: States either enumerate specific civics course requirements for students, or they outline the desired outcomes of a civics education and then leave it up to the individual districts to determine how to reach these outcomes.

Pennsylvania stands out among other states in this indicator and includes both methods within its statute, listing...

Over the last several years, I’ve spent a fair amount of time defending the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in my role as a senior fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-policy think tank in Washington, D.C. Now, given president-elect Trump’s pledge to “end Common Core,” which he terms “a disaster,” I expect many more opportunities to defend high standards, at least for the foreseeable future. All that said, while I support the standards, I’m not a cheerleader for them. I could no sooner imagine summoning up a love for (or hatred of) Common Core than for, say, electrical codes or auto-safety standards. I reserve my heated passions for literature, history, and civic education. I will eagerly engage in pitched battles over what students should know, read, and grapple with, but standards? They are dry, dull, and unlovely things.

To be upset by academic standards is to invest them with a power they neither have nor deserve. In my five years of teaching fifth graders, I never—not even once—reached for English language arts standards when deciding what to teach. I would wager that when I. M. Pei was commissioned to design the Louvre Pyramid, his first move was...

The one-week delay in Betsy DeVos’s confirmation hearing gives all of us extra time to speculate about her position on this or that wrinkle in federal education policy, and for the politicos to practice their attacks and counter-attacks. All in all, it’s quite a spectacle.

But one useful outcome of this process is already apparent: It has surfaced an important debate about the appropriate contours of school-choice policy. As I argued last month, my sense is that the differences within education reform’s big tent aren’t as significant as the commentary might let on. We all support giving parents the power to choose schools other than those assigned to children by their local district; the question is how wide their range of choices should be.

It also appears to me that some of the differences of opinion come from an out-of-date understanding of various choice mechanisms. Most significantly, some of our friends—as well as our foes—have an iPod-era view of vouchers that needs to be brought into the Uber-age.

I’m referring to the oft-cited misconception, most recently repeated by Senator Elizabeth Warren, that voucher schools are “unaccountable.”

That may have been the case decades ago, when vouchers first...

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