Lesley Lavery

Editor's note: This is the first post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? 

At the end of 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law with bipartisan support. Though the logic and mechanics of the policy distinguish it from its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act, it is difficult to tell how and whether ESSA will create increased agency for students and their families. Parents’ interactions with policy opportunities depend on their demand for diverse and academically rigorous options, their ability to find and sort through materials on school quality and fit, and the supply of diverse schooling options within and outside of traditional public school districts. Answers to the following questions should help policy observers gauge ESSA’s likelihood of altering student enrollment patterns:

Does ESSA create or encourage new and different school models and approaches (i.e., will ESSA spur school variation within states)?

ESSA grants states considerable leeway in setting standards and goals and designing systems and supports best suited to the needs of their...

President Obama signed the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), in December 2015. Since then, there’s been a flurry of discussion around rule making and the differences between ESSA and NCLB. One new feature is a provision that permits states to award money to districts for direct student services (DSS), an umbrella term that includes a wide range of individualized academic services intended to improve student achievement.

Starting in 2017–18, ESSA permits states to reserve up to 3 percent of their Title I funds to distribute to districts interested in providing direct student services. A recent report from Chiefs for Change estimates that, based on fiscal year 2017 Title I estimates, the funding available for direct student services ranges from just over $1 million in Wyoming to over $54 million in California. There are, of course, a few stipulations: If states opt to reserve these funds, 99 percent of the total must be distributed directly to districts (presumably through a competitive grant program). Districts are empowered to choose whether or not to apply for a grant and how to spend any awarded dollars, though state-created grant applications could allow states to nudge districts in certain directions. States must also prioritize districts...

Editor's note: This post is the sixth and final entry in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? Prior entries can be found herehereherehere, and here.

Shoot, Jay, maybe I should have quit while we were ahead—or at least while we were closer to rapprochement.

Let me admit to being perplexed by your latest post, which has an Alice in Wonderland aspect to it—a suggestion that down is up and up is down. “Short-term changes in test scores are not very good predictors of success,” you write. But that’s not at all what the research I’ve pointed to shows.

Start with the David Deming study of Texas’s 1990s-era accountability system. Low-performing Lone Star State schools faced low ratings and responded by doing something to boost the achievement of their low-performing students. That yielded short-term test-score gains, which were related to positive long-term outcomes. This is the sort of thing we’d...

Editor's note: This post is the fifth in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? Prior entries can be found hereherehere, and here.

Mike, you say that we agree on the limitations of using test results for judging school quality, but I’m not sure how true that is. In order not to get too bogged down in the details of that question, I’ll try to keep this reply as brief as possible.

First, the evidence you’re citing actually supports the opposite of what you are arguing. You mention the Project Star study showing that test scores in kindergarten correlated with later life outcomes as proof that test scores are reliable indicators of school or program quality. But you don’t emphasize an important point: Whatever benefits students experienced in kindergarten that resulted in higher test scores, they did not cause higher test scores in later grades—even though they produced better later-life outcomes....

I have two requests. The first is modest. The second is…well, let’s focus on the first for the time being.

Please go to your calendar and block off thirty minutes. You can call the item “Districts and the Achievement Gap.” It’s easy work; you’ll just need to do look at some pictures.

A new project by a team of researchers associated with Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis has produced a database that includes school district test scores, poverty rates, and racial demographics (report on the database’s creation here).

short article in the New York Times explains some of the findings that emerge when you start analyzing the data. But the major contributions of the article are its two interactive graphics.

The first displays the well-known relationship between family income and student achievement: Students from more affluent families have higher average achievement levels. The upshot, per the article, is that “children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.” The graphic allows you to search for any traditional school district in America. I did a quick comparison of one of New Jersey’s highest-performing and one of...

Editor's note: This post is the fourth in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? Prior entries can be found herehere, and here.

I think we’re approaching the outline of a consensus, Jay—at least regarding the most common situations in the charter quality debate. We both agree that closing low-performing schools is something to be done with great care, and with broad deference to parents. Neither of us wants “distant regulators” to pull the trigger based on test scores alone. And we both find it unacceptable that some states still use test score levels as measures of school quality.

