Should the U.S. Switch to Year-Round Schooling?

The traditional school year, with roughly three months of vacation time every summer, was first implemented when America was primarily an agricultural society.  We have changed as a nation; today, over 2 million U.S. students attend school on year-round schedules every year in around 3,000 schools in 46 states — and the majority of U.S. K-12 students aren’t spending summers off tilling fields or harvesting crops. The question is, should the American school system switch to year-round schooling?

The phenomena known as the “summer slide,” where students actually lose knowledge with too much time away from school, coupled with kids who must spend those months in camps or child care due to working parents, are two reasons proponents of year-round schooling cite as it needing to implemented nationwide.

As with all change, certain considerations will arise and must be addressed, though. Making the switch would not be easy for students, teachers or their parents – but is it best?  Here are three important considerations when considering year-round schooling as a nationwide norm.

1. How are the students affected? 

Foremost, we must examine the impact a year-round school schedule has on the people it most affects – the students.   A long-time thorn in the side of K-12 educators has been the above mentioned “summer slide.” The National Summer Learning Association often cites decades of research that support the claim that students really do forget or unlearn things they have learned when too much time off is given between classroom sessions.  A study released in 2007 by The Ohio State University, however, found that there are really no differences in learning between students who attend school year-round, and those who are on a traditional schedule.

While the overall student numbers show no significant differences in learning for better or worse, at-risk students tend to do better in year-round setups. Studies have found that disadvantaged students lose about 27 percent more of their learning gains in the summer months than their peers. By being in school the same number of days, but with shorter breaks, these students are able to keep their minds on a learning track that may not otherwise be fostered at home in the off-months.

2.  How are the teachers affected?

Every job comes with its share of headaches and at one point or another, employees in all industries claim that they are “burned out.” Teaching is unique when it comes to burn out, though, because an unmotivated, exhausted teacher has a direct effect on the young people in his or her classroom. Summers off has long been the light at the end of the tunnel for teachers, particularly in urban areas with higher discipline problems and overcrowded classrooms. In a year-round setting, lengthy breaks are gone, replaced with shorter, more frequent ones instead. Though the loss of those summer months may at first seem like a drawback, many teachers end up liking greater frequency in time off. With shorter, more concentrated spurts of instruction, teachers can exert more energy and face the daily struggles with the hope that there will be relief soon. There is still as much time off, but it is more evenly distributed.

One important consideration for teachers is the effect of year-round schooling on their pocket books.In most scenarios, teachers make the same amount of money in their districts whether they work at a year-round or traditional school, though the pay schedules may differ. Teachers who made extra money teaching summer school still have that option in year-round districts that offer remedial courses during break periods. Where some teachers see the biggest economic cut when they teach year-round is in the three months of summer that other teachers often seek out part-time or seasonal work. Based on the type of work, this could mean a loss of income in the thousands every year. For teachers satisfied with holding down just one job and paycheck, a year-round schedule may not have any economic impact on their families at all.

3.  How does year-round schooling affect the economy? 

Each individual community will feel a different economic impact when it comes to year-round schooling. A tourist community with summer attractions, for example, may feel more of a squeeze if its low-cost employee pool of high school students is suddenly in class instead. The same could be said for ski communities though that could benefit from multi-track scheduling of high school students during its busiest seasons. The summer months tend to be when most high school students earn the most money, however, because there is a significant duration of time with no school responsibilities. Without those months of a steady paycheck, students (and parents) stand to lose potential college money. Trying to work and maintain a job alongside classes can have a negative impact on grades according to most research and most employers cannot accommodate students who are only available two or three week spans at a time.

So the potential economic cost of year-round schooling is two-fold: the individual student may suffer financially, and the local businesses may have to pay out more for jobs that are better-suited for high school students who do not have the time off to work them.

What other considerations do you associate with year-round schooling?


Next Generation Science Standards are Smart

Earlier this month California became the seventh state to adopt a new brand set of K-12 science outlines, dubbed Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS. The “real world” approach to science mastery focuses on engineering, problem solving, modeling, and cause and effect experiments. Other states that are on-board with the science outlines are Maryland, Nevada, Kentucky, Kansas, Rhode Island and Vermont. The term “science standards” sounds like a positive one as far as learning is concerned, but do schools need really need another tier of learning accountability – and will students really benefi

What are Next Generation Science Standards?

