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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....

If you want a good cry mixed in with some inspiration, watch noted human rights lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson give a searing account of bias against the poor and young men of color in a TED Talk about an Injustice. With more than four million views, Stevenson rails against a discriminatory criminal justice system that is disproportionately jailing black men. Indeed, an estimated 516,900 black males were in state or federal prison at year-end 2014, accounting for 37 percent of the male prison population—more than triple their percent in the general population. Asked why the prison population has grown so rapidly, Stevenson says “the great increase in mass incarceration wasn’t really due to violent crime. It was this misguided war on drugs...and three strikes laws that put people in prison forever for low-level property crimes like stealing a bicycle.”

Stevenson is a modern day hero, a fierce advocate for the condemned and wrongly accused. He is right that racism and excessively harsh sentencing laws contribute to the bursting of America’s jails. But even Stevenson’s impassioned oratory does not tell the whole story for why so many crimes are occurring in the first place.

Consider the findings of...

John Schilling

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.

School choice advocates have a window of opportunity today that we have never had before in the history of our movement. Moments like this, where it is possible to advance bold education reform, are not to be wasted.

Curiously, some school choice advocates are less enthused about congressional action citing the big, bad "feds" getting involved in a state and local issue. Some say there should be no federal role in education, as if the $60 billion currently invested by the federal government in K–12 education would suddenly disappear or would simply be turned over to state education agencies. We like the latter, though we recognize the reality that the ensuing battle would be a seismic shift akin to the battle over welfare reform in the 1990's. That requires time to properly make the case to skeptical policymakers. Some believe things are percolating along nicely in the states and adding money to state choice programs is unnecessary. For those in the...

Thomas W. Carroll

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.

During the Presidential campaign in 2016, one of President Donald Trump’s central campaign promises was a $20 billion school-choice plan.

Now that Trump is in office, the quickest route to school choice in all fifty states is the adoption of a federal tax credit that encourages individuals and corporations to donate more money to nonprofit scholarship funds.

From a taxpayer’s perspective, under this plan, the tax savings you would receive for a donation to a scholarship fund would be greater than under current law. Currently, such a scholarship donation would be like any other charitable donation. If you are in the 35 percent tax bracket, you would receive 35 cents back for every dollar donated. Once this is turned into a scholarship tax credit, instead of a simple deduction, you would receive $1 back for every $1 donated.

This simple change is like putting charitable donations for scholarship funds on steroids. A lot more people would donate, and thus a lot...

Editor's note: This letter appeared in the Thomas B. Fordham Institute's 2016 Annual Report. To learn more, download the report.

Dear Fordham Friends,

For many of us, 2016 was a year to be forgotten, thanks to the nastiest, most divisive election in our lifetimes. Sadly, the stresses and animosities of Trump versus Clinton spilled into the education debate as well, raising the temperature many degrees and at times pitting natural reform allies against one another. To make matters worse, disappointing findings from the latest PISA study came in like the polar vortex to close out the year. Good riddance to all that!

It wasn’t, however, a complete waste. Real progress was made on several fronts, both nationally and in Fordham’s home state of Ohio. To its credit, the outgoing Administration put the pedal to the metal in implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act. And though sometimes it seemed as if Education Secretary John King and his team were blind to that law’s intent to shrink the federal role, the final accountability regulations released in November 2016 represented a reasonable compromise.

We were ...

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