Flypaper

Editor's note: This post has been updated to include a list of all submissions, which we will publish on a rolling basis. Scroll all the way down and click on a title to read that proposal.

For several years now, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have hosted an annual “Wonkathon” on our Flypaper blog to generate substantive (and deeply nerdy, as the name implies) conversation around key issues in education reform. (Last year’s, on ways to promote and support school choice under ESSA, can be found here.)

We’re pleased to announce our topic for Wonkathon 2017: President Trump’s highly anticipated school choice proposal. To be maximally helpful to the folks inside the Administration and on the Hill who are actually working on this, we are seeking blog posts that focus on the nitty-gritty of how such an initiative should be structured. (Meaning we’re not interested here in debating whether choice is a good thing or whether it’s a good idea for the feds even to get involved with it. Though, to be clear, those questions are worth debating!)

Participants are free to propose anything they like, so long as:

  • It promotes the expansion of parental choice in
  • ...

Earlier this month, Washington, D.C.’s local CBS affiliate published a moving story about tragedy and triumph in the city’s schools. Here’s an excerpt:

Last week, students at one D.C. school were rallying around a classmate who was hurt in a double shooting.

On Wednesday, they celebrate 17 classmates who signed full scholarships to college.

Crime tape and flashing lights. Evidence markers and stained clothes. This is more than just a crime scene, more than just a lead story.

This is life for far too many of D.C.’s students, so when they come out on the other side, they can’t hold back the tears.

It was an emotional day at Friendship Public Charter School on Minnesota Avenue in Northeast, D.C.

Jordan Marshall's close friend Ralph was killed in a drive by.  He was 17 years old and taught Jordan how to play ball. 

“Football was an alley way for me,” said Marshall. “A way I can get out all my frustration of the day.”

Stories drive change in America. No matter how many try to push back on that by citing the virtue of...

During his campaign, President Trump promised a focus on school choice to the tune of $20 billion. Although few details have been offered about his ideas, the Trump administration appears to be taking steps to follow through—starting with the nomination (and now confirmation) of longtime school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as America’s next education secretary.

With a choice supporter in place as the nation’s top education leader, the Trump administration could soon begin crafting its plan for a national school choice program. There are a few options the administration could pursue, but creating a tax-credit for individuals or corporations who contribute to scholarship granting organizations seems to be the most politically feasible. These scholarships, commonly referred to as vouchers, enable eligible students to attend a private school using public dollars—and as is the case with many public-private programs, they are hotly debated.

Part of the reason the voucher debate is so fierce is because of the research associated with it. Although early studies found positive impacts, recent studies of programs in Louisiana and Ohio have found less encouraging results. This now-mixed bag of findings leaves policy makers—and the Trump administration in particular—with a complicated problem: What’s...

On February 7, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 234-190 to roll back regulations created under President Obama that interpret the accountability provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The measure now goes to the Senate, where it’s likely to pass and then to President Trump, who has promised to sign it. News of this major move was largely lost amidst the coverage of Betsy DeVos’s fractious confirmation process. This is unfortunate considering that the Congressional action could affect American education more than the new education secretary, at least in the near term.

To void these regulations, House Republicans wielded an obscure statute called the Congressional Review Act, which had only been successfully used once before—in 2001 by President George W. Bush. (That’s likely to change, however, as GOP lawmakers this month also used the same tactic to repeal rules interpreting ESSA’s teacher preparation provisions, as well as others pertaining to non-education issues.)

Typically, repealing regulations is an arduous process undertaken within the executive branch, involving a notice-and-comment period and, sometimes, litigation challenges. The Congressional Review Act circumvents all that by allowing a simple majority vote (it can’t be filibustered) in both houses...

My friend and colleague Robert Pondiscio has done his best—and that’s a high bar—to navigate and mediate between Jason Bedrick and Mike Petrilli in the latest chapter of America’s endless debate about whether school accountability is best done via the parent marketplace or state assessment regimes.

The argument is important—and Robert strives to find a middle ground: he’s for testing, he’s for choice, he’s for accountability—but he ends up closer to Bedrick in expressing reservations about “test-based accountability.” And he does this via a far-fetched analogy to foster care, asking whether parents would bar their kids from soccer and gymnastics if the big, bad state were to determine that foster placements will be based on the frequency of children’s visits to hospital emergency rooms. Robert frets that just as many parents would change their family behavior in undesirable ways so as to keep kids out of the ER for fear of losing them to the foster-care system, so schools alter their behavior in educationally undesirable ways when test scores determine their fate within the accountability system.

He’s got a point, of course. We’re all mindful of the downside of excessive reliance on test scores as criteria by...

