Homework is the perennial bogeyman of K–12 education. In any given year, you’ll find people arguing that students, especially in elementary school, should have far less homework—or none at all. Eva Moskowitz, the founder and CEO of Success Academy charter schools, has the opposite opinion. She’s been running schools for sixteen years, and she’s only become more convinced that homework is not only necessary, but also a linchpin to effective K–12 education.
Education Gadfly Show #845: Why schools are wasting millions of dollars on ineffective online tutoring
Homework is the perennial bogeyman of K–12 education. Any given year, you’ll find people arguing that students, especially those in elementary school, should have far less homework—or none at all. I have the opposite opinion. The longer I run schools—and it has now been more than sixteen years—the more convinced I am that homework is not only necessary, but a linchpin to effective K–12 education.
It is important to remember that kids only spend a fraction of their time in school. The learning that does or does not take place in the many hours outside of school has a monumental effect on children’s academic success and is a root cause of educational inequity.
The pandemic gave us a stark demonstration of this reality. Achievement gaps widened between affluent and low-income children not only because low-income students received less in-person or high-quality online instruction during the years of disrupted school, but also because children of college-educated and affluent parents were already less dependent on schools for learning. Affluent children are far more likely to have the privilege of tutors or other types of supplementary instruction, as well as a family culture of reading, and opportunities to travel, visit museums, and more. Homework is a powerful tool to help narrow these inequities, giving children from all backgrounds the opportunity to keep learning when they are not in school.
At Success Academy, the charter school network I founded and lead, we seek to develop students as lifelong learners who have the confidence and curiosity to pursue and build knowledge in all facets of their lives. Homework cultivates these mindsets and habits. Indeed, when teachers don’t assign homework, it reflects an unconscious conviction that kids can’t learn without adults. Kids internalize this message and come to believe they need their teacher to gain knowledge. In reality, they are more than capable of learning all sorts of things on their own. Discovering this fact can be both incredibly exciting and deeply empowering for them.
We also know that none of these benefits accrue when homework is mere busywork. Low-quality homework is likely what drives the mixed research evidence on the impact of homework on student achievement. It also sends the message to kids that doing it is simply an exercise in compliance and not worth their time. Homework must be challenging and purposeful for kids to recognize its value.
For this reason, at Success, we take great care with the design of our homework assignments, ensuring they are engaging and relevant to what takes place in class the next day. When done well, homework can be a form of the “flipped classroom”—a model developed by ed tech innovators to make large college lecture classes more engaging. In flipped classrooms, students learn everything they can on their own at home (in the original conception, via recorded lectures); class time builds on what they learned to address confusion and elevate their thinking to a more sophisticated level. It’s an approach that both respects kids’ capacity to learn independently, and assumes that out-of-class learning will drive the content and pace of the in-person lesson.
Students always need a “why” for the things we ask them to do, and designing homework this way is motivating for them because it gives them that clear why. Class is engaging and interesting when they are prepared; when they aren’t, they won’t have the satisfaction of participating.
At this point, some teachers may be saying, “I can’t get my kids to hand in a worksheet, let alone rely on them to learn on their own.” And of course, effective use of homework in class relies on creating a strong system of accountability for getting kids to do it. This can be hard for teachers. It’s uncomfortable to lean into students’ lives outside of school, and many educators feel they don’t have that right. But getting over that discomfort is best for kids.
Educators should embrace setting an exacting norm for completing homework. This should include a schoolwide grading policy—at Success schools, missing and incomplete homework assignments receive a zero; students can get partial credit for work handed in late; and middle and high schoolers can revise their homework for a better grade—as well as consistently and explicitly noticing when kids are or are not prepared and offering praise and consequences. Enlisting parents’ help in this area is also highly effective. I guarantee they will be grateful to be kept informed of how well their children are meeting their responsibilities!
Ultimately, minimizing homework or getting rid of it entirely denies children autonomy and prevents them from discovering what they are capable of. As we work to repair the academic damage from the last two-plus years, I encourage educators to focus not on the quantity of homework, but instead on its quality—and on using it effectively in class. By doing so, they will accelerate kids’ engagement with school, and propel them as assured, autonomous learners and thinkers who can thrive in college and beyond.
