Common Core standards? What’s that?

Sixty-two percent of Americans haven’t heard of the new Common Core standards adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia, according to the new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll. Of those who recognized the term, “most had major misconceptions about the standards and believed that they will have no effect or will make American students less competitive with their peers across the world,” reports the Washington Post.

As in previous polls, most gave the nation’s public schools a C grade,while rating their local school as an A or B.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans favor charter schools, up from less than 40 percent 11 years ago. However, support for vouchers hit an all-time low.

People were sharply split on closing underenrolled neighborhood schools to save money, a strategy that has made headlines recently in cities including Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia. Half of all respondents opposed such a policy; opposition was higher among those who were not white.

As lawmakers struggle to reach a compromise on comprehensive immigration reform, more than half of the poll’s respondents — 55 percent — said they opposed providing free public education to children of people who are in the country illegally.

The majority of those polled believe that testing hasn’t improved public school performance; nearly 60 percent opposed using test scores to evaluate teachers.

That contradicts a new poll for the Joyce Foundation by Associated Press and NORC, which found that 60 percent of parents support using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. The AP-NORC poll also found that most parents think standardized tests are an effective measure of their children’s performance and school quality, reports the Post.

Support for homeschooling is strong: Most say homeschooled students should be allowed to attend public school part-time and participate in athletics.

What do parents really want?

Seventy-seven percent of parents “choose strong neighborhood public schools over expanding choice, charters and vouchers, concludes a survey by the American Federation of Teachers, Public School Parents on the Promise of Public Education.

That contradicts research by less-biased groups, writes Daniela Fairchild on Education Gadfly.

It “finds,” for example, that just 24 percent of parents support school choice—dramatically fewer than other recent polls report. The latest Phi Delta Kappan/Gallup poll, conducted in August 2012, found that 66 percent of Americans supported charters and 44 percent are warm to private school choice. And the 2012 PEPG/Education Next survey concurred: Sixty-two percent of Americans favor charter schools.

So why the disconnect? . . . The AFT’s poll asks parents to choose between “good public schools” that offer “safe conditions” and an “enriching curriculum” and private schools paid for “at the public expense.” The former—naturally—won the day.

Other AFT questions are riddled with the same problem (see Terry Moe’s excellent book for more on how question framing pre-determines answers).

The vast majority of African-American voters in the South strongly support school choice, according to a survey by the Black Alliance for Educational Options. As the name suggests, BAEO supports school choice.

In Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi, 85 percent to 89 percent of those surveyed wanted as many educational choices as possible.  A majority — 55 percent to 57 percent — said they would choose a different school for their child.

Like AFT, BAEO got the answers it wanted.

 

Pulling the parent trigger

More than a half-dozen states now have parent trigger laws that let a majority of parents seize control of a low-performing school, notes Education Next.

Empowered Families Can Transform the System, argues Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, which has led the parent trigger drives.

Parents enduring a parent trigger campaign are transformed. Some, like the parents at Desert Trails, are forced to endure lengthy legal battles, a process most of them have never experienced. Others, including the parents of 24th Street Elementary School and also Haddon Avenue Elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), find a responsive school district that wants to collaborate with them in changing their school.

. . . Many of these parents, for the first time in their lives, feel real power, not only over their child’s destiny but over their own as well. These parents, and parents like them, are the key to the future of public education in America.

“Parents don’t care if a public school is a traditional district school or a charter school,” writes Austin. “They just want it to be a good school.”

There’s a Better Way to Unlock Parent Power, responds Michael J. Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation. While “it’s worth experimenting with the parent trigger,” it’s not likely to turn around many schools or force significant reform.

First, the parent trigger mechanism itself will continue to get bogged down in lawsuits and other blocking tactics, as has been the case to date. Second, if and when the trigger gets pulled, the resulting school turnarounds won’t generally amount to much. And third, empowering parents via the parent trigger (creating a “bargaining chip”) won’t be enough to force larger changes in dysfunctional districts—because nothing will force such change.

Petrilli favors expanding school choice with more charter schools, vouchers and digital learning. Even if choice doesn’t force districts to improve, it will give parents more options for their children, he argues.

Try the trigger, writes Checker Finn, also of Fordham. Since “most bad districts are going to stay bad,” serious reformers need to “give kids every possible exit” into something better. “Helping an entire school to extricate itself from the dysfunctional system is surely one such strategy. Instead of pooh-poohing it, how about we put it on the list of possibilities, wish it well, and do our damnedest to help it succeed as often as possible?”

Louisiana court rejects voucher funding

Louisiana can’t use per-pupil funding to pay for school vouchers, the state  Supreme Court ruled today on a 6-1 vote.

“The state funds approved through the unique MFP (minimum foundation program) process cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools or other nonpublic course providers according to the clear, specific and unambiguous language of the constitution,” wrote Justice John Weimer in the opinion.

The lone dissenter, Justice Greg Guidry saw no constitutional reason the state could not use a student’s per-pupil allocation “to fund scholarships” because the money reverts to the state when the student leaves the system.

The court also found the MFP for the 2012-13 school year is invalid because it was passed by resolution, in violation of proper procedure.

Gov. Bobby Jindal expanded the state’s voucher program as part of his 2012 education reforms: 8,000 students were expecting to receive vouchers in the 2013-14 school year. Louisiana teachers’ unions challenged the voucher plan.

