Reid Cramer from the New America Foundation has this report. I’m not sure if it will work, but it seems worth paying attention to.

Money quote:

Rather than identifying amorphous targets or unattainable goals, Mayor Bloomberg committed himself to remaking the toolbox. And he pledged $150 million a year to do so, some of it to be raised in the private sector. Much of the money will be used to try and test out new approaches. At the center of the effort is a newly-formed city office, called the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO), which is designed to operate as a combination of a philanthropic foundation and a venture capital fund. This office will be charged with seeding innovation by supporting a range of experimental programs. But in addition to investing in R&D, the CEO will be in charge of evaluating the results, so programs that demonstrate success in reducing poverty can be built upon and those that don’t can be shut down. This results and evidence-based approach is gaining momentum in other areas of government, increasingly influencing budget decisions at the federal and state level, but the funding of policy innovation, especially in anti-poverty program at the local level, is breaking new ground.

In light of claims that Bloomberg’s team has manipulated school test score data, one hopes that they will be honest about the evidence.


In my education law classes, I normally say no. Or at least not normally. And Jim Ryan at UVA law school has written that we should be skeptical that these efforts will work. This new report suggests that maybe one has made a difference: Williams v. California, a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of students in California’s lowest-performing schools. The report is produced by the lawyers who brought the lawsuit, so there’s plenty of potential bias. But it is worth keeping an eye on.

The research is mounting: it is simply insane to ignore the summer as we try to improve academic and life outcomes for low income kids. Low income kids lose even more ground in the summer than they do during the school year. Which is absolutely, positively not an argument for abandoning efforts to improve what happens in schools from September to June. But giving up on the summer is an invitation to disaster, because during the summer low income kids get next to nothing, while wealthier kids get lots of chances to grow, travel, explore new worlds, read, etc. (If you have any doubt how important the summer is, check out what people with means do to support their children’s growth over the summer.)

This issue provides a great chance for charter school and district school operators to come together and tell cities to adequately fund the summer, so that kids can get what they need and deserve. Right now many jurisdictions provide no summer school, others provide lousy options. And charter operators are often stuck with no summer supplements, or ones that are so small that you can’t run a good program with them. But as Beth Miller’s report for the Nellie Mae Foundation makes clear, there is mounting evidence about the effectiveness of high-quality hybrid summer programs that combine academics with sports, arts and other creative activities. So let’s demand more of these programs.

Update: Washington Post has a story on how school districts are expanding school options for kids, with good results.

When Barack Obama decided to run for President, I had hoped that he would make an issue out of criminal justice. Specifically, I had hoped that he would talk about the fact that this nation incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than any country in the world. If that itself is not bad enough, the incarceration rates in Black America are even higher, and remain high despite 10 years of declining crime rates. Sadly, neither Obama nor the other candidates have touched the issue much, probably for the same reason Bill Clinton didn’t–fear of being branded soft on crime.

Well anyway, finally, tentatively, the Libby commutation seems to be giving Obama a chance to begin the conversation. Just an opening, but maybe there will be more. Ck out this brief clip from New Hampshire:

Thanks: Andrew Sullivan

John Kirtley (a leader of the private school choice movement in Florida) and I started discussing whether vouchers should be part of Obama’s education plan. The conversation has now expanded to include the question of choice across school districts. John’s original post and my response are here, and John’s response back to me can be found here on Whitney Tilson’s blog. John’s main point is worth quoting:

My comments amount to a single claim, but a different one: unless a candidate supports parental choice for low income parents, reform oriented Democrats should be pissed off. More importantly, low income parents who are being asked to support such candidates should be pissed off.

Your friend I think is getting caught up in a word. The real question to ask him (or her) is: why don’t you, or the Education Trust, support the idea of using taxpayer dollars to help a low income parent send their child to a particular school, perhaps even on their block, that works for that child? Don’t just say that it should be OK for you or the Education Trust not to support that — say why it’s OK to deny that parent that chance.

Remember the example of Miami Union Academy. It graduates 99% of its kids, and 95% go to college. Tuition is $4,000. All its kids are poor and minority. Per pupil spending in Dade County Public Schools are more than double that, and they graduate less than half of minority children.

That low income parent deserves to know why she can’t send her child to that school. She won’t accept an answer that “it should be OK that we deny her that opportunity.”

Your friend says, “To suggest that reform-oriented Democrats have to support vouchers (or even charters for that matter) is to incorrectly impose an ideological straight-jacket on people.” This statement gets to the heart of the problem most Democrats (and many Republicans) face on education. I believe that giving parental choice to low income parents will help drive improvement in the public schools that serve low income children. I believe that it will make every other reform method work better, because it will be an external catalyst for those reforms to be adopted.

To which I offer this . . . .

Whitney: One of the things I love most about your e-mail list is the quality of your comments and the responses they engender. Too often the blogosphere is full of rantings and accusations. So thanks for sending out John’s response to my comments, and your own questions.

Let’s remember how this all started. John criticized Obama’s speech to the NEA. Basically his critique was that Obama should support vouchers and tax credits, or private school choice if you prefer. I responded by saying, more or less, that lots of smart reform-oriented people don’t support vouchers, and we should not attack Obama for not making this part of his education agenda.