When New York City School Chancellor David Banks announced a new screened high school admissions policy last month, many were quick to rejoice that the de Blasio reign of “lottery admissions” was finally over. Like Fordham Institute’s opinion piece, “High-achieving middle and high schoolers gain from latest NYC ed reform,” some policy experts perceived the new policy to be more selective than it really is. Although we agree that it moves high school admissions policy in the right direction, this policy change is just one small step forward after NYC took three very large steps backward.
Before a new high school lottery policy was adopted in 2021, academically screened schools considered three factors: seventh grade NY state test scores, final grades, and attendance. Given that the state tests were canceled in 2020 and administered on an opt-in basis in 2021—and Covid disrupted attendance—it was not possible to use achievement test scores or attendance in the high school admissions process for 2022. However, there is no reason to brush these objective metrics aside in future years. Students are back in school and state achievement testing has resumed, so why not give them consideration towards a student’s high school application? With the new admissions policy, a student’s acceptance into high school is based on just one indicator: grades. Well, two, actually, if you count luck!
The old admissions policy ensured that only the top performing students—in terms of achievement, attendance, and grades—were admitted into these rigorous schools, which are specifically designed to have highly demanding curricula to meet the needs of advanced students. The new policy, on the other hand, excludes state test scores and attendance and instead uses a lottery to select students from the top 20 percent of middle schoolers. Making seventh grade final grades the sole factor, let alone using this reimagined lottery, leads to a host of issues.
NYC is already known to have a problem with grade inflation. As Wai Wah Chin writes in “The Other Inflation,” “One such middle school is the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem, where, according to 2018 data, 93.9 percent of students passed their math classes, even though 95 percent failed their eighth-grade New York State math assessment.” Eagle Academy is not an isolated instance. It is a city-wide problem, as illustrated in Susan Edelman’s “Critics cry ‘grade inflation’ at NYC schools as students pass without meeting standards.” As these examples show, the state test is an objective measurement of a student’s academic abilities, while grades are subject to manipulation. Teachers’ bias or favoritism, as well as other discretionary actions, are just some of the ways grades can be manipulated.
Based on the personal experience of the first author, one way a school can bolster grades is through test corrections. While learning from one’s mistakes is an important part of growing as a student, it should not be used as a way to raise grades and give a false impression of a student’s academic abilities. Additionally, schools have different levels of academic rigor, so a 95 average at a highly demanding school like Hunter is much harder to achieve than the same grade earned at a less rigorous public school. This grade-based lottery system will only exacerbate the problem, as more and more schools decide to artificially boost their students’ grades in an effort to get them into the group one lottery pool.
The situation for middle schools is even worse than that for high schools. Like authors Finn and Wright point out in the aforementioned Fordham piece, the school districts were given just four short weeks to decide if they would institute screens, which could only entail grades, not state test scores, to then draw a lottery. Communities were left to choose from the best of two evils: either no screens at all or a lottery admission similar to the high school lottery. When the new policy was first announced, concerns arose of whether the superintendents would actually listen to the voices of parents. Now that the final decisions have been made, such concerns have been proven true. For instance, in Manhattan’s District 2, the superintendent removed all middle school screens despite the will of the majority saying otherwise. Instead, the superintendent assured that more “honors programs” will be added in the place of middle school screens. This is one big farce. These accelerated programs will only be instituted in one subject, math, and it is unclear whether they will be in more than just one grade, eighth. Some schools are too small to offer any accelerated/honors classes. While offering honors classes in every subject in every grade in all middle schools would be a reasonable compromise to most parents, it is unlikely that such arrangements would ever happen.
Like high schools, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) has created a disguised lottery for the elementary school gifted and talented (G & T) program. While G & T seating has indeed been expanded, as Finn and Wright also point out, an objective admissions test has been replaced with teacher recommendations for pre-kindergarteners and grades for third graders; in New York this is a 1–4 grading scale, with most students getting 3’s and 4’s (80–100). These easier standards will yield many more qualifying students than there are seats, leading to a lottery as the final step. These easier standards will mean many more students with lower academic skills will be selected for the G & T programs. In turn, this will lead to diluting of the accelerated academic standards that are the cornerstone of G & T programs.
