The right is well-positioned to lead on education. The left’s intimate ties with unions, public bureaucracies, and higher education have turned it into the apologist and paymaster for the education establishment. The right, meanwhile, is free to reimagine institutions and arrangements in ways the left is not. Moreover, as the left has found itself defending woke excesses, conservatives are put in a position to defend broadly shared values.
America’s schools face unprecedented challenges. Massive learning loss followed a decade of academic stagnation. Parents say they want more options and schools are scrambling to find staff. There’s a lot of work to be done.
Yet, when it comes to K–12 schooling, conservatives have been far better at explaining what we oppose than what we favor. Indeed, it can seem like the list of what we’re for can begin and end with “school choice.” That’s a good start, but it’s not enough—for families, communities, or conservatives hoping to reassure voters they’re more focused on practical solutions than MAGA performance art.
The irony is that the right is well-positioned to lead on education. The left’s intimate ties with unions, public bureaucracies, and higher education have turned it into the apologist and paymaster for the education establishment. The right, meanwhile, is free to reimagine institutions and arrangements in ways the left is not.
Moreover, as the left has found itself defending woke excesses, conservatives are put in the position to defend broadly shared values—speaking up for all those who don’t think America was founded as a “slavocracy,” who don’t think personal responsibility is a legacy of “white supremacy culture,” or who reject schemes to cut parents out of sensitive conversations around students’ gender identity.
In short, a commitment to educational excellence and core values should proceed hand-in-hand, precisely because those who’d use schools to promote ideological agendas are a threat to rigorous learning and respectful discourse.
How to do that?
Well, there’s a lot to do, but here are four places conservatives should start—recently outlined in a new volume of conservative policies from the American Enterprise Institute, “American Renewal”—in addition to school choice.
Promote transparency and accountability
Choice empowers parents. So does information.
Parents need more visibility into how schools are doing.
During the pandemic, for instance, state assessments proved invaluable in showing the devastating consequences of school closures. Maintaining and improving state assessments for reading and math are essential places to start. But transparency regarding academic outcomes is only the beginning.
Another crucial kind of transparency is curricular transparency, which enables parents to see what’s being taught. Today, it can be remarkably difficult for a parent to find out, with parental requests for information too often met by vague or misleading “frameworks,” bureaucratic resistance, onerous record request fees, or even lawsuits filed by school districts or teachers unions.
States should ensure that parents can access curricula at the beginning of the school year, before they enroll their children, an approach which also promises to minimize clashes during the school year.
If we’re serious about combating learning loss, schools need to get serious about instruction.
Schools need to embrace the science of reading and ditch the half-baked foolishness that often masquerades as reading instruction. In an era of ubiquitous remote learning, every qualified high school student should have access to a full suite of Advanced Placement offerings.
It’s especially challenging to attract teachers equipped to teach science, math, or computing—largely because they have exceptionally lucrative nonteaching opportunities; respect for labor force realities would suggest altering salary schedules accordingly.
State and school system leaders should prioritize expanding the International Baccalaureate program, K–8 gifted offerings, and high-caliber opportunities in areas such as robotics and music—and incorporate information on local offerings, the number of participating students, and the relevant outcomes into state reporting systems.
Get serious about career and technical education (CTE)
Apprenticeship and career and technical education programs can engage students and expose them to exciting professional opportunities. Dual-enrollment options allow high school students to enroll in postsecondary courses—either at a local campus or remotely—to accrue college credits, reduce the cost of a degree, and explore intellectual challenges beyond those available on a high school campus.
State and federal officials can emphasize the importance of CTE and help remove bureaucratic and logistical impediments that otherwise get in the way. One promising model is Louisiana’s “Fast Forward” program, featuring fast-track professional certifications created by partnerships between school systems, business, and community college.
Teacher pay and professionalism
Everybody thinks teachers should earn more. After all, after-inflation teacher pay hasn’t budged for a half-century—even as real per-pupil spending has more than tripled.
