Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Thank you for visiting my blog

Thank you for visiting my blog. I sometimes don't have time to post here everything that I send to my school reform email list, so if you want to receive my regular (approximately once a week) email updates, simply send an email to schoolreform-subscribe@mailer.kasecapital.com.


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Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins; DeVos and Tax Credit Vouchers: Arizona Shows What Can Go Wrong

With Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration pushing school choice, I’d like to take a look at the debate. First, here are two NYT articles that are quite damning, followed by responses by my friend John Kirtley, a key player in Florida’s choice program, Matthew Ladner, Elizabeth Warren (from her 2003 book), Paul DiPerna in EducationNext, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of NY.


Here’s the first NYT article:

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins

The confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education was a signal moment for the school choice movement. For the first time, the nation’s highest education official is someone fully committed to making school vouchers and other market-oriented policies the centerpiece of education reform.

But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.

…This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It’s rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” — not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.

And here’s the second:

DeVos and Tax Credit Vouchers: Arizona Shows What Can Go Wrong

Steve Yarbrough is one of the most powerful men in Arizona. As president of the State Senate, he has promoted a range of conservative policies, including a tuition tax credit system that provides over $100 million per year to finance vouchers for private schools.

In his speech to Congress this week, President Trump singled out a young woman who attended private school using a tax credit-financed voucher. The president urged Congress to pass legislation that would provide similar benefits to millions of students.

But Mr. Yarbrough is not just a champion of tax credit vouchers. He also profits from them personally. The story of how that happened raises questions about President Trump’s campaign promise to spend $20 billion to increase school choice. There’s a strong chance that he’ll do that through tax credit vouchers — a mechanism that Betsy DeVos actively campaigned for before she became Mr. Trump’s education secretary.

…But the shell-game process of moving money from the public treasury to a donor to a nonprofit to a family to a private school makes it very difficult to account for how well those public dollars are ultimately spent.

Tax credit voucher policies vary among states, but most impose few requirements on the private schools that receive them. By contrast, many of the largest new direct voucher programs, where funds go straight from the government to the school, require private schools to administer the same tests given to students in public schools. That’s how researchers were able to determine that vouchers in some states are driving down student test scores to an unprecedented degree.




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John Kirtley's defense of vouchers

Here’s John Kirtley’s response:



First of all, I really appreciate the chance to respond. I have always valued your forum for its open exchange of ideas. 

Let me address the NYT article on the research.  There have been numerous columns in the Times and other media outlets attempting to discredit the empirical outcomes on private school choice. I would love for your readers to know the fuller picture.  Read the facts about credible research on private school choice here: http://www.federationforchildren.org/setting-record-straight-school-choice/ 

The bottom lineThere have been 15 gold standard empirical studies of private school choice programs that measure test score outcomes: 10 show improvement, 3 are neutral, and 2 are negative—and those two are only based upon results in early years of those programs.

Here is a link to a one page fact sheet on the research: 


Another thing to consider: the Louisiana program was designed in such a way that many higher quality schools might have been scared off from taking children, even though they had been inclined to. There is absolutely a need for academic and fiscal accountability in private school choice programs; however, the measures cannot be so onerous as to discourage high quality schools from participating.  Charter schools encounter the same issues in Florida--some operators say that they are discouraged from serving low income children because they aren't given enough time to turn around the kids before being shut down by districts. Even the fantastic KIPP school in Jacksonville needed time to turn around their kids. 


Regarding the NYT article on the Arizona scholarship organization: this piece shows how the design of tax credit scholarship laws is critical--just as it is with charter school laws. In my opinion and experience, a well-designed tax credit law will have the following characteristics:


* Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs), the non-profits that are allowed to receive tax credited funds, must be subject to strict fiscal accountability. Under Florida's law, SGOs must submit a clean audit every year by a legitimate third party CPA firm (we use McGladrey). SGOs are also audited by the state Auditor General every year. Officers and directors must undergo a background check and not have a business bankruptcy in the past seven years. Administrative funds are limited to three percent of the tax credited funds raised. Step Up For Students, the SGO that serves 99% of 100,000 children on the Florida program, was named by Charity Navigator as the third highest ranking charity in the country for fiscal accountability, governance, and transparency. 


* SGOs should not be able to serve a single school or subset of schools, and the should not be able to discriminate on the basis of religion. Under Florida's law, SGOs must award scholarships on a first come, first served basis after returning children. Parents may choose any qualified private school in the state, and the scholarships are portable to a different school if the first one doesn't work out. These measures ensure that a tax credit program is a true parental choice program, not a private school subsidy program. 


* Students must be given either the state assessment, or a nationally recognized norm referenced test, whichever the private school prefers. Private schools were already giving tests before our scholarship was created--the market demands it. Test scores must be reported to a research entity chosen by the state, and the results of the scholarship children must be made public (obviously subject to privacy laws). We have to know how the scholarship children are doing in order to justify the program to parents, policy makers and taxpayers. 


* Under Florida's law, private schools that take more than $250,000 worth of scholarship children must annually have a third party CPA look at their books and issue a report stating that the school is using the money for educational purposes. Any participating school must also provide evidence that their employees that deal with children have undergone background checks--something the private schools were already doing. 


