Archive | Policy Wonks

Building blocks of educational choice – Lindsey Burke, podcastED

Lindsey Burke

Lindsey Burke

Last week, at the Republican National Convention, it was clear that school choice gives conservatives a positive way to talk about education policy.

But for people who typically want to keep the federal government out of education altogether, what does a national agenda look like?

On the latest edition of our podcast, Lindsey Burke, an education policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says there are ways Congress can promote educational choice without expanding the federal government’s role.

It can re-allocate existing pots of funding so they follow children to schools of their choice. It can also promote choice-friendly policies in areas where the federal government has clear jurisdiction, such as schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or the nation’s capital, where Congress will be looking to re-authorize a closely watched voucher program this year.

In an interview with Denisha Merriweather, an alumna of the Florida tax credit scholarship program who is now a school choice advocate and graduate student at the University of South Florida, Burke says she wants to see policies that go beyond school choice, allowing parents to customize the entire educational path for their children.redefinED-podcast-logo1

The foundation of that system, she hopes, will be education savings accounts, which allow parents to receive an amount of money — typically 90 percent of what the government would otherwise spend on their child — to cover K-12 educational expenses. They can spend it on individual courses, private school tuition, textbooks or education-related therapies, or save the money to pay for college. Continue Reading →

‘Improve your schools’ – Todd Ziebarth, podcastED

For critics of a report calling for changes to the way states fund and regulate virtual charter schools, Todd Ziebarth has a suggestion: Raise your academic performance.

“The best way to push back on this report is to improve your schools,” he said. “If you have schools that get much better results, we’re not even having this conversation about policy recommendations.”

Ziebarth is a senior vice president at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and lead author of the report, issued by three pro-charter organizations, which called out virtual charters for ” large-scale underperformance.”

Among other things, the report suggests states should limit the growth of virtual charter schools and only allow them to grow if they prove they can perform academically. And it finds virtual charters have signed up too many students who aren’t likely to succeed in a full-time online learning environment.

The pushback has come from online charter school operators and other supporters of the model, who argue they offer an important option that students choose voluntarily.

We unpack some of the report’s recommendations, and the reaction they’ve received, during the latest episode of our weekly podcast. Continue Reading →

It’s about the child, not the system: Jeb Bush, podcastED

Jeb Bush and Denisha Merriweather screenshot

Denisha Merriweather interviews former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on school choice, parent empowerment and the politics of education.

When it comes to politics, I’m not alone. Many members of my generation don’t align with either major political party. Our views don’t always fit the traditional left-right mold. But we also aren’t tied to the status quo. We are willing to break from tradition to make a difference.

Our willingness to embrace change is one cause for optimism that Jeb Bush said he found in this crazy political season. In a new interview, we talked about education politics, the importance of creating new educational options, and what politicians might learn if they spent more time in the classroom.

The former Florida governor says that on the campaign trail, he saw a backlash against some aspects of education reform. The solution, he said, is to use a bottom-up approach that puts more power in the hands of parents by giving them more choices and better information.

“If you start with the premise that this about educating children, and families are the most important political jurisdiction for their child – to be nerdy about it – the money would follow the child, not the school system,” he said.redefinED-podcast-logo1

One promising way to do that, he said, is to give parents education savings accounts, which will allow them to send their children to public schools or private schools, or to teach their children at home, or hire tutors and therapists, or even (my favorite) save for college. Continue Reading →

ESAs and equity: Why the educational choice movement needs the left

Educational choice advocates have urged caution amid early reports that show, so far, Nevada’s new, near-universal education savings account program seems to be attracting families who are relatively well-off.

They’re right to note these participation numbers reflect the “earliest of the early adopters.” It will take time for outreach efforts to inform low-income families about their new options, and to allow a new education marketplace to develop in the Silver State.

But the early participation data, and the debate swirling around it, also show why it’s important for the educational choice movement to cultivate support among people, especially those on the political left, who may be skeptical of the market forces ESA backers hope to unleash.