That’s because schools have added teachers and nonteaching staff a lot faster than they’ve added kids.
To really boost pay, we need to stop adding bodies and start rethinking what teachers do. In a well-run auto repair shop, for instance, someone other than a skilled mechanic spends time filling out paperwork and negotiating with insurance companies. Schools could benefit from that same good sense, ensuring that skilled teachers spend more time on things that matter for kids.
Ventures like New York–based “New Classrooms” or Charlotte-based “Opportunity Culture” offer intriguing models that can lead to dramatically higher teacher pay and the chance for effective, experienced teachers to spend more time putting their skills to work and taking control of their professional path.
For decades, Democrats have enjoyed a sizable advantage on education policy.
Today, the left is stuck defending unions that kept schools closed, bureaucrats who demand more while delivering less, and ideological extremism in kindergarten curricula. Conservatives are positioned to speak up for common sense and practical solutions, which is the kind of school reform Americans actually need.
Editor’s note: This was first published in The Hill.
Early in my career, I taught high school in North Carolina. One of the coolest things we did was partner annually with the local Habitat for Humanity team. Each year, students in my school’s construction-trades classes built a modular home from the ground up, doing the masonry, carpentry, electrical work, plumbing—all of it. Fall found them toiling away on the foundation and framing, struggling to get the roof on before winter.
Students back then didn’t have the opportunity to earn an industry-recognized credential in construction or any other field. Today, these certifications, conferred by businesses, industry groups, or states, attest to a student’s knowledge and skills in a particular domain. High school students earn credentials most often through career and technical education.
While it’s encouraging that more than half of states now include attainment of these certifications in their school accountability systems, there’s more they could do to help these programs live up to their potential. A recently commissioned study authored by the University of Texas’s Matt Giani and commissioned by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute points out some areas for improvement.
One key problem the study found is that many students who earn industry-recognized credentials don’t end up employed in the industry most closely aligned to them (if they enter the workforce) or major in related fields (if they attend college).
It’s discouraging and more than a little baffling. Why would students go to the trouble of earning an industry credential that they don’t plan to use, at least not immediately?
Student focus groups provided some surprising answers. It seems that high schoolers value career and technical education in ways that policymakers aren’t recognizing. Some said they took CTE courses solely to explore new interests, not necessarily to attain a credential—but also because they found their other classes dull. This tracks research that shows high schoolers are bored out of their minds—but consider CTE classes more interesting than other courses. One Michigan survey reports that students find CTE particularly attractive, since they get to “spend half of the day away from high school.” An analysis of a popular federal dataset reveals that taking CTE courses in the sciences is linked to increased engagement at school, particularly for low-income students.
On the flip side, some in the focus groups said taking CTE classes helped them decide what they weren’t interested in—like the cosmetology student who enjoyed the program’s collaborative nature but discovered she hated cutting hair.
Still others enrolled in credentialing programs with a practical interest in a field that already appealed to them, or wanted to acquire loosely related workplace or general life skills. A student in the automotive technology program, for instance, planned to become a veterinarian but, hailing from a family of mechanics, didn’t want to pay someone else to fix her car. Another, who planned to go into real estate, thought enrolling in a construction program could help him flip houses on the side. A third, who signed up for culinary arts, simply wanted to learn how to cook.
Given this variety of motivations, schools could use a more flexible system that acknowledges student intent. One sensible solution is to offer exploratory courses, followed by a hierarchy of credentials that differentiates among the type and purpose of each.
Exploratory courses would not count toward a credential, but simply give curious students a taste of what a field is all about and a chance to roll up their sleeves. Starting these courses in middle school would allow older students to maximize their high school years.
Level 1 of the hierarchy would accommodate students who have a practical interest in obtaining an entry-level credential but aren’t necessarily looking to build upon it. This category would include job safety and general work readiness—including basic first aid, word processing, and financial literacy—and could encompass certifications from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Microsoft, and the American Red Cross.
