Sean Saffron

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2017 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to explain how President Trump should structure his highly anticipated $20 billion school choice proposal. Other entries can be found here.

There’s a lot to know in the education policy realm so it’s important we define what we know for the purposes of this proposal:

  1. Empowering parents to choose the manner of their child’s education works for students—scores usually go up, graduation rates rise, and there is less contact with the criminal justice system, to name just three.
  2. Federal Title dollars are ineffective at improving student outcomes—recent studies of School Improvement Grants (Title I) and teacher professional development (Title II) find no benefits.
  3. Title I portability, the white whale of the choice world, is a messy proposition which obviously is an affront to Democrats and understandably makes Republicans uneasy.
  4. Title II funds serve a constituency, teachers, reflexively opposed to the Republican party—and who went so far as to endorse Hillary Clinton during her primary—either by funding their (ineffective) on-the-job training or assuring them of (easier) work by reducing the number of students in the
  5. ...

With a $20 billion federal educational choice program now a real possibility under the Trump Administration and Republican-led Congress, the media spotlight has turned to the voucher research. The discussion often revolves around the question of participant effects—whether students are better off when they use a voucher to transfer to a private school. In recent days, voucher naysayers have pointed to the negative participant findings from recent studies in Louisiana and Ohio in order to attack the idea. (I oversaw the latter study as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Ohio research director.)

These cursory analyses are misleading for a number of reasons. The Ohio study, led by respected Northwestern University professor David Figlio, came with a number of caveats that are often glossed over. Figlio was only able to credibly examine a small sample of voucher participants. To do an apples-to-apples comparison using a “regression discontinuity” approach, he had to focus on voucher students who came from marginally higher performing public schools (akin to a “D” rated school). As a result, voucher participants who left the most troubled public schools in the state—the “Fs”—were not studied. It’s possible that these students benefited from the program (or perhaps not),...

With Donald Trump in the White House and long-time school choice advocate Betsy DeVos installed as his education secretary, arguments for and against vouchers and scholarship tax credits are burning white hot.

A New York Times report and subsequent editorial claimed that "three of the largest voucher programs in the country, enrolling nearly 180,000 children nationwide, showed negative results." Choice advocates fired back, disputing the methodology of those studies and insisting that the vast majority of "gold standard" research has found that school choice produces "equivalent or superior academic results, usually for a fraction of what is spent on public schools," in the words of the Cato Institute's Neal McCluskey.

Who's right? Who's wrong?

Wonky battles over research studies can be illuminating. They can also be irrelevant or premature. While McCluskey and other advocates are correct that the preponderance of evidence tends to favor school choice, this entire debate puts the cart before the horse. When we look to test-based evidence—and look no further—to decide whether choice "works," we are making two rather extraordinary, unquestioned assumptions: that the sole purpose of schooling is to raise test scores, and that district schools have a place of...

Some country politicians say education reform is fine as long as it stays in town—especially in the urban neighborhoods we call “inner cities.”

These folks think it’s great to help the poor. Some of them believe in the free market principles by which school reform works. But they see no need for reform in their own backyards. That might scare the horses.

These rural sluggards showed their stuff when Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Senator Susan Collins (Maine) voted against Betsy DeVos as education secretary. This country club might mean well, but they are wrong to oppose reform.

I have rural roots myself. I grew up in a place that is literally called “Farmersville”—a town of 700 in central Illinois. During my childhood, our area faded as its lifeblood—coal mines—closed.

I remember miners worrying about the future. They were powerless to reverse the market trends, but when all you’ve known is a coalmine, you grimace through the thin times and hope for the best.

What about the children in such places?

Once, after being away for years, I drove by the public school where I was educated through the sixth grade. A rust stain drooped below one of the letters...

Neal McCluskey

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2017 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to explain how President Trump should structure his highly anticipated $20 billion school choice proposal. Other entries can be found here.

My favorite scene from A Man for All Seasons, the Robert Bolt play about the execution of Sir Thomas More for his silent opposition to Henry VIII, is when More is begged by family members to arrest Richard Rich, the man whose deception about More would eventually seal More’s death warrant. At this point in the story, there is no evidence that Rich has broken the law. Here’s the exchange, but it is better watched than read:

Alice More: Arrest him!

More: Why, what has he done?

Margaret More: He's bad!

More: There is no law against that.

Will Roper: There is! God's law!

More: Then God can arrest him.

Alice: While you talk, he's gone!

More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do?...

