It is week 160 of our new reality, and we are thinking about how much progress we are making as a country in putting the focus on the science of reading and how much more we can be doing to address the reading crisis in America.

“A revolt over how children are taught to read, steadily building for years, is now sweeping school board meetings and statehouses around the country,” writes Sarah Mervosh in a front page, above the fold story in the Sunday edition of The New York Times. “The movement has drawn support across economic, racial and political lines. Its champions include parents of children with dyslexia; civil rights activists with the N.A.A.C.P.; lawmakers from both sides of the aisle; and everyday teachers and principals. Together, they are getting results. Ohio, California and Georgia are the latest states to push for reform, adding to almost 20 states that have made moves in the last two years.”

It’s a bottom-up, bipartisan movement that we are proud to be a part of and one that has been a centerpiece of our state legislative campaigns. But the science of reading is not just about giving kids the skills they need to decode, it is also about giving them the knowledge and vocabulary they need to comprehend the text they are reading. That’s why programs like Core Knowledge are so important.

“A remarkable long-term study by University of Virginia researchers led by David Grissmer demonstrates unusually robust and beneficial effects on reading achievement among students in schools that teach E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge sequence,” writes Robert Pondiscio in a new essay for The Fordham Institute. “The working paper offers compelling evidence to support what many of us have long believed: Hirsch has been right all along about what it takes to build reading comprehension. And we might be further along in raising reading achievement, closing achievement gaps, and broadly improving education outcomes if we’d been listening to him for the last few decades.”

“The cumulative long-term gain from kindergarten to sixth grade for the Core Knowledge students was approximately 16 percentile points,” writes Pondiscio. “Grissmer and his co-authors put this into sharp relief by noting that if we could collectively raise the reading scores of America’s fourth graders by the same amount as the Core Knowledge students in the study, the U.S. would rank among the top five countries on earth in reading achievement. At the one low-income school in the study, the gains were large enough to eliminate altogether the achievement gap associated with income. Eliminate it.”

The study is an important reminder that the choices we make in education matter tremendously for our children. Ineffective curriculum costs as much as effective curriculum. The achievement gaps in our schools are not inevitable but instead the result of specific choices that can be studied and improved if we decide to prioritize the learning of our children above all else.

Last time, we took stock of the progress made this year in the Peach State while digging deeper into nationwide trends that could force a big shift in focus on education policy. This week we explore the challenges of expanding school choice in a world of financial constraints and check in on the legislative session in the Volunteer State.

Take on the big questions about school choice and school finance

Last week Jess Gartner, the founder of K-12 finance tech company Allovue, hosted a conversation about the evolving role of school choice in K-12 finance. “I’ve invited several colleagues who are choice proponents to engage in a good old-fashioned discourse on this topic,” Jess writes in her introduction to the essay series. “I hope that collectively we can move the conversation about choice toward ensuring our system of education provides the resources each student needs to succeed.”

Allovue featured four essays responding to Jess’ questions:

  • Myself, writing on how we can ensure that any additional money we spend on K-12 education provides all students with the services and opportunities already enjoyed by the wealthiest among us.
  • 50CAN President Derrell Bradford, on how declining enrollment in the public system requires better alignment with the expectations and desires of families.
  • A for Arizona’s Emily Anne Gullickson, reflecting on the transportation work done so far in the Grand Canyon State and the future opportunities to ensure our school transportation systems support students in attending a variety of schools and programs for learning.
  • yes. every kid’s Andrew Clark on how the funding of a variety of learning opportunities will lead to family-driven accountability.

Among the core ideas discussed:

“Our public investment in education often follows a path of providing to all families the educational opportunities that were previously reserved for the wealthiest among us,” I write in my essay. “In the 19th century, that meant making a basic education a right and a responsibility rather than a privilege. In the 20th century, we expanded this commitment to high school, transforming something that had served just 2 percent of kids into a cultural expectation and norm for everyone. Now we are in the midst of another expansion: to provide to all families the school choices wealthy families enjoy while also providing all families with access to the educational opportunities, experiences and support that have long been the norm among the elite: a range of choice for tutoring, summer camps, connectivity, mental health, after school enrichment and more to create a personalized educational journey for their children.”

Derrell underscores these points in his own writing, noting that concerns over the financial sustainability of our public system are the result of a mismatch between what schools are providing and parents are expecting. “Existing options should align their interests with family expectations, desires, and demands,” he writes, “And that is the best way to ensure we have a responsive environment where many providers, including traditional public schools, help the nation’s children learn and grow into the best versions of themselves.”

Emily Anne Gullickson, who’s work on transportation has been a key factor in expanding and strengthening open enrollment and school choice in Arizona, notes that many of the ideas Derrell and I discuss won’t come to fruition without an improved way to move kids to a broad suite of learning environments. “It’s not a choice if you can’t get there,” she writes. The opportunity Emily Anne identifies is to fund students’ transportation according to their needs.