Level 2 would appeal to students who have at least some interest in a specific field and might want to augment it. These certifications would be stackable, meaning that initial skills in, say, computer science, health care, and manufacturing could be expanded via subsequent certifications. For instance, relevant certifications in manufacturing technology might begin with electrical maintenance, then progress to industrial electronics, then to mechatronics. Likewise, manufacturing production might begin with certification in basic welding, then welding fabrication, then metal fabrication.
Level 3 would meet the needs of students who’ve decided on an occupation. It would comprise capstone credentials that demonstrate mastery and truly advance careers. In radiology, for instance, that would mean a radiologic science management bachelor’s degree, potentially earned after attaining a limited medical radiologic technologist certificate and a radiologic technology associate degree. This type of hierarchy would better reflect how students think about and approach CTE courses and credentials. It would also help point the way to high-skill, high-wage, and in-demand occupations, which often sound good in theory but lack pathways to take students there.
Editor’s note: This was first published by The 74.
There was a remarkable moment near the end of last week’s ExcelinEd conference in Salt Lake City—one that I never would have thought possible and might have scoffed had someone predicted it, even a few short years ago.
Emily Hanford of American Public Media had just addressed a plenary session of nearly 1,000 education policymakers in a crowded ballroom describing her new podcast, Sold a Story, which follows several years of her reports on the foundational “science of reading.” She described how some of the most popular—and most profitable—approaches to reading instruction in American elementary schools disregard what we know about how children learn to read.
The meeting broke up with a warm round of applause. As attendees started speaking among themselves and heading for the exits, ExcelinEd’s normally circumspect CEO Patricia Levesque stepped to the mic and fired a parting shot. “You all now know that there is something in our schools that’s doing harm to our children, so what are you going to do about it?” she challenged the crowd of policy advocates and elected officials. “Fountas and Pinnell? Lucy Calkins? Reading Recovery and Levelled Literacy Instruction? Get them out of your schools!”
Curriculum and pedagogy have historically taken a backseat to policy prescriptions at most major ed reform conferences, so to see reading instruction get plenary session treatment is a strong indication of a change in the weather. Meanwhile, something approaching panic is settling over the targets of Hanford’s podcast, which Levesque singled out in her cri de coeur. Over the weekend, Calkins was among fifty-eight self-styled literacy greatswho signed a critique of Hanford’s podcast that read like a clemency petition. It expressed dismay that Sold a Story creates “a false sense that there is a war going on between those who believe in phonics and those who do not. Systematic phonics instruction is essential.”
University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham captured the mood of many in a Twitter thread responding to the defensive and disingenuous letter, noting that to call the importance of systematic phonics instruction “settled” or characterize the debate as “fabricated” strains credulity. “The whole point of the podcast was that two of the most popular reading programs in the U.S. did NOT treat it as a settled issue,” he wrote.
Advocates for scientifically sound literacy instruction, both in the classroom and in statehouses, clearly have the whip hand: At least twenty-nine states have adopted or are weighing measures aimed at aligning classroom practice with the science of reading, including teacher preparation, teacher certification, and license renewal. At least two states, Arkansas and Louisiana, have banned curriculum that includes “three-cueing,” a discredited teaching technique that encourages students to guess at unfamiliar words instead of sounding them out. As Hanford explains in Sold a Story, three-cueing resembles habits formed by poor readers, not proficient ones.
It is fair to be skeptical that effective classroom practice can be legislated from statehouses. As my AEI colleague Rick Hess often notes, it’s easy to get people to do things, but hard to get them to do it well. Hanford sounded a similar caution to her audience of policymakers. “Just banning something isn’t enough. We have a lot of laws on the books that aren’t accomplishing what they’re supposed to. There are lots of unintended consequences,” she explained. “Don’t let that happen in your states.”
