Jed Wallace, Elizabeth Robitaille

Here follows the fourth entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind.

The California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) has been issuing annual research on the academic performance of the California charter sector for several years. California is unique in the sheer size and diversity of the charter movement—the number and range of charter schools in California far exceeds that of any other state. Historically, we have found that charter schools both tend to overperform and underperform relative to non-charter public schools, providing a “U-Shape” spectrum of performance. At the same time, we see that different categories of charter schools are found in different concentrations on the performance spectrum, with some categories tending to overperform and other categories tending to underperform. These same trends are likely present in other states as well, but the numbers of charter schools in those states are not yet sizable enough to yield the clear findings we see here. California can therefore serve as a useful microcosm for understanding the differences in academic performance of the charter movement across the nation.

One clear finding we identify is that a high concentration of nonprofit, mission-driven charter organizations serving historically disadvantaged students consistently yields strong results. In Los Angeles, San Jose, and Oakland, we have large numbers of charter schools (educating 20 percent...


Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg did more than give a terrific speech last week at the Harvard commencement; he delivered an eloquent, well-timed, and much-needed rejoinder to the national push—well, national but mainly on elite campuses—by students and faculty to ban or repress just about every viewpoint and person that doesn't conform to conventional leftist-orthodoxies. This now includes not only blocking potentially controversial speakers (like the notorious IMF head Christine Lagarde) but also demanding that college professors and administrators alert their students before exposing them to anything they might find objectionable or upsetting.

I wrote about this on May 21 in Politico Magazine, but Bloomberg said it better. He said it in the citadel of the liberal intelligentsia. And, of course, he's a heckuva lot more influential! As hizzoner bluntly put it, "A university's obligation is not to teach students what to think but to teach students how to think. And that requires listening to the other side."

Jim Peyser

Here follows the third entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind.

Mike Goldstein’s explanation for Boston’s charter school success is thoughtful, provocative, and (mostly) right…as always. I especially like his focus on our fair city’s natural talent advantage and the important role played by various individuals (besides Linda Brown who Mike rightly praises, I would add a few others like Linda’s BES colleague Sue Walsh, prescient charter school apostles Steven Wilson and Bill Edgerly, former state education commissioner Dave Driscoll, early charter authorizers Scott Hamilton and Ed Kirby, Boston Foundation CEO Paul Grogan, and the late, great philanthropist and free-marketeer Pete Peters.). The bottom line is that people matter, and Boston has been blessed with a lot of great ones, full stop.

Having said that, I would add two other factors that Mike doesn’t mention. For most of the first decade or so of the charter movement in Massachusetts, we benefited from bipartisan, full-throated support for charters from the key political leaders in the Commonwealth—i.e., the governor (Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, Jane Swift, and Mitt Romney), the Senate president (Bill Bulger, Tom Birmingham), and the House Speaker (Tom Finneran). As a result, the early charter schools were afforded a degree of political air cover that allowed them to concentrate on building great...


Here follows the second entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind.

If I were made omnipotent for a day and charged with creating a single high-performing city charter sector, my playbook would probably look similar to that of other charter supporters…but with one major exception.

Here’s what I’d do based on the lessons of the last two decades.

Acquire as much educator talent as possible

No system of schools can thrive without the best teachers and school leaders. New York City (during its Klein-era heyday), Boston, and New Orleans have been magnets for talents, and they’ve benefitted accordingly. National organizations such as Teach For America and TNTP have been indispensable educator pipelines in leading cities, and a number of homegrown initiatives have also been valuable.

Recruit and build high-quality school operators

Blessedly, we finally have a critical mass of organizations that can start and operate high-performing, high-poverty urban schools. Cities with outstanding CMOs such as KIPP, Uncommon, and Achievement First have a huge head start. These organizations reliably develop and scale successful schools. But there are still too few of these national operators, and it would be understandable if a city were to balk at the idea of having a public school system comprised entirely of “outside” operators. Great charter school incubators like those...


The beach forecast is looking warm and sunny. You need your edu-reads. Here’s installment two!

When I was working for a state department of education, I had the chance on several occasions to meet with groups of award-winning teachers. In every case, I learned a great deal. Their thoughts on policy issues were always insightful and often different than the positions staked out by the reform crowd and unions. I was reminded of those experiences by this new report from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. It summarizes survey results of state and national teachers of the year; they hold forth on the professional experiences that most contributed to their impressive performance. Anyone interested in educator effectiveness ought to read it…and we all should think of ways to make more use of this organization in the future.

Several of my Bellwether colleagues have written a terrific report on the use of student surveys in teacher evaluations. This subject ended up in lots of headlines after the release of findings from the MET study and as states developed new rules for educator evaluations. But there’s been a paucity of reporting on what’s actually happening. No more! This report finds that the use of student surveys is still quite limited in districts and preparation programs, though a growing number of high-performing charter operators have adopted this approach (often at the...


It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry over the demand by U.S. college students for “trigger warnings” to alert them that something they’re about to read or see in one of their classes might traumatize them—apparently a new trend, according to the New York Times. Ditto for off-beat campus sculptures, placards displayed by protesters and more.