Andrew Clark, meanwhile, believes it’s time to change the conversation around accountability: “That approach necessitates that we fundamentally flip accountability away from educators and families being accountable to the government through standardized tests and reporting and towards the government being accountable to families through choice and pricing … Creating real value for the customer requires far more than choice. It requires real freedom to explore an unlimited range of products and services and to depend on the insights that price points bring along with customer feedback to serve as accountability.”

  • The task this week is to open conversations both on how shifting parent desires and demands are necessitating shifts in education finance and the changes that will be required from the system at large over the next decade to make a world of choices open to all.


Build on early success in student funding, early reading and summer camp

In 2019, TennesseeCAN helped to pass the state’s original Education Savings Account legislation that provided students in two counties with ESAs to cover tuition, tutoring, and post-secondary early coursework. It helped jump-start what has been four years of increasingly successful campaigns across the country to do the same. Later today, a floor vote is scheduled in the Tennessee House to double the number of counties in the program to four. The bill has already passed the Senate.

“This is another step forward for us on a long road to bring the empowerment of school choice to every child in our state,” TennesseeCAN Executive Director Victor Evans said. “But for the families who will gain access to determining how they want their children to be educated should this bill pass, today could be life changing.”

Another priority bill for TennesseeCAN focuses on providing families with clear information on whether their children are on track for reading by the third grade and the additional support to get them back on track if they aren’t. The bill also includes mandatory participation in Tennessee’s summer learning camps for struggling students. The Tennessee summer learning camps were the subject of a new study out of Tennessee Education Research Alliance that found that 97% of participating elementary teachers believed their students improved academically and that students and teachers enjoyed the camp (97% and 95% respectively).

The team is also championing the Governor’s budget proposal to spend $350 million more to support the implementation of the new TISA funding system that TennesseCAN helped secure last year. Combined with the $750 million approved for TISA last year, that equates to more than $1 billion in new child-centered funding in the Volunteer State. The budget also includes $22 million for charter facilities and $33 million for the summer learning camps.

  • The task this week is to look for the opportunities to double down on prior wins to expand their impact to even more students.

HawaiiKidsCAN is following the progress of two priority bills that made it through the committee process and passed out of the Senate unanimously. HB503 makes earning a computer science credit a requirement to graduate high school while also appropriating $600,000 over the next two years for educator professional development in computer science. SB894 strengthens the office of wellness and resilience that is tasked with creating a state framework for trauma-informed care in both schools and at health care providers. The bills are now in conference before returning for a full vote in both chambers.

NewMexicoKidsCAN is welcoming Diego Lopez, an experienced journalist and investigative reporter, to their staff as a journalist for New Mexico Education. A life-long resident of the Land of Enchantment, Diego brings incredible excitement to playing a role in improving the education system through facts and storytelling. In addition, the team has new episodes of the New Mexico Rising podcast, including an interview with Dr. Arsenio Romero, the new secretary of education.

The fifth cohort of the National Voices Fellowship gathered in Washington DC for discussions on bipartisanship, education policy, contemporary American politics and culture and an intensive day of on-camera media training. The latest cohort of the program is our largest yet, featuring 14 incredible emerging voices. You can learn more about the 2023 fellows here.

The Urban Institute published a report on the unequal exposure of students to School Resource Officers based on race, ethnicity, and income.

Mathematica published a study highlighting the positive impacts of the Math Corps tutoring program on math knowledge and students’ perceptions.

Varsity Tutors’ Anthony Salcito, writing for FutureEdexplored the potential advantages and risks associated with the implementation of new teaching technologies.

An EdWorkingPaper examined access to extracurricular activities, finding that white and Asian students as well as students from high socioeconomic backgrounds reported substantially more activities and leadership roles.

The U.S. Chamber Foundation released a report on the past 20 years of K-12 education assessment and accountability policy.

The Chronicle of Higher Education discussed the overlooked aspects of the grade inflation conversation in higher education, with GPAs rising and colleges not talking about it.

The New York Post published an exposé on the rising costs of New York City’s school spending, finding that per pupil expenses are up 47% since 2016 and now top $37,000 per child. They are projected to reach $43,000 per pupil by 2026.

Bellwether proposed a series of recommendations to accelerate career pathways programs, including nurturing bipartisan support and increasing teacher pay.

The Brookings Institution analyzed the impact of AI on workforce ecosystems and provided recommendations, such as investing in worker training and reskilling programs.

GeorgiaCAN executive director Michael O’Sullivan (left) looks on as Gov. Kemp signed HB 538 and SB 211, a pair of literacy bills that will ensure students have access to high-quality instructional materials aligned with the science of reading. “There’s 1.6 million children in Georgia,” Michael said, “And every single one of our kids deserves all of the opportunities for which reading is a foundation.”

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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