Over the past year and a half, NGSS have been developed by education experts in several states. They are not an official part of the new Common Core standards but are meant to layer on top of the standards in place for stronger science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) outcomes. These standards are intended to teach the overlapping nature of science subjects, rather than to present lessons in topic isolation. In states like California, the value of a strong STEM foundation is critical to individual and state success. Over the past decade, STEM jobs have grown at a rate three times faster than other industries. By equipping K-12 students with better STEM knowledge, the long-term economic outlook will improve.

Why are NGSS controversial?

A report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute reveals a flaw in the enthusiasm for NGSS. The Common Core math standards and NGSS outlines do not align. The authors of the math review from the Institute say that while there are many strengths on the math side, there are also “a distressing number of weaknesses.” These include science expectations that have math components that are not grade-appropriate, according to an Education Week post by Erik Robelen,

Other critics believe the standards are actually subpar when compared to current state standards. There is also concern that implementing a one-size-fits-all approach to science neglects individual learning initiatives and also regional needs when it comes to science education. Some critics also believe there is a lack of computer learning in the standards which is a disservice to students with how rapidly science technology is changing.

The verdict?

Applying any cookie-cutter standards to any K-12 topic certainly comes with its share of potential problems, as NGSS critics have pointed out. Still, shining the focus on real world STEM learning in real-world settings is necessary to fully equip the present and future workforce. American students also need the extra focus in areas of math and science where they fall behind their peers in other developed nations.

Science, math and engineering topics are also less likely to be discovered by students, in the way that many find a love for reading or music, without some guidance from educators. Let’s face it – science and math are less romantic than other topics and so the “aha” factor takes some navigation. Once students have experienced a science spark of interest, they are more likely to maintain it, particularly if they can see the real-world ramifications.

Like other curriculum standards, NGSS need some tweaking to best impact K-12 learners. The foundation is there though and that is a step in the right STEM direction. The NGSS are a building block of a much larger cultural shift that needs to happen where science and math are concerned. Empowering students with better conceptualization of science in everyday living is necessary for career success and progression as a nation.

Do you like the Next Generation Science Standards? Will students ultimately benefit from these areas of focus?


Survey: Internet helps education, hurts morality

The Pew Research Center has released results to a poll of relatively new internet users in developing countries that found the internet is viewed pretty favorably, particularly when it comes to education.

Sixty-four percent of the respondents felt that the internet had a positive impact on education and 53 percent said the same for personal relationships. When asked the same thing about the internet’s influence on politics and morality, however, only 36% and 29% had a favorable view, respectively. When you look at the way the internet is utilized in America and other developed nations, I’d say these observations align. There are good and bad aspects — but the potential for increased access to education is great.

I’ve said before that I feel technology can be a great equalizer in P-20 classrooms and this survey adds an international element to that stance. The internet allows access to information in ways that were not even dreamed of a few decades ago. Using internet technology to improve educational access on a worldwide scale is so important to elevating the global economy and knowledge base. Imagine the collaboration that will be possible worldwide between this generation of students because of internet access?

While the internet was considered somewhat of a luxury when it first emerged, I think it is vital that all corners of the world gain access in the coming decade. The internet should not be something elite countries have access to; it should be an educational right for all people. Through this mass adoption, knowledge collaborations will continue to grow and it will benefit all of us as world citizens.

Read all of our posts about EdTech and Innovation by clicking here. 

3 Ways to Improve U.S. Students Standing Worldwide

The latest international report on student knowledge and success worldwide once again paints U.S. pupils in a bad light. This is not the first time American students have lagged behind their peers on the OECD PISA global education survey that tests and compares student outcomes in areas like math, science and reading. The results are really just more of the same.

