Standards, Testing & Accountability

In the early years of Ohio’s voucher programs, proponents of private school choice cautioned that schools wouldn’t participate if government asked too much of them in the way of regulations and accountability for student achievement. That was certainly a plausible theory at the time – after all, when the EdChoice Scholarship program launched in 2005, Ohio’s public schools were only just getting used to our increased battery of state tests. But evidence from a new report shows that the theory doesn’t hold true today, and that policymakers could pursue expanded accountability for private schools—especially when it comes to transparency about student achievement and progress.

The Fordham Institute’s national team commissioned David Stuit of Basis Policy Research and his colleague Sy Doan to examine closely thirteen existing voucher and tax credit scholarship programs and describe the nature and extent of their regulations as well as how many private schools participate in them (and how many do not). They also asked them to survey private schools in communities served by four of the country’s most prominent voucher programs (including EdChoice and the Cleveland Scholarship & Tutoring Program) to see how heavily regulations and program requirements weigh in schools’ decision whether to participate.

The result is...

Plenty of folks in the education business seek the limelight. Not all deserve it—at least, not for doing good. But some individuals and groups that do great good for kids, teachers, and schools prefer to do so quietly, even invisibly. And two such entities are merging as Gene Wilhoit—previously of the Council of Chief State School Officers and, arguably, the most important force behind the Common Core standards—joins Sue Pimentel and Jason Zimba’s crackerjack (but small and quiet) team at Student Achievement Partners, which might be the most valuable enterprise in the land when it comes to defending, improving, explaining, and implementing the Common Core. Neither Wilhoit nor SAP is a glutton for publicity—but the work they’ve done, and continue to do, deserves respect and gratitude.

Earlier this week, Ohio Governor John Kasich unveiled his education reform plan. Among its many features are an expansion of private school vouchers and Ohio’s first-ever charter school facility funding. Perhaps most promising, the governor proposed a $300-million Innovation Fund to kick-start projects aimed at reshaping how schools deploy technology and human resources. In a town-hall meeting, Fordham's Terry Ryan told the governor and a rapt audience that the Innovation Fund is...

Bill Gates just released his foundation’s annual letter, and he summarizes the edu-important parts here. He focuses on the findings of the gigantic MET study. While I’m happy that he is personally publicizing what they learned about teacher effectiveness, this short piece only underscores the concerns I raised here. Implementing the study’s findings is the tough part, but his only reference to that is a glancing blow about budgeting. I really hope they have a detailed, coordinated plan in place.

Check out a smart piece by Checker on the very important issue of cut scores for common assessments. This is one of the issues that, if mishandled, may contribute to the centrifugal force pulling the testing consortia—and Common Core—apart. (Cost may prove to be another.) If you think I’m mother hen-ing this thing, consider Alabama’s recent decision to drop out

According to Politics K–12, a number of House GOP leaders are charging that the Administration is standing in the way of students hoping to participate in the D.C. scholarship program. This program, which allows a small number of D.C. kids to choose...

SAGE Publishing’s recently released reference set Debating Issues in American Education is a 10-volume deep dive into many of the most salient issues regarding the state of PreK-12 education in the United States today. A stellar roster of contributors appears in each issue, recruited by the editors for their knowledge and insight into the topics at hand.

The ten volumes are:

  • Alternative Schooling & School Choice
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • Diversity in Schools
  • Religion in Schools
  • School Discipline & Safety
  • School Finance
  • School Governance
  • School Law
  • Standards & Accountability in Schools
  • Technology in Schools

Within each volume, a dozen or more specific questions are put forward and argued in point/counterpoint essays by contributing authors. The variety of approaches and areas of focus brought to the series by the wide array of authors is a particular strength of the set. I found myself wondering before I sat down to review a volume if interest could be sustained in the topic overall when there were literally hundreds of pages spent on what seems from the outside to be subtle variations in the questions being debated. I found on more than one occasion that what had been meant to be a review of...

SAGE Publishing’s recently released reference set  Debating Issues in American Education is a 10-volume deep dive into many of the most salient issues regarding the state of PreK-12 education in the United States today. A stellar roster of contributors appears in each issue, recruited by the editors for their knowledge and insight into the topics at hand.

