King: Opportunity saves lives

Orphaned at the age of 12, John King “was fortunate that I had teachers and mentors who kept my life on the right path,” the outgoing Education secretary tells NPR’s Cory Turner.  “Schools and educational opportunities can save lives.”

His likely successor, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire philanthropist educated in private schools. Like King, she helped found a public charter school, but that’s about the only parallel.

“What matters is beliefs and actions,” not “biography,” King says in the interview.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King, Jr.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King, Jr. Photo: Carlos Barria / Reuters

The new Education secretary should realize that “the department is a civil rights agency with a responsibility to protect the civil rights of students and to ensure that school is a safe and supportive place for all kids,” he says.

In his official “exit memo”, King brags about progress over the last eight years, writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

He starts with expanding access to preschool,” then “touts record high-school graduation rates, a reduction in what the administration dubbed ‘dropout factories,’ and the expansion of technology (as a tool for creating individualized learning plans) in classrooms.”

He lauds the fact that it has become easier to apply for federal financial aid to pay for college, and the development of a college “scorecard” to help students evaluate which colleges might be a good fit.

The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, a revision of the main federal education law, “has a strong focus on underserved students,” King stresses. All students need “a quality education that prepares them for college and careers.”

NYT gets it wrong on economists and vouchers

Free Market For Education: Economists Generally Don’t Buy It, claims Susan Dynarski, a University of Michigan education professor, in the Dec. 30 New York Times.

“Only a third of economists on the (University of) Chicago panel agreed that students would be better off if they all had access to vouchers to use at any private (or public) school of their choice,” she writes. “While economists are trained about the value of free markets, they are also trained to spot when markets can’t work alone and government intervention is required.”

Slate Star Codex’s Scott Alexander looked at the source, UC’s Initiative on Global Markets: Economic experts who have an opinion, support vouchers by a nearly two to one margin.

Check out the chart: 36 percent of economists agree vouchers would improve education, 19 percent disagree and 37 percent are uncertain. Weighted by the economists’ confidence, 41 percent back vouchers and 23 percent do not, while 35 percent are uncertain.

IGM redid the survey a year later in response to complaints that the question implied all students would benefit from vouchers, Alexander notes in a follow-up post. The new study asked whether vouchers would make most students better off.

With the new phrasing, 44 percent of economists backed vouchers, while only 5 percent disagreed. Weighted by confidence, half said vouchers would improve things; only 6 percent disagreed. Once again, many were uncertain.

I think this is very misleading reporting.

Trumpucation

Nobody really knows how a Trump presidency will affect education policy, but let’s speculate.

Education Week interviews Trump education advisor Gerard Robinson, an American Enterprise Institute fellow and former state chief in Florida and Virginia, who says Trump may curb the Education Department’s civil rights office, impacting school-discipline disparities.

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Chickens will come home to roost, writes Rick Hess. Ganders will get sauced.

President Obama, who “bragged about his intent to govern with his ‘pen-and-phone’,”  extended “the reach of Washington via ‘gainful employment,’ Title IX, the redefinition of gender, guidelines governing Title I spending, and much more,” writes Hess.

Trump can dump those pen-and-phone policies and replace them with his own edicts. “The door has been opened for enthusiastic Trump appointees to get creative about pressing states to adopt school voucher programs, abstinence-only sex education, biologically-aligned locker rooms, curbs on PC-speech-restrictive policies on college campuses, and whatever else they can dream up.”

With a Republican-controlled Congress, Trump could fulfill his pledge to fund “vouchers that would let students use federal money to attend the schools of their choice, be they charters, private or parochial schools, magnet programs, or traditional public schools,” writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

On the campaign trail, Trump called for the repeal of Common Core standards, but he also backed local control. He can’t order Core states to drop the standards if they wish to stick with them.

Friedman: Competition drives innovation

Competition from charter and private schools is the key to transforming education, concludes Pursuing Innovation, a new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

District school students make achievement gains when their schools are competing with charters or private schools that accept school vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, according to 30 of 42 studies analyzed.
MCPCMPS
MPCPMPSACTMost educational choice programs result in “modest improvements” at district schools, the report found.

However, in Florida (tax-credit scholarships) and Milwaukee (vouchers), “significant increases in publicly funded educational options resulted in bigger increases in public school students’ achievement.”

Despite significant improvement in Milwaukee’s district schools, the city’s choice students outperform Milwaukee Public Schools students in math and, especially, in English Language Arts. On Wisconsin’s statewide “Badger” tests, choice students did better than similar students in district schools.

“Empowering parents with the ability to choose a school that best suits the child’s needs is working in Wisconsin and resulting in students performing better academically,’ said Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children.

Catholic schools change to survive

Hard hit by demographic changes and competition from charter schools, Catholic schools are trying new strategies to survive, while remaining true to their religious mission, write Kelly Robson and Andy Smarick in Education Next.

A Cristo Rey student works at a medical center in Baltimore. Photo: Cristo Rey

A Cristo Rey student works at a medical center in Baltimore. Photo: Cristo Rey

Urban Catholic school students – especially those from low-income, minority families — “are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, earn higher wages, and engage in pro-social behaviors like voting and volunteerism,” they write.

At its mid-1960s peak, Catholic schools educated 5.6 million students in approximately 13,000 schools, they write. That’s down to  fewer than 2 million students in 6,500 Catholic schools. Many urban schools have closed.

Now, school consortia are helping Catholic schools tackle common problems and achieve economies of scale.

Private school management organizations, nonprofits that manage a set of schools, also provide economies of scale and educational expertise.