While I take issue with particular parts of the test (leader China reportedly only tested students in elite schools in Shanghai), it is a wake-up call nonetheless. When it comes to American K-12 student achievement, it is not enough to be a big fish in a little pond. To really make a splash and gain international footing, a few things need to change in U.S. K-12 education. Here are just a few:

Teacher support. This starts from administration in individual schools and extends into the community at large. Parents must also respect the role of teachers in order for kids to follow suit. Unfortunately many times teachers are pitted as servants, and not put on the pedestal they deserve. Perhaps I’m biased but what is more important than imparting knowledge to our next generation? Today’s best teachers are not simply reciting facts and expecting their students to regurgitate them; the teachers in contemporary classrooms are “showing their work” so to speak by imparting the life skills necessary for students to find answers on their own and be successful citizens in other ways.

Teachers need backup from the other people in their students’ lives and from their own colleagues and superiors. Traditionally high-performing PISA countries like Sweden, Australia and Japan all have one thing in common – high levels of community support for teachers and involvement from teachers in the course of instruction and curriculum. When new initiatives are handed down in the U.S., like the Common Core standards, teachers should have access to resources to help them reach goals. Teachers need more input in decisions, more access to continuing education resources and more faith from the administrators and families impacted by their classrooms.

STEM emphasis. There seems to be a general societal consensus that science, technology, engineering and math subjects are somehow boring, or uncool. A lot of attention has been placed lately on young women and finding ways to encourage them in male-dominated STEM fields, but I’d argue that young men need the same opportunities. Overall, more American students need to take an interest in STEM topics if we want to be able to compete on a global scale. The rapidly changing field of technology makes this part of U.S. K-12 education even more pressing. As the digital age continues to modify life as we know it, the students in today’s classrooms must have the tools to lead the country in discoveries, inventions and communication technology the coming decades.

Equal opportunities. In country that claims to be based on equality for all, there are still too many achievement gaps in our classrooms. While it should be a non-issue, the color of a student’s skin does seem to impact his or her academic achievement. It is not a direct effect, of course, but still something that needs even more focus to overcome. The best work on closing the achievement gap is in individual schools and I think that makes the most sense. No blanket national program will be able to answer all of the intricacies of why an achievement gap exists in a particular place or school. From a federal standpoint, however, schools should be encouraged to develop programs for eliminating achievement gaps and reaching individual students where it is most effective – their own classrooms.

Why do you think American students lag the rest of the world? What would you add to my list?

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

10 Essential Skills for the Education Leader of Tomorrow

What will the schools of tomorrow be like?

No one can say for certain. But one thing we do know: schools are under pressure to keep up with the ceaselessly rapidfire changes occurring in our culture. It is difficult to prepare students for the future when we have no way of knowing exactly what that future will be like.

In this context, educational leaders need a unique skill set to make sure that students get what they need. The prevalence of technology inside and outside the classroom, as well as the increased accountability for student achievement, have drastically changed the educational landscape.

Here are the skills that tomorrow’s educational leaders will need to keep up.

  1. An understanding of student outcomes. Curriculum must evolve to reflect the skills that students will need in the future. The educational leader of the future will understand the practices and environment necessary for student achievement.
  2. The ability to implement large-scale turnarounds. The bar is set increasingly high for student achievement in numeracy and literacy. Educational leaders must institute programs that lead to deep and lasting learning.
  3. An understanding of the variety of tools available to educators. Educational leaders must have knowledge of the array of available tools and the precise ways in which they can support teaching and learning.
  4. The ability and the desire to reform school culture. The leaders of the future must have a compelling vision and a commitment to high standards, so that they can implement deep and lasting reform.
  5. A commitment to quality professional development. The leaders and educators of tomorrow know that they must learn something new every day to keep their methods fresh in changing times.
  6. Knowledge of the best ways to support staff. Tomorrow’s leaders will understand what staff needs to carry out school and district goals effectively.
  7. An unwavering moral compass. The school leaders of the future have a strong social conscience and always keep the best interests of students in the forefront of decision-making.
  8. The ability to measure progress and success. As new tools are introduced, it’s important to evaluate their effectiveness and their impact on student learning.
  9. Personal use and exploration of new tools. The school leaders of tomorrow will model learning for others by adding new tools to their own repertoire.
  10. Emotional intelligence. When guiding their schools through disruptive changes, school leaders will need to maintain strong relationships with students, teachers, parents and the community.

