Flypaper

Josh Dwyer and Carolyn E. Welch, J.D.

A recent High Flyer post made a strong case for how acceleration can benefit high-ability students and help administrators and teachers more effectively address the individual needs of their unique learners. It echoes findings in dozens of previous studies that show that acceleration works.

Despite mountains of evidence demonstrating its benefits, most decisions about acceleration policies are made locally. According to a recent report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, forty-one states either do not have acceleration policies or permit school districts to decide whether to institute them.

Using Illinois as a case-study, the Illinois Association for Gifted Children and the Untapped Potential Project recently published a report that sought to determine whether districts step up to the plate in terms of establishing acceleration policies to support their high achievers in the absence of a state requirement. Unfortunately, the report’s findings are disappointing. Among Illinois school districts, large percentages lack policies that permit students to do the following:

  • Enter kindergarten early: 56 percent
  • Enter first grade early: 55 percent
  • Take classes above grade-level: 46 percent
  • Skip a grade: 90 percent
  • Graduate early: 41 percent

These troubling statistics are compounded by the fact that 33 percent of Illinois students...

In this study, the authors use administrative data from North Carolina middle schools to estimate the impact of “delinquent” students (i.e., those with three or more suspensions in a school year) on their grade level peers (i.e., students with two or fewer suspensions). To accomplish this, they take advantage of the “wide-scale remixing” of peers that occurs when students transition from fifth grade to sixth grade to implement an “instrumental variable” approach that plausibly addresses the challenge of selection bias that is endemic in peer effects studies.

Overall, their results suggest that a 10 percent increase in exposure to suspension-worthy acts results in a .06 standard deviation decrease in math scores—or roughly half of the decrease one might expect if the average class size doubled from ten to twenty students. Somewhat surprisingly, they find little evidence that the magnitude of this effect differs depending on student or teacher characteristics.

Unfortunately, because the study relies on suspensions data to identify delinquency, the authors are unable to disentangle the effects of a student’s misbehavior from those of the school’s disciplinary response. And their results don’t tell us everything we‘d like to know about the sort of group dynamics that may be at...

Travis Pillow

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.

In some parts of the country, private school choice has faced insurmountable barriers. In Michigan, a restrictive state constitution basically forbids publicly funded scholarship programs. In New York and almost every other blue state, a politically powerful teachers union has thwarted tax credit legislation. In Texas, recalcitrant rural Republicans have blocked voucher bills.

President Donald Trump, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Republican-controlled Congress have an unprecedented opportunity to expand private school choice in all of those places. A federal tax credit scholarship program could open new doors to disadvantaged students in those states, without forcing them to spend any public money or change their existing policies.

If the administration and Congress decide to go that route, it's imperative they follow a principle that has guided our work in Florida for more than fifteen years. Scholarship programs must serve students, not schools.

In some states, people who donate to scholarship funding organizations are allowed to earmark their contributions for specific...

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 campaign promised to direct $20 billion towards school choice. Media reports suggest that this idea is likely to take the form of a tax credit scholarship program, which would direct federal tax revenues to organizations that provide private school scholarships. However, the design of a national tax credit scholarship program would be fraught with difficult questions. To create a feasible school choice policy, lawmakers would likely need to expand federal involvement in private school education.

Tax credit scholarship programs, which currently exist in seventeen states, allow individuals or corporations to receive a proportional or dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs). The SGOs then provide scholarships for eligible students to attend private schools. In most states, participation is limited to students from low-income families, students with disabilities, or those who attend low-performing public schools.

In this post, we set aside the thorny question of whether directing public money to private schools is preferable...

Max Eden

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.

Donald Trump has called on Congress to pass a bipartisan school choice bill, and all signs point to a federal tuition tax credit. We’re standing at the brink of the biggest breakthrough in the history of school choice, one that could expand opportunity for millions of students. Yet one of school choice’s strongest stalwarts, the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke, stands opposed.

Several contributors to this “wonkathon” have taken issue with Burke directly or indirectly. They wonder, to paraphrase: How, when millions of students stand to benefit from choice, which she loves, can she look this gift horse in the mouth?

