At a House budget hearing two weeks ago, Representative Katherine Clark (D-MA) pushed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to comment on a Christian school’s policy toward LGBT students and families. As described by the Boston Globe:

Clark waited patiently for her turn to question DeVos in the packed hearing room, and when the opportunity came, she asked about the private Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington, Ind.

The school, Clark said, receives more than $665,000 in state vouchers, while noting in its handbook that it may deny admission to students from families where homosexual or “alternate gender identity” is practiced.

Leaning into her microphone and shaking her fist, Clark asked: If Indiana seeks federal funding as part of the president’s proposed voucher program, “will you stand up that this school be open to all students?”

DeVos tried to pivot, and then, after repeated questions from Clark, said that the decision would be left up to states, leading papers nationwide to run headlines such as “Betsy DeVos Refuses to Rule Out Giving Funds to Schools That Discriminate.”

[RELATED CONTENT: “Civil rights and private schools: An explainer,” by Michael J. Petrilli.]

We should expect to hear...

With President Trump and Secretary DeVos advocating for a federal school voucher initiative, private school choice is having its moment in the spotlight. One question that has been raised by critics, including on Capitol Hill, is whether private schools would be required to follow civil rights laws if they became recipients of federal funds.

I thought it might be helpful to understand the current obligations of private schools when it comes to civil rights, and how that varies (if at all) for schools participating in state voucher programs. Since the vast majority of private schools are religious, it’s also important to understand what rules are in place to protect their “free exercise of religion” under the First Amendment. I couldn’t find a good primer on this online, so I decided to take a crack at one.

Mainly at issue is whether private schools may choose not to enroll students or hire teachers on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or disability status. Let’s take a look.


Thanks to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, plus a number of Supreme Court cases decided since then, no private school can discriminate on the basis of race,...

The education reform movement is a big tent, which is particularly true when it comes to the idea of holding schools accountable for results. And, I would argue, the organizations that represent the extreme poles of that tent are the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the right, and the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights on the left.

Within the tent are people and organizations who share important common views. One is that our massive, fragmented, highly bureaucratic education system is unlikely to make all of the tough decisions necessary to improve achievement without some pressure from the outside. Another is that the needs of disadvantaged kids are unlikely to be prioritized without a push, because their parents often lack political power in our school systems. A third is that properly designed testing and accountability systems can encourage positive behaviors in schools and school systems—positives that outweigh the legitimate negatives that come from testing.

But as is the case with any movement, those of us in this big tent disagree about a lot as well. One issue is whether it’s unwise, or morally essential, to set ambitious, perhaps utopian, goals for our education system. The following exchange, between the Leadership Conference’s...

By Corey A. DeAngelis

The Colorado Legislature recently passed a bill that would allow charter schools access to the same local funding that traditional public schools in the state have long enjoyed. This bipartisan measure comes on the heels of a new national study by the University of Arkansas that found charters across the country receiving, on average, $5,721 less than nearby district schools in per-pupil funding.

The primary revenue culprit for this disparity? Local funding.

In doing this analysis, my colleagues and I examined funding for students in charters and district schools in fifteen metropolitan areas during the 2013–14 school year. As shown in Figure 1 (drawn from the report), in all but one of those locations, we found that children enrolled in public charter schools receive substantially less funding than those in district-operated schools. Across the country, that averages out to a shortfall of about 29 percent. 

Source: Wolf, Maloney, May, and DeAngelis (2017). “Charter School Funding: Inequity in the City.” School Choice Demonstration Project, Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas.

Critics of such analyses sometimes claim that funding disparities are due to differences in types of students, with...

Featuring Michael J. Petrilli, Linda Darling-Hammond, Liz King, Chris Minnich, and Caitlin Emma

Editor’s note: The following video features a panel at the 70th Education Writers Association National Seminar that took place on Wednesday, May 31, in Washington D.C. Titled “Accountability and ESSA: Where Are States Headed?,” it featured Linda Darling-Hammond, President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute; Liz King, Senior Policy Analyst and Director of Education Policy of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Chris Minnich, Executive Director of the Council of State School Officers; and Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Caitlin Emma, an education reporter for Politico, moderated. Click the image below to watch.

Stephen Noonoo

Today’s colleges of education generally do a good job prepping new teachers for the traditional classroom. For teaching students outside the mainstream, the training is less robust. At least, that’s what Alison Alowonle discovered when she stepped into her first student-teaching job in a gifted ed magnet school thirteen years ago and fell in love with the students.