Although there are varying positions on when and how children should qualify for G & T, the consensus among pro-merit advocates is that there should be an objective assessment method. In another Fordham article by Brandon Wright, “Gifted education is (hopefully) a work in progress in America’s largest school district,” the author proposes universal screening in the form of an already administered standardized test, as well as other dynamic factors, but a few years later than pre-k (in New York State, this falls into third grade, when all students take the first state test). Contrastingly, many NYC parents believe that universal screening in the form of a diagnostic test should begin in pre-k with an opt-out option and continue every year through second grade, as illustrated in the report on gifted and talented education created by the largest NYC pro-merit parent group, PLACE NYC. Both Wright and the parents of PLACE NYC advocate for a “continuum of services,” which can take different forms depending on the school resources, as well as the students’ needs that can be further assessed by the school after the student has qualified for G & T. Regardless of the approach to G & T, one thing everyone agrees on: NYC must further expand G & T seats to accommodate all the children who qualify.
These attacks on academically accelerated programs are being driven by DEI ideology, which holds that diversity itself is the policy solution for the lower achievement levels of many lower income and disadvantaged minority students. New research has challenged that belief, and policies that continue to advance mandatory diversity plans will only further harm public schools by driving away those students who are most likely to benefit from academically advanced programs.
If the goal is to preserve truly rigorous schools that are designed to meet the needs of advanced and gifted students, then objective metrics must be reinstated. State tests should be one of the criteria for screened middle school and high school admissions, and the current subjective G & T lotteries should be replaced with an objective process that leaves no room for favoritism and bias. In the ever-lasting pursuit of “equity and excellence for all,” the NYC DOE has changed the admissions process for academically rigorous schools to increase the percentages of underrepresented groups instead of asking the question why they are underrepresented in the first place. Chancellor Banks cannot continue hiding from the state tests, which expose the failures of the DOE. The issue of why New York City has schools with a 2 percent math proficiency rate should be Banks’s primary concern, not demographic pie charts! This is the problem that needs fixing, not taking away objective metrics from screened schools so that these schools are no longer what they were designed to be. Students cannot wait endlessly before Chancellor Banks steps in to solve the problems of failing schools and admissions into screened schools. We don’t have time for “mid-course corrections.” Banks and Adams need to take action now!
 Student are in group one if their average grades for math, science, English language arts, and social studies in the final quarter of seventh grade falls in the highest 15 percent of their school or citywide, and that average is at least 90.
 David J. Armor, Gary N. Marks, and Aron Malatinszky (2018), “The Impact of School SES on Student Achievement: Evidence From U.S. Statewide Achievement Data,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 40(4) 613-630.
Editor’s note: This essay was part of an edition of “Advance,” a newsletter from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute that is published every other week. Its purpose is to monitor the progress of gifted education in America, including legal and legislative developments, policy and leadership changes, emerging research, grassroots efforts, and more. You can subscribe on the Fordham Institute website and the newsletter’s Substack.
All ears were tuned to the Supreme Court last Monday as it heard oral arguments in two cases that have the potential to end race-conscious university admissions. If, as expected, the Court finds that Harvard University and the University of North Carolina discriminated against Asian American applicants, as plaintiffs allege, the Court may go further and prohibit universities from considering applicants’ race. And because the task of assembling a racially diverse class is so hard to distinguish from impermissible racial balancing, given that both involve numerical targets, the Court may go so far as to prohibit schools from adopting—and taking any action toward fulfilling—the goal of racial diversity.
These cases could end affirmative action as we know it, with ripple effects extending out to K–12 classrooms and corporate boardrooms. Yet it need not minimize the significance of these watershed cases to point out that universities will still maintain considerable discretion to emphasize diversity in their admissions process. Colleges will still be free to favor low-income students or those from underrepresented zip codes, as well as to give “tips” to students who have overcome challenges, so long as their intention is to build a geographically and economically diverse class, for example, rather than a racially diverse one. Moreover, applicants no longer able to “check a box” will still be free to share aspects of their identity they believe admissions committees will find revealing and compelling.
Because it’s unclear how far the Court will go toward overruling prior diversity cases—and because, even under the strictest interpretation of what equal protection requires, colleges will still largely be able to shape their classes as they see fit—conservative and progressive commentators alike are already focusing on what they view as the next big challenge to affirmative action in school admissions, a case involving Northern Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ).