Study: Vouchers raise college-going for blacks

Black students who used vouchers to attend New York City private schools were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college compared to similar students who lost the voucher lottery, write Matthew M. Chingos, a Brookings fellow, and Paul E. Peterson, a Harvard government professor, in Education Next. But vouchers had little effect on Hispanics’ college-going rates.

In the 1990s, philanthropists created the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation (SCSF), which offered three-year vouchers worth up to $1,400 annually to as many as 1,000 low-income families with children entering first through fifth grade. With the average Catholic school tuition at $1,728, parents had to pay some of their children’s school costs.

After three years, black students who won the voucher lottery had significantly higher test scores than the control group. The long-term study finds a large effect on college enrollment, but only for blacks.

The vouchers’ impact on college enrollment was larger than the effects of small class sizes in Tennessee, for much less cost. It was much larger than the impact of exposure to a highly effective teacher, Chingos and Peterson write.

They’re not sure why vouchers improved academic outcomes for blacks, but did little for Hispanics.

. . .  it appears that the African American students in the study had fewer educational opportunities in the absence of a voucher. . . . There is also some evidence that the public schools attended by Hispanic students were superior to those attended by African American students.

In addition, many Hispanic families chose private school for religious reasons, while most black families “had secular education objectives in mind.”

Private and public parents

Ed reformer Michelle Rhee, who described herself as a “public school parent,” is also a private school parent:  One of her two daughters, who live with her ex-husband in Tennessee, goes to private school. (When Rhee ran Washington D.C. schools, she sent her daughters to public school in the city.)

Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch criticized Rhee for not admitting that one of her kids goes to private school till she was outed, apparently by the American Federation of Teachers.

In New York City, Leonie Haimson, founder of  the NYC Public School Parents blog and Class Size Matters and a Ravitch ally, also turns out to be a private school parent, Gotham Schools revealed.

A fierce critic of education reformers, charter schools, testing and Mayor Bloomberg, Haimson chose private school for her daughter and son for the small classes she wants for all students, she wrote on the NYC Public School Parents blog.

Haimson criticized “Rhee and President Barack Obama for sending their children to private schools with small class sizes while not pushing for the same priorities for public schools,” notes the Wall Street Journal.

“Leonie has to do what is best for her kids,” said Joe Williams, who as head of advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform has often clashed with Ms. Haimson. “The only problem is that she keeps choosing to defend the same awful schools she would never allow her kids to attend.”

At Dropout Nation, RiShawn Biddle backs school choice for all parents, from   Haimson to low-income parents. Those who can’t afford private school tuition rely on “school choice — from charters to vouchers to tax credit programs to Parent Trigger laws to online learning options”  to free their children from dropout factories, writes Biddle.

If public figures choose private school for their own kids are they obliged to support school choice? If they oppose public school reforms, are they obliged to send their kids to public schools?

School vouchers win in Indiana court

School vouchers are valid in Indiana, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously today. The 2011 state law gives parents public tax dollars to pay for private school tuition.

The ruling, on a teachers union-supported lawsuit from 2011, ends the legal challenge to the program at the state level. The case could be made again in federal court. But in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar program in Ohio, making any further appeal a long shot.

While most voucher programs are open only to low-income families, Indiana offers scholarship aid to middle-class families.

School choice pays off in D.C.

Washington D.C’s federally funded school vouchers produced $2.62 in benefits for every dollar spent, concludes a study in Education Finance and Policy by Patrick Wolf and Michael Q. McShane.

More than 60 private schools in D.C. accept students with Opportunity Scholarships, which are awarded by lottery to low-income students. Students who won a scholarship were 12 percent more likely to graduate from high school compared to the control group of lottery losers, a U.S. Education Department study found. That increased graduation rate will generate large returns, Wolf and McShane write.

After the program’s five-year pilot run ended in 2009, Congress and President Obama cut funding and closed it to new students. President Obama agreed to reauthorize the scholarships as part of the 2011 budget compromise.

If Congress had “redirected money from the bloated and ineffectual DCPS for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, then the cost of the program would have been nothing, and the benefits substantial,” writes Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s Blog.

Choice rules: Red tape or red herring?

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Most private schools will participate in choice programs, even if they’re held accountable for students’ achievement, concludes a new Fordham study, School Choice Regulations: Red Tape or Red Herring? Only 25 percent of schools listed state testing requirements as very or extremely important to their decision about whether to participate, but more than half worry about preserving their admissions criteria and religious practices. Fifty-eight percent of non-participating schools cited paperwork burdens and mandatory open-enrollment policies as important factors.

Fordham looked at 13 different school choice models and found very different regulatory burdens. Arizona’s “individual” tax credit scholarship is the least burdened by regulation, while Milwaukee’s long-running voucher program “has accumulated more rules as it has grown older and larger.”

Tax-credit programs will maximize participation by private schools, but “lose a measure of accountability,” researchers conclude.

A record 255,000 children are using vouchers and tax-credit scholarships to attend private school, according to The ABCs of School Choice by the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice. “The ABCs” describes the 39 private school choice programs in 21 states and Washington, D.C.

Louisiana voucher funding loses in court

Louisiana’s voucher program is funded improperly because it uses a fund intended solely for public schools, Judge Timothy Kelley of the State District Court has ruled. Gov. Bobby Jindal called the decision “wrongheaded and a travesty for parents across Louisiana” and vowed to appeal.

It’s a set back, not a “death knell,” writes the New York Times.

Even if the appeal fails, the state legislature could create a new way to fund vouchers.

The law “also significantly broadens and streamlines the process of establishing charter schools and creates a program in which students can take courses from online providers with state money,” reports the Times.