With the right design and accountability, tax credit scholarship laws can be a vital tool in our fight to improve outcomes for low income children.  The average annual income of the children on Florida's program is $24,000 for a household of four; over 70% are minorities. They attend over 1,700 private schools of their parents' choice around the state. The scholarship has become just one of the many choice programs that parents choose in our state: we have magnets, charters, virtual schooling and dual enrollment with higher education. We have voucher programs for special needs children. But there are some children--especially low income children--that will only thrive in the environment that a private or even faith based school can provide. In Florida today, over 30% of the K12 children funded by the taxpayers do not attend their zoned school--and in the Miami Dade district it's over seventy percent! Why should we restrict the choices of poor parents?


It pains me so to see the choice movement splinter as it seems to be doing. Charter advocates should not oppose private school choice, and vice versa. How does it make sense to have a high performing charter school in NYC take over a building that was a Catholic school with a 99% graduation rate? As important, the political battles we must fight are much better fought together, as allies. Nothing makes the teacher union happier than to see the choice movement fight amongst itself.


I am not a private school advocate. I am a choice advocate. I am agnostic as to what kind of school a parent chooses. But I believe low income parents should be empowered to choose the best environment for their children, regardless of who runs it. The battle to empower parents has to be continually fought. The charter movement should never think (and I doubt it does) that the union will ever rest. Just two and a half years ago the Florida teachers union filed a lawsuit asking the courts to shut down the tax credit scholarship program and evict its 100,000 children from their schools. I beg your readers to watch this 60 second commercial BAEO aired about the suit, which shows over 10,000 parents and children--mostly minorities--who came to the distant state Capitol to march against the union: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=p9ZdN4jLhKE&feature=youtu.be


Within a month of the suit being filed, we had a formal coalition of over 100 of the state's most prominent African American ministers and over 100 Hispanic ministers denouncing the suit. 


As you watch that ad, don't you think we would be better off fighting together against the forces of the status quo, rather than fighting each other? I would also urge your subscribers to read this column by the principal of the school the President visited on Friday: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-principal-gives-trump-preview-of-school-20170302-story.html


Whitney, thanks again for the opportunity to address your readers. I really appreciate it.


I asked John: “Do you have any opinion on whether voucher/tax credit programs should be limited to low-income families and/or students trapped in failing schools, so it's not just a government handout to wealthier families (especially those who seek white and/or religious schools)?”


Here was his reply:


Yes, I have very strong personal opinions on that.


I got into the parental choice movement twenty years ago to help parents who do not have enough money to move to a neighborhood where the zoned school met their children's needs, or could not pay for an alternative. I don't worry about those fortunate parents who have the ability to do that already. So I fight for low income and middle class parents who can't make a choice. I would add that most private school choice laws are means tested, whereas I don't believe I've ever seen a charter law that is.


I strongly object to any law that restricts scholarships to children in "failing" public schools, for two reasons:


1) It's just too easy for these laws to end up not helping enough kids. In Florida, Governor Bush's A+ Plan (enacted in 1999) had a voucher program for children in "failing" public schools. A public school had to get two "F" grades in a four year period for the children to be eligible. In the first year of grading there were only 78 " F" schools in the state. This was out of over 3,000 public schools, when the graduation rate for black children was less than 50%. The next year? There were no schools in the state that received an "F". That doesn't mean the law was a failure; in fact, the mere threat of the voucher made many schools improve (there have been excellent studies on this). But that program never served more than a thousand children in a state with over two million public school children. It shows you how hard it is to make a choice program based on " failing" schools work. Again I would ask you--where is there a charter law where the children have to attend a failing public school to get in?


2) I don't believe that eligibility should be based on the overall performance of a school. You could have a child zoned to a high performing school, and it's just a terrible fit for them. Conversely, you could have a "failing" public school (by some formula), and it works great for some kids. In the early 2000's Northwestern High School in Miami was graded an "F" every year. But every year they sent kids to the Ivy League on scholarship. It sure wasn't a failure for those kids.


The bottom line is that in my opinion eligibility should be based on income. But I don't want to see the middle class left out. What if your'e a cop and a nurse with two kids in New York City? Should their family not be eligible?


I would ask you this question: why doesn't the charter movement demand that eligibility for charter schools be means tested or limited to children attending "failing" schools?


John also sent me a link to this article: Parents, the president and private school choice, https://www.redefinedonline.org/2017/03/parents-president-private-school-choice


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Kevin Carey Flashes Back to 2009 for a Wild West tax credit tale

Here’s Matthew Ladner’s response (on Jay Greene’s blog):

Kevin Carey Flashes Back to 2009 for a Wild West tax credit tale

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)


Kevin Carey is at it again- this time by flashing back to eight year old allegations about the Arizona tax credit program as a dire warning about the dangers of a federal tax credit. When these stories ran in 2009, here is what I had to say about it here on the Jayblog:

When presented with this type of information, the first instinct of some will be to deny it, to hunker down, to accuse our enemies of far greater misdeeds, or to otherwise try to put lipstick on a pig. Good luck with that.  It is blindingly obvious to me that Arizona’s tax credit is system is a good program overall that suffers from specific weaknesses that can and must be addressed.  Otherwise, writing articles like this one will become the journalistic equivalent of using a shot-gun to shoot fish in a bucket.