The future is a moving target, but one thing is clear: effective school leaders demonstrate courage, care and determination. These qualities will serve our schools well in any culture or time period.

What is a “No-Zero” Grading Policy?

Over the last decade, a growing number of school districts have implemented grading systems that ban educators from giving students grades below 50% (this amount can vary from region to region). This type of policy has been given the term “no-zero” grading, and it usually operates like this: If a student finishes an assignment, regardless if it is late or represents low quality, the student still deserves at least a grade of 50, just for their effort.

Educators who support this policy believe that zero grades can put students in too deep in a hole, making it mathematically impossible for them to pass, which may cause them to disengage from the learning process. They believe that you should always give students a grade of at least 50%, so they can feel as though they can catch up. Also, giving a student a grade of zero is an oxymoron of sorts and not an accurate representation of what a child can do academically.

Skeptics, on the other hand, believe that “no-zero” grading policies send the wrong message to students. At the end of the day, “no-zero” grading policies are not an accurate representation of how life works, well at least for most people. In the real world, you have to earn everything you get. Skeptics also believe that “no zero grading” can artificially inflate student grades, which can hide their academic deficiencies and socially promote students who don’t know the material.

What do you think? Are no-zero grading policies a good or bad idea? What would be a better option?




The Edvocate’s List of 19 Ways to Say, ‘Thank You’ to Teachers

A shiny, red apple might be a standby, but these days, there are much better ways to show teachers the appreciation they deserve. Most teachers work seven days a week, preparing lectures, grading papers, and devising activities that engage and educate their students. Yet, for their endless efforts, teachers enjoy just one week every year when they receive thanks. School districts, administrations, parents, and students should strive to do more to show their gratitude. For inspiration, here is an outstandingly long list of the best ways to show teachers appreciation.

  1. Personal Thank-Yous. A simple, hand-written note goes a long way to prove you pay attention to a teacher’s efforts and appreciate them.
  2. Thank-You Breakfast. Teachers get an early start, and few make the time to enjoy a full breakfast. Perhaps toward the end of the year, you can organize a big breakfast for the entire teaching staff.
  3. Coupons From Students. Handmade coupons are an old trick, but they demonstrate appreciation nonetheless. Students can give coupons for “30 minutes of silence” or “Won’t complain about homework.”
  4. Parent Volunteers. Especially in lower grades, teachers can use another pair of eyes and hands around the classroom.
  5. Best Teacher Awards. Many schools take annual polls to determine students’ favorite teachers, but it is less stressful and more fun when all teachers win custom awards. You might consider organizing a yearbook-style “Most Likely To…” vote, such as “Teacher most likely to show a movie” or “Teacher most likely to write a novel.”
  6. Casual Dress Day. Students might not notice, but teachers tend to dress exceptionally professionally. You can give them a break by instituting a weekly or monthly casual day.
  7. Staff Parties. Plenty of workplaces organize employee get-togethers on a monthly or quarterly basis. Teachers should be encouraged to mingle in a social setting every once in a while.
  8. Media Recognition. Local news stations, both TV and radio, will publicly recognize teachers for their hard work, especially if they have done something particularly noteworthy like mobilize their classrooms to collect charitable donations or earn record-breaking scores on tests or college admissions.
  9. Teacher Spotlights. Every month, schools can shine a spotlight on individual teachers by decorating a bulletin board in their honor with personal information like favorite book and favorite treat. Then, students can be encouraged to gift teachers’ favorites throughout the year.
  10. Student Car Wash. Students (and their parents) can spend an afternoon washing staff vehicles in the school parking lot.
  11. Gifts of Supplies. Teachers are always in need of supplies like paper, pencils, and markers. The school can organize a donation drive, or parents and students can offer gifts to individual teachers.
  12. Video Thank You. Schools can record video interviews with students, who express gratitude to their teachers. The interviews can be divvied up to individual teachers or cut together to make a more comprehensive thank-you video.
  13. Free for Teachers Day. Local coffee shops, book stores, and restaurants can offer free items or great deals to teachers on specific days throughout the year.
  14. Teacher Massage. The school can hire a massage therapist for the day to provide free massages in the teachers’ lounge during teachers’ free periods.
  15. Erect a Monument. You can commission a statue in honor of an entire teaching staff, or retiring teachers can receive smaller tokens of remembrance, such as a newly planted tree, a bench, or a book in the library.
  16. Destress Periods. During trying times of year, like standardized test time or end-of-year exams, schools can give teachers extra break periods during the day to destress and recuperate.
  17. New Furniture and Appliances. Parents and schools can work together to purchase new items for the teachers’ lounge. It’s surprising what updated furniture and functional microwaves will do for morale. Even a fresh coat of paint can do much to help teachers feel noticed.
  18. Conference Attendance. Schools and teachers alike earn prestige when teachers present at conferences. Schools can support attendance and presentation with a fund to help teachers travel to and from conferences.
  19. Better Than Apples. Teachers these days buy their own apples. Instead, students, parents, and school administrations should give more unique and interesting gifts, such as gift cards to teachers’ favorite establishments, fresh flowers and potted plants, and sweet treats like candy and baked goods.