I think you’re right that in the vast majority of cases, charter schools that are closed by their authorizers are weak academically and financially. Parents have already started to “vote with their feet,” leaving the schools under-enrolled and financially unsustainable. Closures, then, are akin to euthanasia. That’s certainly been our experience at...

Under President Obama’s stewardship, initiatives to expand access to high-quality early childhood programs have sparked heated political debate. Aiming to ground policy makers and education leaders in this conversation, a recent report from the American Enterprise Institute examines the effectiveness of early childhood education by analyzing and summarizing studies of the country’s ten best-known pre-K programs. It finds that high-quality pre-K works for some students, but the research is inconclusive as to whether it’s beneficial for all.

The report starts with an overview of the four most common research methodologies used to evaluate pre-K programs. These include assessing a program’s long-term impact with Randomized Control Trials, i.e., randomly assigning students to either a program (treatment) or non-program (control) group to measure differences in outcomes; comparing results for participating pre-K students against those for children who were eligible for pre-K but did not enroll; comparing results for participating students with a comparison group based on observable characteristics; and comparing outcomes for pre-K participants before and after the program.

One of the most positive takeaways from the research is that low-income children reap short-term and long-term benefits from high-quality pre-K programs. In Boston’s program, for example, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch showed...

Previous research has found that oversubscribed urban charter schools produce large academic gains for their students. But are these results related to test score inflation (defined by one assessment expert as increases in scores that do not signal a commensurate increase in proficiency in the domain of interest)? In other words, do these schools merely figure out how to prepare their students to do well on the high-stakes exam, or are they contributing to real learning writ large?

To explore this question, a recent study examines state testing data from 2006 to 2011 at nine Boston middle school charters with lottery-based admissions. By exploiting the random nature of the lottery system, prior studies have found that these schools produce substantial learning gains on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

To carry out the analysis, author Sarah Cohodes breaks down the learning gains by the various components of the state assessment—akin to how one might disaggregate overall gains by student subgroup. A math assessment might contain several different testing domains (e.g., geometry versus statistics), with some topics being tested more frequently than others. Cohodes’s hypothesis is as follows: If the gains are attributable to score inflation, we might expect to see stronger results on...

This new research report from Educational Testing Services is a solid contribution to the evidence base—rather than the opinion base—about the so-called “opt-out” movement. Author Randy E. Bennett finds that parents’ refusal to let their children sit for standardized tests is “a complicated, politically charged issue made more so by its social class and racial/ethnic associations. It is also an issue that appears to be as much about test use as about tests themselves.”

Opt-out true believers will likely dismiss out of hand anything coming from a testing outfit. but they ought to take a long look. The report does a good job synthesizing data from both the national and state departments of education, published surveys, and other sources to put between two covers exactly what is known—and can be sensibly divined—about who is opting out and why. “Parents who opt their children out appear to represent a distinct subpopulation,” the report notes. In New York, for example, “opt-outs were more likely to be white and not to have achieved proficiency on the previous year’s state examinations.” Test refusers are also less likely to be poor or to attend a school district serving large numbers of low-income families or ELL students. None...

This is the first in a series of essays marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of America’s first charter school law. These commentaries are informed and inspired by our forthcoming book (co-authored with Bruno V. Manno), Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, to be published this fall by Harvard Education Press. Read the other essays here, here, here, and here.

Next month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of America’s first charter school law, which Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson signed on June 4, 1991. This statute birthed a sector that has become not just a source of new schools for kids who need them, but also a structural reform of public education’s governance and delivery systems. It’s as close as K–12 schooling has come to what Clayton Christenson calls “disruptive innovation.”

This is worth celebrating—and charter advocates across the country have planned many festivities and events. But as we applaud this movement and the bold Minnesota lawmakers who launched it, let’s also recall what led up to it and, one might say, made it almost inevitable.

The onset of chartering was no lightning bolt. This audacious innovation had multiple ancestors and antecedents. School choice...