Flypaper

For months now, the buzz inside the beltway swamp has been that President Trump intends to propose a huge tax-credit scholarship program as part of his tax reform initiative. That expectation has led to lively debates, both on the page and on the stage, and earlier this month was the focus of Fordham’s annual Wonkathon.

As a supporter of vouchers for low-income children, I understand the appeal of such an initiative. An infusion of $20 billion a year, the eye-popping number Trump unveiled on the campaign trail, could help upwards of two to four million needy kids (at $5,000–$10,000 apiece) gain access to life-changing options. It would breathe new life into thousands of urban Catholic schools, institutions that have a proud legacy of serving poor and minority students well, but that are at risk of near-extinction. It could bring private school choice to major American cities in blue states that will almost surely never enact voucher programs on their own, including New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

So the prospect is compelling for school-choice enthusiasts. But so is the goal of Heaven on Earth. The question is how to get from here to there....

So far, watching state ESSA plans roll in has been a bit like rooting for the Washington Redskins (or, if you prefer, the Washington Football Team). Every fall starts with fresh hopes. Yet every spring fans are asking the same questions: What went wrong? Why can’t management learn from its mistakes? Why does it always have to be this way?

Meanwhile, Broncos fans have enjoyed John Elway, Peyton Manning, and the second most Super Bowl appearances in NFL history.

Obviously, building high-performing education system is harder than building a winning football team. But as in football (or any sport, really) it helps to focus on the fundamentals in education policy because you won’t get far without them.

So with that in mind, here are four ways that Colorado’s plan for rating schools, like its annoyingly successful football team, gets the fundamentals right:

1. Colorado uses a mean scale score as its measure of achievement.

Instead of using proficiency rates to gauge achievement, Colorado will take an average of students’ test scores, which sounds simple (like blocking and tackling) because it is simple—assuming you do it.

As Morgan Polikoff and other accountability scholars have argued, “a narrow focus on proficiency...

School funding policies continue to be a subject of intense debate across the nation. Places as diverse as Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, and Washington are actively debating how best to pay for their public schools. According to the Education Commission of the States, school finance has been among the top education issues discussed in governors’ State of the State addresses this year. 

States have vastly different budget conditions and a wide variety of policy priorities. No one-size-fits-all solution exists to settle all school funding debates. But there is a common idea that every state can follow: Implement a well-designed school funding formula, based on student needs and where they’re educated. Then stick to it.

A recent study commissioned by Fordham and researched by Bellwether Education Partners looks under the hood of Ohio’s school funding formula. Our home state’s formula is designed to drive more aid to districts with greater needs, including those with less capacity to generate funds locally, increasing student enrollments, or more children with special needs. In large part, Ohio’s formula does a respectable job allocating more state aid to the neediest districts. According to Bellwether’s analysis, the formula...

This new study from CALDER examines the type of students that modern career academies attract and the causal impacts of participation on various outcomes. Recall that seminal, lottery-based research from MDRC on career academies in the 90’s found no effects on high school graduation or initial college outcomes but did find that males had higher salaries over the long term and were more likely to “form and sustain families.” The current authors suggest that today’s career academies—in part due to new interest in college and career readiness plus the recent economic recession—mean that we need a new generation of experimental research on the latest CTE models. And they aim to deliver.

Analysts examine career academies in Wake County Public School System (NC), which has twenty academies (such as the Academy of Finance and the Academy of Sustainable Energy Engineering) inside fourteen high schools. For the descriptive part of the analysis, they examine all first-time ninth graders in 2014–15 and 2015–16. They find that academy enrollees are less likely to be minority, more likely to be male, and generally higher achieving than their peers within the same schools who did not enroll in an academy.

For the causal analysis, they...

A recent report from Education Northwest extends previous research by the same lead researcher, drilling down into the same dataset in order to fine-tune the original findings. That earlier study (June 2016) intended to test whether incoming University of Alaska freshmen were incorrectly placed in remedial courses when they were actually able to complete credit-bearing courses. It found that high school GPA was a stronger predictor of success in credit-bearing college courses in English language arts and math than college admissions test scores. The follow-up study deepens this examination by breaking down the results for students from urban versus rural high schools, and for students who delay entry into college.

In general, the latest study’s findings were the same. Except for the students who delayed college entry, GPA was generally found to be a better predictor of success in college coursework than were standardized test scores. It stands to reason that admissions test scores would better represent the current abilities of students who delayed entry into college (call it the final “summer slide” of one’s high school career), and indeed the previous study showed that students who delayed entry were several times more likely to be placed...