Since then, things have improved substantially, but Kevin did not get the memo. Here are a few items that Kevin left out:

Subsequent to 2009, the state enacted new legislation to require STOs to both consider financial need in the granting of scholarships, and to report to the Arizona Department of Revenue on the family income of recipients. When you examine the Arizona Department of Revenue Reports, you find that approximately 80 to 90 scholarship funds went to middle and low-income students. This not only is a more progressive distribution than many public schools and school districts, it beats the living daylights out of another Arizona tax credit for public school kids that overwhelmingly goes to advantaged public schools. Quite frankly it is likely that a large majority of private choice funds were going to middle and low-income children before the state required reporting. It’s just nice to have an Arizona Department of Revenue report that confirms it.

Carey wrote “Some states, like Alabama and Indiana, limit tax credit vouchers to low- and middle-income families, or to students who were previously enrolled in public school. But others, including Arizona, do not, subsidizing private education for the well-off.” Two of Arizona’s credits are means tested, and two are not. One of the two that is not means tested exclusively serves children with disabilities. I’ll be for completely means-testing private choice programs the very instant that Kevin gets means-testing passed for district schools. Until such time, let’s note for the record that the Arizona private tax credit programs serve provide far fewer dollars to “well off” kids than say, Scottsdale Unified. Someone please wake me up when the Times runs a breathless expose about rich kids getting exclusive access to fancy and abundantly funded public schools.

In addition to the state taking action, donors apparently expressed their displeasure with what they read about in the East Valley Tribune as well during the next donation cycle (see page 8.) If donors don’t like the way scholarship groups run their business, they have the option of not donating, or donating to other groups. 2010 was a rough year for scholarship groups. Decentralized accountability strikes again!

Reasonable people can disagree about the degree and extent of oversight and other devilish details in a program like this. Even we in the Wild West have to make adjustments on occasion, and the democratic process is ultimately pretty good at hashing these sort of things out. I’ll be happy to make my donation this April to help a low-income parent choose a school for their child.


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Elizabeth Warren's support for vouchers

Here’s an argument for vouchers from someone you might not expect, Elizabeth Warren (though it’s quite dated):


From “The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are (Still) Going Broke” (2003) by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi. Ms. Warren is now a U.S. senator from Massachusetts:

Any policy that loosens the ironclad relationship between location-location-location and school-school-school would eliminate the need for parents to pay an inflated price for a home just because it happens to lie within the boundaries of a desirable school district.

A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly. A taxpayer-funded voucher that paid the entire cost of educating a child (not just a partial subsidy) would open a range of opportunities to all children. . . . Fully funded vouchers would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.

We recognize that the term “voucher” has become a dirty word in many educational circles. The reason is straightforward: The current debate over vouchers is framed as a public-versus-private rift, with vouchers denounced for draining off much-needed funds from public schools. The fear is that partial-subsidy vouchers provide a boost so that better-off parents can opt out of a failing public school system, while the other children are left behind.

But the public-versus-private competition misses the central point. The problem is not vouchers; the problem is parental choice. Under current voucher schemes, children who do not use the vouchers are still assigned to public schools based on their zip codes. This means that in the overwhelming majority of cases, a bureaucrat picks the child’s school, not a parent. The only way for parents to exercise any choice is to buy a different home—which is exactly how the bidding wars started.

Short of buying a new home, parents currently have only one way to escape a failing public school: Send the kids to private school. But there is another alternative, one that would keep much-needed tax dollars inside the public school system while still reaping the advantages offered by a voucher program. Local governments could enact meaningful reform by enabling parents to choose from among all the public schools in a locale, with no presumptive assignment based on neighborhood. Under a public school voucher program, parents, not bureaucrats, would have the power to pick schools for their children—and to choose which schools would get their children’s vouchers.


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Leaping to Judgment on School Choice

Paul DiPerna’s response:

Leaping to Judgment on School Choice

By Paul DiPerna 03/02/2017


Contrary to recent editorials in some major U.S newspapers, the empirical research on school choice programs is far more positive than not. Summaries of the effects of multiple programs generally show positive effects, as does a meta-analysis of gold-standard experimental research on school choice by Shakeel, Anderson, and Wolf (2016). Participating students usually show modest improvements in reading or math test scores, or both. Annual gains are relatively small but cumulative over time. High school graduation and college attendance rates are substantially higher for participating minority students compared to peers. Programs are almost always associated with improved test scores in affected public schools. They also save money. Those savings can be used to increase per-pupil spending in local school districts. Studies also consistently show that programs increase parent satisfaction, racial integration and civic outcomes.

It’s true that recent studies have reported some initial negative effects on choice students’ test scores. The most sobering come from the rigorous, experimental evaluation of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP). The LSP has a different, much more restrictive regulatory framework for private schools than other choice programs. The negative results in math should be monitored, but it’s important to note that the evaluation is only in its second of seven planned years.

