Travis Pillow

Editor's note: This is the eighth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found herehereherehereherehere, and here.

Regardless of exactly how they're funded, schools all over the United States face a basic problem. Many of those serving the most disadvantaged students tend to have the fewest resources.

In a nod to equity advocates, the new federal education law includes a modest attempt to entice school districts toward a solution: weighted funding. The Every Student Succeeds Act includes a pilot program that, in its first three years, would allow up to fifty districts to allocate funding to schools based on the characteristics of students they enroll. Schools would receive more funding for children who have special needs, speak a native language other than English, or come from a low-income families.

Many of the school finance reforms sought by choice advocates, such as true funding portability, didn't make it into the new statute. While the pilot program won't usher in a financing system in...

Christy Wolfe

Editor's note: This was a submission to Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Of the eleven submissions, this was selected as the winner by a poll of our readers.

One of my biggest concerns about ESSA has been its lack of a meaningful “safety valve” for kids in failing schools. There is no getting around the fact that this version of ESEA does not spell out parent-directed education options the same way No Child Left Behind did, with its explicit provisions for supplemental educational services and school choice. When ESSA eliminated the “cascade of sanctions” for schools deemed “in need ofimprovement”, explicit references to closing schools and reopening them as charters also disappeared. There are no requirements (let alone incentives) for choice and transportation.

What we learned from NCLB, though, is that unwanted mandates don’t usually lead to much real access to seats in better schools. Washington can tell a district it must offer school choice regardless of capacity, but in the real world the absence of high-quality...

This study examines the impact of test-based accountability on teacher attendance and student achievement using data from North Carolina. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), schools that failed to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP) toward universal proficiency in consecutive years faced a series of escalating sanctions. Thus, teachers at schools that failed one year had a strong incentive to boost achievement in the next, while those at other schools faced a weaker incentive.

Using a difference-in-differences approach that compares these groups, the author estimates that failing to make AYP in NCLB’s first year led to a 10 percent decline in teacher absences in the following year (or roughly one less absence per teacher). He also estimates that an additional teacher absence reduces math achievement by about .002 standard deviations, implying that schools that failed to make AYP saw a similar boost in achievement because of improved teacher attendance. However, in a separate analysis, he shows that the threat of sanctions led to a .06 standard deviation improvement in math achievement in the following year, suggesting that improved teacher attendance accounted for just 3 percent of all accountability-driven achievement gains.

In addition to the general decline in teacher absences,...

In 2014, for the first time, the overall number of Latino, African American, and Asian students in public K–12 classrooms in America surpassed the number of non-Hispanic white students. To better understand what this “majority minority” student body might mean for public education going forward, the folks at the Leadership Conference Education Fund asked Latino and African American parents what they thought about America’s K–12 system, as well as what sort of education they want for their children.

Researchers surveyed a nationally representative sample of eight hundred African American and Latino adults (parents, grandparents, etc.) actively involved in raising a school-aged child, also conducting focus groups in Chicago (Latinos) and Philadelphia (African Americans).

As with other such surveys, a large majority of parents rated their own children’s schools as “excellent” or “good” at preparing students for success in the future. (It is interesting to note, however, that parents whose children attended schools that were mostly white were more likely to rate those schools positively.) Yet parents were also pessimistic about the quality of public schools writ large—especially for students of color. And they felt that funding, technology, and excellent teachers were inequitably distributed in favor of predominantly white and high-income schools.

The survey...

Over a million students nationally wait for seats to open up in already-full charter schools. Many more attend failing schools in neighborhoods that could benefit from the high-quality charter networks revolutionizing public education in places like Newark and New Orleans. In the face of a clear and persistent need for excellent charter schools, what stands in the way of their growth? This paper from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) attempts to answer this question by examining constraints on charter expansion.

Authors Jenn Hatfield and Ian Lindquist profile three of the nation’s oldest and most successful networks: Uncommon Schools (forty-three schools in six northeast cities), Great Hearts Academies (twenty-seven schools in Phoenix and, recently, Texas), and Carpe Diem Learning (six schools scattered throughout Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, and Texas). They use in-depth interviews with teachers, principals, staff, and executives within each network to explore two sides of the same coin: What factors facilitated the growth of these networks, and conversely, what factors deterred them and likely still hinder others?

