For years, intrepid number crunchers—finance experts, economists, and pension analysts among them—have been trying, with little success, to prompt state policymakers to take action on reforming public pensions for teachers. Their efforts have included jaw-dropping numbers (Liabilities total trillions of dollars!), catastrophic predictions (Districts will go bankrupt! Taxpayers will be on the hook for decades!), dire real-world consequences for both employees and students (Teachers will lose their jobs! Class sizes will balloon! Instruction will suffer!), and alarming appeals for equity (We’re denying new teachers a secure retirement!).

If only these warnings were exaggerated scare tactics. But they’re very real. Consider these examples from 2016 alone: Pennsylvania taxpayers paid over $4 billion to bail out the Keystone State’s teacher pension fund in the 2015–16 fiscal year, even as a major pension-reform bill failed to clear the state legislature. Detroit Public Schools owes the state of Michigan $138.5 million in back pension payments and is accruing what amounts to $33,560 per day in late fees and interest; just servicing this debt costs the district $1,394 per student. In Chicago, the dispute over not increasing teacher salaries because the funds were needed to pay for pensions became so...

Tomorrow marks the end of National School Choice Week 2017. This year’s seven days of celebration comprised more than 21,000 events held in all fifty states and attended by over 6 million people, as well as proclamations of official recognition from President Trump and upwards of six hundred mayors and county leaders.

To add to the commemoration of this important week, what follow are Fordham’s best choice-related publications, events, and articles from the past year.



Not long ago I saw a father and son at a coffee shop. The child was busy playing on a tablet and the father wore a t-shirt that read: “Hug a Millennial Today.” The shirt made me smile because Millennials—like myself—get a lot of bad press these days, with critics writing us off as a lazy, self-absorbed generation that can’t find our way out of mom and dad’s basement. What these detractors miss or ignore, however, is that the fifty-four million Americans who belong to this group not only have myriad redeeming qualities, but have also reinvented a number of our country’s institutions—such as the workplace—for the better. And as more of us have children, we’re primed to do the same for education.

Millennials now make up one-third of the American workforce, and surveys have shown that this generation values perks like flexible scheduling, telecommuting, and paid volunteer days at their jobs. Because of this, companies are responding by redesigning benefits packages to attract the best prospects. In other words, unlike previous generations that entered the adult world and blended in, Millennials are shifting older co-workers’ attitudes towards their own. This is probably because even Baby...

Shaun M. Dougherty

Despite the education community’s clear polarization over the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. secretary of education, there may be a silver lining in her confirmation—specifically, for those in the career and technical education (CTE) community.

CTE, formerly known as vocational education, is a rare area of bipartisan agreement. And the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Act—the largest source of federal funding dedicated to improving the quality of CTE programs in high schools across the U.S., and long overdue for reauthorization—could present a chance for legislators to find some common ground early in the Trump administration.

Democrats like the Perkins Act because it tends to promote inclusive education and provide promising career pathways for students, including those from less advantaged backgrounds. Republicans tend to like it because it frequently cultivates partnerships with small businesses and encourages the development of employable skills that ultimately drive economic growth.

For a Secretary DeVos, an advocate of school choice, the Perkins Act—and CTE in general—may prove particularly appealing in that the CTE delivery models in high schools increasingly integrate school choice options. Recent research, for instance, shows that high school CTE programs are now accessible through traditional public schools, part-time regional...

When I was a Senior Vice President at MTV, my job was to lead the network's efforts to use its “superpowers for good.” This meant to leverage the globe’s (then) most powerful youth media brand to mobilize tens of millions of young people to take action on the issues of most importance to their generation. We frequently debated whether our campaigns—like encouraging young adults to have safe sex—were actually helping them make better decisions or were normalizing bad behaviors. I concluded that the answer was both.

Now that I have spent seven years running Public Prep, a New York City-based network of single-gender public charter schools, I have an even greater appreciation for how a culture that divorces childbearing from marriage can shape young people's attitudes regarding family formation, and why the education reform movement must play a role in combating that culture.

16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and 30 Something Grandma are an actual trilogy of television shows, capturing the dysfunctional cycle of young women who get pregnant, become unprepared parents too early, typically get abandoned or under-supported by their equally unready male counterparts, and then witness their young children repeat the behavior less than twenty...

A new study out of Tulane University examines the effects of New Orleans’ post–Hurricane Katrina school reforms on school level expenditures.