Broad perspective and context are essential. Negative initial findings in one or two locations, based solely on one performance metric, should not halt the creation or expansion of school choice programs in other parts of the country. Generalizing those findings across states is problematic because education is sensitive to state and local cultural, political, governmental and economic conditions. The many places where we have observed significant positive results from choice programs swamp the few where we have seen negative findings. We need to consider the complete research base and not disproportionately emphasize the most recent studies.



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How Trump Can Expand School Choice

Cardinal Dolan’s op ed in today’s WSJ:


How Trump Can Expand School Choice

A scholarship tax credit would put poor kids in good private schools—and relieve packed public ones.

By Timothy Michael Dolan

March 8, 2017 6:41 p.m. ET


While addressing Congress last week, President Trump called for passage of “an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth.” He added that families should be able to choose “public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home” schooling. These comments, and his subsequent visit to St. Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Fla., are encouraging. I hope Mr. Trump will push Congress to makes scholarship tax credits available to working-class families nationwide.

These programs provide tax credits for individuals or corporations that donate to nonprofit scholarship organizations. St. Andrew’s is a classic example of how students benefit. Some 300 students at the school receive scholarships through the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. Statewide, nearly 98,000 low-income children attend parochial or private schools thanks to this program.

I have seen firsthand why Catholic families and leaders support scholarship tax credits. They help advance educational and economic justice. They strengthen society by creating opportunity for those who might not otherwise have it. Recipients of the credits aren’t the only ones who benefit. Last year the Peabody Journal of Education reviewed 21 studies on how school choice affects test scores of nonparticipating students. Twenty concluded that competition led to improvements in affected public schools.

The taxpayer also saves money. Providing alternatives reduces both school overcrowding and costs. Public-school classrooms would not be able to handle the considerable influx of children if Catholic and other religious schools closed. We save the public money, and we educate children just as well, if not better, for half the cost when you compare Catholic school tuition with public school spending per pupil.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The argument FOR Betsy DeVos

Both Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), on whose board I serve, and I (personally) cannot support DeVos’s nomination – but I sincerely hope we’re wrong and that she surprises us. To that end, I’m going share this argument in her favor, made by Jim Blew, now at Student Success California, an experienced, smart and trusted friend:


I think you've mischaracterized Betsy's record, and I think she’ll be an outstanding Secretary of Education. As someone who has, as a Democrat, worked alongside Betsy since 2000, I can assure you that few, if any, other Republicans have done more to promote accountable school choice for low-income communities across the country. She has repeatedly stood up against laissez-faire advocates and insisted on focusing on students who, because of their economic situations, have no school options. She holds fast to designs that would 1) test the academic progress of scholarship recipients, 2) be transparent about the results, 3) close schools that aren’t cutting it, and 4) include tough financial controls for any school receiving public funds. It's crazy to me that she's being maligned as anti-accountability. 


We are facing serious issues with Trump, including his threat to indiscriminately deport the families of vulnerable students. The new president seems immature and dangerous, and I appreciate why we’d want to oppose him on every front. But Betsy is aligned with Democratic education reformers on most issues, in spite of the teacher unions' propaganda, especially compared to many of the people Trump could have nominated. We need to find a way to support the good while resisting the bad.


She's also bi-partisan and honest. She has taken real steps to make sure that Dems are at the table in Red States across the country. That includes pouring her and the American Federal for Children’s financial resources into electing DFERs.


If people believe her viewpoint must be warped because she's 1) a beneficiary of Amway's enormous wealth and 2) a white, conservative, evangelical Christian, let's talk about that. I appreciate the concerns. But I submit that her "different sensibilities" make her an even stronger advocate for the children who are currently getting screwed by our system.


I realize that some people are suspicious that billionaires who don’t need to do this work might have nefarious motives. I want to be respectful, but such people are either crackpots, over-zealous to defend the broken status quo, or just not thinking clearly. From my work with Besty, I’m convinced she has devoted herself to this work because she believes that what’s happening to millions of American children is just wrong. I've watched her in enough tough situations to be confident she's just as committed to helping low-income communities as we are. I wish more billionaires and Christians were like her.


As for the hearings last week, okay, she was not at her best, especially after the first 2.5 hours. It was ultimately political theater where she politely handled hostile queries from many of the panel’s Democrats, who were particularly testy because they felt they were being rushed (and then used half their time complaining about being rushed, instead of asking her questions). She didn’t exhibit mastery of IDEA, or of growth vs. proficiency, or of a half dozen issues that are so important to us policy wonks. I assure you, she is very smart and hard-working and perfectly capable of getting up to speed on everything coming at her. But let’s be clear: she was not wrong to resist the assumption that we should be regulating and “holding accountable” every school in the exact same manner. She was not going to agree that all schools in this country should end up having the same governance, rules, regs, unions, etc. as the default traditional urban school. I’m glad she didn’t.


