The seventh annual National School Choice Week is here, and it has special resonance, and prominence, this year. That’s because President Donald Trump has made expanding school choice the centerpiece—really the only piece—of his education agenda.

Those of us in Washington will likely spend the next several months obsessing about how he and his team plan to turn his $20 billion school choice promise into a legislative proposal. But it’s not too soon for policymakers in the states to start thinking through the details—because they may be the ones tasked with figuring them out.

That was my takeaway from an event I moderated last week at the Hoover Institution. We gathered a panel of policy wonks to discuss three major options for a new federal push on school choice: a competitive grant program, akin to Race to the Top; making Title I and special education dollars portable, including following students to private schools; or revising the federal tax code to support “tax credit scholarship programs” in at the state level.

A new grant program appealed to at least two of our panelists—Joanne Weiss and Andy Smarick—but strikes me as highly unlikely. Trump has promised to...

McKenzie Snow

Editor’s note: Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution hosted a timely event, “A New Federal Push on Private School Choice? Three Options to Consider.” We are running guest posts by the event’s panelists, offering their advice for the new Administration and Congress. Below is an article by McKenzie Snow, a policy analyst in education choice at the Foundation for Excellence in Education. These posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The recent inauguration of President Donald Trump and nomination of Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos has engendered an unprecedented opportunity for the federal government to support the success of school choice in the states. Among other major education policy changes, this could mean allowing states to innovate in their distribution of federal Title I dollars, so that funds are more transparent, student-centered, and targeted to make a meaningful impact on the disadvantaged students served.

Despite almost $15 billion appropriated for Title I grants to districts in FY 2016 alone, Title I has had a negligible impact on the disadvantaged students the program was intended to serve (see here, here, here, and here). Furthermore, since Title...

When President Donald Trump stopped by a Cleveland charter school in September, he promised to “establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty.” Although he initially pitched the idea of a $20 billion school choice program, the details on how that would work—and what other policy changes he might pursue—were a bit murky.

Trump’s nomination of school choice supporter Betsy DeVos for education secretary affirmed his commitment to expanding school choice, but the nomination also brought a bit more clarity to Trump’s agenda (or at least made it easier to speculate). DeVos has a widely cited history with vouchers, and the media immediately zeroed in on the possibility that the new administration would champion not just public charter schools, but private school choice as well.

As the saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat—and there are plenty of ways that the new administration could push for private school choice. On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution hosted an event aimed at exploring three specific options: a new competitive grant program, Title I portability, and revisions to the tax code.

Representative Luke...

Jesse Lovejoy

Motivating students to pursue their educational passions and grow into the learners they are all inherently able to be is both a simple and complex equation. At its core, it’s about access, inspiration, articulating how educational concepts are relevant to their lives, and tapping into the well of curiosity that exists deep inside each child. One answer, to use a term familiar to many of us, is enrichment.

Removing students from their “normal” learning world and placing them into an environment with new texture and life—assuming there is a standards-aligned, rigorous and passionate approach to teaching—can truly open their eyes to new possibilities and views. If we strategically expose children to new experiences and environments, we can change their trajectories and interest levels significantly.

For the STEAM education program that we run at the San Francisco 49ers, our path to enrichment is paved using football and Levi’s Stadium to demystify and “cool-up” subjects like environmental sustainability, structural engineering, and physics. We leverage the power of the game, our players, and the most tech-savvy sports venue in the world to get kids to open up to the ideas that the subjects for which they may believe they have no aptitude...

As a two-term president and the de facto leader of the free world, Barack Obama has represented with his tenure a triumphant opus to the opportunity that makes the American experiment possible.

And as he has proudly identified himself as African-American, one of the many things he will be remembered for is how he sought to transcend the rules of race in our politics, attempting to shirk the iron cloak and repressive history of the treatment of blacks in this country, instead donning the garb of a new, hopeful brand of statesmanship.

When looking back at his meteoric rise, and his current role as, essentially, the leader of black America, it’s important to remember that both are the result of a dramatic life opportunity that ultimately made Obama the man he is today—an opportunity cruelly denied millions of African-American and Hispanic children even as they aspire to walk in Obama’s footsteps. That opportunity was access to a quality education. And it’s because of Obama’s education origin story that his education policies—particularly those addressing whether minority children would have school choice and the same educational opportunities he had—will be the most resonant of his presidency.

In America’s history, there has been...