Supporters hope education savings accounts will allow new providers into the education system, while also allowing families to economize, thereby forcing schools to compete on price.

The hope is that market forces will ultimately propel a cycle of innovation that, even if it doesn’t draw large numbers of the most disadvantaged families into the program in the early days, will benefit them over time. Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute notes this is what happened with a number of consumer goods, including smartphonesContinue Reading →

With education savings accounts, parents need help navigating

There’s no doubt that the rise of education savings accounts represents a revolution in the definition of public education that generates lots of excitement in the wonky world of education reform.  ESAs can be seen as the ultimate libertarian triumph of the parental choice movement. Whether they succeed or fail will depend, above all else, on whether parents are satisfied.

It’s too soon to know whether ESAs in Florida and elsewhere are truly catching on with parents.  But will parents choose to customize their children’s education, essentially creating schools of one, or will they decide it’s a task better left to professional providers or, God forbid, bureaucrats?

Many ESA parents will want their kids to have an educational program that mirrors the structure of what they would have in public school, only better.  That is, they’ll want their kids to have physical education, art, music, maybe even dance and horseback riding, not to mention all the academic classes.   As a former educator and parent, even thinking about that prospect is exhausting.

Now, imagine adding to that the therapies and specialized instruction that comes with having a special needs child.  Then imagine being a low-income single parent and assembling an education for your child while trying to hold down a job.  Continue Reading →

Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Who grades the graders? Did school choice win in the mid-terms?

MrGibbonsReportCardCenter for Reinventing Public Education

The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) is an education research and policy analysis think tank at the University of Washington, Bothell. The organization’s research finds statistical support for charter schools and for reforming the way public education is operated and funded.

Back in August, CRPE released a working paper on the impact of charter schools on student achievement. Its meta-analysis of high-quality studies found charters tend to have a small but positive impact on student achievement in math, but no additional impact in reading.

By the end of September, the National Education Policy Center released a review of CRPE’s analysis, calling CRPE’s conclusion “overstated” and “exaggerated” and concluding the report offers “little value for informing policy and practice.” (Readers of this blog may already be familiar with NEPC’s reflexive bias against charter school and school choice studies).

Well, get out your popcorn because CRPE just released a devastating counter-critique. CRPE accuses NEPC of quoting selectively, implying arguments not present, inaccurately presenting the research and several serious technical errors. In total, CRPE counts 26 errors within NEPC’s 9-page analysis.

Grade: Satisfactory


School Choice Movement

Yogi Berra once quipped, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially ones about the future.” While true, it doesn’t stop political pundits from attempting to predict the future based on (sometimes unreliable) exit poll data. Following the drubbing Democrats (and the once powerful education unions) received in the mid-terms, many of those pundits began wondering if education choice would lead minorities, especially African Americans, over to the Republican camp.

Just check out some of the speculation (Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2, and Exhibit 3) about how the school choice issue hurt Democrats and helped Republicans (at least in Florida).

But whether Republicans can use education and school choice to win over black voters isn’t the right question. The better, and more important, question is whether the school choice movement can finally win over more Democrats…

Grade: Satisfactory


Continue Reading →

Mr. Gibbons’ Report Card: Never getting beyond the rhetoric while Americans United fumbles the facts

MrGibbonsReportCardJack Schneider and Julian Vasquez-Heilig:

Jack Schneider, an education historian and professor at Holy Cross, is correct that education and education reform are incredibly difficult policy arenas – perhaps even harder than rocket science, as he argues. This complexity is why some education reformers are wrong to think they can improve education by simply by passing another top-down mandate on public schools or by changing a cog in the proverbial ed-machine.


But Schneider descends into his own simplistic (and unrealistic) explanation of ed reform, including rhetorical flourishes about baking brownies and launching rockets.