The TJ case
In 2020, the Fairfax County School Board scrapped the rigorous TJ entrance exam and replaced it with an admissions process designed to make the school’s student body more reflective of the racial make-up of the school district and the region. And because the Supreme Court’s diversity rationale relied on by Harvard and UNC doesn’t apply to K–12 schools, the school sought to accomplish its goals by race-neutral means. After rejecting a lottery in favor of a process more likely to achieve its racial targets, the school offered admission to 1.5 percent of every middle school’s eighth-grade class by applying minimum GPA requirements and giving preferences to economically disadvantaged students.
A parent group sued, arguing that the decision to cap admissions from middle schools with high numbers of Asian American students was intended to—and did—discriminate against those students. A U.S. District Court held for the parents, finding that the school board couldn’t hide behind a facially race-neutral process when the facts—including statements to the effect that the process was designed to alter the school’s racial make-up, as well as its rushed implementation—reveal an intent to discriminate.
The school board appealed, and a federal appellate court appears likely to reverse the court below. Should the Supreme Court take the case, it could impose strict limits on the use of race-neutral, non-academic factors in K–12 school admissions when the record reveals that those factors were employed to affect the racial composition of an admitted class. Yet even such a ruling won’t end the debate over who gets to attend the country’s selective public high schools.
If the Court invalidates TJ’s current admissions scheme, the school board could, for example, implement a lottery open to all students meeting minimum GPA requirements. And regardless of the outcome of the case, voters could elect board members (or state legislators) committed to reinstating a test-based process. It’s for citizens and their representatives to decide what, if any, public purpose is served by selective schools and what kind of admissions process best achieves that purpose.
The fight over TJ and exam schools like it requires us to address some of the toughest issues plaguing education today: whether merit can be defined without reference to race and class, and how best to balance the competing priorities of equity and excellence. If you’re counting on the courts to resolve these issues, you’ll be disappointed.
In 1983, “A Nation at Risk” documented the sad state of U.S. education and called for opportunities designed to renew American global competitiveness. Fairfax County answered that call by creating a school for high school students who were capable of college-level STEM work and employing a rigorous admissions exam to select them. That exam-based admissions process—one that considered grades, teacher recommendations, and other evidence of readiness, but also relied heavily on a test to select students best able to take advantage of an accelerated and enriched STEM curriculum—gave rise to one of the nation’s most exceptional schools.
Families moved to Northern Virginia from other parts of the D.C. area, other states, even other countries, to allow their children to apply to TJ. Students hoping to attend enrolled in afterschool enrichment classes to get ahead in math and prepped, sometimes for years, for the test. Admitted students had the opportunity to choose from an array of advanced, college-level courses and to join nationally ranked academic teams. Graduates went on to top STEM careers. The school was perennially ranked among the nation’s top high schools, often at the very top.
Yet, as TJ’s success grew, so did complaints that the opportunities it offered were not open to all. Because most students needed extracurricular preparation to excel on the challenging admissions test, critics said, the test effectively weeded out students from disadvantaged groups. Despite repeated changes to the admissions process—from eliminating test questions that require knowledge of Algebra and reducing the weight of test scores relative to grades, to emphasizing passion for STEM over awards and accomplishments—the school still admitted few Black, Hispanic, or low-income students. This problem, which had plagued the school since its inception, reached a crescendo with the demands for racial justice that followed the killing of George Floyd.
In response, the school board, which had for thirty-five years viewed a rigorous test as the foundation of the school’s admissions process, suddenly saw it as standing in the way of qualified applicants. Because testing excluded some students with potential, they said, it had to be removed from the process.
Up until that point, TJ’s test-based admissions process had favored Fairfax County’s top middle school math students, who clustered in a small number of (formerly “gifted and talented”) centers. The new process, which limited the percentage of students admitted from each middle school and favored low-income students from schools that historically sent the fewest students to TJ, left most of the county’s top math students out in the cold.
The purpose of selective public schools
As Brandon Wright of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has written in these pages, when attempting to expand access to advanced educational opportunities, “the challenge is fixing the bad in a manner that doesn’t destroy the good.” TJ’s new admissions regime flunks this challenge. By cutting off opportunities for hundreds of bright, motivated students simply because they’re enrolled at an “overrepresented” middle school, the new system creates as many inequities as it addresses. Before we allow our government to deny some students opportunities in favor of others it deems more deserving, we should understand exactly what it’s doing and why.
