Darla M. Romfo

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2017 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to explain how President Trump should structure his highly anticipated $20 billion school choice proposal. Other entries can be found here.

Enacting a federal tax credit as part of tax reform to allow individuals and corporations to donate to scholarship programs would give parents in all fifty states the immediate potential to access a better K–12 option for their child.

Scholarship tax credits build on an idea that’s already working. The first tax credit scholarship program was enacted in Arizona in 1997, and today twenty-one tax credit programs in seventeen states are making scholarships possible for 250,000 children. Most of these children come from neighborhoods where students are often assigned to schools that don’t work for them; scholarships are empowering their parents to choose schools that are a better fit.

Additionally, there are a number of organizations already offering scholarships with private dollars that are in a position to scale up and help more families. (Children’s Scholarship Fund (CSF) partners with organizations offering scholarships in twenty-three cities and areas nationwide, but there are many more scholarship programs operating in states with and...

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2017 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to explain how President Trump should structure his highly anticipated $20 billion school choice proposal. Other entries can be found here.

20 billion dollars.

With that kind of investment in education President Trump can create a program more recognizable than that omnipresent comb over. Sure, some will argue that it shouldn’t be done, but this is Wonkathon 2017 and we’re going to spend that money like we’re at the Trump Taj Mahal—before it closed.

So let’s create Trump Student Success Zones!

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to identify schools that perform among the bottom 5 percent on their accountability systems and where fewer than 67 percent of students graduate from high school. Such designations have to be made at least every three years and are based on both academic and nonacademic criteria. If underperformance persists for four years, states are required to intervene.

The Trump Student Success Zones will be geographic areas that include the schools the ESSA mandate identifies and their surrounding neighborhoods. No one relishes telling individual schools they are failing, and increasing student success in...

Matt Gandal and Ryan Reyna

“College and career readiness” has become a ubiquitous phrase in education policy circles. From state houses to school houses, everyone uses it. It’s what we want for our students, regardless of zip code. Congress even used it as a key point of emphasis when it reauthorized ESEA.

But when it comes to the measures and metrics we use to judge school performance, reality doesn’t match our rhetoric. State high school accountability systems have primarily been based on proficiency on state tests and high school graduation rates, rather than a more robust set of indicators. This is due, in part, to outdated federal requirements.

Where we have seen progress, it’s been out of balance. Though we mention “college” and “career” readiness in the same breath, the latter is rarely measured very well, if at all. Only a third of states have any measure of career readiness in their high school rating system, and the quality of those measures varies widely. It’s a little like the magicians Penn and Teller—both are important, but one is silent.

States have a real shot to get this right under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Not only does the law encourage states to include more robust...

It doesn’t quite have the same resonance as Save the Children, or even Save the Whales, but Save the Regs is the cri de cœur in education wonk circles today. And for good reason: Congressional Republicans’ intent to repeal but not replace the Obama Administration’s accountability regulations via the Congressional Review Act is about to make ESSA implementation a whole lot more difficult than it needs to be.

Let me be clear. I am not a fan of the entirety of the regulations that former Secretary John King published in November. In true Obama Administration style, King and company seemingly went out of their way to recreate the red tape that Congress wanted to cut when it enacted ESSA. If the only choice is all or nothing—keep the whole package, or kill it all—I’d choose nothing.

But that’s not the only option. Secretary DeVos, if left to do her job, could pick and choose—getting rid of the regulations Republicans don’t like, while keeping the ones they do. (More on the mechanics in a bit.)

And indeed, there are rules worth saving. Anne Hyslop did us all a great service last week when she detailed forty of the most...

Pop quiz! Try to solve this word problem. If students in Louisiana make more progress over time than almost any other state’s, does that mean Louisiana’s education policies are working or failing? What if I tell you that Louisiana, despite its impressive gains, still has a long way to go in terms of its students’ absolute performance? Now would you say that its policies are failing?

The right answer, of course, is that Louisiana’s education policies are succeeding. And indeed they are. A recent analysis by the Rand Corporation found that the state’s fourth graders made the greatest gains in reading on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress; they were tied for first place in math gains. That’s a promising sign that Louisiana’s embrace of higher academic standards, tougher tests, and quality charter schools and school choice is paying off, and the state should stay the course. This rapid improvement should be a source of pride for the state’s policymakers. They inherited a dismally performing system; all they could do was adopt policies that would lead to big gains, mindful that reaching lofty targets would take time.

The same logic applies to educators. They have no control...

Lindsey Burke

Editor's note: This post is a submission to Fordham's 2017 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to explain how President Trump should structure his highly anticipated $20 billion school choice proposal. Other entries can be found here.