Pass or Fail: Alternative Strategies to the Pass or Fail System

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

To be effective, solutions to the problem of poor individual academic achievement should include all stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, administrators and school counselors. They should be well thought out and tested for appropriateness. As an academic intervention, grade retention, which is the current educational approach, remains a double-edged sword and, as we have seen, can be a dangerous approach for addressing academic struggles. It often does more psychosocial harm than academic benefits, and social promotion can have similar effects.

We clearly need more research in the area of psychosocial fallout from grade retention and social promotion, but there are also alternative strategies available, both for managing individual educational achievement and for managing the accountability of schools for providing quality educational opportunities. The problem with the alternatives is their disparity regarding current availability and application and the lack of available resources to implement such strategies.

Any solution to the problem of poor academic achievement must also establish a strategy for implementation, including a solid time frame.

In the forthcoming chapters, we will take a closer look at some of the key strategies for improvement of academic achievement, considering how they relate to the broader goal of any successful academic system: to create students who are ready for college and high-level jobs.

Click here to read all my suggestions for alternatives to social promotion and retention.

Why global education rankings don’t reveal the whole picture

Daniel Caro, University of Oxford and Jenny Lenkeit, University of Oxford

Country rankings in international education tests – such as PISA and TIMSS – are often used to compare and contrast education systems across a range of countries. But it isn’t always an even playing field.

This is because countries with very different social and economic realities participate, so countries such as Norway, Russia, Chile, Lebanon and Thailand are all being compared against each other. And this is without the difference in socio-economic backgrounds of these different countries being taken into account.

If the latest world education rankings are anything to go by, Turkey and Thailand perform poorly when it comes to their students’ achievement in science. But our analysis shows that if you look at the rankings differently (from an even starting point), both Thailand and Turkey may in fact be just as good as some of the high performing Asian countries.

Our analysis is a much fairer comparison, as it allows for the differences in wealth and social development in which students learn and teachers teach. It builds upon our previous work, where we produced and analysed an indicator of “effectiveness”. The effectiveness indicator ranks performance of countries as if they all had similar socio-economic conditions – thus levelling the playing field.

This makes it easier to see which countries are actually the most effective at educating their students, with social economic factors like wealth taken into account.

New style rankings

The graph below shows how countries are ranked in their effectiveness. At the top of the effectiveness ranking, we find education systems such as Singapore and Japan, which are also generally high performing in PISA and TIMSS.

TIMSS-PISA 2015. Values higher than zero (towards the right-hand side) indicate that students in those education systems perform above expectations, meaning the education system is effective. Those values below zero, to the left, indicate ineffective education systems.
Author provided

But our analysis also revealed that countries such as Turkey and Thailand are actually highly effective and perform above expectations in terms of education. This is despite both countries having an overall lower performance score in the global education rankings.

As the graph shows, the performance of education systems in Turkey and Thailand is underestimated if guided by country rankings alone. This is because although these countries perform below average and rather poorly in PISA, they are as effective as high performing Asian countries.

This means that Turkey and Thailand would be ranked among the highest performing countries in the world – if there was no socio-economic differences between countries.

