Will parents be able to understand their child’s school’s performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act? And will schools with students from difficult socioeconomic backgrounds get a fair shake?
Those are two key questions that folks at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute set out to find answers for in a new report. In an analysis of the 17 plans turned in so far, Fordham President Michael Petrilli and Editorial Director Brandon Wright based their answers on three main questions:
How clear are school ratings are to parents, educators, and the general public?
Do the plans push schools to focus on all students, not just those furthest behind? and
Are schools are treated fairly, particularly those with a large share of students in poverty, and judged in part by academic growth, not just achievement?
Fordham is often identified with right-leaning education policy positions, such as support for school choice. On ESSA, the think tank has also…
On Tuesday, the House education committee will hold a hearing on how the Every Student Succeeds Act is unfolding in states and districts. On this general issue, much of the focus (rightly) has been on how Republicans like Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate education committee chairman, are reacting to what U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team are doing on ESSA oversight. Importantly, Alexander isn’t happy, and says the department seems to be ignoring the law.
And a GOP aide said Monday that Rep. Virginia Foxx., R-N.C., the chairwoman of the House committee, has put DeVos’ department “on notice” about concerns lawmakers have as far as federal feedback to states’ plans. “Department of Education overreach will play a role in the hearing, not just [coming] from the chairwoman but from other members,” the GOP aide said…
By: Michelle Croft and Richard Lee ACT Research and Policy
Despite (or because of) the federal requirement that all students in certain grades participate in statewide achievement testing, stories of parents opting their student out of the testing gained national attention in the media in the spring of 2015. Ultimately, twelve states—California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wisconsin—received a notice from the U.S. Department of Education that they needed to create a plan to reduce opt-outs due to low participation rates.
When statewide testing came in spring 2016, there were more stories of opt-outs, and information about districts failing to meet participation requirements will follow in the coming months.3 Early reports from New York indicate that 21% of students in grades 3–8 opted out in 2016, which was slightly more than the prior year. (See attached PDF below for reference information.)
Participation Rate Requirements
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (both the No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds authorizations) requires that all students annually participate in statewide achievement testing in mathematics and English in grades 3–8 and high school as well as science in certain grade spans. Ninety-five percent of students at the state, district, and school level must participate; otherwise there is a range of consequences.
Under the No Child Left Behind authorization, the school would automatically fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress if the school—or subgroups of students within the school—did not meet the participation rate requirement. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides states with greater flexibility to determine how to incorporate the participation rate into the state’s accountability system. However, in proposed regulations, the state will need to take certain actions such as lowering the school’s rating in the state’s accountability system or identifying the school for targeted support or improvement, if all students or one or more student subgroups do not meet the 95% participation rate.
Michelle Croft is a principal research associate in Public Affairs at ACT. Richard Lee is a senior analyst in Public Affairs at ACT.
This report highlights significant investments made by both Republican and Democratic policymakers in state-funded pre-k programs for the fourth year in a row. In the 2015-16 budget year, 32 states and the District of Columbia raised funding levels of pre-k programs. This increased support for preschool funding came from both sides of the aisle–22 states with Republican governors and 10 states with Democratic governors, plus the District of Columbia.
In contrast, only five states with Republican governors and three states with Democratic governors decreased their pre-k funding.
Overall, state funding of pre-k programs across the 50 states and the District of Columbia increased by nearly $755 million, or 12 percent over 2014-15. While this progress is promising, there is still work to be done to set children on the path to academic success early in life. Still, less than half of preschool-aged students have access to pre-k programs.
Increasing the number of students in high-quality preschool programs is broadly viewed as a way to set young learners on a path to a secure economic future and stable workforce. This report includes several state examples and an overview of the pre-k programs they have in place. Data tables on total state pre-K funding and state pre-kindergarten funding by program are appended. [Megan Carolan contributed to this publication.]
Last week, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos delivered a much-anticipated speech about her plan to shift massive amounts of valuable taxpayer money away from public schools to pay for private school vouchers. That’s not exactly how she framed her ideas as she addressed the American Federation for Children (a pro-school privatization group chaired by DeVos until she was tapped to be Education Secretary). Instead, DeVos said the plan—details still to come—would amount to the “most ambitious expansion of school choice in our nation’s history.”
Voucher devotees like DeVos know this, which is why the term “school voucher” has been ditched in favor of less offensive, appealing terms.
