By Ryan Reyna

Once upon a time there was a new Secretary of Education who was charged with providing states flexibility to meet their education goals through the Every Student Succeeds Act. Upon review of the first plan, she declared “these long-term goals are not ambitious enough,” so she read the next plan. “These goals may be too ambitious,” she stated about the second. Then she read the third plan. “These goals make sense,” she happily declared and recommended approval without haste.

If only this story was merely a fairy tale. Unfortunately, our reality is almost strange as fiction. As Michael Petrilli eloquently argued in his recent commentary, Secretary DeVos and her team stumbled out of the gate with respect to their initial review of the Delaware, Nevada, and New Mexico state plans. Each received feedback on their submitted ESSA plans on areas to improve—as to be expected—but the responses to state’s proposed long-term goals were anything but expected.

The Department suggested that Delaware’s goal to decrease by 50 percent the number of non-proficient students in each subgroup within twelve years did not meet the statute’s threshold for “ambitious.” Peer reviewers found Nevada’s goals to be “very ambitious,” as it...

A new working paper presents findings from an evaluation of the Indiana voucher program—a hot topic given the Trump Administration’s embrace of private school choice. Mark Berends (University of Notre Dame) and Joe Waddington (University of Kentucky) examine the impacts of the voucher program (a.k.a. Indiana Choice Scholarship Program) on Hoosier State students in upper elementary and middle school (mostly grades 5–8) who used a voucher to transfer to a private school during the 2011–12 through 2014–15 years, which were the first four years of the program.

Indiana’s program is now open to both low- and middle-income families, with lower tuition amounts available to the latter group; the average scholarship amount is still pretty low, at about $4,700 in grades 1–8. All students in private schools enrolling voucher students must take the state test. Over 34,000 students received a voucher in 2016–17, and the analysis focuses on the roughly 4,000 lowest-income students (i.e., those receiving the full voucher) who moved from a public to private school for the first time. They are matched to similarly poor public school peers in the same grade, year, and school as the student who receives a voucher and attends a private school the following...

The Center on Reinventing Public Education’s (CRPE) latest report asks whether public transportation can improve students’ access to Denver’s best schools of choice, and the answer appears to be “no.” Denver’s geography, diffuse population centers, and distribution of quality school seats in relation to poor students already complicate the school district’s own transportation efforts to make quality seats accessible in terms of travel time from home to school. As an experiment, CRPE researchers compared district residency and public transit route data via Google Maps Directions Application Program Interface to calculate travel times between each student’s home address and the schools to which they could have applied. The hope was to make quality schools more accessible to those who need them most—just like a parent researching such schools might do—but the results are discouraging.

Based on their analysis, CRPE finds that just 55 percent of low-income students could attend a high-performing school within thirty minutes of their home on public transit; that percentage falls to 19 percent for schools within fifteen minutes’ travel time. In other words, most low-income students would continue to face long commutes to the city’s top schools when using public transportation, despite a choice-friendly atmosphere that...

With a choice-friendly President and Secretary of Education now in office, private school choice programs have been cast into the national spotlight. This week has been no different: On Monday, researchers released two major studies on vouchers—one on Indiana’s program, the other on Louisiana’s—and the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that may have implications for choice programs across this nation.

Among other things, this means that the debate on private school choice has moved from the periphery of the education policy conversation to center stage. As a result, some of you may be joining the conversation for the first time. As a long-time participant in the voucher wars, we at the Fordham Institute thought it might be helpful to offer a get-up-to-speed guide featuring some of our “greatest hits” on the topic.

We’ve arranged it around four questions:

  1. What does the research tell us about the impact of school vouchers on participants and on traditional public schools?
  2. What is smart policy regarding results-based accountability in the context of private school choice?
  3. How can we encourage private schools to participate in choice programs, and get high-quality schools to grow or replicate?
  4. What are the pros and
  5. ...

The latest study from CREDO explores the student growth outcomes of charter networks in twenty-four states, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Overall, it includes 3.7 million students, 5,715 charter schools, 240 Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), fifty-four Vender Operated Schools (VOSs). And like previous CREDO studies, it relies on the virtual control record (VCR) method, which compares each charter school student to a statistically constructed “virtual” peer with similar attributes.

In the study, the authors identify three types of charter networks: CMOs, VOSs, and Hybrids. They define a CMO as an organization that oversees the operation of at least three charter schools and is the charter holder for those schools. In contrast, a VOS is overseen by an organization that operates at least three schools but does not hold their charters. Hybrid charter schools have aspects of both a CMO and a VOS.

Based on these definitions, the authors estimate that approximately 68 percent of charter schools are independent, meaning they don’t belong to any network, leaving 22 percent that are part of a CMO, 8 percent that are affiliated with a VOS, and just 1 percent that are Hybrids. On average, the authors estimate that independent charters have almost...

