It is week 152 of our new reality and David Brooks is asking why our nation’s leaders seem so “blissfully unaware” of the crisis in our schools.

“You would think that education would be one of the most talked about subjects in America right now,” he writes. “You would think that President Biden would be offering comprehensive plans to reform American schooling. You would think efforts by governors and mayors to address these problems would be leading newscasts and emblazoned across magazine covers on a weekly basis. But this is not happening.”

“The moment is ripe,” Brooks observes. “Covid has left a lot of destruction in its wake. But just as the pandemic spurred people to find creative new approaches to the workplace it has propelled people to expand creative approaches to schooling … But there now has to be political leadership to shake up a calcified system, and hurry the reinvention that has to happen.”

Last time in the New Reality Roundup, we focused on how scaling up tutoring could help catch kids back up and how homeschooling has evolved into a mainstream element of the new American education system. This week, we explore new approaches to funding and measurement and why kids need us to choose constructive change over high conflict.

Put families at the center of a new approach to funding and measurement

“The future requires a revisiting of our old assumptions and two fundamental changes in approach,” writes 50CAN President Derrell Bradford in a new essay for Opportunity America and the Walton Family Foundation. “Instead of narrow strategies that focus on only the least well-served students in the name of equity, we must broaden the constituency that supports reform. And instead of concentrating our efforts on one education sector—charters or portfolio districts—we must reorient policy toward collaboration and universality.”

Derrell’s essay is part of a new collection focused on the future of education reform in America, which also includes contributions from Robin Lake, Will Marshall, Ian Rowe, John Bailey, Andy Rotherham, Keri Rodrigues, Denise Forte, Frances Messano, Robert Pondiscio, Jessica Schurz, Matt Sigelman and Paul Herdman.

“Channeling education funding through school districts is a time-honored tradition in America, but today it is reinforcing everything that’s wrong with the status quo,” Derrell observes. “We won’t see the change we need without different incentives, and the best way to advance that is with an education marketplace driven by parents’ needs and demands.” That means funding “should be channeled directly to families—that’s the only way to give parents enough influence to drive meaningful change on the ground” but it also means upholding the idea that every parent “has a fundamental right to know how their child is doing in school” through a next generation of investments in measurement, transparency and bottom-up accountability.

  • The task this week is to draw inspiration from this powerful collection of ideas and insist that we build something new and better, not just more of the same.

Keep the focus on kids, not high conflict 

In her book “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” journalist Amanda Ripley argues that our politics today is defined not by a healthy exchange of competing ideas but instead a good-versus-evil kind of feud that drives people into their corners and makes the compromise needed for real progress nearly impossible.

Writing for the Fordham Institute, Dale Chu finds that this dynamic is alive and well in our education debate. Chu argues that adult interests “were unapologetically put ahead of children’s needs” during the pandemic, creating an opening for Republicans to “build upon the post-pandemic swing in public trust on education.” Instead, “Republicans risk overplaying their hand.”

Chu writes that “the nationalization of our politics makes it difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the grotesque rhetoric coming from Trump and DeSantis. Insofar as schooling is concerned, the 2024 election is shaping up to be a scum pit of unserious ideas no matter which of these two brawlers ends up grabbing the brass ring.”

None other than the RNC itself agrees with this concern, finding that the focus on CRT and other hot button cultural issues “excites the GOP base, but parental rights and quality education drive independents.” They advise candidates to focus on “issues that move independent voters like kids learning enough of life’s basic skills, emotional and educational development, and parental involvement.”

A new Pew Research survey finds that a constructive education agenda would speak to what the majority of Americans say they want. When asked about their top policy priorities, 51 percent of whites, 67 percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of African Americans cite “improving education.”

  • The task this week is to stand up for constructive educational ideas and turn away from “us versus them” rhetoric that gets us no closer to solutions that put kids first.

With legislatures in session across the country, the state campaigns of the 50CAN network continue to make progress toward their policy goals for 2023. ConnCAN is closely tracking progress on a student-centered funding reform bill. Last Friday, the legislature heard public comment in a joint hearing with over 200 community leaders. Governor Lamont also revealed his education budget, which ConnCAN Executive Director Subira Gordon told NBC News was not enough: “We’re just funding the status quo. We’re not responding to the needs of the communities.”

NewMexicoKidsCAN saw three bills introduced, including a bill that eases on-ramps for CTE educators, another that promotes the science of reading and a third which mandates districts report their ESSER expenditures so that the public is aware of spending. Executive Director Amanda Aragon also joined KRQE News 13 to discuss NewMexicoKidsCAN’s new school proficiency map and podcast, New Mexico Rising.

HawaiiKidsCAN has launched two new programs to build proof points of programming for students across the state. The first, Hawaii Tutoring, is a partnership with virtual tutoring company Air Tutors to provide support to students recovering from learning loss. The second, Afford College HI, is an innovative partnership with local high schools to rocket up FAFSA-completion and college matriculation.

TEN Colorado passed their mental health bill out of committee with a vote of 9-2, which proposes all students will receive a mental health screener evaluation. For children who are identified as in need, the legislation ensures free therapy. Executive Director Nicholas Martinez also has an op-ed in Westword, advocating for school choice in the Adams 14 district.

In a report for the Urban Institute, Thomas S. Dee explores “where the kids went,” finding that homeschooling increased by 30 percent since the pandemic with particularly strong growth in Florida (43 percent), New York (65 percent), and Pennsylvania (53 percent).

The 74 Million’s Joshua Bay reports on new polling that shows broad support among Black parents and teachers for education savings accounts, with 70 percent of Black parents and 79 percent of Black teachers endorsing ESAs.

Writing for FutureEd, Lynn Olson explores the barriers to teacher diversity and the most promising steps to bring more teachers of color into classrooms and encourage them to stay.

ExcelinEd looks at a new report from Boston University’s Wheelock Educational Policy Center on Mississippi’s test-based promotion law, concluding it helped drive higher ELA scores over time.

Data Science for Everyone’s Zarek Drozda digs into the 2022 NAEP math results, finding that student achievement in data science skill sets declined more significantly than other math content areas.

The Manhattan Institute’s Andy Smarick takes a closer look at the role education played in the 2022 gubernatorial elections to see what the winners had in common and explore what that means for the future of state-level education reform.

The RAND Corporation takes a look at school staffing shortages, finding that teacher turnover increased 4 percentage points above pre-pandemic levels, reaching 10 percent, while principal turnover increased to 16 percent.

“When Covid happened they sent everyone home. I was like, ‘I’m keeping them!’ We’ve been homeschooling ever since,” Aesha Egbuna shared with NBC News. She is one of many Black moms who have taken their children’s education into their own hands by embracing homeschooling. Why are Black families making the switch from traditional education? In a recent survey, 38 percent of families cite encouraging better academic outcomes, 35 percent say it was to uphold their values and worldviews and 28 percent say it was to better customize their children’s education.

Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.


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