Take for example this line from DeVos’ speech to the AFC. Praising Indiana’s large-scale voucher program, she promised to “empower states and give leaders like Eric Holcomb the flexibility and opportunity to enhance choices Indiana provides its students.”
In that one sentence alone, DeVos offers up four favorite euphemisms used to rebrand voucher legislation: “empower,” “flexibility,” “opportunity” and, of course, “choice.”
The Trump-DeVos budget would slash the federal investment in public education programs by a whopping 13.6 percent, while providing $1.4 billion in new spending on school voucher expansion. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
The intent is to obscure the fact that these spruced up proposals still produce the same result: less taxpayer money for public schools, more taxpayer money for unaccountable private schools that can, and do, discriminate.
The Trump budget request for fiscal year 2018 unveiled on May 23rd makes it clear that DeVos intends to deliver on this threat. NEA President Lily Eskelsen García calls the outlined education budget a “wrecking ball” to public education in service of a school privatization agenda.
“DeVos and Trump have made failed private school vouchers a cornerstone of their budget,” said Eskelsen García. “Vouchers do not work and they take scarce funding away from public schools—where 90 percent of America’s students enroll—and give it to private schools that are unaccountable to the public.”
As the details to DeVos’ plan become clearer in the coming weeks, expect to hear more about “opportunity,” “flexibility,” “tax credits,” “savings accounts,” “scholarships”—everything except “private school vouchers.” Here are a few programs touted by DeVos that, despite being smoothed out around the edges, are still at their core schemes to funnel taxpayer dollars from public schools to fund private and for-profit schools.
‘Tax Credit Scholarships’
These programs, which could be a centerpiece of the administration’s plan, currently exist in 17 states with more potentially ready to follow suit.
A tax credit scholarship incentivizes individual taxpayers or corporations to donate money to non-profit organizations that bundle the funds and disburse them (less their cut for administrative expenses) as private school vouchers. Donors are able to claim the donations as credits against their state tax liability and often can also claim those same donations as deductions to reduce their federal tax bill.
“Rather than include line-items in state budgets for spending on school vouchers, lawmakers ask taxpayers to undertake such spending on the state’s behalf, in return for a generous tax giveaway,” Davis recently wrote in The American Prospect.
Far from philanthropy, the individuals who make these donations can often get more in return than they gave by also claiming a federal charitable tax exemption—what Davis calls “double-dipping.”
Davis and others label these programs “neo-vouchers” because they still, through a more circuitous route, transfer taxpayer money to private schools.
‘Education Savings Accounts’
Another “back-door voucher” is an Education Savings Account (ESA). With ESAs, a portion of a state’s per-pupil education funding is put into an account that parents can tap into to pay for approved education expenses. This includes private school tuition and fees, textbooks, test prep services and tutoring, as well as a variety of other services, with no oversight over student outcomes.
In March, Arizona eliminated eligibility requirements from its existing ESA program. Initially aimed at students with disabilities and dubbed “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts,” the program is now open to virtually all students, and, as caps ease, could include as many as 30,000 public school students by 2020. The program allows parents to take 90 percent of the money that would have gone to their school district and spend it as they see fit. The program, says Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, is nothing more than an “ESA voucher debit-cards-for-all scheme.”
The Washington, D.C., Opportunity Scholarship Program is the first and only federally funded school voucher program in the country. Created by Congress in 2004, the program provides vouchers to 1,100 low-income D.C. students, some of whom were already attending private school. Secretary DeVos would like to expand the program, ignoring a recent study that found that participants who used vouchers scored lower than their public school peers in both reading and math.
Lawmakers in North Carolina appropriated the term “opportunity scholarship” when they enacted a voucher program in 2013. The program was funded at $17.6 million in 2015-16, and up to $24.8 million in 2016-17. Meanwhile, public school funding in North Carolina has been slashed. In 2016, the state spent more than $12 million on these “scholarships,” which are expected to serve 32,000 students by 2026, at a cost of $134 million annually.
Tell Betsy DeVos: Your Voucher Plans Harm Students
Betsy DeVos’ goal as Secretary of Education is to slash funding for public schools, using voucher schemes to funnel taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools.A well-resourced public school in every neighborhood is our best bet for setting every student up for success. Email DeVos today. Tell her to focus on investing in public schools.