Specifically, they seek to identify the “bottlenecks” limiting each operator’s expansion. All three networks experienced problems with authorizers and/or identified authorizer relationships as essential to manage well. For instance, Great Hearts’ attempted Nashville expansion was blocked by the local...

Tim Daly

Does keeping a child in a school that appears to be struggling mean that parents are happy with it? Should we consider resistance to school closures a sign of demand for those schools?

Those are two of the big questions raised for me in a fascinating debate between Jay Greene and Mike Petrilli about the role test scores should play in school closure.

It’s true that parents often fight back when their children’s schools are going to be closed. And why not? In most cases, they’re losing their current option without being offered a replacement. They are told to go find a new school. Often, the alternatives are not much better than the old schools, and they may be a lot less convenient. It’s not a trade. It’s a one-sided loss—and a huge headache.

But we should be careful about assuming that just because their kids are still enrolled in a school, parents like that school. Enrollment is modest proxy for family satisfaction. Instead of asking parents if they want their children’s schools to remain open, we should ask them whether they would choose to stay if they had other options. Then we should give them other options.

Here’s something that...

The school choice tent is much bigger than it used to be. Politicians and policy wonks across the ideological spectrum have embraced the principle that parents should get to choose their children’s schools and local districts should not have a monopoly on school supply.

But within this big tent, there are big arguments about the best way to promote school quality. Some want all schools to take the same tough tests and all low-performing schools (those that fail to show individual student growth over time) to be shut down (or, in a voucher system, to be kicked out of the program). Others want to let the market work to promote quality and resist policies that amount to second-guessing parents.

In the following debate, Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas’s Department of Education Reform and Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute explore areas of agreement and disagreement around this issue of school choice and school quality. In particular, they address the question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with...

Dr. Joy Lawson Davis

At the turn of the twentieth century, scholars and politicians alike were wrestling with a new America. It was the end of Reconstruction, and race relations in the country were coming to the fore of the national conversation. Sociologists and politicians were embroiled in contentious discussions that would shape the nation’s development. Amidst the controversies were egregious theories perpetuating the belief that persons of the Negro race were intellectually inferior and, thus, not deserving of full rights and equal opportunities alongside their white peers in American society. Entering this dialogue were a small group of black scholars, some supported by white mentors, who themselves joined the cause of disproving theories of racial inferiority. These theories presupposed that individuals, based on their skin color and Negro bloodline, were incapable of reaching the upper limits of mental ability ascribed to gifted individuals.

It therefore appears to be providential that Martin David Jenkins was born in 1904 was born and by the 1920s was of an age that he may have been aware of early civil rights activists and scholars like Bond and Proctor. Martin was the only son of David W. and Josephine Jenkins. David Jenkins, a very prominent engineer, was the first Negro bridge...

Neil Campbell

Editor's note: This is the sixth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found hereherehere, here, and here.

What course would you have wanted to take in high school if you’d had the chance?

For me, it’s economics. I’ve started many meetings about course access with that question as an icebreaker. The first few times, I even had the “brilliant” idea to drop the responses into a word cloud. But that ended up being a dud when everyone gave different answers and astronomy, law and policy, psychology, photography, geometry, Japanese, physics, and accounting were all the same size.

Cool story, but what’s course access?

It is a policy under which kids get access to a range of supplemental courses approved by their states that may not otherwise be available in the schools they attend full-time. Think of it as an evolution from states solely being providers of supplemental courses through virtual programs. The state’s role in course access is one of quality assurance...

Matthew Joseph

Editor's note: This is the fifth post in Fordham's 2016 Wonkathon. We've asked assorted education policy experts to answer this question: What are the "sleeper provisions" of ESSA that might encourage the further expansion of parental choice, at least if advocates seize the opportunity? Prior entries can be found hereherehere, and here.

Of the many provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the weighted student funding pilot program may have the most profound impact on school choice. By maximizing the money that follows students, including those with high needs, the pilots could lead to the expansion of high-quality choice programs.

The basics of weighted student funding

Weighted student funding—also known as student-centered funding, student-based budgeting, and fair student funding—devotes a base amount of funding to each student. Additional funds (or weights) are then provided for students who need additional services, such as low-income or disabled students and English language learners.

Schools receive funding based on the number of students they enroll and the characteristics of those students. If a student moves from one school to another, the receiving school gets the money designated for that student. This is very different from the vast majority of current funding...