The Trump administration has suggested establishing a federal school choice policy somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 billion. Although lacking details, one route that has been floated is a federal scholarship tax credit program. But as tempting as it may be, the creation of a new federal choice program runs the risk of entangling Washington in private education and jeopardizing the autonomy of non-profit scholarship granting organizations, hundreds of which are already in operation nationwide.

Creating a new federal program further entangles Washington in local school policy and private education. Scholarship tax credits (STCs) are great policy at the state level. They enable businesses and individuals to receive a credit against their tax obligations for contributing to non-profit scholarship granting organizations, which in turn provide scholarships to eligible children to attend a private school of choice. It’s a win-win.

Nevertheless, the federal tax code is not the appropriate lever for establishing STCs. First, the U.S. Constitution does not authorize the federal...

It’s no secret that dismissing an ineffective teacher is exceedingly difficult. It’s why we recently recommended that states and districts take the tenure process seriously rather than rubber-stamping every eligible teacher for approval. So what happens when a state chooses to do just that and more?

This study examines the effects of changing teacher tenure policy in Louisiana. In 2012, Louisiana passed a law that made tenure contingent on how a teacher performed on the state’s teacher effectiveness measure, known as Compass. The law extended the time to tenure and made tenure status contingent upon Compass performance. For untenured teachers, as of the beginning of 2012–13 school year, tenure would be granted only after he or she received a highly-effective Compass rating for five out of six consecutive years. Further, tenure status is revoked if a teacher is rated ineffective once and that teacher has to regain tenure by receiving consecutive highly-effective ratings.

Analysts use teacher employment records—specifically, summer exits—from a period before the reform (2006–11) compared to teacher exits for two years after the reform (2012–13). The analysis attempts to control for other things that might be responsible for a change in exit rates, like an aging...

My outrageously prolific friend Rick Hess has another new book out, this time co-edited with Max Eden, formerly of AEI and now the Manhattan Institute’s resident D.C. education policy stalwart. It’s all about the Every Student Succeeds Act, which as you know is the latest incarnation of ESEA and such an elusive, ever-changing creature that they were brave to undertake something as long-fused, durable, and static as an actual hard-copy book.

Yes, ESSA’s interpretation and application are in flux, because the federal regulations are in flux, both because the DeVos team is re-examining them at the Education Department and because Congress is on the verge of voiding the whole lot of them, at least those pertaining to accountability, data, and state plans. Publishing an actual book on this topic took chutzpah, as it looks from afar a bit like writing a book about the February weather or the waves at Ocean City.

Yet it turns out that The Every Student Succeeds Act: What It Means for Schools, Systems and States was well worth publishing at this time. Setting aside my own memoir-ish chapter (about a half-century love-hate relationship with ESEA in its many incarnations), I can...

A recent study examines whether federal school improvement grants (SIGs) improved student outcomes in low-achieving schools, which as a condition of accepting the money had to use one of four school-improvement models: turnaround, transformation, closure, or restart. The program also recommended specific practices, such as comprehensive instructional reforms and changes to teacher and principal training. (It should also be noted that the Every Student Succeeds Act eliminated the SIG program, giving states more control over their turnaround efforts.)

The study compares 490 schools SIG and similarly-situated non-SIG schools across twenty-two states using a three analyses over a four-year period: a regressive analysis using 2010–11 and 2012–13 student test data; surveys of school administrators in 2011–12 and 2012–13; and a correlative study conducted in 2009–2010 and 2012–13.

The most important finding came from the regression analysis, and it’s that SIG dollars and tactics failed to improve math and reading scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment, when those schools are compared to similar non-SIG schools. This is in line with other recent studies on the same effects.

The results of the other two research methods are also, however, worth noting. The survey was designed to facilitate qualitative comparisons between SIG...

When the history books are written, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s confirmation fight will be remarkable for many reasons: a true outsider who supports all forms of school choice getting the nomination and a historic tie-breaking vote by the vice president to end a 50–50 deadlock in the Senate.

There are lessons to be learned, however, in the aftermath. Lessons whose modules include how to stay focused, how to confuse and co-opt your opposition, and how to exploit deep fissures among your discombobulated resistance. And those lessons were taught, masterfully, by the country’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, to most of us on the political left who work in this thing we call “reform.”

But how did this happen?

Identity crisis

If there was a “Never Trump” camp on the Republican side of the political aisle, for Democrats it was a fortress—with principled barricades and policy crenellations—that cast a long shadow across both the country and the party. Many Democrats saw Donald Trump’s ascendance as a threat not just to traditional Democratic constituencies but to ideologies (feminism, equity, immigration, and tolerance chief among them) that help describe the ethos of the party....