While there are no data to support the claim that voucher programs increase the opportunities for low-income children to attend higher-performing schools, there is considerable evidence that voucher programs increase the “opportunity” for more affluent families to receive public subsidies for private education. In Indiana, home to the largest voucher program in the nation, more than half of the state’s voucher recipients have never attended public schools, so Indiana taxpayers are subsidizing private school education for many students whose families could already afford it.
This slow but steady expansion of voucher programs is being duplicated elsewhere. It’s become a familiar story: voucher bills are rebranded and targeted towards specific populations—low-income students or students with special needs, for example—to make them more politically palatable. Once the legislation is implemented, eligibility requirements are soon eased, and funding is increased. Meanwhile, funding for public schools is further eroded.
“For too long, these schemes have experimented with our children’s education without any evidence of real, lasting positive results,” says Eskelsen García. “Improving public schools requires more money, not less, and public money should only be used to help public schools.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the committee chairwoman, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., the top Democrat, both said there is a skills gap between what students are provided in educational settings and the demands of the current workforce.
“This legislation will empower state and local leaders to tailor programs to meet the unique needs” of students in their community, Foxx said in the Wednesday committee meeting. “Local leaders will be better equipped to respond to changing education and economic needs.”
As we reported earlier this month, the legislation is tailored to give states more flexibility in their plans for Perkins funds and for prioritizing programs that meet their particular workforce environments. It is very similar to a 2016 bill that easily passed the House, although this year’s version does impose somewhat stricter requirements on state CTE spending, as well as the process by which state plans are approved or rejected. In several respects, it matches the emphasis on greater state and local control in the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Scott said the bill promotes equity in career and technical education while updating the Perkins law to reflect the changing economy. However, he said the bill isn’t perfect in its current form and that the authority of the education secretary in the bill over funding issues isn’t as strong as he would like.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., introduced and then withdrew an amendment to the bill to beef up secretarial authority she expressed concern that the bill in its current form would allow states to use federal funds on failing CTE programs. (Disputes over secretarial authority led last year’s bill to stall out in the Senate.) She said lawmakers should continue to discuss this issue as the bill moves ahead.
On Tuesday, FoxxÂ expressed optimism about the bill’s prospects in public remarks at a CTE event. In addition to more freedom for states, Foxx said the Thompson-Krishnamoorthi bill creates greater transparency and accountability for CTE programs.
A new working paper puts some numbers to that question.
Having just one black teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduced low-income black boys’ probability of dropping out of high school by 39 percent, the study found.
And by high school, African-American students, both boys and girls, who had one African-American teacher had much stronger expectations of going to college. Keep in mind, this effect was observed seven to ten years after the experience of having just one black teacher.
The study is big. The authors, Seth Gershenson and Constance A. Lindsay of American University, Cassandra M.D. Hart of U.C. Davis and Nicholas Papageorge at Johns Hopkins, looked at long-term records for more than 100,000 black elementary school students in North Carolina.
Then the researchers checked their conclusions by looking at students in a second state, Tennessee, who were randomly assigned to certain classes.
There they found that not only did the black students assigned to black teachers graduate high school at higher rates, they also were more likely to take a college entrance exam. “The results line up strikingly well,” says Papageorge.
And this isn’t news to many African-American families who already feel strongly that their children need role models in their education. Khalilah Harris has experienced the issue both as a policymaker and as a mother of three daughters. She was the Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans under the Obama administration. She recently transferred her two older daughters, 12 and 14, to a progressive private school to expose them to more diverse teachers and curriculum.
“My youngest, who is 7, goes to supposedly the best public school in Baltimore City, but there is not any teacher of color there, and that is deplorable,” she says. “If you grow up in a world that does not reflect your essence as valuable from birth, the fact that you don’t have a teacher … who looks like you, will cause cognitive dissonance.”
Papageorge says the “role model effect” that Harris describes is quantifiable. “Sometimes when I talk about expectations, people think I’m talking about magic fairy dust,” he says, “but in economics, it’s one of the biggest things that determine the kinds of investments people make.” In other words, whether it’s money you put toward a mutual fund, or time and energy you spend on your education, how much you expect to get out can determine how much you put in.
If a low-income black boy never sees anyone in the classroom who looks like him, Papageorge says he might conclude, “‘Hey, college is just not for me’. And then why would you work hard in school?”
Yolanda Coles Jones of Charlottesville, Va., says she and her husband avoided the school system altogether. They homeschool their four children, two girls who are 9 and 7, and 4-year-old twin boys. She says they didn’t see their local public or private schools “understanding the needed emphasis on black children seeing black faces.” The family is part of a homeschooling co-op called Community Roots, that, Coles Jones says, was founded “to have an atmosphere that is safe for children of color to be in.”