Referencing Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’s foray into charter schools, Schneider says imagine “philanthropists deciding to apply lessons from their successes in domains like DVD rentals to ‘disrupt’ the NASA ‘monopoly.’” No billionaire would dare leave their area of expertise (like DVD rentals) to disrupt something as complicated as NASA, so why do that to education, Schneider appears to argue.

Yet private corporations like Virgin Galactic (founded by a guy with a record label), Blue Origin (founded by an online retailer) and Space X (founded by a cyber-cashier) are “disrupting” space exploration at this very moment.

Not surprisingly then, Schneider makes a fairly poor defense of school choice when he plays “Devil’s advocate” on his blog, “Beyond the Rhetoric,” as part of a discussion about vouchers and segregation with Julian Vasquez-Heilig, the director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at Sacramento State.


Schneider offered no resistance to Heilig’s slippery slope argument that vouchers will lead to socio-economic segregation. (Isn’t the current school zone system already segregated that way?) He fails to correct Heilig’s misstatement that “current case law suggests that private schools are able to discriminate based on race.” (They cannot; see Runyon v. McCrary). Worse still, both agree vouchers have a “sordid” racial history, without any recognition of the very real racist history of public education in America.

Grade: Needs Improvement

Continue Reading →

Carvalho: Florida needs to hit pause on school accountability

Superintendent Carvalho

Superintendent Carvalho

It is not lost to anyone these days that when it comes to educational accountability and more specifically, assessment, public opinion is being influenced by a number of factors and entities that, in some cases, merit consideration, understanding, and acceptance, and, in others, outright rejection.

First, we need to recognize that assessment, as a legitimate tool of accountability, exists only to inform and improve the teaching and learning process. Its use beyond that most legitimate purpose lends itself to misinterpretation of results, erroneous conclusions, perversion of the system itself, and potential harm to students, teachers, schools, and communities. These potentially unintended consequences are accentuated further when the accountability system itself is not inclusive of factors that intuitively and scientifically influence student and teacher performance.

Florida is currently one of many states facing educational reform debates, seen by some as driven too far by policy and ideology more imbedded in influential think-tank pronouncements than in common sense and peer-reviewed, research-based findings. Like a pendulum swung too far, the bounce back from that intentional push is now being felt with equal vigor and repercussion. In question here is nothing less than the validity, reliability, and even viability of the state’s accountability system.

The litany of changes in just a few years with irresponsible and uninformed implementation, devoid of consideration for the multi-stacked impact of so many simultaneous modifications, has left the public confused about the true performance of students. Meanwhile, educators at all levels are concerned, doubtful, and skeptical about both policy and its rollout timeline. The recent disconnect between reports of sinking school-grade performance, alongside improved student outcomes, has only added to the confusion and the heartbreak; particularly as it is the result of a simplistic view of student achievement amidst implementation of new standards, scale and cut scores, and end-of-course exams, all either introduced or deliberately modified with predictable consequences.

Some, in an expected defensive position, will say this is a necessary evolution for the sake of educational and economic competitiveness. Others will even suggest the push back is driven by special interest, or fear of change. To that, I submit that what is in question is not the need for better and more complex standards, or assessments better aligned with the needs and demands of the new economic reality. The debate is not reform, but the form and vehicle of this reform, and even the agents behind it. If there ever was a case of the “ends justifying the means,” or better, “by all means necessary,” one would find it through an honest observation of the educational policy, standards implementation, and assessment decisions made in Florida over the past few years. Simply put, the “What” has trumped the “How” with dramatic and unfortunately, avoidable consequences.

So, on the eve of the most dramatic shift since the inception of the FCAT or the transition to FCAT 2.0 in terms of standards and assessment, we ought to pause. We need to take time to honestly reassess previous and recent decisions and their consequences and have the courage to proceed on a path that is student- and teacher-centric. A path that can and must be a both and not an either-or proposition, unlike what the for-hire pundits say. A path that excludes politics, influence, ignorance, and extremism.

How shall we proceed then? Abandon accountability and assessment altogether? Continue Reading →