Since the civil rights era, the United States has struggled with how best to integrate schools—and today is no different, as concerns mount over signs of school re-segregation. This report by the Century Foundation’s Halley Potter argues that charter schools might have a role to play, by using their “flexibility, funding, and political viability” to solve various integration problems.

Charter schools can prove helpful in at least five ways: available funding, the ability to enroll children across district lines, program and curricular autonomy, independent leadership and management, and battle-hardened political effectiveness. As integration programs continue to struggle against political barriers (frequently about funding), school choice leaders could prove to be valuable allies.

Two examples of successful and charter-backed inter-district integration are the Rhode Island Mayoral Academies and Connecticut’s Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication (ISAAC). The Mayoral Academy schools draw their students from four districts, two urban and two suburban, which encompass a broad socioeconomic range. The schools use a weighted lottery system to ensure that they admit an equal number of students from the urban and suburban areas and that at least half of their enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Not only has the school...

Researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research recently examined whether financial incentives can increase parental involvement in children’s education and subsequently raise cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. The analysts conducted a randomized field experiment during the 2011–12 school year in Chicago Heights, a low-performing urban school district where 90 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch. The 257 parent participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a treatment group in which parents were paid immediately; a second treatment group in which parents were paid via deposits into a trust fund that could only be accessed when their children enrolled in college; and a control group that received no payment. Parents in both treatment groups could earn up to $7,000 per year for their attendance at parent academy sessions (eighteen sessions, each lasting ninety minutes, that taught parents how to help children build cognitive and non-cognitive skills), proof of parental homework completion, and the performance of their child on benchmark assessments.  

To measure cognitive outcomes, the analysts averaged results along the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test and the Woodcock Johnson III Test of Achievement; to measure non-cognitive outcomes, they averaged results from the Blair and Willoughby Measures...

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) sees itself as an “independent watchdog of foundations.” But is clearly an organization with a strong “social justice” bent. It should surprise no one that this report from its Philamplify unit looks largely askance at the Walton Family Foundation’s grant making in education. WFF and NCRP may both get out of bed each morning resolved to advance the cause of social justice, but they operate on very different theories of action. Everything that follows is a function of these differences.

For example, the report criticizes WFF’s “overreliance” on market-based reform vehicles. This is a bit like criticizing a fish for its overreliance on water. Walton’s support of charter schools and choice does not “hinder the transformative potential of the foundation’s education program”; it is the transformative potential of its program. Similarly, the report holds that the expansion of high-quality charter schools and related advocacy have created “meaningful benefits for individual students and families, but have not achieved far-reaching, sustainable and equitable system-wide improvement”—a finding that is a mere two or three generations premature (and elides the utter failure of much longer-standing democratic institutions to bring about those same ends).

Affluent Americans, by dint...

Editor's note: This post was originally published in a slightly different form by the Seventy Four; click to see Antonucci’s deeper analysis of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

In its 2015–16 term, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider a case that weighs the respective rights of teachers’ unions and the individuals who choose not to join them. If the court’s decision goes as expected, it will inflict a significant financial blow on teachers’ unions, even while improving the financial lot of many teachers themselves.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the court will examine the legality of “agency fees”—payments that public sector unions in twenty-one states are allowed to charge workers who decline to join their ranks. The unions call them “fair-share fees,” arguing that every teacher in a bargaining unit benefits from collective bargaining, so every teacher should chip in to cover the costs.

Public school teacher Rebecca Friedrichs and her fellow plaintiffs beg to differ. They maintain that the compulsory fees violate their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association. Supreme Court watchers on the Left and Right agree that the court is likely to decide for the plaintiffs on these grounds.

No one...

“The problem in American education is not dumb teachers. The problem is dumb teacher training,” University of Virginia cognitive scientist Dan Willingham recently wrote in the New York Times. Indeed, if there’s any part of the education pipeline that’s ripe for retooling, it’s the way we prepare teachers. Complaints are legion, long-standing, and not unique to policy wonks. Teachers themselves routinely bemoan how poorly prepared their training left them for the realities of classroom life. Fewer than half of new teachers described their training as “very good” in a 2012 survey by the American Federation of Teachers, while one in three new teachers reported feeling unprepared on his first day.

Thus, it can only be viewed as a great good thing that two dozen deans of education schools have come together under the banner of “Deans for Impact” and committed themselves to a common set of principles, including data-driven improvement, common outcome measures, empirical validation of teacher preparation methods, and accountability for student learning. They’re also persuading other teacher preparation programs to do the same.

At a Tuesday event at the National Press Club, the group unveiled a ...