As a first step, we should question the dogma that admissions tests measure only wealth and class when so much evidence speaks to the contrary. Objective, unbiased admissions tests have made elite schools like New York City’s Stuyvesant High School accessible to generations of immigrant students. Despite—or, more accurately, because of—an admissions process that is based solely on the results of a highly competitive exam, almost half of the students admitted to Stuyvesant are low-income. TJ’s demographics are different, but this doesn’t obscure the fact that rigorous admissions tests are not inherently biased against low-income students. Instead of fighting about whether admissions tests are influenced more by aptitude, hard work, cultural commitment, or privilege, we should agree that the correct answer is “all of the above” and begin hashing out what we expect schools like TJ to contribute to society.
We also must recognize that, however imperfect they may be, when carefully implemented, admissions tests are powerful tools for identifying students ready for advanced work, and that choosing students without the information they provide will require adjustments to the school’s curriculum. A public STEM school can’t offer classes like Quantum Physics and Number Theory unless a critical mass of students is prepared for them. Likewise, a school will have to remediate students who enter with gaps in their math proficiency if it hopes to give them a chance to graduate. It should surprise no one that removing the exam from an exam school necessarily changes the school’s mission.
When the school board replaced TJ’s aptitude/achievement admissions test with a geographic/needs test, it changed the school’s focus from accelerating the region’s most advanced students to exposing a geographically and economically diverse group of promising students to college-level STEM courses. Both are valid purposes for a public school, but if we can’t have it all, how do we choose between them?
Policymakers need to have open and frank discussions about what they can expect from their selective schools. In these pages, a former TJ Principal, now president of the Illinois Math and Science Academy, offers suggestions for how best to accommodate a range of admitted students, including summer programs and academic assistance. He admits, however, that these efforts offer only a partial solution. If expecting one school to meet the disparate needs of a wide range of capable students is likely to shortchange all of them, we might be far better off creating additional schools or programs.
When it jettisoned the test in favor of a quick-fix answer to TJ’s long-standing admissions disparities, the Fairfax County School Board indicated an unwillingness to acknowledge these complexities. More disconcerting, the body entrusted with educating our children ignored the question that matters most: How can we increase opportunities for high-potential low-income students so that they arrive at a special high school like TJ prepared to take advantage of the acceleration and enrichment it offers? We must hold school districts accountable until they address that question.
Given the devastating impact of pandemic learning loss, convincing school districts to prioritize advanced students will be an uphill battle. But today’s complex world demands that we both preserve and expand opportunities for promising students of all backgrounds. When bright children fulfill their potential, we all benefit.
Teaching young children to read fluently by the end of third grade is fast becoming a national priority, now even more urgent given Covid learning losses made vivid by the latest NAEP results. Compelling recent evidence has put another nail in the coffin of low-quality early-reading models like Balanced Literacy and whole language. Finally catching on is the importance of good old-fashioned phonics paired with rich content in order to deepen background knowledge as students learn to decode. A recent working paper from a trio of Harvard researchers examines the implementation and impacts of a literacy intervention program on students’ reading comprehension that reflects these tenets.
The program is called Model of Reading Engagement (MORE), and the researchers term it a “spiraled series of lessons” rather than a curriculum, since it doesn’t cover a full year’s worth of learning. Instead, it’s multi-year but part-time. Using MORE, students learn about a topic across grades and build upon a schema—defined as “generalizable features of situations to apply new knowledge.” In first grade, for instance, children learn about how animals survive in their habitat, potentially with a concrete example of polar bears. Then, second grade, to build on this larger schema of animal survival, they would learn how paleontologists use fossil evidence to develop theories about dinosaur traits. And in third grade, they would study how sub-systems in the human body, like our muscular and nervous systems, function to keep us alive. Other practices to build domain and content knowledge include interactive read-alouds of thematically-related informational texts and using concept maps with kids to show how ideas are related.
The small-scale project occurred in one large district in North Carolina and utilized random assignment of elementary schools. Fifteen schools entered the treatment group and fifteen the control group (which meant business as usual). Over three years, the treatment group students participated in spring first grade thematic content literacy lessons in science and social studies, fall-to-spring second grade thematic lessons in science, remotely-delivered third grade lessons in science (more below), plus ample reading of thematically-related informational texts in the summer months following first and second grade. During the third-grade school year (2020–21), the pandemic required remote schooling. As a consequence, the third grade MORE program was provided to both treatment and control students, thus turning what had been a fully randomized control trial into a dosage study. The researchers examined the longer-term effects on third graders’ outcomes, comparing a treatment group that received the first, second, and third grade MORE treatment to a control condition that received the third grade MORE treatment only. Treatment students had thirty hours of MORE programming in first and second grade, while the control students had business as usual, but both groups received ten hours of MORE instruction in third grade.