Most of these “reforms” include the shift from traditional public schools to a system of state-authorized charter schools. Recall that the control of most schools moved from the Orleans Parish School Board to the Recovery School District—and is now, incidentally, being returned back—though this analysis occurs before any of that begins to take place.

Authors examine district-level expenditures from 2000 to 2014, omitting 2005–06 because it was the year that Katrina hit. They also include costs from the charter management operator (CMO), Orleans Parish School Board, and Recovery School District (RSD). They compare spending before and after the post-Katrina changes, focusing especially on the most recent year of data, 2014. They created a weighted average of spending in other districts across the state that mirrors the pre-reform patterns in New Orleans school spending. Importantly, they focus on operating expenditures only and don’t include the large capital expenditures related to rebuilding the system after the hurricane.

There are three key findings. The first is that New Orleans’ public schools spent 13 percent more per pupil in operating expenditures ($1,300...

Much research indicates that youngsters from single-parent families face a greater risk of poor schooling outcomes compared to their peers from two-parent households. A recent study from the Institute for Family Studies at the University of Virginia adds to this evidence using data from Ohio.

Authors Nicholas Zill and W. Bradford Wilcox examine parent survey data from the National Survey of Children’s Health. This dataset contains information on 1,340 Ohio youngsters—a small but representative sample. The outcomes Zill and Wilcox examine are threefold: 1) whether the parent had been contacted at least once by their child’s school for behavior or academic problems; 2) whether the child had to repeat a grade; and 3) a parent’s perception of their child’s engagement in schoolwork.

The upshot: Buckeye children from married, two-parent households fare better on schooling outcomes, even after controlling for race/ethnicity, parental education, and income. Compared to youngsters from non-intact families, children with married parents were about half as likely to have been contacted by their school or to have repeated a grade. They were also more likely to be engaged in their schoolwork, though that result was not statistically significant.

An estimated 895,000 children in Ohio...

The seventh annual National School Choice Week is here, and it has special resonance, and prominence, this year. That’s because President Donald Trump has made expanding school choice the centerpiece—really the only piece—of his education agenda.

Those of us in Washington will likely spend the next several months obsessing about how he and his team plan to turn his $20 billion school choice promise into a legislative proposal. But it’s not too soon for policymakers in the states to start thinking through the details—because they may be the ones tasked with figuring them out.

That was my takeaway from an event I moderated last week at the Hoover Institution. We gathered a panel of policy wonks to discuss three major options for a new federal push on school choice: a competitive grant program, akin to Race to the Top; making Title I and special education dollars portable, including following students to private schools; or revising the federal tax code to support “tax credit scholarship programs” in at the state level.

A new grant program appealed to at least two of our panelists—Joanne Weiss and Andy Smarick—but strikes me as highly unlikely. Trump has promised to...

McKenzie Snow

Editor’s note: Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution hosted a timely event, “A New Federal Push on Private School Choice? Three Options to Consider.” We are running guest posts by the event’s panelists, offering their advice for the new Administration and Congress. Below is an article by McKenzie Snow, a policy analyst in education choice at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. These posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The recent inauguration of President Donald Trump and nomination of Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos has engendered an unprecedented opportunity for the federal government to support the success of school choice in the states. Among other major education policy changes, this could mean allowing states to innovate in their distribution of federal Title I dollars, so that funds are more transparent, student-centered, and targeted to make a meaningful impact on the disadvantaged students served.

Despite almost $15 billion appropriated for Title I grants to districts in FY 2016 alone, Title I has had a negligible impact on the disadvantaged students the program was intended to serve (see here, here, here, and here). Furthermore, since Title...

When President Donald Trump stopped by a Cleveland charter school in September, he promised to “establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty.” Although he initially pitched the idea of a $20 billion school choice program, the details on how that would work—and what other policy changes he might pursue—were a bit murky.

Trump’s nomination of school choice supporter Betsy DeVos for education secretary affirmed his commitment to expanding school choice, but the nomination also brought a bit more clarity to Trump’s agenda (or at least made it easier to speculate). DeVos has a widely cited history with vouchers, and the media immediately zeroed in on the possibility that the new administration would champion not just public charter schools, but private school choice as well.

As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat—and there are plenty of ways that the new administration could push for private school choice. On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution hosted an event aimed at exploring three specific options: a new competitive grant program, Title I portability, and revisions to the tax code.

Representative Luke...