Though it might be hard to believe, the first primary of the 2016 election season is still six months away. But the “ideas primary” is in full swing. Here’s what we hope to hear from candidates on both sides of the aisle. (Note to campaigns: These ideas and the related infographics are all open-source. Please steal them!)

Thank you for the opportunity to speak about the number-one domestic issue facing our country today: How to improve our schools so that every child has an opportunity to use their God-given talents to the max, contribute to society, and live the American Dream.

In a few minutes, I’m going to talk about what’s wrong with our education system. That’s appropriate, because bad schools continue to steal opportunities away from too many of our young people.

But before we get to that, how about some good news for a change? American schools, on the whole, are getting better. A lot better. Test scores are up—especially in math, and especially for our lowest-performing, low-income, and minority children. Graduation rates are at all-time highs. The college completion rate is inching upward. Things are heading in the right direction.


On Wednesday, Campbell Brown and the American Federation for Children will host an education policy summit in New Hampshire with six of the seventeen GOP presidential contenders. (A similar forum among Democratic candidates is scheduled for October in Iowa.) Here we present six education policy themes—and associated infographics—that we hope the candidates embrace. We've also written a speech that we encourage contenders to emulate. All of these are open-source. Please steal them!

1. Education reform is working. Don’t stop now.


2. College is not the only ticket to upward mobility in America.


3. School choice is growing—and changing lives.


4. America’s best and brightest need attention too.


5. School discipline is under attack—that’s shortsighted and foolish.


6. Preparing children for citizenship is an important goal of schools. Let’s restore civic education. 


Joe Anderson and Kelly James

As we move into the 2015–16 school year, the standards and assessments landscape is continuing to shift. State legislative and executive actions over the past year have resulted in changes to how, when, and—in some cases—if districts and schools will implement Common Core standards and aligned assessments. Education First’s Common Core and Assessments Status Maps detail these changes, looking back over the last year and forward to the next.

The good news: An overwhelming majority of states (forty-four, plus the District of Columbia) will continue to implement Common Core next year—this despite dozens of bills in nearly thirty states to delay or repeal it. Policymakers are sticking with higher expectations for all kids because educators, parents, and students tell them that the standards are improving instruction in classrooms across the nation. Yes, ten states are reviewing their standards (a best practice that was in place well before Common Core); but as we know from Indiana’s experience, most of them will continue with either the Core or standards that closely resemble it. States from Louisiana to New Jersey are finding that their reviews help them build on the standards rather than tearing them apart. Only Oklahoma is determined to go it alone. With so much...

Recently, ACT disaggregated its 2014 test results and college retention rates in order to get a closer look at the college aspirations and preparation levels of ACT-takers who reported a family income of less than $36,000 (the poorest 24 percent of test-takers). An astonishing 96 percent of these students reported plans to enroll in college. Despite their aspirations, however, only 11 percent met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks, which include English, reading, math, and science. Even more troubling, a whopping 50 percent of low-income students failed to meet a single benchmark.

When broken down by subject, low-income students performed best in English (45 percent met the benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students). In the three remaining subjects, however, they posted far lower numbers. Twenty-six percent met the reading benchmark (compared to 44 percent of all students), 23 percent were deemed college-ready in math (compared to 43 percent of all students), and only 18 percent were proficient in science (compared to 37 percent of all students). Unsurprisingly, the number of benchmarks attained rose along with family income. Students from families with incomes over $100,000 were twice as likely to meet the benchmark in nearly every...

There are two basic arguments for charter schools’ existence, note Michael McShane and Jenn Hatfield: First, by taking advantage of flexibility not afforded traditional public schools, they can raise student achievement. Second, they can use that freedom and deregulation to create a more diverse set of schools than might otherwise come into being. There is an increasingly robust body of evidence on charter schools’ academic performance. Far less is known about the second aspect. So how diverse is the nation’s charter sector?

The short answer is: more diverse than you might expect, but less than we might hope. McShane and Hatfield ran the numbers on 1,151 schools, which combine to educate nearly half a million students in seventeen different cities. Based on each school’s description of its own mission or model, they were divided into “general” or “specialized” schools. Within the latter category, schools were further divided in thirteen sub-types, including “no-excuses,” STEM schools, progressive, single-sex, etc. There’s an even split between generalized and specialized schools, with the most common types being no-excuses and progressive.

The pair also found significant variation between cities. They contend that these distinctions are driven by demographics, the age and market share of each...

Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Thinkstock

Last week, Bellwether Education Partners analyst (and Obama administration alumnus) Chad Aldeman pointed out that I’ve changed my views on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act since 2011. He’s absolutely right. What’s perplexing is why he would find this surprising. I assume that many foreign policy analysts reexamined their positions after 9/11, and that housing policy experts did the same after the Great Recession. Does Chad not understand that the unprecedented, autocratic, and quite possibly illegal actions of the president’s Department of Education have changed things a bit?