John’s response focused on the mom who wants to send her kid to the private school down the street, and what do we say to her. I will address that in a minute, but first Obama. Obama is running for president, and as a candidate he has to decide what his agenda is going to be. As I have written previously (which might surprise John, as he seems to believe I am a voucher opponent), I support vouchers because I’m in the camp of “let’s try anything that might work,” and I support vouchers as an experiment until we do enough research to see whether they work. On this issue, as in education policy generally, I have my gut instincts and core beliefs like everyone else, but I try to be driven by what we can learn from the research.

However, I think reasonable people can disagree on whether vouchers are worth pursuing. This might be where John and I disagree; he may view the case for vouchers as a slam-dunk. I think reasonable minds can differ because I’ve read many (but not all) of the studies, and I think the research findings so far have been mixed. Similarly, I think it is reasonable for people to be worried about a host of other issues–church/state, hurting the public system, etc.

I also believe Obama, like any candidate, has to pick his priorities, and if he wants to endorse improving teacher quality but not vouchers, I think that is ok, and certainly not a reason to back away from him. Indeed, my reference to your slides was meant to show that you and a lot of other people think that if we have to pick one reform, teacher quality is likely to have a bigger pay-off than vouchers. So for all these reasons, I am a reform-oriented Democratic who is not “pissed off” that Obama does not support vouchers.

Now, to the mom you discussed. I agree, 100%, that she has a powerful moral case. It is the main reason I support the voucher experiment, because I want to find out what happens–to the kids who go and those who stay behind–when we let kids like her child go to private schools using public money.

But here’s another mom I want to ask you about, a mom that I have hardly ever heard voucher supporters talking about, and a mom largely absent from the discussion of choice in NCLB (even my friends at Ed Trust don’t talk about her). This mom is African American and lives in a big city, near the border of a boundary with a suburban district. Her neighborhood school is full of kids that, like her child, qualify for free lunch. And the school is lousy, no place any of us would want to send our child to. A long walk or short bus ride away is another school, really good, high test scores, good climate. The main reason she wants to send her child there is because she thinks he will learn more math and english, but she also likes the fact that this school has a good number of Asian and white kids (along with a few blacks and Latinos). She believes in integration–she herself grew up in a mixed community, and she believes her son is being denied the chance she had. She is fearful that as an adult not only won’t he be well-educated in the 3 R’s, but he won’t have friends of different races and backgrounds.

She can’t go to that other school, though, because a line on a map that she can’t even see says that it is a different school district. And she can’t afford to move there. She has heard about NCLB and even received a letter offering her a transfer, but it was to other schools in her own district, which are as racially isolated as hers, with lower test scores and further away than this nearby school she wants to attend.

Whitney, to re-state your question and John’s question, in all my life, as I have read and talked about choice, charters, vouchers, etc., I have never heard a good answer to what do we say to that particular mother. But whenever I bring the question up in the choice community–the place where I would assume everyone would be on board–people change the subject, talk about political difficulties, money, etc.

Why do I bring her up? Mainly it is because I really want an answer. What do we say to her? And why is the choice movement not working on this issue?

Secondarily, I want to point out that Obama did not talk about her either, and I want to know if John thinks we should be pissed-off about this? I’m disappointed personally, as I always hope that my favored reforms will get pressed, but I’m not pissed off. Per my comments above, I understand that Obama and other candidates have to pick an issue or two, and I get why he might pick teacher quality over inter-district school choice.

Thanks again Whitney for keeping this conversation going.

Update: Jonathan Kozol discusses NCLB and choice across school district lines in today’s New York Times. I know Kozol tends not to be popular with the voucher/private school choice community, but this is well worth reading if you care about the mom we’ve been discussing.

. . . so the WaPost reports Tuesday. Eduwonk says the real issue is what is happening to black kids in districts that are not as well-functioning as Fairfax and Montgomery.

One thing I would like to see is a class breakdown of the scores. The Post reports that almost half of Montgomery county African-American students qualify for free or reduced lunch. But that does not answer the key question, which is how many of the kids earning the passing AP scores come from the group of low-income minority students. More passing scores should be applauded; more passing scores from low-income students is even more impressive.

Bob Herbert’s latest describes how fewer and fewer teens have jobs. The teen employment rate is at its lowest point in 60 years, and it is especially bleak for black teens.

There is a temptation in the education community to see this issue as separate from school reform. But that is a mistake.

For teens from the most depressed communities, like those I worked with as a public defender in DC and now at Maya Angelou, one of the real challenges with convincing them to take advantage of school is getting them to see the relevance of all of this to their future. It is hard to communicate what it is like to grow up in a community where so many people are unemployed–and where even the employed people have jobs that are so uninteresting and poorly paid that it is hard to convince anyone to aspire to them. Moreover, kids who have no money really want a chance to earn a little, legally, during the evenings and the weekends. When that isn’t possible it pushes them further to the margins and drains them of hope. Kids are not dumb, and all the “you can make it” chanting in the world, while important, runs against the hard reality of what they see in front of them. Bottom line: Until school reformers start to see some of the connections between our efforts in the classroom and the challenges faced by the communities surrounding our schools, we will never realize our full potential.