How to Get What You Want in Education Policy
School Choice Weekly #149
If you want to win at education policy, says education researcher Jay Greene, you need to know something about politics. Merely having a good idea is not enough to get people to go along with you, he says, citing the failures of Common Core, reform candidates, and linking teacher job security to student test scores. These ideas all had high support among wonks but met the brick wall of political reality, and thus died.
“Reformers have had a bad habit of being attracted to policies that do not generate constituents to protect or expand those programs,” Greene says. The way to win politically is to create constituencies whose self-interest is directly aligned with pushing for your policy: “No one ever held a rally to test kids more. No one ever held a rally to support test-based evaluations of teachers and schools. No one ever held a rally to increase the share of informational texts in reading standards or to ensure that uniform tests are aligned with a particular set of standards.”
It’s not just the technocrats on all sides of the policy spectrum who think this way--not just the Gates Foundations and Obama administrations. It’s also many conservatives. Many seem to think they can accomplish their policy goals by yelling “No” at every crazy thing the technocrats come up with. But, to paraphrase Greene, a pathetic number of people come to rallies to get the federal government out of education. Nobody ever came to a rally to get brain scanners out of education research. Nobody’s going to come to a rally to slash education spending.
Now, your faithful correspondent agrees with those goals. But if conservatives are going to spend time and money pursuing our own end-game for public education, we ought to be smart about it. We shouldn’t use the Gates Foundation’s bad strategy to oppose the Gates Foundation’s bad ideas. Gates may have billions of dollars at his disposal, but we don’t. So maybe it’s time to get smart about strategy so we can actually get what we want rather than continuing to scream up at the empty sky.
IN THIS ISSUE:
- ARIZONA: Which state made the biggest education gains in 2015? Arizona, according to newly crunched data, whose crunchers note Arizona also leads the nation in school choice.
- LOUISIANA: State Superintendent John White goes to bat for kids from whom the state has yanked voucher funding just as the school year begins, thanks to a budget squeeze. A new study finds giving the kids their vouchers would actually help solve the budget problem by saving the state money.
- INDIAN RESERVATIONS: A new mini-documentary highlights the abject conditions in schools on federally run Indian reservations, suggesting one solution is giving Native American children education savings accounts for their federal money.
- INDIANA: At this innovative network of private schools, companies help pay the $13,000 annual tuition in exchange for students working for them one day a week. To match students to their sponsors each year, the schools hold a “draft day” event modeled on the NFL.
- SOUTH CAROLINA: The state’s private tax-credit scholarship organizations have closed their doors and turned their operations over to one state-run organization.
- HOMESCHOOLING: Families explain why homeschooling among African Americans has doubled in the past decade. And homeschool families develop innovative types of schools.
- MISSISSIPPI: Poor, minority parents from two of Mississippi’s three charter schools have joined a court case in an attempt to protect their kids’ schools from rich liberal activists who oppose school choice.
- ALABAMA: Private schools could double their enrollment right now if the state passed a broader school choice program, a new survey finds. It also finds that two-thirds of private school leaders are very concerned about what kind of regulations the state would attach to such a program.
- POLLS: Public support for school vouchers is at just 50 percent, a new low in the annual Education Next poll; Republican support for vouchers has dropped, while Democratic support has increased. The poll contains trendlines for many other major education topics, including Common Core (which may have bottomed out), testing, and teacher pay.
- LAWSUITS: Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute gives a status update on the pending school choice lawsuits across the country.
- CHARTERS: Charter schools suspend students less often, educate more black but fewer Hispanic students, and serve fewer English language learners compared to nearby traditional public schools, finds a new study.
- TESTS: Tests are moving away from grading students based on how many questions they answer correctly and towards more complex measures that give unknown bureaucrats a lot more power over schools, explains a new study. This includes Common Core tests.
- MATH: How a war hero launched his own war against bad math instruction.
- ENGLISH: An award-winning veteran English teacher in Georgia details the Common Core English mandates’ “seven deadly sins.”
- FLORIDA: A group of families is seeking crowdfunding for a lawsuit against the state’s third-grade reading tests because the state is holding back students who refused to take the tests over opposition to Common Core. The families filed the suit last week.
- COLORADO: As the new school year begins, test results for the past one have finally come out, but the Common Core results still don’t provide enough data to know how kids have been doing for the past three years. And high numbers of middle- and high-school students again opted out of tests this spring.
- CORE KNOWLEDGE: E.D. Hirsch is out with a new book taking on persistent myths about curriculum. You know what that means: Reading time! Take a trip inside several schools to see the Core Knowledge curriculum in action. You’ll be amazed. (Note: The article incorrectly conflates Hirsch’s Core Knowledge program with Common Core.)
- NEVADA: The state’s Common Core contractor is refusing to release the test results for 200,000 students.
- ALABAMA: The new state superintendent “adamantly opposes Common Core.”
- GATES: The Gates Foundation is not backing down from its support for Common Core, says Melinda Gates, despite the public backlash over its top K–12 priority.
- OPT-OUT MOVEMENT: “The typical opt-out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” finds a new survey.
- ONLINE LEARNING: “Students appear to be better motivated to learn when they have an in-person, authentic relationship with a teacher and when they try to please that teacher by working hard to learn. Digital instruction or a human being on the other side of the internet may not be able to create that same relationship and motivation,” writes Jay Greene, citing recent, underwhelming research on the effects of online courses on student achievement.
- CALIFORNIA: Unions are agitating to permanently extend a “temporary” tax hike for schools despite research showing taxpayers think schools spend half what they do and that spending is not correlated with student achievement.
- NEW YORK: New evidence suggests politicians and bureaucrats are again cooking the books on student test scores to make it look like kids are performing reasonably well--but they aren’t.
- MICHIGAN: Next spring, the state plans to close 100 schools that have posted awful test results for years. Although this intervention for terrible schools has a better track record of helping children than switching personnel and programs, it’s not popular.
- MASSACHUSETTS: Boston taxpayers are going to pay $8 million to 100 teachers who aren’t working this year because union contracts require them to get paid even if schools have no work for them.
- PRESCHOOL: A new survey of the nation’s training programs for preschool teachers finds they focus on school-age children and ignore essential information about childhood development.
- OHIO: Cleveland teachers have voted to strike starting September 1. School has just begun.
- PERSONALITY TESTING: A new study finds “grit is barely distinct from other personality traits and that standardized test scores, attendance, and study habits are much better predictors of long-term success than grit.”
- TEACHER PAY: Why a new study that repeats the old claim teachers are underpaid is based on faulty logic and evidence. Another shows a main reason teachers don’t earn more is likely the fault of teachers unions--which demanded the outsized pension benefits that are now putting pressure on wages.
- ESSA: Here’s a helpful summary of proposed federal regulations on the Every Student Succeeds Act, the successor to No Child Left Behind.
Thank you for reading! If you need a quicker fix of news about school choice, you can find daily updates online at https://www.heartland.org/topics/education.