Last year as he was preparing to open a new middle school in Rhode Island, Osvaldo Jose Martí worked as an administrator, first at Blackstone Valley Prep’s existing middle school and then at one of their elementary schools. When the fourth graders there made the move up to middle school, it would be to Martí’s new school. The goal of embedding Martí in the elementary school from January until June: to ensure that both he and the fourth-graders who would become his inaugural class would be equally steeped in the culture of this young start-up charter network.

One moment stands out in Martí’s mind as a vivid reminder of the urgency of the work.

“On this particular day, I had spent the morning doing instructional rounds, popping into classrooms, and providing feedback to our teachers,” he wrote later. “As I walked the halls I came upon a teacher with a second-grade scholar who was walking to their classroom.”

“In three years, Mr. Martí will be your principal just like Ms. Colarusso is now,” the teacher told the boy.

“Full of innocence, the scholar looked at me and said, ‘Wait, how can you be a principal? You’re black,’” Martí,...

While ersatz “credit recovery” and grade inflation devalue the high school diploma by boosting graduation rates even as NAEP, PISA, PARCC, SAT, and sundry other measures show that no true gains are being made in student achievement, forces are at work to do essentially the same thing to the college diploma.

Observe the new move by CalState to do away with “remediation” upon entry to its institutions and instead to confer degree credit for what used to be the kinds of high-school-level content and skills that one had to master before gaining access to “credit-bearing” college courses.

The new term for these bridge classes for entering college students is “corequisite” and California isn’t the only place that’s using them. One study at CUNY—dealing with community colleges, not four-year institutions—says greater success was achieved when ill-prepared students were placed in “regular” college classes but given “extra support” than when they were shunted into “remediation.” Perhaps so. Perhaps placement tests aren’t the best way to determine who is actually prepared to succeed in “college level” work. But that’s not the same as saying—as CalState seems to be saying—that anyone emerging from high school, regardless of what they did or didn’t...

Editor’s note: In addition to his roles at Fordham, the author is Vice President of the Maryland State Board of Education. The views expressed here, however, are his alone.  

Maryland prides itself on having high-performing public schools, but the truth is that its primary-secondary education system is failing to prepare far too many children for what follows. On the most recent (2015) National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, barely one third of the state’s eighth graders were “proficient” or “advanced” in either math or reading. Among African-American youngsters, that key benchmark was reached by fewer than one in five.

Yet lawmakers are on the verge of undermining the best chance the state has had in ages to do something forceful about the schools that have allowed this sad situation to endure. They’re about to prevent the State Board of Education from installing a new school-accountability system that prioritizes pupil achievement and student success, as well as true transparency by which parents can easily tell whether their child’s school is succeeding or failing. Instead, House Bill 978 and Senate Bill 871, now speeding toward enactment, sharply limit the extent to which learning counts, restrict the use of achievement data,...

“Son. As a boy growing up in Jamaica, I learnt to be a mon. I was a mon, full-stop. It wasn’t until I came to this country that I realized I was a black man.”

Speaking in the patois of his beloved Caribbean nation, my now deceased father Vincent would often share with me some of the struggles he experienced emigrating to America. He described what it was like to grow up in an island country where success or failure was seen as a result of your individual effort rather than racial group identity, given that virtually everyone in Jamaica was black. He contrasted that to his life in the United States, where he was constantly reminded of what he could not or should not do because of his race.

Indeed, he marveled at how Americans, black or white, obsessed over skin color. There was a certain way to “talk black and act black,” or “talk white and act white.” (Other races didn’t seem to matter.)

My father found it maddening how frequently certain negative behaviors—like committing crime or living in poverty—were equated with being black, even though the raw numbers of non-Hispanic whites in prison or on welfare far...

Benjamin J. Lindquist

Why is charter school growth slowing?

Greg Richmond at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers recently announced that charter applications have declined 48 percent since 2012. According to his report, the national approval rate has held steady for years, with authorizers approving 35 percent of the applications that they receive. Why are they receiving so many fewer?

This is no trivial matter. “There are still way too many parents waiting for the chance to send their children to a high quality public school of their choice,” writes Susan Aud Pedagrass at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in a recent blog post. Many existing charters have waiting lists. Lottery-based admissions—so memorably depicted in the film Waiting for Superman—still yield tearful faces. Why is this once-so-vibrant movement now struggling to meet the obvious demand?

One key problem is overregulation. This issue may represent the biggest threat to the charter sector today because it undermines its ability to offer distinctive, high-quality options to students and families with differing needs and preferences. If charter entrepreneurs are compelled to deliver the same one-size-fits-all education as other public schools, why start new charters at all? To confront the magnitude of this...

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