It is also fair to note that there’s very little about the science of reading that has not been known by researchers for quite some time. The current enthusiasm owes much to Hanford, whose breakthrough achievement has been to demonstrate how teachers and school administrators are not sinners, but have been sinned against by ideological schools of education and self-interested commercial publishers. This makes doubly significant her high-profile appearance at ed reform’s biggest conference and her warm embrace by policymakers.
For decades, the implicit logic of standards and test-based reform has been that teachers know what to do; policymakers’ role is to hold them accountable for doing it well. But if teachers have been “sold a story,” then that logic model collapses. It pushes reform from policing outcomes to something closer to teachers’ allies, with a role to play in ensuring that America’s nearly four million teachers are given the training and tools they need to align their instruction with sound practice—arguably a role that reform should have embraced from the start, but better late than never.
Editor’s note: This essay is an entry in Fordham’s 2022 Wonkathon, which asked contributors to address a fundamental and challenging question: “How can states remove policies barriers that are keeping educators from reinventing high schools?” Learn more.
High schools are so deeply embedded in our educational, economic, and cultural systems that only policy interventions that can change the dynamics of those systems can have sustainable success. One such intervention in our education system would be for states to give themselves the ability to award or recognize high school credits, to require any school accepting state funding to accept those credits toward their graduation requirements, and to award diplomas to students who have completed all state graduation requirements.
Florida has done some of this with Florida Virtual School (FLVS), and there are versions of FLVS in at least twenty other states. Any Florida public high school student can take courses at FLVS, earn credits that count toward graduation, and enroll in and graduate from FLVS if they choose. State law says districts cannot deny students access to FLVS courses. Still, guidance counselors can decide if courses are academically appropriate and can refuse to put other schools’ credits on a student’s transcript. And this proposed intervention needs to go beyond what FLVS has done to include development and partnerships to offer experience-based credits, stackable micro-credits, and mastery assessments that can justify earned credits without requiring “seat time.”
If schools were denied the counselor gate-keeping mechanism, and the state worked to recognize academic credits from any entity as appropriate, students could escape their local school’s monopoly over both processes and results. Local schools could have additional diploma requirements on top of the state requirements and even require them to be met locally. Still, the state diploma would be equivalent to those local diplomas, freeing students to consider the value of the additional local requirements on their own merits.
Further, the proposed state credit- and degree-granting entities could drive innovation through development and partnerships. Workforce development and mastery assessment initiatives from businesses, trade unions, technical colleges, and others would now only need to meet one set of requirements to serve students and grant credits statewide. And organizations that have something to offer students but find the hurdle of starting their own high school too high could now proceed, focusing on what they do well and getting the rest of what they need from the state.
A key enabler of this initiative would be the use of a state-wide digital “wallet” like North Dakota’s that stores all awarded and recognized credits and other badges or credentials and into which a diploma can be deposited when all requirements are met. Ideally, this digital wallet replaces student transcripts and diplomas for all public schools in the state, including state colleges and universities. Ideally, the wallet would also be used for state licensure and certification systems, from athletic trainers to veterinarians. Any credit, badge, or credential included in this wallet system expands opportunity and improves integration, from CTE career pathways to university dual enrollment programs.
It will also be important for states to provide transparency around the quality of the credentials awarded or recognized and the implications for graduation rates, the college and workforce success of students served, and the cost-effectiveness of the effort. While concerns about course quality and rigor will persist, data from a statewide initiative should provide more robust answers than generally available today. And if the same entity that manages the credential wallet also develops courses and assessments, oversight will be needed to avoid “capture” of the former by the latter. This state intervention should remain focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of generating quality student credentials. If that could mean replacing an expensive and ineffective teacher-led offering with self-directed content and mastery assessments, there shouldn’t be an internal lobby against that decision.
