Flypaper

Gary Larson’s famous comic strip The Far Side was as insightful as it was hilarious. But given the recent consternation in the education reform movement, one of his best comes to mind. In it, two bears are caught in the crosshairs of a rifle. The one most clearly in the hunter’s sights points nervously at the unsuspecting companion to his right.

The comic sheds a great deal of light on the behavior of many charter school advocates with the now-increased interest in private school choice bubbling up in D.C. with Betsy DeVos’s nomination as education secretary.

What’s unfortunate is that the self-preservation instinct in this instance, which would make private school choice the target, is shortsighted, both for our kids and for the politics of advancing “choice” for all America’s children not lucky enough to win the parent or ZIP code lotteries.

For starters and perhaps most poignantly—and again to Larson’s work—both bears are actually in danger, with the question being, simply: Whom will the hunter pull the trigger on first?

Private school choice fights are long-standing and contentious in states like Florida, where the teachers union just lost a three-year battle to have the program,...

A new report by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) examines how varied “open enrollment” policies are across America.

Open enrollment allows students to transfer from their assigned school to another public option, either within their district (intra-district) or outside (inter-district). Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws permitting open enrollment, but these vary widely. For example, Connecticut has mandatory open enrollment in four cities but voluntary arrangements statewide, while Vermont makes inter- and intra-district open enrollment mandatory, but only for high schools. Alabama, Illinois, Maryland, and North Carolina are the four states that lack open enrollment policies.

The report attempts to make sense of this multifarious landscape with a two-page table summarizing open enrollment policies for each state, as well as brief overviews of how the policies account for student transportation and how transfer requests can be prioritized if demand exceeds available space.

Transportation can be a limiting factor for students seeking to take advantage of open enrollment, but of the thirty-five states with laws addressing the issue, most push the responsibility to parents, while some states like Arkansas and Massachusetts require the districts from which students are transferring to provide transportation in certain cases, such...

My biggest takeaway from five years of teaching fifth grade in a South Bronx public school was this: much of what I had been taught about why my students struggled with reading comprehension and literacy was simply incorrect, and almost certainly doomed to fail.

There was no conspiracy at work. No impersonal forces lined up to keep the majority of my students—all of them black or brown; all of them low-income—achieving below grade level. And forget what you think you know about teacher incompetence, institutional indifference, or the malign effects of teachers unions. My school was, in the main, filled with earnest people trying hard and failing. Not despite their training, but because of it. Our efforts were praiseworthy, but insufficient because we were overlooking something essential.

The one man whose work accurately described what I was seeing in my classroom every day was E.D. Hirsch, Jr., of Cultural Literacy and Core Knowledge fame. What was odd, however, was that every time I would invoke his name in my grad school classes or in various professional development sessions, I’d hear some variation of this response: “Oh, that ‘dead white guy’ stuff? Nobody takes that seriously.”

If you’re familiar with...

A working paper released by the Hutchins Center this month argues that increased federal investment in educational research and development could narrow income-based achievement gaps, especially if those dollars are used to expand data-driven innovation and decentralize some of the policymaking process. In particular, the author identifies three policy areas the feds should target: school accountability, teacher performance, and undergraduate financial aid.

School accountability measures have had some success in narrowing the achievement gap, but they are not enough, argues the paper’s author, Sarah Turner. There is still an ample amount of inequality of opportunity owing to differences in family resources and circumstances. Families in the top income quartile are able to spend over six times as much on educational enrichment as those in the bottom quartile, giving them a clear advantage. Yet, according to Turner, the government can change this if it invests in high-quality assessments that states can tailor to local contexts to ensure the only schools available to the public are of sufficient caliber.

On the issue of teacher performance, value-added data clearly show that high-quality educators improve student achievement. Therefore, having more of them in low-income schools would also narrow achievement gaps. To help accomplish this,...

In this study, the authors estimate the “intergenerational income mobility rate” for every college in the United States, using data taken from the individual tax returns of over 30 million students who attended college between 1999 and 2013.

As defined by the authors, a college’s intergenerational mobility rate is the product of two factors: first, the fraction of enrolled students who come from households in the bottom quintile of the income distribution; and second, the fraction of those students whose subsequent earnings place them in the top income quintile.

In a society with perfect mobility, a child’s background would have no bearing on his or her future earnings, meaning exactly 4 percent of children would move from the bottom quintile to the top quintile (and every other quintile). However, in reality only 1.7 percent of U.S. kids actually manage this feat.

So what role do U.S. colleges play in promoting upward mobility? According to the authors, their analysis of the data yielded four main findings.

First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. For example, children whose parents are in the top one percent of the income distribution are seventy-seven times more likely to attend an Ivy League college...

It’s 2017, which means we’re in year six of the Common Core experiment. The big question that everyone wants the answer to is: “Is Common Core working?” Many states seem poised to move in a new direction, especially with a new administration in Washington, and research evidence could play an instrumental role in helping states make the decision of whether to keep the standards, revise them, or replace them altogether. (Of course, it might also be that policymakers’ views on the standards are impervious to evidence.)

To my knowledge, there are two existing studies that try to assess Common Core’s impact on student achievement, both by Tom Loveless. They compare state NAEP gains between Common Core adopting and non-adopting states or compare states based on an index of the quality of their implementation of the standards. Both studies find, in essence, no effects of the standards, and the media have covered these studies using that angle. The C-SAIL project, on which I am co-principal investigator, is also considering a related question (in our case, we are asking about the impact of college- and career-readiness standards in general, including, but not...

Chad Aldeman

If you care about teacher pay or teacher retention or, heaven forbid, teacher retirement, you should read Fordham’s new report, (No) Money in the Bank. Author Marty Lueken analyzed how long it takes teachers in the largest public school districts in the country to qualify for retirement benefits worth at least as much as their own contributions—a threshold known as the “crossover point.”

At first blush, this may seem like a low bar, but the results may surprise you. In the median city, teachers must stay for twenty-five years just to reach this minimum level of retirement savings.

To be clear, this is different from how retirement benefits accrue for most workers in defined contribution (DC) retirement plans like 401(k) or 403(b) plans, where workers are immediately entitled to their own contributions and interest. In those plans, there is no crossover point because a worker’s retirement account begins growing immediately and she never has to suffer long periods with negative savings rates.

Teachers are different. In fact, teachers have the most back-loaded retirement plans of any set of workers—meaning teachers have to wait longer to reach their crossover point than any other profession.

Consider that:

  • K–12 teachers are the
  • ...
Thomas W. Carroll

With a President who doesn’t fear the teachers unions and Republican control of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, the opportunity for school choice has never been stronger. A consensus is developing that the quickest and most effective route to a school-choice victory for all fifty states is a federal scholarship tax credit. This idea could be included in the major tax-reform overhaul expected this spring.

Indeed, a 2015 bill, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Representative Todd Rokita (R-Indiana), is an example of just such an approach. It proposes a federal tax credit for K–12 scholarships that is independent of state programs—much like federal tax credits for buying electric vehicles.

Some school-choice advocates have assumed that federal tax credits would be an “add on” to larger scholarships financed by state tax credit scholarships. That’s one way to do it. But there’s no reason a federal scholarship couldn’t stand on its own. And if it did, it would unlock school choice for children in every state in the land.

Here's how it could work. If you pay federal taxes and donate to any eligible, existing scholarship fund—for example, the Children's Scholarship Fund—you get to reduce your...

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.

Publications:

Events:

Pages