The ten volumes are:

  • Alternative Schooling & School Choice
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • Diversity in Schools
  • Religion in Schools
  • School Discipline & Safety
  • School Finance
  • School Governance
  • School Law
  • Standards & Accountability in Schools
  • Technology in Schools

Within each volume, a dozen or more specific questions are put forward and argued in point/counterpoint essays by contributing authors. The variety of approaches and areas of focus brought to the series by the wide array of authors is a particular strength of the set. I found myself wondering before I sat down to review a volume if interest could be sustained in the topic overall when there were literally hundreds of pages spent on what seems from the outside to be subtle variations in the questions being debated. I found on more than one occasion that what had been meant to...

Red Tape
Does red tape really stop some private schools from participating in voucher programs? Or is it a red herring?
Photo by Julia Manzerova

Many proponents of private school choice—both the voucher and tax credit scholarship versions—take for granted that schools won’t (or shouldn’t) participate if government asks too much of them, regulates their practices, requires them to reveal closely held information, or—above all—demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. This anxiety is plausible in theory. Part of what’s distinctive and valuable—and often educationally effective—about private schools is their freedom to be different, the fact that they are exempt from most of the heavy regulatory regime that characterizes most of public education. Insofar as they cherish that autonomy, over-regulation by government might well deter them from participating in taxpayer-supported choice programs and thereby block children from benefiting from the education that those private schools offer.

But how big a deal is this concern in the real world? Private schools deciding whether to participate in a voucher or tax credit scholarship program must...

School closures
School closures are traumatic.
Photo by Thomas Hawk

Secretary Duncan and his team were mobbed the other day by agitated parents and kids protesting the closing of public schools around the land. Though Uncle Sam has no real control over this, it's true that Duncan came to Washington promising to close (or overhaul) a thousand schools a year and, more recently, has been pressing for radical action in the lowest-performing 5 percent—i.e., about 5000 schools. Actual data in this realm are scarce, but NCES reports roughly a thousand closings a year among “regular” public schools (meaning that, in one sense, Duncan's promise is being kept, though not by him), as well as who knows how many charter and private schools that bite the dust. But even if the total is closer to 2000, in a country with 100,000 schools that's just 2 percent a year. Moreover, schools keep opening, too, hundreds of them every year in every sector.

Nobody likes to close schools. Secretary Duncan remarked to the crowd, “I don't know any educator who wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I want to close schools.’” And it’s...

Sen. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat who is regarded as perhaps the most powerful lawmaker in U.S. education policy, will not seek re-election in 2014. While he was an impediment to change—making this good news for reformers—the word on the grapevine about his possible successor is troubling. Namely, there is talk that if Sen. Patty Murray does not take on the role due to her role on the Senate Budget Committee, the next name on the list is—Sen. Bernie Sanders? We shudder to think.

Last week, the Education Department—with nary a nod to Congress or public debate—declared what Mike Petrilli dubbed a “right to wheelchair basketball” via its new “guidance” on the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. While few oppose the desirability of making reasonable accommodations for the disabled in school sports, the guidance, as pointed out by Politics K–12, “goes farther and says that if reasonable accommodations can’t be made, students with disabilities ‘should still have an equal opportunity to receive the benefits of extracurricular activities,’” thus turning “guidance” into a fully fledged unfunded mandate. For more on this debate, check out Mike’s appearance on NPR’s “On Point” show.

In its latest foray into the...

Red Tape or Red Herring?

Many proponents of private school choice—both the voucher and tax credit scholarship versions—take for granted that schools won’t participate (or shouldn’t participate) if government asks too much of them, regulates their practices, requires them to reveal closely held information and—above all—demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. A recent Friedman Foundation report, for example, bemoaned testing requirements that “may force all participating schools to move in the direction of a single, monopolistic curriculum and pedagogy...” And analysts at the Cato Institute went so far as to send letters to Indiana private schools urging them not to participate in the state’s new voucher program, which it called a “strategic defeat” for school reform, in part because of its testing and transparency requirements.

But is this assumption justified? It’s surely plausible on paper. Part of what’s distinctive and valuable—and often educationally effective—about private schools is their autonomy, their freedom to be different, their escape from the heavy regulatory regime that characterizes most of public education. Insofar as...

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