This intervention will take time to transform the high school. But existing schools will be forced to focus more on who they serve and be allowed to rethink what they do. Schools can stop providing courses and programming they don’t do well or efficiently, and they will face new competition from organizations that find it less expensive and difficult to build their programs. Most students will likely remain in traditional community high schools where friends, teachers, and counselors are physically present most of the time. But if a class is not available or poorly taught, they can get those credits another way. And if they hit a roadblock at the school, they can take their credits and finish up at another school or with the state. Greater diversity of approaches to completing diploma requirements and earning diplomas supports equity. Still, these state interventions and schools’ responses to them must also focus on maximizing equity and inclusion in their approach.
Launching these state initiatives will take significant effort and resources. Still, they will save money over time as students and schools use less expensive ways to meet credit requirements, such as online courses, micro-courses, and mastery assessments. Developing and aligning micro-courses and mastery assessments is complicated, but this approach provides statewide economies of scale that can justify the effort. The federal government could fund a national entity that could develop courses and assessments and, at the risk of repeating past mistakes, consider using federal funds to encourage states to join in.
Editor’s note: This essay is an entry in Fordham’s 2022 Wonkathon, which asked contributors to address a fundamental and challenging question: “How can states remove policies barriers that are keeping educators from reinventing high schools?” Learn more.
State policies do not stand in the way of reinventing high school.
All the policies and laws needed to move forward are in place. (Not everywhere, of course; yet we have all we need to run enabling experiments at scale.) The basic R & D work has been worked out. A viable design solution sits there. Waiting.
We know exactly what to do to move forward. Can we now summon the will to push through?
(So pervasive has been the lack of will to explore this that it seems a Lucy-and-the-Football effort to pursue it again here. Call me Blockhead! Here we go. Again.)
Scads of design contests have been held. And their results largely forgotten.
Nearly no one has framed the design challenge properly; I liken it to the man who invented the phonograph. (Not Edison.) The song “Au Clair de la Lune” was recorded (listen) a full twenty years before Edison’s phonograph. Yet no one knows the inventor simply because Edison asked the bigger, more pertinent question.
The bigger question of high school redesign is not “what should the adults do?” The bigger question is, “what can and should the students do?” “How do we help them do it, how do we help their teachers, and how do we get out of their way?”
Does it introduce and connect them to future paths of learning?
Does it excite their passion?
To achieve these, we must build new coalitions. What in Disruptive Innovation theory is called a new Coherent Value Network. In this case, including members of the geographic community, but also communities of all kinds. Adults—and other teens!—who can provide on-demand guidance and support.
We must also use the tools that have altered other industry sectors. This includes a broad, new embrace of process flows that use words like “repository,” “fork,” “pull request,” and “branch.”
As to solutions, how many organizations do you know that actually try? That take on the mission of changing high school’s core internals? Not for just one or a handful of schools. Not for a network of certain kinds of schools. But by aiming at every single public high school? And every student within all those schools?
While “industry recognized credentials” (IRC) options have come up short of expectations, the policy is at least ubiquitous, and the framework a step toward something much better.
The IRC framework offers us a new and better token of value than Carnegie Units themselves. With such tokens, we can build the kernel of the new high school operating system. We can now, finally, toss out the old IBM 360 mainframe OS where you took the software IBM gave you, paid a fortune for it, and took your time at the job queue waiting to be grudgingly serviced.
In the new high school OS, teens will get far more choice, teachers will work together with others to better iterate curricula, the where, when, and how will change and improve, and others from the larger outside communities will finally play the role in schools that’s needed.
But only if we fund/run experiments to build this new high school OS.
To be sure, iterating these experiments requires one unique legal/policy tool. Ohio’s Credit Flexibility law offers an experimental R & D environment unique in the nation. This aspect probably isn’t needed in most states. (By running the full experiment here, and spinning out the results, we can find what minimal new laws other states will require.)
Checker’s Point 3: Standard and competencies versus course credits? Eliminating Carnegie Units? If you’re talking about “mastery learning” or “competency-based education,”’, but not talking about high quality curricula, you may be more part of the romantic side of education than the realist side. Scaling, quality, and romance are not a sustainable threesome.
