Back to school ed-policy short reviews

Summer vacation is over for many of Ohio’s students. As they head off to class, you may find yourself with some extra time to catch up on reading. Looking for suggestions? The Fordham staff is here to help you find some good reads.

Private Enterprise and Public Education: Strange Bedfellows or Natural Allies?

Angel Gonzalez

Everyone take a breath. For-profit providers in education have value.

Before we get squeamish about the potential “business takeover of our schools”, it may be a good idea to read this piece from the American Enterprise Institute. The article discusses the symbiosis that can exist between public schools and for-profit providers. In the report, the authors candidly discuss the role, as well as the pros and cons, of for-profit engagement in the education sector. On the one hand, Hess et al. argue that for-profit entities can be “exceedingly responsive to customer desires.” The authors argue that for-profits are motivated to attract the broadest base of public school “customers” using the most cost-effective methods. For-profits can also be driven to develop innovative education delivery programs to expand their consumer base and attract individuals with strong academic credentials. These innovations, in turn, can be adopted by public schools and refined to serve an even wider base of students. On the other hand, the authors find that for-profit customer responsiveness is a potential threat to delivering quality educational services. Hess et al. cite Abt Associates’ Todd Grindal who shares that many pre-K for-profit schools focus on easily observed qualities like cleanliness, safety, and low child-to-staff ratios, which the authors argue have only a vague relationship to education quality. The authors urge researchers and policy makers to learn more about the role of for-profits (whom the authors admit have been reticent to scrutiny) in public education systems. For-profits should be studied to ensure that they are helping drive innovation in the education sector and providing a quality education to students.  To learn more about for-profits in the education sector, you can read the book Public Enterprise and Public Education by the authors of this report. 

Frederick M. Hess, Michael B. Horn, and KC Deane, Private enterprise and public education: Strange bedfellows or natural allies? (Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, August 2013).

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Parents’ Attitudes on the Quality of Education in the United States

Jeff Murray

The Associated Press - NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has published the results of a recent survey of 1,025 parents or guardians of K-12 children across the country regarding their views on many aspects of education. Overall, results show parents largely supportive of their public schools with some variations by family income level, by type of school attended (public vs. private), and among families with and without students with special needs. There is also a paradox, in that parents often rated their own child’s school highly while rating their local public schools overall somewhat lower. However, there appears to be an undercurrent of concern over just how well even the best-regarded schools are preparing children for life as an adult generally and for entering the working world specifically.

Of specific interest to education  gadflies:

1. The parents surveyed were generally supportive of standardized testing, teacher evaluation/compensation based on a mix of observation and student test scores, firing poor-performing teachers, and preschool as a tool to improve later academic performance.

2.The most helpful tool for parents to assess the quality of their child’s school is conversation with other parents, and the largest contributors to school quality are people (teachers, parents, counselors and tutors).

 

What parents know and believe about education – what they care about and are concerned about – matter greatly to our work and this survey is a snapshot of those concerns. There is much to be gained in listening and responding to parents in the name of education reform.

Trevor Tomspon, Jennifer Benz, and Jennifer Agiesta, Parents’ Attitudes on The Quality of Education in the United States (Chicago, IL: The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, August 2013).

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 Size Matters: A Look at School-District Consolidation

Kevin McDougal

In a recent report from the Center for American Progress, Ulrich Bolser reviews the implications of school district consolidation. Bolser estimated the potential per pupil savings when combining small districts into larger districts. Through these estimations, the study illustrated that “the relative cost of educating students goes down as the number of students increases.” The study found that many states have large proportions of non-remote, low population districts that contribute to lost potential capacity. Bolser concludes that up to $1 billion could be saved nationally, each year, if states pursued resource-sharing policies for small districts. He also notes the problems states and districts should keep in mind, if and when they  consolidate schools districts. These hurdles  include the geographic compatibility of districts, the instability of housing prices, and the differing values and experiences of small communities. With these challenges in mind, Bolser believes that school size is not necessarily what matters most, but instead a cost-saving factor that could better utilize small school districts’ limited education funds. He recommends that states encourage districts to share services, but avoid massive resizing overhauls. “States, districts, and policymakers need to think of better ways to support these small districts and recognize that an education system designed 200 years ago may no longer be the right system today,” Bolser argues. With 612 districts across the state, Ohio Governor John Kasich has also recently considered the benefits of strategic consolidation, but superintendents of small school districts argue that communities do not want to lose their school identity (or perhaps, their jobs), even if it means operating under tighter budgets.

Ulrich Bolser, Size Matters: A Look at School-District Consolidation (Washington, DC: Center for American Progress, August 2013).

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