Great Recent Reform Reads

Mike McShane and Andrew Kelly of AEI have written a terrific new study commissioned by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Everyone interested in the changing ecosystem of K–12 schooling in urban America ought to give it a look. It investigates Catholic schools that converted to charter status in several cities. The authors compared changes in the converting schools to demographically similar private schools that didn’t convert. By comparison, in post-conversion schools, student enrollment grew substantially, particularly among minority students, though the influence on staffing was less clear. Interestingly, Catholic schools that didn’t convert benefitted financially by other schools’ conversion—the diocese had more funding to spread across fewer schools, and leasing buildings to the converted charter schools generated revenue. The study has other interesting findings related to branding and how conversions influence the market of options available to low-income urban families.

An interesting, important, and underreported Common Core story is that while political types have been debating issues of “whether,” countless others have been consumed with issues of “how.” That is, lots of educators and leaders at the district and state levels have been doing their utmost to ensure the standards are properly implemented. The Southern Regional Education Board has produced a thorough study of how 15 states are bringing the Common Core to life—through professional development, assessments, classroom resources, accountability measures, and more. You’ll probably be impressed by the work that’s being done, and if you’re a CCSS advocate, you’re likely to be frustrated that the bellicose debate is overshadowing, and in some cases undermining, all this work.

A new Education Next study on the “Texas Ten Percent Plan” (TTP) is particularly important in light of the recent Supreme Court decision on race-based affirmative action in higher education. TTP provides students in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes with automatic admission to any Texas public university (the policy was created when the state’s previous affirmative-action system was declared unconstitutional). The research finds that automatic admission appears to increase enrollment at flagship universities for students from urban districts that send relatively few students to college (though effects are concentrated in the district’s most-advantaged schools). Interestingly, the authors find little evidence that TTP leads to increases in the quality of colleges attended: increased enrollment in flagship universities is counterbalanced by enrollment decreases in comparable private institutions.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has a new and very helpful, if discouraging, issue brief. It summarizes the state-level legislation that requires the closure of persistently underperforming charter schools. Why discouraging? Legislatures have been forced to create these inflexible mandates because too many authorizers have been unwilling to do their jobs—that is, shutter charters that aren’t working. In my view, we should avoid fixing via statute what we should fix via better practice. This brief is highly informative, and, even better, it should serve to encourage better (read: tougher) authorizer action when charters don’t succeed.

If the path to “sustainable” K–12 change is through union collaboration, what’s to be made of the NEA’s new leader, who believes supporters of charters and vouchers are enemies of public education? Read about this and more in an eye-opening profile of Lily Eskelsen García.

-Andy Smarick

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

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