If you are talking curricula (we few, we happy few!), but not thinking/talking curricular transparency, well… let me introduce you to my little friend, K–12 2020–2022. Parents and others suddenly discovered exactly what had worked its ways into (and out of) K–12 lessons. On both what-is-in-there, and what-isn’t-in-there, people everywhere are unhappy.
If you want to make them more happy, transparency across K–12 is now key. For high school redesign, making curriculum transparent has always been a necessary condition.
Point 7: “Vocational education” isn’t what it used to be. Again, the romantics hired by education organizations see carpenters with hammers, plumbers with wrenches. Do you know that a new Ford F-150 has more software than an F-22 fighter? Have you ever heard of biomimicry? Do you have any idea how many robots man our factories? How many more could maintain our roads and sidewalks and buildings if we had the vocational workforce to build, deploy, and maintain them? What small arts businesses and groups have done to change neighborhoods and towns?
Youth groups like 4-H, Scouts, and Boys & Girls’ Clubs get this because they rely on community volunteers. It hasn’t followed into high school as well.
Point 2: The preparation of students entering high school. So much of the work of high school is undoing or dodging damage done to students by not teaching them to read fully and forcing them through grades 4–8 as though they had been. Fortunately, a new coherent value network has already emerged around the sciences of reading development. Centered by an amazing Facebook group, but spinning out into all kinds of partnerships, reading is finally being given the evidence-centered attention it deserves.
Point 1: “Confusion over the end product.” Except, it’s not really up to wonks and educrats to decide this. Especially in re civics education. It’s up to us to give stakeholders the modern tools they need for deeper choice and innovation.
Point 8: “Too damn boring and pointless.” The opportunities to fix this, and to maintain and increase academic quality, are limitless.
As stated above, I know of one organization that works all these design factors. In ten years, it’s not been funded for even $500. (While XQ America has spent around a half billion dollars to #rethinkHighSchool only modestly.)
It’s not policy that’s lacking. It’s will that’s needed.
Perhaps you, dear reader, will choose to exercise such will.
Schools don’t typically begin the process of formally identifying students to receive gifted and talented (GT) services until third grade. What if educators started developing in earnest a child’s innate abilities before then? Would it, among other things, increase the racial and socioeconomic diversity of identified students? A recent study from researchers at Duke and Harvard examines the impact of a curricular intervention designed to do just that.
Nurturing for a Bright Tomorrow (NBT) is a grades K–2 intervention with three subject-agnostic components intended to build underlying gifted competencies. The first aims to develop students’ critical thinking skills—such as observing, describing, and classifying—through twenty-minute lessons four times a week. The second targets particular habits of mind or dispositions, such as persistence, thinking flexibly, and taking responsible risks. The third component involves assigning students various tasks according to different learning styles—like interpersonal or self-expressive styles—so that students can work in their preferred learning mode but also develop their weaker ones (more on that problematic approach later!). Unlike some other interventions, NBT targets all students in a given classroom, thus exposing each learner to GT curricula in advance of formal identification (what some might call “frontloading”).
Analysts conducted a randomized trial across thirty-two elementary schools with the lowest gifted identification rates in the Wake County Public School System in North Carolina. The district had already adopted a universal screener, another important step in boosting identification. NBT was implemented in three sequential cohorts: Students in kindergarten received the intervention starting in 2014–15; first grade was added in 2015–16; and second grade in 2016–17. The full sample included roughly 3,500 kids in a cohort-year and 200 teachers total. The thirty-two schools were matched in pairs on prior school-level gifted identification rates, then randomly assigned to NBT within those pairs. Control group students received business-as-usual instruction. Analysts combine cohorts for the analysis since the sample is fairly small.