No reasonable adult would suggest eliminating the foster care system, or making it impossible for responsible government authorities to remove abused or neglected children from unsafe homes. On the one hand, no one wants to tell parents how to raise their kids. But on the other hand, when the health and well-being of a child is at risk we don’t shrug it off; we intervene. And not indiscriminately or capriciously: about 400,000 children are in foster care at a given moment—a tiny fraction of the nearly 75 million children under 18 in America. Removing children from their parents is a drastic measure and appropriately rare.

“Drastic and rare” is surely what my Fordham Institute colleague Mike Petrilli has in mind in wanting to ensure that no child gets stuck in a hopeless and godforsaken school. Mike and my friend Jason Bedrick, Director of Policy at EdChoice, have been exchanging friendly fire over school choice and accountability. Bedrick says choice is accountability. Schools ought to be “directly answerable to the people most affected by their performance,” or parents, not regulators and bureaucrats; I made a similar argument in a U.S. News column in December. Mike agrees, but also wants...

A new study in the AERA Open journal examines how to support low-level readers when they tackle complex texts.

Recall that the Common Core English Language Arts standards require that students read grade-level texts. Common Core’s Appendix A states that, “The expectation that scaffolding will occur with particularly challenging texts is built into the Standards’ grade-by-grade text complexity expectations…” “Scaffolds” are instructional supports that help (often struggling) students move to greater understanding and independence. Yet many teachers don’t know what it means to scaffold their instruction, much less how to deploy it well in their classrooms. This study examines the effectiveness of different types of scaffolding to support reading comprehension, in particular “interactional scaffolding”—essentially “in-the-moment” or “on-the-spot” responsive support based on a student’s immediate needs. (This contrasts with “planned scaffolding,” which is more static and often provided by tools and curriculum.)

Though the study addresses an important topic, it is limited in scope, based on just 215 mostly low-income fifth and sixth graders in four urban middle schools. Two-thirds of them scored at the basic or below basic level on their most recent state reading assessments. Scaffolding was provided during four thirty-minute guided reading lessons (i.e., two hours total intervention)...

A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, written by Joshua Goodman of the Harvard Kennedy School, explores the effect of increased high school math requirements on students’ educational and workforce outcomes.

The study examines state-level school reforms enacted in response to A Nation at Risk, which, inter alia, lamented the declining status of the U.S. scientific and technological workforce. The federal report, published in 1983, prompted thirty-nine states and D.C. to increase the number of math courses that they required for high school graduation. However, the reforms were not implemented simultaneously (the most responsive updated requirements by 1984, while the slowest took until 1990). The differential timing of reforms across the states helped Goodman clearly identify their effects.

By looking at transcript data, Goodman found that when states boosted their math requirements, a jump followed in the average number of math courses completed. That’s not surprising. What’s more interesting—and sobering—is that this increase occurred because students took more basic math courses (e.g., algebra, geometry, vocational math), not more advanced math courses (e.g., algebra II, pre-calculus, statistics). Unfortunately, that means the reform did not achieve the Excellence Commission’s implicit objective of sharpening STEM’s cutting edge...

Do incentives nudge students to exert more effort in their schoolwork? A recent study by University of Chicago analysts suggests they do, though the structure of the incentive is also important.

The researchers conducted field experiments from 2009 to 2011 in three high-poverty areas, including Chicago Public Schools and two nearby districts, with nearly 6,000 student participants in grades two through ten. Based on improved performance relative to a baseline score on a low-stakes reading or math assessment (not the state exam), various incentives were offered to different groups of pupils, such as a $10 or $20 reward, or a trophy worth about $3 along with public recognition of their accomplishment. The analysts offered no reward to students in a control group. To test whether pupils responded differently to immediate versus delayed incentives, some of the students received their reward right after the test—results were computed on the spot—while others knew the reward would be withheld for one month.

Several interesting findings emerged. First, the larger cash reward ($20) led to positive effects on test performance, while the smaller reward had no impact ($10). This suggests that, if offering a monetary reward, larger payouts will likely lead to more...

Marc S. Tucker

Editor’s note: This piece first appeared in Edweek.org’s Top Performers blog on February 9, 2017, and is reprinted with permission from the author.

I ran into an acquaintance on the ferry the other day. She told me that after she began to wake from the shock of the election’s outcome she decided that she wanted to get out of the cocoon of her circle of friends to try to understand the people who had voted for Donald Trump. She told me about the conversations she had begun to have with working-class people she knew with whom she had never talked politics and those conversations had only spiked her need to dig further. She asked me if there was anything she could read that might help her.

I smiled and gave her my own reading list: Charles Murray’s Losing Ground, George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, Robert Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City and J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. To my astonishment, I learned later that there had been a run on these books in our little...

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