Michael J. Petrilli

Secretary DeVos can be explained and forgiven—especially in these wee early days of her tenure—for bringing many of her public statements back to the theme of school choice. After all, that was President Trump’s one big education idea on the campaign trail, and the public-policy cause to which DeVos has dedicated her life.

And yet.

There’s a saying that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Team DeVos loves the hammer called school choice. (I do, too!) But they could use a few more tools in their toolbox, lest they cause some serious damage to the construction project we call school reform. Secretary DeVos: May I offer you a screwdriver?

The trouble started with her White House comments to presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. These postsecondary institutions were “pioneers for school choice,” she said in prepared remarks. “Tone deaf,” Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) tweeted. “HBCUs weren’t ‘more options’ for black students. For many years they were the only options.” The DeVos team soon walked it back.

But, it didn’t stop there. A week later, when speaking to the Military Child Education Coalition, she...

Papillon Xanadu

A restorative justice session has healed the wounds left by the DeVos confirmation battle, according to a joint statement written by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking members of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee.

The closed-door meeting took place Friday, as the warm afternoon light filled the committee hearing room, inoculating the atmosphere with a sense of peace.

Congressional staffers reported that Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) initiated the session using a rarely-used committee rule on community health. All committee members were present, and special guest Dawn Jyoti, a guidance counselor from nearby Swanson Middle School, facilitated, according to committee aides in attendance.

“They began with an icebreaker called ‘A Big Wind Blows,’ which, I assure you, was not intended as a comment on anyone’s verbosity,” said one aide. Senators also held a candle-lighting ceremony, and participated in a rose-bud-thorn reflection activity. When pressed for more details, the aide stated, “I am not comfortable sharing more about what was said. People got really personal really fast. I do not want to violate the sanctity of their experience.” The aide did note that the...

By Gary Montreal

In an unexpected show of bipartisanship on the Senate floor today, the “Federal Tax Credit Scholarship Act” passed easily with 68 votes to 32. Expecting a fierce battle, Republican Senators instead sat shocked as the final votes were tallied.

The bill gives individuals and corporations a federal tax credit for donations made to nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations. Those nonprofits can then use this money to provide financial assistance for tuition, as well as the cost of relocation, to parents so that they can choose the education that best fits their children.

Hill staffers behind the scenes hinted that the secret to the surprisingly large winning margin was a final push by Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) to include an amendment to the bill that ensured parents could choose to send their children to the public or private school of their choice, regardless of international jurisdiction.

In other words, students can now attend schools in Canada and all the Scandinavian countries.

This led to fourteen democratic senators from Washington to New Hampshire, as well as Independents Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME), crossing party lines to...

Louie Campau

While on a recent visit to Wardlack Elementary School in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, Betsy DeVos was surveying the school cafeteria when a child started choking on a piece of fried okra. The secretary quickly rushed over and performed the Heimlich, dislodging the obstruction from the child’s throat.

Then, on her way home, she pulled over to rescue a dog stranded in the middle of the interstate, which she has since adopted after a thorough and public search failed to find its owner.

Despite these objectively good acts, many on the left are nevertheless condemning her choices. A cacophony of detractors has, for example, accused her of offending cafeteria workers by declaring the product of their hard work a choking hazard. “DeVos isn’t satisfied insulting public school teachers, she has to disparage the support staff, too!,” decried Randi Weingarten.

Some have even called into question whether she saved the child at all. A teacher sitting at a nearby table in the cafeteria, who later met with reporters, said, “The child was coughing. You can’t cough if you can’t breathe. A nurse was right there!” Another educator accused her of “staging the...

Chester E. Finn, Jr.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Dear Fordham readers,

I am writing to inform you of some unfortunate news. There has been a catastrophic hacking of Fordham President’s Michael J. Petrilli’s email account, after he fell victim to a “phishing scheme”—a fake advertisement for “organic cantaloupes” that he clicked for a one-dollar discount.

Education Week, which first reported the story, also made Petrilli’s hacked emails public. Less than three years after I handed over the helm to him, this correspondence paints a sinister plot to destroy Fordham itself.

At the center of the conspiracy is Petrilli’s secret strategy to write conservative op-eds on Mondays, libertarian op-eds on Wednesdays, and liberal op-eds on Fridays in an attempt to raise money from philanthropists across the ideological spectrum. Emails with several co-conspirators reveal a plan to rename the organization “Lean the Way the Wind’s Blowing,” whereby competing funders would pay Petrilli to espouse their views in articles and tweets from his Twitter citadel.

In one March 2016 email to co-conspirator Randi Weingarten, Petrilli explains, “My Friday op-ed will explain how we should dismantle teacher evaluations since they are bogus and allow schools...

Daniel Foster Wallace

Surprising the post-industrial world, the United States for the first time has the highest achieving students in international education rankings according to PISA’s math, reading and science assessments.*

The influential PISA rankings, run by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), are based on tests taken every three years by fifteen-year-olds in more than seventy countries. The United States, to the dismay of many, has forever produced mediocre scores—typically behind countries such as Japan, Estonia, Finland and even Vietnam.

The 2016 results therefore continue a whirlwind twelve months of unexpected outcomes for the world: the Chicago Cubs winning the world series, Leicester City winning the English premier league, Brexit, and the U.S. presidential election.**

The results also held some hard truths for many nations. The UK and France failed to make any substantial gains. Traditionally low-performing countries like Peru and Colombia improved. And education ministers in Moscow were thrilled to see Russia jump into second place in reading, math, and science—mere points behind the U.S. of A.***

The broader consequences of the results for the education reform world are as yet unknown, but many have already declared definitively...

Doug Neidermeyer

Following President Trump’s election and his contentious nomination of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary this past February, an ever-increasing number of disgruntled Democrats have opted to ghost the education world, fearing that Trump presents a no-win scenario for left-leaning reformers. Work with him, and be painted a “collaborator,” they say. Work against him, and you’ll likely have to oppose reforms you truly believe in.

Thus many have taken up other endeavors to fill their time and wallets. Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, is pursuing his dream of becoming a banker. The entire staff at the Center for American Progress was granted a sabbatical to open a D.C.-wide chain food trucks featuring a variety of veganic sprouted grains and meat substitutes. And New America’s Conor Williams recently announced his plan to leave D.C. entirely and open a polar bear sanctuary in Finland.

Yet education reformers across the aisle aren’t celebrating. AEI’s Rick Hess recently lamented, “This is such squishy nonsense! During Obama’s eight years of running roughshod over the constitution, did you see me quit education to pursue my lifelong hope of creating a line of...

David Porter

Chance the Rapper’s recent meeting with Illinois’ governor about education funding for Chicago Public Schools coincides with a wave of hip hop education-related efforts across the country.

Last week, Kanye West voiced his support of the Trump administration school voucher push and announced plans to open Yeezus Walks Academy, a private “religious” school serving grades K–8. Common recently released a new single called “I Used to Love C.O.M.M.O.N. C.O.R.E.” Veteran supergroup Jurassic 5 has launched an afterschool paleontology program. And Pitbull, who already has one charter school, Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM!), has plans for a second, the Worldwide Institute of Latin Dance (WILD!), that will open alongside the first in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood this fall.

But perhaps the biggest news comes via Robert Matthew Van Winkle, a.k.a. Vanilla Ice, who shocked the nation when he came out of rap retirement to create a set of educational rap videos for schools. When asked to comment, he noted, “It’s been a dream of mine ever since rapping in Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze. It’s all about the kids, kids, baby!” ...

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...