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan deserves the many plaudits he received on Friday from President Obama and his friends in the reform community—and even from his sometime-foes in the teachers’ unions. As everyone remarked, he’s a good and decent man, a fighter for disadvantaged kids who’s passionate about his work and loyal to his team. That was certainly my personal experience with him; he was more gracious toward me than I probably deserved, considering the many swipes I’ve taken at his policy decisions over the years.

So please bear with me one more time: Even at this moment of celebration, congratulation, and reflection regarding Arne’s time at the helm, the Obama administration can’t seem to help itself. It almost seems determined to poison the well with Congress and play to the stereotype of a government unwilling to abide by constitutional limits.

I’m referring, of course, to the decision to appoint John King (another smart, committed reformer and all-around great guy) as “acting” education secretary for an entire year rather than putting him through the Senate confirmation process.

It’s certainly true that the confirmation process has slowed to an agonizing pace over the past few decades. And the Bush 43 administration also opted...

I thought I’d left Roseburg behind three months ago, at milepost 125 on Interstate Five. After spending the past year as the county’s education reporter, I was eager for a new city, a new coast, and new opportunities to write about education. I packed my car and drove away in June, watching the red-tailed hawks disappear for the last time in my rearview mirror.

Or so I thought. Today, Roseburg is all I can think about.

When my coworker first announced the news of a shooting at Umpqua Community College yesterday, I was confused. The school, to say nothing of the small county it resides in, just isn’t the stuff that national media events are made of. The massacre that killed at least ten students and injured seven others wasn’t supposed to happen there; some other city, maybe, but not there.

This isn’t to say that nothing of note happens in Douglas County. Community journalism was a whirlwind tutorial in the small-bore forces and events that shape people’s lives—especially when it comes to education. Schools countywide were battling for funds to bring iPads into classrooms so that students from special education classes and kindergarten reading groups could reap the...

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the average American lived to be about 50 years old. One hundred years later, nearly three decades have been added to that lifespan, due in no small part to advances in public health: immunization and control of infectious disease, safer and healthier food, motor vehicle safety, fluoridation of drinking water, and recognizing the dangers of tobacco use.

Public health's watershed advances occur in part because public policy and awareness are intertwined with medical practice and research, mutually reinforcing one another. Research teaches us about the ill effects of smoking; doctors discourage their patients from smoking; policymakers raise taxes on cigarettes, pass laws curtailing who can buy and sell them and where people are allowed to light up. Eventually the combined forces become overwhelming. The habit is seen as dangerous, expensive, and socially unacceptable. Fewer Americans purchase cigarettes, and even those who do become reluctant to expose their children to tobacco smoke. Behavior changes. Quality of life improves.

American education has enjoyed no such golden era, largely because education force multipliers too seldom act in concert. Those who work in education research, policy, and practice frequently fail to communicate with one another, and when...

Dan Weisberg

Editor's note: This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on the TNTP Blog.

Yesterday on Flypaper, our friend Andy Smarick shared some reflections on “The Mirage,” our recent report on teacher improvement. Our finding that the enormous investment school systems make in teacher improvement isn’t actually helping most teachers improve tends to send people into something resembling the five stages of grief. We experienced it ourselves. Andy readily admits that he’s still stuck on denial, and from there he raises a big question that we’ve heard in other critiques of the report: Can we really trust the measures of teacher performance we used to reach our conclusions about professional development?

Andy knows the ins and outs of teacher evaluation as well as anyone, so we respect his healthy skepticism on this front. Before I address his specific concerns, though, it’s worth pointing out that our findings about professional development aren’t as dire as he and others have made them out to be. In our research, we found thousands of teachers who improved from year to year. Clearly, some kinds of professional development are helping individual teachers. The problem is that at the systemic level, these teachers are the exception...

Terry Ryan

Wikipedia defines judicial activism as “judicial rulings suspected of being based on personal or political considerations rather than on existing law.” The Washington State Supreme Court has veered into the judicial activism fast-lane when it comes to public education in the Evergreen State.

Exhibit one is the recent 6-3 decision by the court declaring the state’s nascent charter school program “unconstitutional.” That decision overrode the will of a majority of the electorate that had voted in 2012 to allow Washington State to open forty charter schools in five years. If it stands, the court’s decision would toss some 1,300 students out of their chosen schools. Many of these children are low income, English language learners, or students with disabilities.

The court’s argument for declaring charters illegal hinged on a 1909 decision as to what constitutes a “common school.” Specifically, the court held that charter schools violate the uniformity clause of the state’s constitution because charters are not common schools controlled by local school boards. And, the court maintained, they unconstitutionally divert funds from common schools. This decision broke with legal precedents set in other states. An analysis by the law firm Jones Day showed, “Washington’s constitution shares many similarities...