In future research, Papageorge hopes to replicate the study and unpack the powerful and long-lasting effects observed. But based on the evidence he already has, he has an immediate policy recommendation. Having just one black teacher in his study made all the difference to students; having two or three didn’t increase the effect significantly. Therefore, schools could work to change student groupings so that every black student gets at least one black teacher by the end of elementary school.
“Should we hire more black teachers?” he asks. “Yeah, probably, but it requires more black college graduates … We could push around rosters tomorrow, change the way we assign kids, and have some effects next school year, not 10 years from now.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who recently traveled to Florida to highlight dual-enrollment and career-readiness programs is hitting the road again Monday, this time to Kimberly Hampton Elementary School in Fort Bragg, N.C.
DeVos plans to visit classrooms, read to students, meet with school officials, and chat with parents.
The visit will be DeVos’ first to a school run by the Department of Defense. And her timing isn’t a coincidence: April, which starts Saturday, is the Month of the Military Child…
During her address, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos claimed that “parents are the primary point of accountability.” When asked about policies that ensure that schools of choice are actually improving student performance, she answered that “the policies around empowering parents and moving the decision-making to the hands of parents on behalf of children is really the direction we need to go.” She later repeated the idea that transparency and information, coupled with parental choice, equated to accountability.
While it is indeed important to communicate information on school choice, transparency and information are only part of the accountability puzzle. In addition to these components, states also use accountability to ensure that schools that fail to meet academic or financial standards are improved or closed.
This is of particular importance for public charter schools, who have been given the authority to operate independently of school districts and many state rules or regulations. Accountability rules assure that students are learning and that public funds are spent responsibly.
While the accountability measures used for charter schools to demonstrate quality performance vary from state to state, they do exist, and they include more than just reporting information to parents.
Forty-three states had charter school laws in place when we completed this analysis (not including Kentucky, which passed a bill in March 2017 to allow charter schools). We examined four points of accountability within the charter school policies as recorded by the Education Commission of the States: annual reporting, specifications for termination, performance-thresholds, and technical assistance.
Most states require charter schools to submit annual reports as a part of their accountability obligations. Some annual reporting requirements include annual report cards, education progress reports, curriculum development, attendance rates, graduation rates, and college admission test scores. Many states that do not require annual reports still require financial reports, which speaks to the other side of accountability, appropriate usage of funds.
Some states, such as Washington, require charter schools to provide the same annual school performance reports as non-charter schools.
In Ohio, each charter is required to disseminate the state Department of Education’s school report card report to all parents.
North Carolina requires its charter schools to publish their report performance ratings, awarded by the State Board of Education, on the internet. If the rating is D or F, the charter school must send written notice to parents. North Carolina also requires specific data reporting related to student reading.
State Specification for Termination
Forty-two states specify the grounds for terminating a charter school, fostering accountability by establishing standards and consequences of failure to adhere to those standards. Failure to demonstrate academic achievement and failure to increase overall school performance are among the terms cited as grounds of termination among some states.
These state specifications for termination do not only apply to performance levels; they can be applied to a violation of any part of the charter law or agreement, such as fraud, failure to meet audit requirements, or failure to meet standards set for basic operations.
In addition to state specifications for termination, some states have set a threshold marking the lowest point where a school can perform before it is closed. Some states without a clearly communicated low-performance threshold have set other standards which specifically mark the lowest point of acceptable performance.
Setting a minimum threshold for performance for the automatic closure of failing schools may increase charter school accountability, and encourage high performance.
In addition to holding charter schools accountable for high performance, several states offer technical assistance to ensure that charter school administrators understand how requirements are measured, and can be directed to resources to assist them with achieving performance goals, especially if they are at risk of closure due to failing to meet previously established standards.
These are clear displays of school accountability policies that help to ensure that parents have truly good schools from which to schools. Accountability relies not only on information for parents, but also consequences for schools that fail to educate students or use taxpayer dollars responsibly.
 The following states also require annual financial audits with their annual performance reports: Arkansas, Arizona, DC, Georgia, Hawaii, Oregon, Michigan, Texas, Utah
Utah requires the most comprehensive technical assistance offerings, provided by the state charter school board which includes: assistance with the application and approval process for charter school authorization, locating private funding and support sources, and understanding and implementing charter requirements.