Sometimes women with the best intentions end up hurting other women, and today is one of those days. While those who have the freedom, flexibility, and privilege to take the day off for #DayWithoutAWoman, moms in multiple states are scrambling to find child care for their children because their schools have closed, some with almost no advance notice.

Wait, what?

Yup, that’s right. There are schools that had so many women teachers and staff planning on being out that administrators felt they were left with no option but to close for the day. Kids miss out on learning, parents are totally inconvenienced, and some women will lose a whole day’s pay because they have to skip work to be home so that their kids’ teachers can take the day off.

Would these organizers of the “Day Without a Woman” be cool if they had a sick child and their doctor (a woman) decided to blow off their appointment? Should the nurse who administers chemotherapy stay home today? Would these pink hatted ladies be cool as cucumbers when they are rushing to fly off to an important event and the all-women flight crew says, “Nah, we are taking the...

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2017 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to explain how President Trump should structure his highly anticipated $20 billion school choice proposal. Other entries can be found here.

Should the federal government get involved in school choice? The question pits support for federalism and a limited federal role in education against our desire to expand options for kids. It’s a close call. Could this be viewed as a Race to the Top for school choice? Will private school autonomy be appropriately respected? These concerns are real and should remain front of mind, but they can be appropriately addressed while expanding choice for the millions of U.S. students who are languishing in assigned schools that aren’t meeting their unique needs.

In this case, choice trumps.

To navigate the increasingly complex politics surrounding how—and if—such a significant federal investment in school choice should be made, we encourage the Administration to follow three guiding principles responsible for the growth of existing federal and state school choice programs:

  • Focus on supporting and expanding the immense success of school choice in the states;
  • Do no harm to existing state choice programs; and
  • ...
Josh Dwyer and Carolyn E. Welch, J.D.

A recent High Flyer post made a strong case for how acceleration can benefit high-ability students and help administrators and teachers more effectively address the individual needs of their unique learners. It echoes findings in dozens of previous studies that show that acceleration works.

Despite mountains of evidence demonstrating its benefits, most decisions about acceleration policies are made locally. According to a recent report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, forty-one states either do not have acceleration policies or permit school districts to decide whether to institute them.

Using Illinois as a case-study, the Illinois Association for Gifted Children and the Untapped Potential Project recently published a report that sought to determine whether districts step up to the plate in terms of establishing acceleration policies to support their high achievers in the absence of a state requirement. Unfortunately, the report’s findings are disappointing. Among Illinois school districts, large percentages lack policies that permit students to do the following:

  • Enter kindergarten early: 56 percent
  • Enter first grade early: 55 percent
  • Take classes above grade-level: 46 percent
  • Skip a grade: 90 percent
  • Graduate early: 41 percent

These troubling statistics are compounded by the fact that 33 percent of Illinois students...

In this study, the authors use administrative data from North Carolina middle schools to estimate the impact of “delinquent” students (i.e., those with three or more suspensions in a school year) on their grade level peers (i.e., students with two or fewer suspensions). To accomplish this, they take advantage of the “wide-scale remixing” of peers that occurs when students transition from fifth grade to sixth grade to implement an “instrumental variable” approach that plausibly addresses the challenge of selection bias that is endemic in peer effects studies.

Overall, their results suggest that a 10 percent increase in exposure to suspension-worthy acts results in a .06 standard deviation decrease in math scores—or roughly half of the decrease one might expect if the average class size doubled from ten to twenty students. Somewhat surprisingly, they find little evidence that the magnitude of this effect differs depending on student or teacher characteristics.

Unfortunately, because the study relies on suspensions data to identify delinquency, the authors are unable to disentangle the effects of a student’s misbehavior from those of the school’s disciplinary response. And their results don’t tell us everything we‘d like to know about the sort of group dynamics that may be at...

Travis Pillow

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2017 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to explain how President Trump should structure his highly anticipated $20 billion school choice proposal. Other entries can be found here.

In some parts of the country, private school choice has faced insurmountable barriers. In Michigan, a restrictive state constitution basically forbids publicly funded scholarship programs. In New York and almost every other blue state, a politically powerful teachers union has thwarted tax credit legislation. In Texas, recalcitrant rural Republicans have blocked voucher bills.

President Donald Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Republican-controlled Congress have an unprecedented opportunity to expand private school choice in all of those places. A federal tax credit scholarship program could open new doors to disadvantaged students in those states, without forcing them to spend any public money or change their existing policies.

If the administration and Congress decide to go that route, it's imperative they follow a principle that has guided our work in Florida for more than fifteen years. Scholarship programs must serve students, not schools.

In some states, people who donate to scholarship funding organizations are allowed to earmark their contributions for specific...