TIMSS-PISA 2015. Effectiveness vs performance according to rankings. The horizontal line at 0 separates effective from ineffective systems and the vertical line at 500 indicates average performance for TIMSS and OECD education systems.
Author provided

Our analysis also shows education systems in Norway are ineffective, and the same was found to be true of Australia. So while these countries are ranked highest in human development in the world, they are not among the highest performing in these international tests when we level the playing field.

On the lower end of the effectiveness ranking, we find Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. These countries are also among the lowest performing in PISA rankings and could be doing much better for their high income per capita levels.

Fair comparison

It is clear then that overall performance rankings alone do not make a fair comparison when it comes to judging the quality of education in different countries. And our analysis shows how the socioeconomic conditions of a country are vitally important when comparing global performance in education rankings.

The ConversationUsing our data, there would certainly be a case for countries like Chile, Malta, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to look to Turkey and Thailand to work out how to improve their education systems. And as our analysis shows, global education rankings are probably not the best measure of educational performance after all.

Daniel Caro, Research Fellow, Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, University of Oxford and Jenny Lenkeit, Research Fellow, Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tax credits, school choice and ‘neovouchers’: What you need to know

Kevin Welner, University of Colorado

As Republican lawmakers craft a tax reform bill, there’s speculation on the import taxes, value-added taxes and tax cuts it may usher in. Meanwhile, it’s likely that the bill will also include a major education policy initiative from the Trump administration: a tax credit designed to fund private school vouchers.

A decade ago I started researching this new kind of voucher – funded through a somewhat convoluted tax credit mechanism – that appears to have particular appeal to President Trump and other Republicans.

These new vouchers (or “neovouchers”) are similar to conventional vouchers in many ways, but there are some important differences. It’s those differences that neovoucher advocates most care about and that everyone should understand.

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tour Saint Andrew Catholic School in Orlando, Florida.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Conventional vouchers

What exactly is a school voucher? Typically, a voucher is direct financial support that helps families pay for the cost of private K-12 schooling. Proponents see vouchers as a way to help children attend nonpublic schools. Detractors see vouchers as undermining funding and support needed by public education.

All vouchers subsidize tuition with tax dollars. This can be accomplished in many ways, and the nuances matter.

Conventional voucher policies use the relatively straightforward method of allocating state money to give vouchers directly to eligible parents. The parents, in turn, give the vouchers to a private school of their choice. These schools are sometimes secular, but are usually religious.

The private schools then redeem these vouchers to obtain money from the state. In the 16 states where conventional voucher policies exist, they produce about 175,000 vouchers annually. This amounts to 3.3 percent of the nation’s private school population.

Yet, these direct vouchering programs present four major problems for school choice advocates.

First, they’re typically available only to lower-income families; wealthier families are usually not eligible.

Second, when governments directly provide voucher money, participating schools are generally required to comply with a variety of guidelines, such as accreditation requirements, anti-discrimination regulation, minimum teacher qualifications, financial reporting and/or the administration of a standardized test to students receiving the voucher.

Third, vouchers are simply not politically popular – which is why the more palatable term “opportunity scholarships” (courtesy of messaging guru Frank Luntz) has become increasingly popular.

Finally – and importantly – state constitutions often prohibit the channeling of state money to religious institutions. In many states, this means that conventional voucher programs cannot exist if the program includes religious schools. Although the Supreme Court has ruled that vouchers don’t violate federal law, state constitutions can create legal obstacles that are more formidable than those under the U.S. Constitution.

St. Joseph Academy, a Catholic school in Cleveland, is one of the top three schools to benefit from Ohio voucher dollars. Ohio’s conventional vouchers can be applied to secular and nonsecular schools alike, but 97 percent go to religious schools.
Oarbogast / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Vouchers on steroids

To sidestep these issues, many state lawmakers have embraced a new kind of voucher policy that gets essentially the same result but changes the state’s role from paying for vouchers to issuing tax credits.

This approach was first adopted in Arizona, in 1997, where the legislature passed a law setting up a system in which any taxpayer could “donate” money to a special, private nonprofit corporation. That corporation then issues vouchers to parents, who use them to pay for private school tuition. The taxpayers then get the money back from the state in the form of a tax credit.