Back on Michigan, the root of the accusation that she’s against accountability is last year's proposed amendments to the Michigan charter law, which Betsy’s Michigan team opposed. Groups like EdTrust Midwest and StudentsFirst thought it made sense, on balance, to give Mayor Duggan authority to rationalize charter authorizing in the city. On the other hand, Betsy’s team, along with the strongest charter authorizers and the charter school association, worried about whether a classic machine Democrat or future mayors could really be trusted with such power. But let’s be clear. Her opposition to Duggan's bill didn't mean she opposes accountability or improved authorizing. That's too simplistic. She just wants a solution that's protected from political meddling. She also thinks that Michigan's entire system of school accountability needs an overhaul, and that charter accountability should not be dealt with in isolation. I don't think her position is that unreasonable. 


Another point. Betsy isn't that involved in Michigan charter policy, and it's odd that people are trying to hang all of the state's charter school failures on her. That said, she knows well that there are a couple of for-profit providers in the state are failing children. We're all looking for a solution that would shut them down. (She also knows there are a lot of district providers who are failing children, and we’d all like to shut them down too.) She'd just like to do remove the bad actors without blowing apart the charter sector or killing off the for-profits that are providing decent schooling. It's actually a very tough, nuanced policy challenge, as well as a political one. Her team and allies are working sincerely on it. I hope we don’t all dismiss their proposed solution out of hand, especially if it’s one “flaw” turns out to be that it allows effective for-profit schools to continue operating.


Finally, I do hope you'll get to work with Betsy. My prediction is you'll find she's not nearly as awful as you now fear. You might even conclude, like me, that she's the only good thing so far about the Trump administration.


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Friday, November 18, 2016

DFER encourages no Democrat to accept an appointment to serve as Secretary of Education

DFER just released this statement:

In response to reports of Democratic candidates being considered in President-elect Donald Trump's search for a Secretary of Education, Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) President Shavar Jeffries released the following statement:

"It is, generally speaking, an honor for any person of any political persuasion to be asked by the President of the United States to consider a Cabinet-level appointment, but in the case of President-elect Trump, DFER encourages no Democrat to accept an appointment to serve as Secretary of Education in this new administration. In so doing, that individual would become an agent for an agenda that both contradicts progressive values and threatens grave harm to our nation's most vulnerable kids.

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Unions win and students lose in Massachusetts

A spot-on WaPo editorial:


Unions win and students lose in Massachusetts

November 10 at 7:28 PM


MASSACHUSETTS HAS long enjoyed a reputation as a national leader in education. A pioneer of school reform, it boasts a record of impressive student achievement. It was sad to see that reputation tarnished with the rejection in Tuesday's election of a measure that would have allowed for an expansion of public charter schools.

The state's existing charter schools have delivered strong academic results, and thousands of parents are on waiting lists in the hope of getting their children into one of these schools. Unfortunately, those facts got lost in a campaign of disinformation waged by the philosophical foes of charters, primarily the public teachers unions that see the issue in terms of threats to unionized jobs.

At issue was a ballot measure that asked whether the state should be allowed to approve up to 12 new charter schools or larger enrollments at existing charters each year, not to exceed 1 percent of the statewide public school enrollment. Only nine communities would have been affected, and it initially seemed the measure would be approved. But debate became inflamed with a pricey ad war that became a proxy for the national debate about charters. It also became partisan: Republicans made it all about the ideology of choice, and Democrats claimed it would undermine public education.

In fact, charter schools are public schools, and they take money away from traditional schools only in proportion to the number of students they attract. Not all charters succeed any more than all traditional schools succeed. But Massachusetts, with a rigorous approval process, is noted for the high quality of its charter schools, and especially in poor city neighborhoods they have performed well. It seems more than odd for people who call themselves progressive to celebrate the denial of an option that poor parents desperately want.

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Trump Set to Shift Gears on Civil Rights, ESSA, Says a K-12 Transition-Team Leader

I do not feel much optimism re. President Trump, either in general or in the area of education, but hope he surprises me. Here's an article about this ed plans:



Trump Set to Shift Gears on Civil Rights, ESSA, Says a K-12 Transition-Team Leader

President-elect Donald Trump will work to ensure "a new way of how to deliver public education" that focuses on educational entrepreneurship and strong public and private school options, according to a leader of Trump's presidential transition team responsible for education.

Gerard Robinson, a research fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and former state chief in Florida and Virginia, also said Wednesday that Trump will "streamline, at least" the U.S. Department of Education. And a Trump administration will likely take a significantly different approach than President Barack Obama's administration when it comes to contentious spending rules under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Trump could also discard another key piece of the Obama education legacy: The president-elect could significantly curb the role of the department's office for civil rights when it comes to state and local policies, according to Robinson, and thereby return that office's role more to how it operated under Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. That could have a big impact on everything from action on school-discipline disparities, to transgender students' rights. Robinson also said that he expects the office for civil rights to ensure that students' rights are not "trampled on."

But Robinson expects states to have a great deal of flexibility in the ESSA acountability plans that they submit to the Trump administration starting early next year—significantly more than they enjoyed under Obama-era waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, which ESSA replaces.