Girls at Lourdes Academy, a Notre Dame ACE Academy . Photo: University of Notre Dame

Girls at Lourdes Academy, a Notre Dame ACE Academy . Photo: University of Notre Dame

Technology is helping boost engagement — and achievement — while reducing costs. Seton Education Partners is helping Catholic schools use blended learning effectively.

Another cost-saving model known as “micro-schooling” splits “students’ time between classroom, home, and online learning,” write Robson and Smarick.

In addition, voucher programs, tax-credit scholarships, and education savings accounts are helping lower-income parents afford a Catholic education for their children.

Choice raises graduation rates

 Vouchers, charters,  lotteries and small schools of choice have been shown to increase high school graduation rates without raising costs, according to Fourteen Economic Facts on Education and Economic Opportunity from Brookings’ Hamilton Project.

Also effective — but not cost free — are “double-dose algebra” in ninth grade, an intensive mentoring pilot and increased funding.

“Many urban charter schools are able to significantly improve test scores in math and English in one year,” the report found.

Minority kids advance in choice schools

Urban minority students are more likely to complete high school aand enroll in college if they attend a charter or voucher-accepting school, writes Martin West in Education Next. Test scores may not be higher in urban schools of choice, but students go farther in school — and often in life.
Boston’s charter middle school students are closing the achievement gap in math, one study has found.

In Boston and New York City, other studies have found charter students are likely to avoid teenage pregnancy and incarceration and more likely to enroll in four-year colleges rather than two-year options.

In Washington, D.C., voucher usage greatly improved students’ chances of graduating. New York City voucher students are more likely to enroll in college and earn a bachelor’s degree than a control group.

“The chief beneficiaries of policies that expand parental choice appear to be urban minority students,” says West. “The benefits of school choice for these students extend beyond what tests can measure.”

Study: Louisiana voucher students do worse

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Voucher students couldn’t stem declining enrollment at Our Lady of Grace School, which was closed by the Archdiocese of New Orleans last year. Photo: Brett Duke, Times-Picayune

Voucher students who left a low-performing Louisiana school for a private school did worse academically — especially in math — than classmates who stayed, concludes a new working paper on the first year of the Lousiana Scholarship Program.

Younger children did the worst, according to the team of Berkeley, Duke and MIT researchers.

Catholic schools serving black students — most with declining enrollment — signed up most of the voucher students. “Struggling private schools may opt in to the voucher program to combat stagnating enrollment,” the researchers noted.

One third of voucher students attend low-performing private schools that “have been barred from taking new voucher students,” reported the Times-Picayune last year.

It could be a short-term effect, but “the size of the negative math impact is pretty large,” Patrick Wolf, a University of Arkansas education professor told the Times-Picayune. Wolf’s two-year study of the voucher program will be published soon. “The results are different in interesting ways,” he said.

Louisiana’s voucher program, which is the fifth-largest in the country, provides about 6,700 students with about $5,300 per student. Only students from families with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty line – meaning $60,625 for a family of four, for example – and those whose public school has been labeled by the state as low-performing qualify for the voucher.

“A broader set of evidence” shows positive effects for vouchers, said Wolf. He cited a 2012 evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program which found higher high school graduation and college enrollment rates.

Is it OK to push out disruptive kids?

“I have no problem at all with charters functioning as a poor man’s private school,” Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio tells Reason. “Are we saying that if you’re a poor black or brown kid, it’s a problem that you should have a disruption-free, studious, high-quality school? Why is that unfair?”

A group of parents have filed a a civil rights complaint accusing high-scoring Success Academy charters of pushing out students with disabilities.

One Success Academy principal issued a “Got-to-Go” list of unwanted students, reported the New York Times in October. Founder Eva Moskowitz called it a mistake.

In response to the complaint, she said Success schools only suspend students for violent behavior. The schools’ disabled students perform better in reading and math than non-disabled students in other city schools, she points out.

Success Academy students who behave well enough to stay are doing much, much better than similar students in district schools. Should Success be forced to adopt laxer discipline policies and keep disruptive students? Should district schools be allowed to adopt tougher discipline policies and get rid of disruptive students?

Milwaukee’s voucher program also was accused of discriminating against disabled students. After four years, the federal investigation has been closed “with no apparent findings of major wrongdoing,” reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Nevada OKs vouchers for all

Starting next school year, Nevada parents will be able to use public funds to pay for private or parochial school, an online learning program or the costs of homeschooling, reports the Washington Post. Low-income families or students with disabilities can receive $5,700 per year, what the state spends per student. More affluent families will receive about $5,100 a year.

Including local and federal funding, Nevada public schools received an average of $8,339 per student in 2013, well below the national average of $10,700.

Parents, teachers and students wore yellow scarves to rally for school choice in Carson City, Nevada.

Parents, teachers and students wore yellow scarves to rally for school choice proposals in Carson City, Nevada.

Under the new law, children must be enrolled in a public school for at least 100 days before they can use the money, which will be held in an Education Savings Account.

Choice advocates are pushing the idea in Georgia, Iowa and Rhode Island.

Since 2006, 27 states have opted for vouchers, tax credits for donations to scholarship funds or education savings accounts, notes the Post. Most programs are limited to low-income or disabled students.

Earlier this year, the Nevada legislature approved tax credits to businesses that donate money to a scholarship fund to help low-income students attend private schools.

The Friedman Foundation, which backs the Nevada plan, identified a Las Vegas parent who hopes to use the new vouchers.

Aurora Espinoza, a single mother who works as a solar-panel sales representative, said her children’s current public schools — which are among the nation’s fastest-growing — are so crowded that it’s hard for them to learn.

She hopes to enroll her daughters in a private school next year.