Teacher survey data reveal that educators in both groups spent about the same amount of time teaching reading/English language arts and math, but treatment teachers spent more time on science and social studies over the three years, which could have impacted the results. Researchers developed a domain-specific science vocabulary test to be administered after third grade, whereby students had to say which taught words went together with untaught words. Like “fracture” [taught] relates to the word “skeletal” [untaught]. They also developed a science-specific reading comprehension test that required them to transfer knowledge, meaning some of the passages were related but would not include taught words. Analysts also had access to end-of-grade state test data.
Results show generally small effects, considering the magnitude of the intervention. Specifically, students randomly assigned to the treatment condition outperformed the control students in reading comprehension (effect size = 0.11) and mathematics (ES = 0.14) on third grade state standardized assessments. They also outperformed on domain-specific science vocabulary. Subgroup analyses revealed positive impacts for students living in low- to moderate-socioeconomic-status neighborhoods on both reading comprehension (ES = 0.13) and mathematics (ES = 0.20) That some impact transferred to math was interesting. The researchers hypothesize that similar cognitive processes like nonverbal reasoning are involved in math, too. (Other studies have shown similar connections, but more research is required to pin down the mechanisms.)
A couple of caveats need noting. The study is small in scale and uses self-reported teacher data for time allocations versus more direct measures of instruction. Additionally, the researchers both developed and evaluated their own intervention model, which is generally frowned upon. Still, these are promising results that continue the essential work of building a body of empirical evidence for content-rich literacy interventions.
SOURCE: James S. Kim, Patrick Rich, and Ethan Scherer, “Long-Term Effects of a Sustained Content Literacy Intervention on Third Graders’ Reading Comprehension Outcomes,” Annenberg Institute at Brown University (July 2022).
What parents are looking for in an ideal school choice scenario is often very different from what they settle for in the real world. Cost, distance, academic quality, safety, extracurricular options, and a host of other factors are all at play, meaning trade-offs are unavoidable. Recently-published research findings try to capture the matrix of compromises being made.
Data come from Kansas City, Missouri, from fall 2016 to spring 2017. School options were widespread in the city, including intradistrict opt-in among all twenty-six of Kansas City Public Schools’ (KCPS) general education buildings and nine magnet schools, along with twenty public charter schools and twenty-four private schools. At the time of the study, more than 8,500 students (23 percent of all K–12 students) attended private schools, over 6,500 students (18 percent of the total) attended charters, and over 4,100 (11 percent) attended magnets. Around 70 percent of the remaining students attending general education KCPS buildings opted for a school outside their neighborhood assignment zone. Aiding parents in their choices: a single application for any KCPS building, including magnets, and a second single application that covered nearly all of the city’s charters.
The Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium recruited parents through multiple avenues in 2016 and 2017 to answer survey questions regarding school preferences. The sample comprised 436 individuals, proportionally representing district attendance zones, racial makeup of the population, and socioeconomic distribution around the city. Approximately 33 percent of respondents had a college degree. While no breakdown exists for how many students attended which school type, all types were represented.
Respondents were first asked to rate, on a scale of one to five, how important each of nineteen school attributes was to them in choosing a school for their oldest child. Attributes included academic performance, afterschool programs, teacher and student diversity, curriculum, facilities, leadership, parent involvement, and safety. Most importantly, respondents were asked to rate their preferences “in the context of an ideal world where they were not bound by social, economic, or logistical constraints and concerns.” They were then asked to choose their top three based on their current real-world circumstances and with “personal constraints,” as well as any “systemic obstacles” they have encountered in mind. Finally, they were asked to rate on a scale from one to five how satisfied they were with their child’s school, and, on a reverse scale, to what extent their child’s school “[fell] short in things that would otherwise make a difference” in their education.
