Governance

The states step up edition

On this week's podcast, special guest Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, joins Mike Petrilli and Alyssa Schwenk to discuss state education leadership in the Trump era. On the Research Minute, Victoria McDougald examines the effects of a North Carolina pre-K program on students' elementary school outcomes.

Victoria's Research Minute

Kenneth A. Dodge et al., "Impact of North Carolina’s Early Childhood Programs and Policies on Educational Outcomes In Elementary School," Duke Center for Child and Family Policy (November 2016).
 

The election is nigh edition

On this week’s podcast, Mike Petrilli, Alyssa Schwenk, and Brandon Wright discuss the pitfalls of deciding education policy issues with ballot measures. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern discusses the surprising parity between the effectiveness of teachers of low- and high-income students.

Amber's Research Minute

Eric Isenberg et al., Do Low-Income Students Have Equal Access to Effective Teachers? Evidence from 26 Districts,” Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (October 2016).

It’s October, and that means election season. One important decision facing many Buckeye voters is whether to approve their school districts’ tax requests. These referenda represent a unique intersection between direct democracy and public finance; unlike most tax policies, which are set by legislatures, voters have the opportunity to decide, in large part, their own property-tax rates. In Ohio, districts must seek voter approval for property taxes above 10 mills (equivalent to 1 percent) on the taxable value of their property.

Some citizens will enter the voting booth well-informed about these tax issues, but for others, the question printed on the ballot might be all they know. Voters have busy lives and they may not always carefully follow their district’s finances and tax issues. This means that the ballot itself ought to clearly and fairly present the proposition to voters. State law prescribes certain standard ballot language, but districts have some discretion in how the proposition is written. County boards of elections and the Secretary of State approve the final language. How does the actual language read? Is it impartial? Can it be easily understood?

Let’s take a look at a few high-profile ballot issues facing voters...

According to the most recent Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) compiled by the U.S. Department of Education,[1] an alarming 6.5 million American students, more than 13 percent nationwide, were chronically absent—defined as missing 15 or more days of school— during the 2013-14 school year. Of these students, more than half are enrolled in elementary school, where truancy can contribute to weaker math and reading skills that persist into later grades. Chronic absenteeism rates are higher in high school: Nearly 20 percent of U.S. high school students are chronically absent, and these teenagers often experience future problems with employment, including lower-status occupations, less stable career patterns, higher unemployment rates, and low earnings.  

The data get even more disconcerting when they’re disaggregated by location. The CRDC explains that nearly 500 school districts reported that 30 percent or more of their students missed at least three weeks of school during the 2013-14 school year. The idea that certain districts struggle more with chronic absenteeism than others caught the attention of Attendance Works (AW), an organization that aims to improve school attendance policies. To create a more in-depth picture of the problem,...

Ohio has developed one of the nation’s best school report cards, packed with data and clear A–F ratings for schools and districts. In this light, the reports that parents receive on their own children’s state exam performance are doubly disappointing. Simply put, the current form of these reports is mediocre. They represent a missed opportunity to clearly convey where children stand academically, how well (or not) they are progressing in school, and how bright (or not) are their future education prospects.

Ohio can and should do a better job communicating with families.

The image below displays a snippet from a sample state test score report for 2015–16. The student’s name (Jane) and high school math score (706) are fictitious. The entire document is available at this link both for grades 3–8 and high school.

These score reports have a couple of helpful features that provide context and comparison, such as giving families the ability to relate their children’s scores to various averages. In this example, Jane’s math score lags behind these averages, which might raise flags for her parents. Additionally, the...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the first half of a two-part interview (second half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: The first charter law was passed in 1991, and Texas's charter law passed in 1995. When you were the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, do you remember the first time you heard about charter schools and what you thought about them?

Secretary Rod Paige: A couple of years before that, I read about charter schools in the press, and the idea impressed me even before the Texas legislature started to talk about it. I was excited about the idea because I thought it was a way to increase innovation in schools, a way to unleash the ideas that a lot of teachers...

Many education reformers once thought that parental choice was the “ultimate local control.” When opponents of choice programs defended the district monopoly system by rhetorically asking, “Don’t you believe in your locally elected board?” we’d reply, “We want education decisions to be made as close to kids as possible—by families.”

We thought that this was the morally sound answer. But we also thought that it was a political winner. Sure, there’d be opposition from those lobbying on behalf of the districts that stood to lose control. But everyone else would want to empower parents.

Moreover, many of us had read John Chubb and Terry Moe’s seminal Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which argued that democratic control was the cause of many of public education’s troubles. Local school boards, many reformers believed, were populated by aspiring politicians with pet issues and petty grievances. They were controlled by powerful interest groups who cared about things other than student learning.

We assumed that school results would be much better, and school politics much reduced, if we dramatically decentralized the system by handing authority to families, educators, and civil society. Teachers could start and lead schools, nonprofits could operate and support schools, and parents could match...

Gary Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee. He’ll face off (with running mate William Weld) in November against the Republican Party's Donald Trump and Mike Pence and the Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine. Here are some of his views on education:

  1. School choice: “I think I was more outspoken than any governor in the country regarding school choice—believing that the only way to really reform education was to bring competition to public education. So for six straight years as governor of New Mexico, I proposed a full-blown voucher system that would’ve brought about that competition.” August 2012.
  2. Federal role in education: “I think that the number-one thing that the federal government could do when it comes to the delivery of education would be to abolish itself from the education business….It’s also important to point out that the federal Department of Education was established in 1979. And there is nothing to suggest that, since 1979, that the federal Department of Education has been value-added regarding anything. So just get the federal government out of education.” August 2012.
  3. Common Core: “[Gary Johnson] opposes Common Core and any other attempts to impose national standards and requirements
  4. ...

I believe people are generally at their angriest when they feel powerless.

It’s one thing to be unhappy with the current state of your life—heck, we’ve all been there. But it’s entirely different when there’s nothing you can do about it. That causes fury.

My practiced instinct now, when I see a person or a group of people acting out in rage, is to assume that they’ve been dispossessed of something important. I try my best to understand what’s keeping them from exerting an influence on their situation.

You can see this in revolts against brutal despots and in centuries of civil uprisings across the globe when there are food shortages. You can see it in urban unrest when residents can’t fix crime, housing, jobs, law enforcement, or transportation. But you can also see it in an abused child’s explosion of anger—or the uncorked temper of an adult who’s been subjected to a behemoth organization’s purposely unending cavalcade of customer service representatives. In a recent article, I applied this frame to our current politics, likening the dominant story of the 2016 campaign to a riot.

There are countless such examples in education. Think of the parent whose child has been...

Terry Ryan

I was the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s point person in Ohio for twelve years. I never met Robert Pondiscio but have followed his writing since leaving Fordham in 2013. I am also a former New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) Pahara fellow (class of 2008). Pondiscio’s piece, “The Left’s drive to push conservatives out of education reform,” has triggered an important conversation about race, power, politics, and school reform.

I was the only Republican in my cohort of Pahara fellows, which included the likes of progressive education leaders John King, Cami Anderson, and Andy Rotherham. I had philosophical disagreements with some of my New Schools colleagues, and I wasn’t nearly as excited about the election of President Barack Obama back in 2008 as they were. But every single one of my NSVF friends treated me and my opinions with respect. What’s more, they actually wanted to hear what I had to say.  

I attended the New Schools Venture Fund Conference in California that was at the center of Pondiscio’s piece. My take is different from his. I was less offended by the “push” of the political Left than I was disappointed by how voiceless the conservative ideas around...

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