An Overton Window is a metaphor for what is politically feasible at any given moment. It’s named for the late Joseph P. Overton of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, who theorized that political ideas at any given moment fall along a line from unthinkable and radical to popular and policy. Ideas that were once politically radioactive can become feasible, desirable, and enacted as the window moves between poles, expands, or contracts. But the window is not static. The nineteenth century temperance movement begat Prohibition, which failed; banning alcohol is no longer politically feasible. Some form of legalized marijuana use is the law in more than half of U.S. states. A generation ago, that was well outside the moving Overton Window.

Education policy ideas run the gamut from maximum government control and oversight, to a free and unfettered education marketplace. Compulsory education exclusively in government-run schools (with private schools and homeschooling banned) would represent one currently unthinkable end of the spectrum; closing all those schools and privatizing education would be the other equally unthinkable end. Formerly radical ideas like charter schools, national standards, and abolishing teacher tenure would be in between these two poles and, depending on which way...

On the college football field, Ohio and Michigan are bitter rivals. But in the charter school world they share something in common: Both states’ charter sectors have been saddled with the unflattering label of the “wild west.” Recently, this characterization—generally meant to describe a state without proper accountability policies—has been used in critiques of Michigan native and charter supporter, Betsy DeVos, president-elect Trump’s appointee for secretary of education.

What’s clear is that this label and accompanying narrative are hard to shed, even though both states have significantly strengthened their charter laws. On these Gadfly pages, Daniel Quisenberry has described how Michigan is improving its charter sector. In a Fordham report released today, we show how Ohio’s era of stagecoaches and saloons is starting to give way to a more modernized charter sector.

In On the Right Track, we examine the early implementation of recently enacted charter reforms in our home state of Ohio. Bottom line: The Buckeye State’s reforms are being implemented with rigor and fidelity, bringing promising changes to one of the nation’s oldest, largest, and most notorious charter sectors.

In autumn 2015, Governor John Kasich and Ohio legislators passed a landmark, bipartisan...

Joanne Weiss

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution are hosting a timely event, “A New Federal Push on Private School Choice? Three Options to Consider.” This week we are running guest posts by the event’s panelists, offering their advice for the new Administration and Congress. Below is the second of a two-part series by former Obama Administration official Joanne Weiss. These posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

Competitive programs are particularly good vehicles for empowering those closest to the work to bring forward good ideas that are tailored to the needs and circumstances of particular places. And despite the handful of cities that are working today toward the principles outlined in my previous post, there is still much to be learned about designing successful choice policies—and it’s no secret that what succeeds in one place may be different in key details from what works somewhere else. A policy targeted at creating successful citywide or regional proof-points would significantly contribute to the field’s knowledge and evidence base.1 Competitions, when well designed and executed, can be strong mechanisms for seeding models and advancing learning because:

  • They identify the
  • ...

This new study examines the impact of math textbooks on student achievement in California; it was authored by Cory Koedel and Morgan Polikoff, two alumni of Fordham’s and AEI’s Emerging Education Policy Scholars program.

They identified 240 unique textbooks across roughly 7,800 schools serving K–8 as of 2012–13, and selected a final sample of 1,878 schools that utilized one of four particularly popular books used in California from 2008–13 (with most entering use in the fall of 2008 or 2009). The books are enVisionMATH California, California Math, California Mathematics: Concepts, Skills, and Problem Solving, and California HSP Math. They merge curriculum adoption data with various school and district characteristics, census data (such as median household income), and achievement data (school average test scores on state math tests). Koedel and Polikoff selected the books for study because, among other criteria, they were adopted in enough schools serving K–8 to enable the requisite statistical power to evaluate them.

Most of the results are based on third-grade achievement with some evidence on grades four and five. The authors use multiple analytic techniques that match schools based on pre-adoption characteristics (size, student demographics, and prior achievement) and track achievement up to four years....

More than sixty years after Brown v. Board, traditional district schools are still more often than not havens of homogeneity. Static land use guidelines, assignment zones, feeder patterns, and transportation monopolies reinforce boundaries that functionally segregate schools and give rise to the adage that ZIP code means destiny for K–12 students. Asserting that student diversity is an object of increasing parental demand, at least among a certain subset of parents of school-age kids, the National Charter School Resource Center has issued a toolkit for charter school leaders looking to leverage their schools’ unique attributes and flexibilities to build diverse student communities not found in nearby district schools. The report cites a number of studies showing academic benefits of desegregated schools, especially for low-income and minority students. School quality is a strong selling point for any type of school, but this toolkit sets aside that discussion to focus on deliberately building a multi-cultural student body for its own sake. Bear that in mind as we go forward.

Building diversity is not easy, even in a flexibly run and technically borderless charter school. The toolkit provides “context about research and the legal and regulatory guidance” in four main areas...