But Burke’s point is that if you look hard enough you’ll realize that this gift horse is actually a Trojan horse.

Now, I’d support a federal tuition tax credit in theory, but I fear Burke has a better point than her critics concede. After all, I’ve had an argument like this with her before about ESSA,...

Neal McCluskey

With a presidential administration that is disliked for myriad reasons openly pushing school choice, what had been kind of a cold war over choice for years has exploded into a hot one. And the tip of the anti-choice spear seems to be the New York Times. Last week it ran a piece by New America education director Kevin Carey suggesting that choice has been “dismal,” and doubled down on that yesterday with an attack on choice as an academic “failure.”

Is it a failure? First, the vast majority of random-assignment studies of private school voucher programs—the “gold-standard” research method that even controls for unobserved factors like parental motivation—have found choice producing equivalent or superior academic results, usually for a fraction of what is spent on public schools. Pointing at three, as we shall see, very limited studies, does not substantially change that track record.

Let’s look at the studies Carey highlighted: one on Louisiana’s voucher program, one on Ohio, and one on Indiana. Make that two studies: Carey cited Indiana findings without providing a link to, or title of, the research, and he did not identify the researchers. The Times did the same in their editorial. Why?...

Each gifted child is unique. Some gifted children—only a few, actually—match the stereotype of the quiet genius who works independently and earns straight As. Some gifted children—many, in fact—are inquisitive, witty, strong-willed and super active. Yet, others are prolific readers, writers, mathematicians and/or scientists. Many gifted children are passionate humanitarians with a fierce desire to right the wrongs in the world, while others are creative musicians, dancers and artists.

The one thing gifted children all seem to have in common is the intense need for novel, enriching and challenging educational experiences that meet their individual academic and social-emotional needs.

Thankfully, our nine-year-old twin daughters are now receiving gifted educational services in the Miami-Dade public school system; however, we remain concerned about the many unidentified gifted children around the nation who are being deprived of these necessary services. Just like some visually impaired children need Braille, gifted children need novel, enriching and challenging educational experiences to be well-balanced and successful students.

Gifted children also need support for their unique characteristics as much as other Exceptional Student Education children do. They specifically need opportunities to practice their social-emotional skills, as gifted children are often the “odd” ones in the group. Bored, under-served...

Benjamin J. Lindquist

A response to Robin Lake’s article “Is charter school growth flat-lining?”, originally published 2/17/17 in The Lens.

Robin Lake recently noted that the growth in charter school openings has slowed to less than 2 percent annually. “Things could start rebounding,” she wrote, “but it seems to me that the days of easy, unfettered charter growth may be gone, at least for the near future. It’s time for honest conversations about what that means, especially given the demand and need for more high-quality choices.”

Robin is right about the trend but I want to challenge her explanation. I see four reasons why growth has slowed but am optimistic that, if we take the necessary steps, we can move into a period of dynamic expansion.

Reason #1: Innovation is unwelcome

At the outset, charters were a new frontier in public education. Educators who launched them could try out bold innovations in mission and vision, school culture, governance, management, human capital, marketing, curriculum, instruction, technology and assessment.

As the charter sector has matured, however, the space to innovate has shrunk. State laws and rules now force charters to mimic districts in many ways. Onerous state and federal compliance requirements force conformity. Authorizers...

At least nineteen states have now released a draft plan for implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, and so far the results are mixed—at least when it comes to the way states say they intend to rate schools under the law.

Yes, there’s a legitimate debate about the best way to evaluate a school’s performance. But there are also a number of things too many states are still doing that everyone should agree are bad ideas, regardless of their priorities, views on testing, or politics. Here are three.

Mistake 1: Using raw proficiency rates

Despite the additional flexibility they are granted under ESSA, the information states have made public suggests that many of them still plan to use raw proficiency rates as their measure of “academic achievement.”

This is pretty frustrating. After all, relying on proficiency rates alone gives schools an incentive to ignore both the kids who are already proficient and the kids who are so far below grade level that getting them to proficiency in the near-term isn’t realistic. So unless you have a peculiar obsession with kids who are “on the bubble,” proficiency rates are just a bad indicator.

As dozens of accountability...

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...

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