"This is a great time to be a state chief," Robinson said, adding at the same time that, "I don't want state chiefs to think that when they turn those [plans] in that, 'Oh, well, these will just get approved.'"

Robinson is leading Trump's transition team for education along with Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Robinson's comments about the proposed ESSA spending rules known as supplement-not-supplant indicate that anything the Obama administration does before the president leaves office in January could be rescinded. Republican lawmakers, who will continue to control Congress, have said Obama proposals on that score have been far too restrictive on states and districts.

"I think [Trump's] secretary of education will handle it differently than what we've seen from [current Secretary] John King" regarding those rules, Robinson said.

However, when it comes to ESSA in general, Robinson said he believes Trump views the law as a result of a "bipartisan coalition" and that the president-elect won't get too heavily involved in ESSA's rollout.

As for that $20 billion school choice plan Trump pitched on the campaign trail? Robinson indicated it represents the start of discussions about the issue for Trump.

"We still have to have negotiations with members of the House and the Senate to make that happen," he said. "But the fact that he put that out there ... I think it's a good way to start the conversation. Whether it's $20 [billion] or not remains to be seen."

More generally, Robinson said, "I see him supporting public and private choice-based programs. I see him supporting blended learning models, alternative learning models."

And remember those Trump pledges that he would get rid of the Common Core State Standards?

"To be determined. But he will expect his secretary of education to have something to say about common core," Robinson said, adding that the same goes for early-childhood education issues.

In addition to school choice and entrepreneurship, Robinson said financial accountability for higher education, in particular, would be the another key piece of Trump's approach to education policy. He said Trump will likely want to continue significant investments in colleges and universities, but also closely track how well graduates do in the labor market, among other indicators. 

Robinson brushed off the idea that he might be interested in becoming Trump's education secretary himself, saying he's happy working at AEI. But he indicated that Trump could cast a wide net in his search for the next secretary (assuming, Robinson conceded, that Trump does not move to eliminate the department as a cabinet-level agency.)

The search for a new secretary could include governors, state chiefs, and local superintendents, or Trump could "move outside and pick someone from the private sector, who may not have worked in education directly, but may be involved in philanthropy or some kind of reform." Robinson said.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Heart-breaking appeal

Ryan Hill, who founded and runs KIPP in NJ, just sent me this heart-breaking appeal. I just donated $250. Please do what you can – they're still $10,000 short of what they need:


Hi Whitney,


We need your help.


One of our 8-year-olds was brutally murdered alongside her family on Saturday. The remaining family members (grandmother and aunt) really need financial support.  Any chance you could email this out?




Here's an article about it:




The details are worse than what's been reported. This is the worst thing I've encountered in all my years working in Newark and NYC.

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Cory Booker reflects on the election

I am still collecting my thoughts and trying to come to grips with the unexpected and grim results on Tuesday night, but in the meantime I drew some strength from what Cory Booker posted on Facebook (my prediction: Cory will be elected President four years from now):


Early Morning Thoughts on Today, November 9th.

This is not a time to curl up, give up or shut up.
It is time to get up; to stand up, to speak words that heal, help, and recommit to the cause of our country.
We had an election defeat, but we are not defeated. 
We hurt, we fear, we may even regret that we did not do more.
But character is not defined, forged or built in good times.
The fire of adversity forges our steel.
And the searing heat of defeat reveals what we are made of.
We tell our truth not in what happens to us but in how we react – how we face a setback; how we rise when knocked down; how we work through fatigue and frustration; how we bring grit to our grief and heart to our hurt. 
The will of a patriot is indomitable.
I regret that we have but one life to give to our country.
And thus, as long as we have breath in our bodies and blood in our veins, nothing can stop us from serving, helping, sacrificing and struggling for the cause of America - a cause that is 240 years old, a cause greater than our pain, sorrow, or fears - a cause that has seen agony, loss, setback, and defeats – but one that has never, ever surrendered. 
We are shaken, but our will must be firm. 
This finite defeat will not end our infinite hope - in us, in America, in all her people no matter what their faith, race, or political party. 
Our light is inextinguishable, no matter how much darkness we face. 
We must be brilliant now, when it is needed most, not a dim, dull capitulation to the gloom that abounds. 
We are prisoners of hope - knowing hope and faith do not exist in the abstract; they are the active conviction that frustration and despair will never have the last word.
So let us stand up today. Let us pledge allegiance to our nation with renewed conviction and courage. 
Let us be determined to reach out to our fellow countrywomen and men.
Let us encourage others.
Let us be gracious.
Let us seek to build bridges where they have been burned.
Let us seek to restore trust where it has been eroded. 
Let us stand our ground but still work to find common ground. 
Let us be humble and do the difficult work of finding ways to collaborate and cooperate with those whose political affiliations may differ from ours. 
But let us never, ever, surrender, forfeit, or retreat from our core values, our fundamental commitments to justice over prejudice; economic inclusion over poverty and unmerited privilege; and, always, love over hate. 
Let us speak truth to power; fiercely defend those who are bullied, belittled, demeaned or degraded; and tenaciously fight for all people and the ideals we cherish.
It is a new day. 
We love our country; we will serve it, defend it, and never stop struggling to make its great promise real for all. 
And no one gets a vote on that.