Yes, four long years ago, Checker Finn and I were still wedded to the “tight-loose” formula of federalism in education: Uncle Sam should be tighter on the outcomes expected from our schools but much looser on how states and districts achieve those ends. What we meant by “tight” was that Washington should require states to adopt “college- and career-ready standards,” either developed with other states (i.e., the Common Core) or unique to themselves. This was in part a response to the perverse incentives of No Child Left Behind—namely the mandate for states to attain near-universal proficiency...

Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock

One of the most hotly debated issues in American education today revolves around low-performing schools and districts: how to define “low-performing,” what to do about them, and who gets to decide. That’s at the heart of the deliberations—and arguments—over the No Child Left Behind reauthorization now moving through Congress.

But there’s another species of “failing” schools and districts that doesn’t attract the same controversy, even though it should: institutions that are financially insolvent, or headed toward that status. For example, as of the 2014–15 school year, the School District of Philadelphia had massive deficits—to the tune of $320 million. In Michigan, nearly 7 percent of all traditional school districts and charter school districts (57 of 843) were operating at a deficit at the end of the 2013–14 fiscal year. Over 25 percent of New Mexico districts (23 of 89) required emergency state aid in 2013–14. And there are similar problems in Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere.

Districts go insolvent primarily because there are insufficient counter-pressures on their leaders to stay fiscally solvent. Existing leaders are often rewarded—through elections, appointments, or re-appointments—when they make promises that...

The GOP had its first 2016 presidential debate last night, featuring the top ten hopefuls by recent poll numbers. Moderators Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Bret Baier asked tough questions, managed time well, and gave every candidate an opportunity to shine. Florida Senator Rubio seemed to be the consensus winner, and Ohio Governor John Kasich was arguably the runner up. Donald Trump was also there. Education, on the other hand, made a disappointingly brief appearance.

In our education policy primer for the event, Kevin Mahnken and I predicted that moderators would ask about higher education, Common Core, and nothing else. We batted two-for-three.

Fifty minutes into the debate, Twitter alit with eduwonk enthusiasm when Bret Baier, amidst boos from the audience, finally asked former Florida Governor Jeb Bush about the Republican lightning rod known as Common Core. “Governor Bush, you are one of the few people on this stage who advocates for Common Core education standards, reading and math. A lot of people on this stage vigorously oppose federal involvement in education. They think it should all be handled locally. President Obama’s secretary of education, Arne Duncan, has said that most of the criticism...

At last, Judgment Day is upon us. Though it seems like only yesterday Fordham was hailing the results of the 2014 midterm elections, we’re now in the swing of a full-fledged presidential campaign. And tonight marks an important milestone on the road to the nuclear codes: the first primary debate. Since the Hillary Clinton steamroller seems poised to make inequality-decrying jelly out of her Democratic rivals, let's direct our attention to the Republican contenders and their thoughts on education.

We make our scene in fair Ohio, cradle of Republican presidents of old. Quicken Loans Arena will host ten men concentrating very hard on not using the phrase “self-deportation”:

  • Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush
  • Wisconsin Governor Paul Walker
  • Florida Senator Marco Rubio
  • Kentucky Senator Rand Paul
  • Texas Senator Ted Cruz
  • Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee
  • Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson
  • Ohio Governor John Kasich
  • New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
  • Renowned author, entrepreneur, and humanitarian Donald Trump

The arena, home to the Cleveland Cavaliers and therefore the site of much uproarious futility, will sadly not host a repeat self-immolation by former Texas Governor Rick Perry. That’s because tonight’s ten hopefuls have been...

Recently, the idea of “school-based hubs” has been gaining momentum as a potential solution to the problem of improving upward mobility. These hubs are created when schools partner with doctors’ offices and various other community organizations to offer their clients (students and parents) a wide variety of integrated services. The efficacy of these programs, however, is still in question, as the idea progresses through its infancy; only a small number of them actually exist.

This report offers insight into the successes and challenges of a D.C. school-based hub, the Briya/Mary’s Center. It came together a few years ago, when Briya Public Charter School partnered with Mary’s Center, an “integrative medical center.” Mary’s Center’s mission is to provide families with medical, educational, and social services to improve their overall well-being.

Briya Public Charter School is no stranger to integrated services. In addition to an education, the school provides its students (up to five years old) and their relatives a family literacy program, parenting classes, and two adult credentialing programs. These programs allow Briya parents to become registered medical assistants or early child care professionals, thus setting them up for future success. Briya also encourages parents to be active participants in their...