Academic Achievement

Recent Issues

Open Floodgates of School Choice in Philadelphia


How can we expect any single school - public, private, or home school—to adequately serve the unique needs of every student who passes through its doors? We can't—and we don't have to—provided we open the floodgates of choice for Philadelphia's schoolchildren.

For Latinos, Education is Key to Success


For the Hispanic community, education is the key to making the American Dream a reality. Yet far too many Latinos remain victims of their ZIP code and socio-economic status when it comes to quality schooling.

Education Spending & Academic Achievement


Increased education spending has not led to improved academic performance. This is reflected in SAT scores and NAEP results, as well numerous studies at the state, national, and international level. To improve academic performance, policymakers should pursue a student-based funding formula, mandate relief, and expanded school choice. 


Recent Blog Posts

Education Savings Accounts Across the Country

The movement to provide children with better education is building momentum in 2017 as education savings accounts (ESA) advance in nearly a dozen states. Legislation has been filed in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, New Hampshire, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Texas to empower families by providing them with access to this groundbreaking school choice policy.  

ESAs take various forms, yet share the same solid principle – parents should have more freedom to choose the best education for their children.

ESA programs operate by placing most or all of the state’s per-pupil cost into a fund or on a debit card. Parents can use these ESA dollars on the school they choose (private, home, cyber, etc.), educational materials, tutoring, and transportation. Any remaining ESA funds are carried over to the next school year, incentivizing responsible use. These programs, often specifically designed for students with special needs, can prove life-changing and enjoy significant support among Americans.

In 2011, Arizona became the first state with an ESA program when it started its Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Students can receive up to 90% of their state education funds, but eligibility has remained restricted and primarily serves students with special needs, those from military families, and those attending the worst-performing schools. However, this year Arizona’s state legislature has introduced a bill that would make eligibility universal, creating new opportunities for every student.

In Arkansas, called “school choice country” by lieutenant governor Tim Griffin, lawmakers are considering a bill which would create an ESA program funded entirely by tax-exempt private donations. Though governor Asa Hutchinson has not yet signaled support for the pro-student legislation, reports show that it would be an affordable way to provide school choice to thousands of Arkansas students.

Finally, Iowa’s new legislative majority and governor are optimistic about achieving greater educational opportunity and freedom, including through ESAs, which are strongly supported by pro-school choice Iowans. New ESA legislation is in the works to benefit Iowa students, including those from low-income families.

Across America, the movement for better education continues to gain ground, build support, and improve lives. Pennsylvania has long been a leader in providing school choice options to families, but initiatives across the country should inspire the commonwealth to do more to provide ESAs to students in need.

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posted by Kris Malysz, James Paul | 01:00 PM

Will Lower Standards Help School Performance?

Pennsylvania’s primary tool for grading schools—the School Performance Profile (SPP)—is being overhauled. The current SPP is not particularly straightforward, but it’s based mainly on test scores and academic growth. At the direction of Gov. Tom Wolf, the revised SPP will become more complicated, less reliant on tests, and more reliant on “holistic” measures of school success.

According to the Department of Education, here’s what we can expect from a more holistic SPP:

  • Increasing the weighting of value-added measures
  • Measuring English language acquisition among non-native speakers, not simply performance on a test of grade level standards
  • Incentivizing career awareness instruction beginning at the elementary level
  • Increasing the weighting of rigorous course offerings such as AP, IB, and “dual enrollment”
  • Allowing districts to include locally-selected reading assessments and math as additional snapshots of student progress
  • Awarding extra credit to schools graduating students with at least one industry recognized credential

It’s too early to know exactly how this will change the SPP’s 0-100 scale used to compare performance in buildings across the state. While some of these items may be worthwhile, the overall trend is to de-emphasize test scores, lower standards, and award credit for course offerings and credentials (to say nothing of their impact on achievement).

Wolf’s administration is following through on an earlier promise to weaken the SPP. While this may result in higher scores for Pennsylvania schools, it will do little to boost performance in the classroom.

Standardized testing is a contentious topic among parents and educators. Are tests useful? Which test should we use? How often should we test? These questions are fair game for debate and deserve thoughtful consideration. But it’s hard to imagine eliminating testing as the solution to Pennsylvania’s educational problems.

Tests provide a valuable benchmark to measure student proficiency. They provide parents with important information, and they underscore gaps in achievement between different groups of children. [Of course, to the maximum extent possible: the form, frequency, and style of testing should be determined by schools and localities—not Harrisburg or Washington.]

A better approach than Wolf’s would move Pennsylvania to an A-F school grading system. This would be easier to understand than a convoluted SPP. Already employed by over a dozen states, A-F ratings would deliver transparency and accountability—inspiring all public schools in the commonwealth to make the grade.  

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posted by James Paul | 03:01 PM

2015 SAT Scores

The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, is an important indicator of public education quality in Pennsylvania. Currently, the commonwealth ranks 36th out of the 50 states and 3 US territories (Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands). That's one place higher than last year.

A large percentage of Pennsylvania students take the SAT, which does contribute to low overall performance. Average SAT scores are higher in states with lower test participation, typically because only the highest performing students sit for the test. Among states with a participation rate of at least 70 percent, Pennsylvania ranks 6th.

Historical data shows SAT scores are largely unchanged since 1970. Meanwhile, state education spending per student has increased 63 percent. This long-term trend undermines constant calls for more education spending to improve public schools.

To increase student achievement, we must change focus from more spending to reforms that change how tax dollars are spent. One such reform is the creation of education savings accounts, which will give parents stronger control over how, and where, their son or daughter will best succeed.

Below is a table of all states scores and participation rates. Details on Pennsylvania’s statewide performance report can be found here.

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posted by Hunter Ahrens, Elizabeth Stelle | 11:45 AM