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Education-related ballot initiatives

This article (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/11/09/massachusetts-charter-schools-georgia-school-takeovers-how-voters-decided-four-key-ballot-questions/) summarizes the four education-related ballot initiatives that were decided on Tuesday. The key one was Prop 2 in MA, which would have allowed the expansion of charter schools, which lost by a wide margin (62%-38%). This was a big disappointment and the unions are crowing – but if anyone lost big on Tuesday, it was them.


I fear Trump will be a nightmare for the U.S. (but I hope I'm wrong and he exceeds my very low expectations), but I'm quite certain that he (and the Republican-controlled Congress, Supreme Court, etc.) will be a total nightmare for unions in general (about which I am very unhappy) and, in particular, the teachers unions (about which I have mixed feelings).


I am not anti-union – in fact, I think the precipitous decline of unionization in the private sector since ~1970 (from over 30% of the private sector workforce to under 7% today; it's been fairly steady at about 1/3 of the public sector workforce) has been a calamity for the U.S.: a major contributor to job losses, stagnating wages, widening income inequality, etc. – but I am for sure against teachers unions using their power to screw kids – like denying them high-quality charter schools (those in MA are the best in the country).

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Students' perspective on Trump election

If you (like me) are feeling sorry for yourself (and our country), please take a moment and imagine the alientation, fear and terror being felt right now by immigrants (whether legal or not) and especially by their children. A friend's son is a Teach for America teacher in Dallas and sent this (photos of what four of his students wrote are below):


Subject: Wanted to share


Imagine having to get up in front of 6 classes, each comprised of 30 or so 8th grade terrified, mostly Mexican students today to teach lessons in American civics & democracy. I'm so sickened & so so so sad.








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Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Whit's wager, but too late now

With the polls tightening, many folks believe Trump is going to win (or at least has a 50/50 chance). If you're one of them (or know someone who is – if so, please forward this email to them), then here's your last chance to make a friendly wager to benefit the charity of your choice if your prediction comes true tomorrow.

I currently have made three bets totaling $10,510 that Hillary will win the election, and am willing to take $50,000 of action (i.e., another $39,490).

The bet is simple – no odds, just straight up: if Hillary wins, you make a donation to my favorite charity (KIPP charter schools), and if Trump wins, I make a donation to your favorite charity.

Just email me and name the amount you'd like to wager.

Full disclosure: pretty much every poll and betting site has Hillary at least a 2:1 favorite, so I think I'm making a bet in which the odds are good that you will be making a donation to my favorite charity, not the other way around. So why might you accept this unfair bet I'm offering? I can think of four possible reasons:

A) Why not? It's for charity!

B) You think the polls and betting sites are wrong, and that the odds are actually in your favor.

C) You support Hillary and/or hate Trump and would be devastated if he wins, so this bet hedges that outcome: amidst your misery on Wednesday, you can at least be happy that your favorite charity will get a nice donation.

D) You support Trump and would be thrilled if he wins, so this bet would be icing on the cake: dancing on my grave would feel so good!


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Fortune - more on -- bull case for Trump

Never let it be said that I won't present a point of view contrary to my own. Fortune has two articles making the bull and bear case for Trump. Here's Anthony Scaramucci with the bull case:

For the past 30 years, the political establishment has failed the American people. Poorly negotiated and lazily enforced trade deals have caused jobs to flee the heartland. Misguided economic and tax policies have hampered growth, allowing the rich to become richer while turning the middle class into the working poor. Trillions of dollars spent on foreign wars have done nothing to make Americans feel safer at home.

Given that Hillary Clinton is the embodiment of failed establishment politics, it's no wonder her campaign has sought to make the election about personal suitability. But Americans are tired of political games and false promises from Washington. Donald Trump is not a career politician, and so that has created its own level of surprise and diversion from his core message and policies. But this election remains all about policy—and Donald Trump's pro-growth economic plan and pragmatic social platform represents a more prosperous way forward for the country.

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Fortune - Scaramucci with the bull case

I actually think Scaramucci makes some good points: Washington is indeed broken, our economic growth isn't what it should be, our tax system does need an overhaul, etc. (He could have written this exact article four years ago on behalf of Mitt Romney, whose intelligence, moderation and character I'll admit I've only recently come to appreciate.) Scaramucci's problem is his candidate: a totally defective human being who, other than apparently loving his children, has not a single other redeeming quality – an obvious sociopath, madman and con man. Roger Lowenstein does a nice job of pointing this out:

Warren Buffett says that if you've been playing poker for thirty minutes and don't know who the patsy is, the patsy is you.

America, wake up: Don't be Donald Trump's patsy.

In episode after tawdry episode, the people who've done deals with this guy have come out losers. His investors in casino companies? They got hosed. The contractors he hired to build those projects? They got stiffed. The students in his so-called Trump University? Allegedly defrauded. Charities that counted on him? They got bupkis.

Sure, Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate. But this election is not about Hillary. It's about whether America will put its trust in a 21st century version of a carnival fraud—a patent-medicine salesman who brags of suckering the people he deals with.