An average of forty-four million unique visitors use GreatSchools every year to check out schools in their area and elsewhere. A new study analyzes searches conducted on the website to learn whether changes in the local school choice environment are reflected in the information that parents seek about school quality.

Analysts link monthly search data in census-defined cities and towns to information on changes in six types of school choice policies: intra- and inter-open enrollment, tuition vouchers, tax credits for donations to private scholarship charities, tuition tax credits, and open enrollment for Title I schools specifically mandated by NCLB sanctions. The researchers analyze over one hundred million individual searches between January 2010, and October 2013; they combine those data with state-level measures of school choice policies that relate to the six areas above to see how changes in those policies relate to changes in search behavior on GreatSchools. They also examine how charter school openings and closings relate to online activity.

Their primary finding is that, for most policies, there’s an uptick in search frequency tied to increases in the prevalence of NCLB-induced choice (measured as when schools receiving Title I funds fail to meet annual yearly progress for...

What does it take to engage all students? How feasible is it for a teacher to have a classroom full of diverse students all actively engaged and paying undivided attention? As a prior high school teacher, my inclination is to say that it can be done—but it takes lots of planning. Here are three strategies that I found successful in engaging students as a mathematics and physics teacher at Lawrence High School (through MATCH Education) and UMass Boston Upward Bound, respectively.

First, make the content relevant to students’ lives. Whether working with small groups of three to four students or teaching a full class, I quickly realized that students love to learn about things that relate to their own lives. For example, instead of giving my students a math word problem about an auditor in New York trying to check a firm’s financial statements, I replaced those details with scenarios that would have more relevance to my students. As many of them loved baseball, I would tweak obscure word problems to reflect innings, number of pitches, and runs to better engage my students. As another example, at Lawrence High, many students I worked with were from the Dominican Republic and...

The longtime Democratic lawmaker John Vasconcellos is resting in peace since his death in 2014, but the educational disaster he laid on California in the 1980s is far from gone. Indeed, its likeness thrives today across a broad swath of America's K-12 schooling, supported by foundation grants, federal funding, and both nonprofit and for-profit advocacy groups. Only its name has changed—from self-esteem to social-emotional learning.

If only the trend had stayed in the Golden State.

Younger readers may not remember Vasconcellos, the late assemblyman and state senator whom one obituary described as a "titan of the human-potential movement." In 1986, Vasconcellos managed to persuade California's conservative GOP Gov. George Deukmejian to support a blue-ribbon task force to promote self-esteem and personal and social responsibility. The ensuing hoopla loosed a tsunami of enthusiasm for building self-esteem as a solution for almost everything that ails an individual, including low achievement in school.

The task force's final report, in 1990, ascribed (as I wrote at the time) "near-magical powers to self-esteem, characterizing it as 'something that empowers us to live responsibly and that inoculates us against the lures of crime, violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, child abuse, chronic welfare dependency, and...

Since 2002, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has published yearbooks on the state of preschool education. These reports examine state-funded pre-kindergarten education programs that meet specific criteria outlined by NIEER; besides being state-funded and directed, for example, the programs must serve at least 1 percent of the three- or four-year-old population within that state. This excludes children who participate in federally funded Head Start and special-education pre-K programs. The most recent report, chock-full of interesting data points on the national and state landscapes, focuses on three areas: enrollment, funding, and quality.

Across the nation, nearly 1.5 million children attended state-funded preschools during the 2015–16 school year. That number includes almost 5 percent of three-year-olds and a third of four-year-olds. Total enrollment rose by more than 40,000 children over the previous year, with D.C. serving the highest percentage of both three- and four-year-olds. Seven states don’t offer any state-funded programs that fit NIEER’s criteria: Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming.

Total state pre-K spending totaled nearly $7.4 billion, up by more than half a billion (adjusted for inflation) from the previous year. The average state spending per child was $4,976. D.C....

Max Eden

At the National Charter Schools Conference, Betsy DeVos, channelling Rick Hess, warned advocates against becoming “the man…just another breed of bureaucrats—a new education establishment.” In a new book, Charting a New Course, Jeanne Allen, Cara Candal, and I, tie together essays echoing that warning, cautioning against regulatory creep and making the case for a more flexible and parent-driven charter sector.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t universally well-received.

Here at Fordham’s Flypaper, Checker Finn wrote that the volume was one-third useful and “two thirds of a very dumb mistake.” According to Finn, the book aims to “abolish” results-based accountability, “scrap” authorizer vetting, and charter schooling into a “free-for-all” in which authorizers don’t close schools. This, Finn says, is “idiocy.” Mike Petrilli agreed, saying “to call for basically ZERO screening on the front end, and NO closures on the back end is naïve, if not, well, the i-word.”

It’s unfortunate that my friends at Fordham have resorted to an old straw man fallacy, all too common in political rhetoric (and these days in education reform): “If he says he’s for less (spending/taxation/charter regulation), then he must be against all of it!”

But, fortunately, they have opened the Flypaper forum...