So how far was the ideal from the reality? It depended on the family. No one got everything they wanted because everyone’s ideal ratings put almost every school feature at the top of the list. While teacher quality was highest and social/medical services lowest, there were less than 1.5 ratings points separating them (4.82 out of five vs. 3.37) and all seventeen other features were crammed in between. Parents who were White, had any education level above high school, and earned over $50,000 per year were more likely to rank their child’s school very highly on their top three attributes than were their peers, marking what the researchers deem a state of lowest “preference compromise.” That is, their children were more likely to attend schools in the real world that ranked highly on the attributes that mattered most to them in an ideal condition. Parents outside those demographic categories were more likely to report attending schools where their highest-rated attributes are not present or present at a lower level than their peers, indicating a less-than-ideal choice. Hispanic parents were most likely to report compromising on their highest-rated attributes, with Black parents close behind. Parental satisfaction scores track with level of compromise—the bigger the gap between ideal attributes and real experience, the lower the reported satisfaction level. The researchers thus conclude that these families are least-well served by school choice in Kansas City, but that leap owes more to the ideal than to the real.
On the upside here, all families’ preferences were considered equal in the analyis, with no leeway to consider that parents with lower education or income levels might lack knowledge of important school attributes or available options. This is extremely positive and a better approach than many previous such studies. On the downside, the methodology assumes that all parents have already chosen—and are reporting their satisfaction with—their best possible option. This is nominally true, but the universe of options for a family with one working parent and two cars is likely to be different—and much larger in the real world—than for a family with two working parents and a single vehicle, even if their incomes are the same and even if they live in the same zip code. Given modern residential patterns and school zone boundaries’ correlation with historic redlining efforts, the gap beween the ideal and the real is already baked into school choice infrastructure in many cities—especially for familes with fewer resources. It is true that lower-income families or Hispanic families have less access to school choice, but the researchers’ conclusion that such a fact renders school choice problematic does not logically follow.
While not giving more families a free ticket into the ideal school of their dreams, KC did offer a fairly robust choice environment in 2017. The sheer number of students attending non-assigned district schools at the time is evidence enough of that. A majority of parents—from all walks of life—likely found for their children a choice they liked better than they would if they had been forced to send their child to their zoned school with no alternatives. And that’s a win.
SOURCE: Argun Saatcioglu and Anthony R. Snethen, “Preference Compromise and Parent Satisfaction With Schools in Choice Markets: Evidence From Kansas City, Missouri,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (October 2022).
Education Gadfly Show #845: Why schools are wasting millions of dollars on ineffective online tutoring
On this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast, Bart Epstein, the president and CEO of EdTech Evidence Exchange, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss the challenges that schools and districts face when implementing online “on-demand” tutoring programs for students. Then, on the Research Minute, Amber Northern reviews a study that examines the effects of state-mandated civics tests on youth voter turnout.
- Bart’s organization: EdTech Evidence Exchange
- The narrow path to do it right: Lessons from vaccine making for high-dosage tutoring —Mike Goldstein and Bowen Paulle
- “Many schools are buying on-demand tutoring but a study finds that few students are using it” —The Hechinger Report
- The study that Amber reviewed on the Research Minute: Jung, Jilli, and Gopalan, Maithreyi, “The Stubborn Unresponsiveness of Youth Voter Turnout to Civic Education: Quasi-experimental Evidence from State-Mandated Civics Tests,” Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University (Nov 2022)
Have ideas for improving our podcast? Send them to our podcast producer Nathaniel Grossman at [email protected]g.
- The Los Angeles Unified School District announced plans to return to the science of reading, the teaching philosophy that it used to boost reading scores two decades ago. —Education Week
- Mississippi continues its reading “miracle” by teaching with the science of reading, expanding access to pre-k, and requiring all third graders to pass a “reading gate” assessment. —Ed Post
- Extended school days and years are largely absent from districts’ Covid recovery plans, despite decades of research suggesting that more classroom time correlates with higher achievement. —Education Week
- The cracks in affirmative action have grown into fissures as immigration and demographic shifts change the country’s make-up. —Megan McArdle
- Dramatic declines in public school enrollment complicate efforts to analyze changes in student achievement. —Thomas Dee
- The political odd couple of Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul will soon be first in line to run the Senate education committee. —The 74
- Arizona’s largest school system is finding success with team teaching. —Associated Press
- Los Angeles schools posted impressive gains in the latest round of NAEP data, drawing scrutiny from education researchers. —The 74