The vast majority of students who qualify as gifted do so by meeting or exceeding the 95th percentile on two gifted screeners—the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) and the Iowa Assessments—during grade three, when formal testing generally occurs in North Carolina. Thus, the analysts use those same measures to determine whether NBT increases the likelihood of formal GT identification. They examine scores on math and reading assessments too, including the Number Knowledge Testand DIBELS. The study also piloted a measure new to Wake County for identifying giftedness—the Nonverbal Abilities Test which assesses the ability to identify shapes and patterns.
In the end, NBT did not affect the overall likelihood of students identifying as gifted in math or reading. And in fact it appears to have negatively impacted the likelihood of qualifying for gifted services among Black and female students. Even worse, these negative results are mostly driven by the students who received NBT for the longest time period, meaning cohort 1 for three years. Consequently, students in the control-group schools mostly did better on the Iowa assessment. NBT did not impact performance on traditional math and reading measures either. But the analysts did find that students in the NBT schools were 1.5 percentage points more likely to reach the gifted threshold as determined by the new nonverbal test, impacts that were driven by Hispanic and female children. So perhaps it’s wise to include an entirely nonverbal test (CogAT has some nonverbal elements) as part of a battery of identification measures.
In trying to figure out the reasons for these rather disappointing results, analysts narrow in on NBT itself. Teachers gave their NBT trainers low scores and reported being overwhelmed with the sprawling nature of the intervention, with barely half of them saying that it was beneficial. That’s pretty damning feedback.
Common sense, backed by research, tells us that families weigh a lot of information when making school choice decisions. This is especially true when options are readily available and easily comparable via centralized application systems. Importantly, families’ calculations must be made anew each time a child moves schools, and it seems likely that the primary influencing factors can vary over time. New research investigates the stability of preferences by comparing choices made by the same families for younger and older children. It’s a quick but interesting look at familial decision making.
Harvard researcher Mark J. Chin uses application data from over 10,000 families applying for seats in both sixth and ninth grade in an unnamed large urban school district between the 2011–12 and 2018–19 school years. A majority of students in the district—and in the study—are Hispanic. Via a unified enrollment system, families can rank up to five district options for each child. Assignment to schools is based on family preferences, available seats, admission priorities (including siblings), and random placement (if processing of the previous factors yields more than one valid option). Chin’s work does not involve the actual offering or acceptance of seats in any particular school, but examines the preferences revealed by the schools ranked first in each family’s submissions.
Overall, all families selected as their top choice schools that were of higher quality than the average district building. This holds true for both middle and high school choices, although it is important to note that Chin does not define what “quality” means in this context. White families chose schools that were Whiter than both the average district building—middle and high schools—and the top choices of Hispanic and Black families. Similarly, Hispanic and Black families’ top choices served more students matching their racial/ethnic background than the average district building. Black applicants chose middle and high schools that were further away from home than did their Hispanic and White peers.
Racial and ethnic composition was the most stable factor observed between middle school and high school preferences. That is, the top high school choices of Hispanic families were those buildings with higher concentrations of Hispanic students, in almost the same proportion as Hispanic families’ middle school preferences. Racial/ethnic composition was less important in high school choice for Black and White families than middle school choice, but this factor is still stronger and more stable than the others Chin investigates. Specifically, both academic quality and distance from home appear far less stable as preference factors between middle and high school as compared to racial/ethnic composition, especially after other possible influences are controlled for.
Chin speculates that increased student input on choice at the high school level could explain the observed variation in family preference—especially regarding the distance factor, as older students would likely be more comfortable with longer bus rides or would have alternative means of transportation. However, he is wise to conclude that we still need to know more about how families arrive at their school choice decisions, especially if policymakers hope to target choice programs to those who want them the most.
On this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast, Kymyona Burk, Senior Policy Fellow at ExcelinEd, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss what states are doing to promote the science of reading and crack down on the snake oil salespeople still peddling bogus reading programs. Then on the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines how playing video games affects children’s cognitive performance.