Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 13, Number 5
January 31, 2013
Opinion + Analysis
School choice regulations
Red tape or red herring?
On closing schools
Costs and benefits
Of helicopter parents, schools, and governments
The Missing One-Offs: The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students
Up with selective public high schools!
The Long-Term Effects of Moving to Opportunity on Youth Outcomes
HUD channels Mr. Higgins
Late Interventions Matter Too: The Case of College Coaching in New Hampshire
Senioritis may not be terminal
Switching it up
In a surprise twist, Dara Zeehandelaar hosts Fordham president Checker Finn on this week’s Gadfly Show. They discuss Tom Harkin’s retirement, wheelchair basketball, and the flap over the MAP. Amber intervenes with a word on late interventions.
Lunchtime in America
School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring?
yes David A. Stuit / January 29, 2013
Many proponents of private school choice take for granted that schools won’t participate if government asks too much of them, especially if it demands that they be publicly accountable for student achievement. Were such school refusals to be widespread, the programs themselves could not serve many kids. But is this assumption justified? A new Fordham Institute study—to be released on January 29—provides empirical answers. Do regulations and accountability requirements deter private schools from participating in choice programs? How important are such requirements compared to other factors, such as voucher amounts? Are certain types of regulations stronger deterrents than others? Do certain types schools shy away from regulation more than others?
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 weigh multiple factors, and well-designed programs will naturally strive for sufficient school participation to enable the program to accomplish its purpose. At the same time, policy makers must be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars and do their best to ensure that such
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 31, 2013
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 self-evident that nobody likes to have his or her own school closed. It's traumatic for families, teachers, students, neighborhoods, communities, even entire villages and towns.
But there are three big reasons why schools close and will continue to close—while
The Education Gadfly / January 31, 2013
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 study of charter-school quality, Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) has a major new study out, reporting that schools’ long-term success can be predicted by how they performed in their first year. Schools that start the game swinging
Amber M. Winkler, Ph.D. / January 31, 2013
Ensuring that America’s brightest low-income pupils receive an education on par with their abilities has long played second fiddle to closing the achievement gap and catching up our lowest-performing students. This recent paper by Caroline Hoxby gives these high-ability youngsters the concertmaster’s chair, at least for a moment. In it, she and colleague Christopher Avery (of the Harvard Kennedy School) examine the college-application behaviors and college progress of high-achieving, low-income students (those in the bottom quartile of wealth distribution). They then compare these patterns to those of wealthy high flyers, or those in the top quartile. The authors first determine ability status by students’ 2008 SAT or ACT scores, focusing on the top 10 percent of test-takers (as fewer than half of all students take a college-entrance exam, this delineates the top 4 percent of students overall). Three findings are particularly interesting: First, most high-achieving, low-income students do not apply to selective colleges or universities, despite their potential for hefty financial-aid packages. Second, those who do apply to selective institutions are admitted and graduate from these schools at rates similar to their high-income peers. And third, those in urban districts are much likelier to apply to selective schools than those in small or rural districts; in fact, 70 percent of low-income, high-ability students who apply to selective colleges come from just fifteen urban areas. The authors speculate that these larger districts are able to offer selective or magnet high schools.
John Horton / January 31, 2013
In the mid-1990s—channeling Pygmalion—the Department of Housing and Urban Development provided 4,600 low-income families with housing vouchers and relocation counseling to move them into lower-poverty neighborhoods. According to this new analysis in Cityscape, this Moving to Opportunity (MTO) initiative was “disappointing” as regards education: It did very little to improve student achievement and related schooling outcomes (such as attendance and graduation rates). This was true across all age cohorts, including children six and younger. The one statistically significant effect of the program was an increase in “health awareness” among female participants. Why such a flop? The analysts found that the socioeconomic makeup of the schools to which the program moved children was still very similar to the schools in their old neighborhood; for example, youth in the study moved into schools with a free-or-reduced-price-lunch rate only 10 percentage points lower than those of the schools they exited. And they were unable to ensure that the quality of the schools was any better. As this report makes painstakingly clear, social engineering is no antidote for the opportunity gap. Instead, we might think about opening stronger educational options for students, no matter their zip code, and giving parents the options to choose their child’s academic setting.
A version of this review originally appeared on Fordham’s Flypaper blog.
SOURCE: Lisa A Gennetian, Matthew Sciandra, Lisa Sanbonmatsu, et al., “The Long-Term Effects of Moving to Opportunity on Youth Outcomes” (Cityscape: A Journal of
Brandon Wright / January 31, 2013
Fourth-quarter drives—even the most impressive—are often not enough to alter game outcomes. So it is with educational interventions: Getting students on track by third grade (and keeping them there) yields greater long-term results than high school interventions. However, this paper from two Dartmouth and UC Davis professors argues that certain late-game pushes can help college-going and college-persistence rates for some K–12 pupils. Analysts targeted “college-ready” high school seniors in twelve large New Hampshire high schools who had shown interest in college but had made little to no progress on their applications (guidance counselors helped ID these students). They randomly assigned about half of these students to receive targeted college coaching, meaning college-application mentoring from a Dartmouth student, money to cover application fees and ACT/SAT exams, and a $100 bonus if they completed the application and filing process. The authors found no statistically significant impact from the program for men but did find one for women: Young women who completed the treatment were 24 percent likelier to enroll in college than their control-group peers. Even those who received only part of the treatment saw a bump in college attendance. And this positive effect appeared greater for large, resource-challenged high schools with comparatively low baseline college-going rates. Further, when analysts examined persistence in four-year college—defined as attending three or more semesters or being enrolled for two years—the treatment effect was also 12 percentage points higher than the control group of women.