Arizona’s constitution – typical of language in state constitutions – requires that “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment.” But Arizona’s elaborate mechanism keeps the specific dollars out of state coffers. Consequently, state funding only indirectly supports religious institutions. The Arizona Supreme Court found this distinction sufficient, ruling that the tax credits did not violate the state’s constitutional prohibition against spending public money for religious support.

Beyond this legal advantage, advocates favor this sort of tax-credit-voucher method because it appears less likely to be regulated. It’s also likely to be open to a wider range of parents – not just lower-income or special needs families. And the complexity of the neovoucher approach obscures the fact that it’s really a voucher program, making it less of a political lightning rod.

Some wealthy taxpayers can even receive tax benefits exceeding the value of their donations. This baffling outcome is because of a loophole tied to the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), an extra tax imposed on some wealthier taxpayers to ensure that they pay their fair share. The AMT limits certain tax breaks, such as the ability to deduct state tax payments from federal taxes. However – and here’s the twist – these AMT taxpayers can deduct charitable contributions. And so, these wealthier taxpayers can shift their state tax payment into a “charitable” contribution and instantly transform the payment into a federal deduction. In the six states that give a full tax credit for voucher donations, those taxpayers can get back the full value of their voucher plus a deduction for the donation.

A decade ago when I wrote a book explaining these tax credit policies and labeling them “neovouchers,” they existed in only six states and generated about 100,000 vouchers. Today, 17 states have tax-credit policies similar to Arizona’s on their books, generating a quarter-million vouchers and growing every year.

Students at The King’s Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. Florida is one of the states that issues tax-credit-style vouchers.
Randal Martin / Wikipedia, CC BY

These new vouchers aren’t likely to help kids

Do these vouchers improve student achievement? The research suggests that we shouldn’t expect children’s learning to be affected.

An evaluation of Florida’s neovoucher law – which the Trump administration appears to be using as its model – found that students receiving these neovouchers had a nonsignificant (-0.7 percentile points) loss in math and nonsignificant (+0.1 percentile points) gain in reading on standardized test scores.

Similarly, research focused on conventional vouchers has tended to reach this same conclusion, finding no significant change in student test scores. More recent studies, looking at conventional vouchers in Louisiana, Ohio and Indiana actually find that test scores have declined – in some cases, by surprisingly large margins.

What to expect

While, thus far, neovoucher policies have existed only on the state level, proposals are now appearing at a federal level.

In February of 2017, Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana and three Republican colleagues introduced a bill (H.B. 895) that sets forth the basic structure for a federal neovoucher policy.

But the particulars of the neovoucher policy that ultimately emerges in the Republicans’ tax reform bill are up for grabs. Based on the wide variety of existing state neovoucher policies, it is possible that the federal proposal will provide a full 100 percent credit (as does H.B. 895) or a credit of only 50 or 65 percent. It might limit eligibility to children in families at the poverty level, or it might have expanded or even universal eligibility.

It also remains to be seen whether federal neovouchers would be allocated only in states with existing programs or might be distributed in all states, including those with no such laws.

Interestingly, some of the staunchest advocates of state-level neovouchers have expressed concern and even opposition to a federal initiative. Beyond general conservative resistance to federal overreach in education policy, they voice familiar concerns about the likelihood of regulations following money, particularly from future Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C.

And, of course, a federal neovoucher program would face significant fiscal obstacles as well. Absent large cuts elsewhere, these policies would strain the federal budget, requiring some creative work on the part of lawmakers – particularly since the tax reform bill will have to be revenue neutral. The cost of vouchers for even a fraction of the nation’s 57 million K-12 students could easily cost tens of billions.

This daunting price tag, however, probably won’t deter President Trump or Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who have stated their opposition to the “public” part of public schools, with Trump even denigrating them as socialistic “government schools” that are part of the “American carnage” that “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

The ConversationIt seems unlikely that they will forego their chance to give tax dollars to private education.

Kevin Welner, Professor, Education Policy & Law; Director, National Education Policy Center, University of Colorado

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.