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The week in school choice: Good news

Let’s start this off with some good news.

The enormous gap in academic performance between high- and low-income children has begun to narrow. Children entering kindergarten today are more equally prepared than they were in the late 1990s.

We know this from information collected over the last two decades by the National Center for Education Statistics. In the fall of 1998 and again in 2010, the N.C.E.S. sent early childhood assessors to roughly 1,000 public and private kindergartens across the United States. They sat down one-on-one with 15 to 25 children in each school to measure their reading and math skills. They asked children to identify shapes and colors, to count, to identify letters and to sound out words. They also surveyed parents to learn about the children’s experiences before entering kindergarten.

Working with the social scientist Ximena Portilla, we used this data to track changes over time in “school readiness gaps” — the differences in academic skills between low-income and high-income children entering kindergarten. What we found is surprising. From 1998 to 2010, the school readiness gap narrowed by 10 percent in math and 16 percent in reading. The gaps that remain are still vast. But even this modest improvement represents a sharp reversal of the trend over the preceding decades.

‘Seeking educational justice’

A Black Lives Matter leader breaks with the movement over its stance against charter schools.

Rashad Anthony Turner, a prominent voice in the debate over racial disparities in outcomes in Minnesota schools, said his desire to continue to push for equity in education put him at odds with BLM’s leadership.

“For me, it was a question of integrity,” Turner explained, saying Black Lives Matter had been “hijacked.” “Being that I am all for charter schools and ed reform, and as someone who is seeking educational justice for students and families, I could no longer be under that banner of Black Lives Matter.

School choice offers black families new ways to hold the government accountable.

Given Black Lives Matter’s premise—that the government systematically acts in a way that undermines trust in both the police and in order—you have to wonder why, if the movement’s members approach the police with such skepticism, they are now asking parents to put all their faith and confidence in schools that have failed them for decades. If the government acts in ways that are systematically racist and unfair, why would it do so in only one arena? The challenge for parents is not a lack of trust in the government’s ability or desire to keep their children alive and safe or to educate them; it’s in trusting the government to doany of those things at all.

In the context of public charter schools, parents are actually being empowered to hold the government accountable in ways not available to them in any other segment of our society.

School choice and Trump

Donald Trump is out with an education plan, announced at an academically struggling charter school, that emphasizes school choice. The GOP nominee proposes making $20 billion in federal school aid for 11 million low-income school children portable. Some who don’t embrace the candidate still welcome the conversation he’s starting, and hope his opponents will, too.

“While I do not support Donald Trump, his speech on school choice demonstrates that he is giving serious thought to education issues and I strongly challenge Hillary Clinton to do the same,” said Kevin P. Chavous, a former Democrat elected official and founding board member of the American Federation for Children. “As a lifelong Democrat and education reformer, I urge Hillary Clinton to show more openness and creativity when it comes to embracing school reform, choice and charter schools. So far Mrs. Clinton has largely been a representative of the interests of teachers’ unions and the status quo, which is in opposition to parents and students and will serve to be on the wrong side of history.”

What might happen to federal education policy under a Trump presidency?

Should Trump actually win, we’ll just have to see what happens. We’d have to see who was named to senior posts in the administration and Department of Education. We’d have to see whether a President Trump took any interest in the issue. We’d have to see how much leeway his appointees had or whether educational policy might be handed off to VP Mike Pence (a passionate proponent of school choice). We’d have to see whether a Trump administration deferred to Hill Republicans or struck a different course.

It’s also worth considering the things the nation’s next leaders could be talking about.

Judging equity

A Connecticut judge issued a sweeping opinion on school funding and educational equity that confounds the usually tribal divides in education politics. Those of us who follow efforts to protect children’s educational rights through the courts take note:

Declaring that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty” to fairly educate its poorest children, a Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered the state to come up with a new funding formula for public schools.

Judge Thomas Moukawsher’s unexpectedly far-reaching decision also directed the state to devise clear standards for both the elementary and high school levels, including developing a graduation test. He also ordered a complete overhaul of Connecticut’s system of evaluating teachers, principals and superintendents. And he demanded a change in the “irrational” way the state funds special education services.

“Nothing here was done lightly or blindly,” Moukawsher said, reading his entire 90-page decision from the bench, a highly unusual undertaking that took close to three hours. “The court knows what its ruling means for many deeply ingrained practices, but it also has a marrow-deep understanding that if they are to succeed where they are most strained, schools have to be about teaching children and nothing else.”

The state now has six months to make major changes. As ConnCAN suggests in a statement, it’ll be interesting to see how this case dovetails with a separate  lawsuit in which families demand access to charter schools and other choice programs.


Recent federal labor rulings could give new momentum to charter school unionization efforts.

The National Labor Relations Board issued a pair of decisions in late August, which ruled that teachers at charter schools are private employees, therefore falling under the NLRB’s jurisdiction. The cases centered on two schools with teachers vying for union representation: PA Virtual Charter School, a statewide cyber charter in Pennsylvania, and Hyde Leadership Charter School, located in Brooklyn. In both cases, the NLRB concluded that the charters were “private corporation[s] whose governing board members are privately appointed and removed,” and were neither “created directly by the state” nor “administered by individuals who are responsible to public officials or the general electorate.” The NLRB determined that a charter’s relationship to the state resembled that of a government contractor, as governments provide the funding but do not originate or control the schools.

For more good news on ed reform, look at recent victories in the states.

North Carolina’s virtual charter schools get off to a rocky academic start.

When we say public education is being redefined, this is what we mean.

Here’s a school in Germany that wants to “reinvent what a school is.”

Parents are worried a funding lawsuit could force Missouri charter schools to close.

Charter schools redefine local control of public education. “’Local control’ is one of the more malleable political-cudgels-posing-as-principle you’ll find in state politics.”

Why “the zealots on all sides are wrong” about school choice.

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The week in school choice is our weekly compendium of school choice news and notes from around the country. Please send tips, suggestions and feedback to tpillow[at]sufs[dot]org, and sign up to get it in your inbox.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)