Trends in Education Policy
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Improving Education Policy: A Look at Good and Bad Education Trends and Events

By Monica Fuglei
Trends in Education Policy

In order to create fair, effective education policy, it’s necessary to reflect on current public education trends and events that increase — or inhibit — access to high-quality education. Individual opinions may vary based on political stance, but improved learning for all students should be the goal of policymakers.

Wallethub recently compiled a list of best and worst school systems per state. States earned scores based on areas including test scores, school safety and dropout rates. A quick glance at this list unearths interesting trends for educators to keep an eye on.

Bad for families living in poverty: Income level remains closely tied to school performance

Massachusetts has consistently performed well in best/worst education rankings, and the past year was no exception; it’s number one on the list. Colorado was ranked second. While school funding differs wildly between these two states, fewer than half of their public school students live at or below the poverty line.

Some of the lowest-ranked states, including Louisiana (47) and Arizona (48), had populations of low-income students that were at or above 60 percent. While this does not tell the whole story of school performance, state poverty rankings correlate with overall educational performance and attainment.

Good for transparency: Washington Supreme Court finds public funds for charter schools unconstitutional

Deliberate and fair educational funding choices are essential to ensuring students have quality education, and discussions of poverty nearly always involve how schools are funded. In 2015, Washington and Texas, Wallethub’s 27th- and 31st-ranked states, were significant contributors to these policy discussions.

In December, I covered the Washington State Supreme Court Case regarding charter school funding. The court found that due to lack of transparency in fiscal decision-making, giving public funds to charter schools in the state was unconstitutional. Because charter schools have become a key issue in school districts nationwide, this ruling could have significant effects on U.S. education reform initiatives.

Good for school assignment equality: Texas vs. Inclusive Communities Project

In another potentially-groundbreaking case related to school funding, the state of Texas vs. Inclusive Communities Project, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that policy decisions could not create artificial barriers that prevented minority people from attaining quality housing options. Because school assignment and school districting is a significant criteria in defining quality housing, it will be interesting to see if this decision has any lasting implication on educational policy.

Bad for standardized testing: Parents and students are opting out

Standardized testing has long been a high-profile education issue, and first-ranked Massachusetts showed high performance in both reading and math tests. However, recent developments aren’t necessarily about the students taking tests, but those who didn’t.

Anti-testing movements, combined with a rejection of the newly-developed Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, has led to significant numbers of students opting out of standardized testing. In Colorado, about 10 percent of all eligible students opted out of the exams last year; the numbers were highest among white students in the upper secondary grades. In many ways, parents nationwide saw opting out of PARCC exams as a small way to regain state-level control over their children’s education.

Court decisions and testing backlash are likely to impact future education policies

State and national court decisions on school funding and charter schools have the potential for a lasting and broad influence on educational funding, helping to ensure that district resources are fairly and openly managed and are split in ways that more appropriately address different populations and needs.

Parents, administrators, and educators are split on testing, noting the usefulness of various measures but the difficulty of testing fatigue and mandated testing requirements at the federal, state, district, and even school level. This subject of assessment, of course, brings us to last year’s largest education story: The replacement of No Child Left Behind with the Every Student Succeeds Act, which I will cover in part two of this article.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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