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Charter school - Schools That Work

STOP THE PRESSES! The NYT's newest op ed columnist, David Leonhardt, wrote a tremendous story about charter schools last week, with a focus on the Match charter school in Boston. Here's an excerpt (full story below):

Charter schools — public schools that operate outside the normal system — have become a quarrelsome subject, of course, alternately hailed as saviors and criticized as an overrated fad. Away from the fights, however, social scientists have quietly spent years analyzing the outcomes of students who attend charter schools.

The findings are stark. And while they occasionally pop up in media coverage and political debates about charter schools, they do not get nearly enough attention. The studies should be at the center of any discussion of educational reform, because they offer by far the clearest evidence about which parts of it are working and which are not.

The briefest summary is this: Many charter schools fail to live up to their promise, but one type has repeatedly shown impressive results.

Hannah Larkin, the principal at Match, refers to such schools as "high expectations, high support" schools. They devote more of their resources to classroom teaching and less to almost everything else. They keep students in class for more hours. They set high standards for students and try to instill confidence in them. They focus on giving teachers feedback about their craft and helping them get better.

"My mother has been teaching forever. My father has been teaching for 10 years," Christopher Perez, a physics teacher at Match, told me. "They don't get observed. I get observed every week and have a meeting about it every week."

While visiting Match, I was struck that teachers hardly seemed to notice when I ducked into their rooms, midclass, to watch them. They are obviously used to having observers. They welcome it, as a way to improve.

The latest batch of evidence about this approach is among the most rigorous. Professors at M.I.T., Columbia, Michigan and Berkeley have tracked thousands of charter-school applicants, through high school and beyond, in Boston, where most charters fit the "high expectations, high support" model.

Crucially, the researchers took several steps to make sure the findings were real. They compared lottery winners with losers, controlling for the fact that families who applied for the lotteries were different from families who didn't. They also counted as charter students all those who enrolled, including any who later left.

When you talk to the professors about their findings, you hear a degree of excitement that's uncommon for academic researchers. "Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance — class sizes, tracking, new buildings — these schools are producing spectacular gains," said Joshua Angrist, an M.I.T. professor.

Students who go to Boston's charter schools learn reading and math better and faster than students elsewhere. They are more likely to take A.P. tests and to do well on them. Their SAT scores are higher than for similar students elsewhere — an average of 51 points higher on the math SAT. Many more students attend a four-year college, suggesting that the benefits don't disappear over time.

The gains are large enough that some of Boston's charters, despite enrolling mostly lower-income students, have test scores that resemble those of upper-middle-class public schools. The seventh graders at the Brooke Charter schools in East Boston and Roslindale fare as well on a state math test as students at the prestigious Boston Latin school, the country's oldest public school and a school with an admissions exam.

A frequent criticism of charters is that they skim off the best students, but that's not the case in Boston. Many groups that struggle academically — boys, African-Americans, Latinos, special-education students like Alanna — are among the biggest beneficiaries. On average, notes Parag Pathak, also of M.I.T., Boston's charters eliminate between one-third and one-half of the white-black test-score gap in a single year.

And here's an update he published today:

Two administrators at Match High School in Boston were taking me on a tour of the school, and our first stop was the 9th grade English class taught by Ashley Davis. We entered the room quietly and stood by the door.

It immediately became clear that the administrators wished they had picked a different class to show me.

Ms. Davis's class was listening to a recorded reading of Toni Morrison's first novel, "The Bluest Eye," and we had arrived in the midst of a rape scene, full of descriptions of genitalia. The administrators looked at me with a mix of embarrassment and regret. I pretended to be more comfortable than I actually was.

And the students? They kept their heads down, reading along at their desks with their copies of the book. Many looked transfixed, others slightly bored. None giggled or smirked.

The scene ended, and Ms. Davis stopped the tape. "I just want to praise you for your maturity," she told the class. She snapped several times in quick succession, which is Match's version of applause, because it's less disruptive than clapping. She told them to answer some questions on a work sheet – to help them calmly absorb what they had just heard, she later explained to me – and then led a class discussion.

I wrote about Match in a column this weekend. It's one of the Boston charter schools delivering impressive results to mostly lower-income students. I wanted to use today's newsletter to tell you about Ms. Davis's English class because it underscores two big sources of Match's success.

First, although the place oozes optimism, it also strongly emphasizes basic decency, calmness and respect – no easy goals with teenagers. Michaela Notice, a senior at the school, says that when she is on Snapchat and sees snippets from other Boston high schools, she often thinks, "Match would never tolerate that."

Second, Match takes the art of teaching very seriously. In the back of Ms. Davis's class that day was her mentor, a teacher with several years more experience. They regularly talk about how to get better at their jobs, with a frankness that's underscored by a confidence in each other's abilities.

Even the principal engages in public reflection and self-criticism, standing up in faculty meetings to talk about her missteps. "If she can acknowledge where she's been messing up," Ms. Davis told me, "I should be able to, too."

There is no one secret to Match's success, but honesty – even uncomfortable honesty – is clearly crucial.

Schools That Work


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