When she moved to a classroom of her own, she started small, clustering increasing numbers of gifted students each year before designing her own pullout program at Excelsior Elementary in Minnetonka, Minnesota, picking up a certificate in gifted education along the way. This year she was one of eleven finalists for her state’s 2017 Teacher of the Year award.

“Gifted” is a label that’s often difficult to quantify, but there’s little doubt Alowonle’s elementary students are exceptional. To qualify for her class, students must demonstrate an IQ upward of 140 and pass through a simulation designed to test their intellect. But intelligence alone is not what makes them unique. According to Alowonle, her students also exhibit high levels of inward motivation and drive; “intensity” is one of her favorite words to describe it.

Here, Alowonle shares her recommendations for engaging...

A new report seeks to probe the impact of state takeovers of entire low performing districts—which don’t occur often and therefore have a limited evidence base. Analysts examined the results of one such takeover in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a midsized industrial city thirty miles north of Boston that is rife with deep poverty and whose primary school district includes roughly 80 percent of students who are English language learners.

The district enrolled approximately 13,000 students in twenty-eight schools in fall 2011, when the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education classified Lawrence Public Schools (LPS) as a “level 5” district, the lowest rating in the state’s accountability system, and placed it into receivership. The receiver, a former Boston Public Schools deputy superintendent, took over in 2012 and was granted broad discretion to—inter alia—alter the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, require staff to reapply for their positions, and extend the school day or year.

The turnaround strategy had five major components: 1) setting ambitious performance targets; 2) increasing school autonomy by reducing spending on the central office by $6.6 million in the first two years, pushing funds down to the school level, and providing different levels of autonomy and support based on each...

A short new report by A+ Colorado evaluates the recent gains of Denver Public Schools (DPS) in a way that education leaders elsewhere might beneficially heed.

First, we see that more DPS students met grade level proficiency for Math and ELA in 2016 than in 2015. Then the authors list the highest achieving schools, as well as those schools that made the biggest jumps in proficiency rates. A scatter plot shows a demographic index and elementary school ELA proficiency rates. Here the serious thinking begins.

We see that a large number of DPS schools are besting their peers around the state with comparable demographics. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing great. For example, Knapp Elementary, a district-run school, had fewer than 35 percent of its students read and write at grade level, yet it’s far above the state average for schools with similar concentrations of poor and multilingual students. Knapp also makes the podium when the authors rank schools by growth rates.

The authors conclude by showing the rate at which Denver needs to improve to meet its 2020 goals, and we see how much heavy lifting lies ahead. From 2015 to 2016, DPS increased the number of...

This study uses the attendance records of over 50,000 middle and high school students in a major California school district to gauge the prevalence of “part-day absenteeism”—how often students miss some of the school day but not all of it.

Overall, the authors find that part-day absenteeism is responsible for at least as many missed classes as full-day absenteeism, and that the inclusion of part-day absences raises the chronic absenteeism rate from 9 percent to 24 percent for students in grades six through twelve. On average, students in these grades were absent for all of 4.2 percent of school days and part of 12.2 percent of school days. However, while almost half of full-day absences were excused, 92 percent of part-day absences were unexcused.

Interestingly, although both full- and part-day absenteeism show a jump at the transition from middle school to high school, full-day absenteeism declines from that point onward while part-day absenteeism remains elevated in grades ten and eleven before increasing again in grade twelve. Across all grades, absenteeism varies considerably by time of day. For example, the absenteeism rate for the first and last periods of the day is around 5 percent, while the absenteeism rate for third...

Few people would disagree that Secretary DeVos's tenure is off to a rocky start. Much of this is not her fault; working for President Trump is proving to be a challenge for just about everyone, all the more so in a field where he is so widely despised. Some sort of restart is clearly needed.

To get ideas about what that might look like, I reached out to five friends, all of them public relations professionals who work in education. They have served Democrats and Republicans, previous Administrations, and officials at the local, state, and federal levels. Here are their thoughts. We’ll start with a few who asked to stay off the record.

Anonymous #1

I’d suggest a couple of things:

  1. A very different listening tour that is less public (although partly public) where she actually listens instead of just pipes up when she hears what she wants. Have her publicly wrestle with things that don’t fit in her world view.
  2. Embrace common accountability for all schools, which is the only bridge from where she’s been to where she can potentially have credibility.
  3. Do her homework. She seems very Trump-like as she makes statements or does visits. I suppose
  4. ...