Poor dears. These are the same kids who would riot in the streets if their colleges asserted any form of in loco parentis when it comes to such old-fashioned concerns as inebriation and fornication. God forbid they should be treated as responsible, independent adults! After all, they’re old enough to vote, to drive, even (though it’s unlikely) to join the army.

Yet they want their professors to shield their precious eyes from anything potentially offensive. In the words of a course-syllabus guide produced by Oberlin College’s Sexual Offense Policy Task Force, that means flagging “all forms of violence” and examples of “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression.” Although the Oberlin faculty has temporarily tabled the document, the school’s Office of Equity Concerns already admonishes instructors to “take steps to make the classroom more inclusive for … individuals of all genders, gender identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations.”

Just how, aside from inviting all of one’s students to take their seats, is a teacher supposed to manage that? Does the history professor refrain from...


The Common Core is at a critical juncture. While many surveys show that support for the standards themselves remains strong, implementation has not been without major challenges.

State Accountability in the Transition to Common Core, a new policy brief from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, provides cautionary advice about what key policymakers and influentials in a handful of states now see as transition challenges. In August and September 2013, the research team at Fordham interviewed officials and policy advocates in five states (Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and New York) to glean how they are approaching accountability in the transition to the Common Core. While we found nuances in each state, four trends emerged.

  1. The accountability moratorium is here. Punitive consequences associated with accountability are largely being put on hold during the transition to the Common Core.
  2. Overall, states are treading carefully and strategically with assessments, since the quality of the forthcoming tests is still unknown.
  3. While state education agencies express conviction that teachers are being adequately prepared to teach the new standards, the quality and effectiveness of Common Core trainings and professional development is unclear.
  4. Though ESEA waivers were granted to give states additional flexibility, states are now finding themselves locked into a set of new, yet still restrictive federal policies.

Download the policy brief here....

Michael Goldstein

Here follows the first entry in Fordham’s “Charter School Policy Wonk-a-Thon,” in which Mike Petrilli challenged a number of prominent scholars, practitioners, and policy analysts to take a stab at explaining why some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind.

Why do some charter sectors outpace their local district schools while others are falling behind? To begin to answer this question, let me pose a second. Among high-performing charter cities, why does Boston outperform other “good” charter cities (by a country mile)?

Hey, I get it. We Bostonians tend toward annoying self-promotion. Sox, Pats, Bruins, Celts for a while, Harvard, John Hancock, etc. Let me just concede up front that there’s an irritating quality to my question.

But look at the chart. Here are CREDO’s top cities, measured in “days of learning.”

The difference between Boston charters and, say, D.C. charters is bigger than the difference between D.C. charters and their district schools. If we’re to discover why the average charter in D.C. or New Orleans is so much better than the average one in, say, Detroit or Miami, I believe we need to answer the Boston question.

Let’s dispense with some theories of why Boston charters outperform these other cities, beginning with the obvious.

1. Is this a boutique story? It is true that Boston’s charters educate just under 9,000 students. Thus, one could say that even if...


With Memorial Day in our rearview mirror and Labor Day far over the horizon, miles and miles of beach-filled days stretch ahead of us. Nothing complements SPF 325 and drinks with umbrellas like some high-quality recent edu-reads.  Here’s the first installment of some good stuff I’ve come across; you’ll get tranche two tomorrow.

More to come as researchers’ keyboards allow and sunny days demand.

I recently wrote about my evolving thinking on the “public” in public education, especially as it relates to “local voice” and “system-wide coherence” in increasingly choice-based urban locales. If these issues interest you, I highly recommend a paper by Ashley Jochim and Michael DeArmond presented at a recent conference of the Association for Education Finance and Policy. They explore the influence that choice-based “fragmentation” has on “collective action.” Unlike too many conference papers, this one is not only informed by recent policy developments and current activities, it also has timely, actionable recommendations. Great stuff from the team at CRPE.

Andy Rotherham and Ashley LiBetti Mitchell, my colleagues at Bellwether, recently penned Genuine Progress, Greater Challenges: A Decade of Teacher Effectiveness Reforms, which captures and analyzes the major efforts to improve educator effectiveness over the last several decades. Readers will learn about the research findings and policies that predated today’s focus on growth scores, teacher evaluations, and preparation programs. The report also provides a list of sober recommendations for an area of work prone to bingeing.

Speaking of educator-effectiveness...


I’m a huge believer in high-quality charter authorizing. My view is that many of the strengths of chartering today are attributable to good authorizing and that many of chartering’s weaknesses are the result of bad authorizing.

I know from firsthand experience how tough it is to run a great authorizing shop. I oversaw the NJDOE’s authorizing office, the only authorizer in the state, and became intimately acquainted with the challenges of staffing, the difficulties of building the right practices, the competing factors involved in renewal decisions, the regularity of lawsuits, and more.

I’m particularly excited (and concerned) about authorizing because I believe that all urban public schools, including district-run schools, should have contracts with authorizers. I also believe that private schools participating in public scholarship or tax-credit programs should have performance contracts with authorizers.

I think it’s essential to have an accountability body separate from the school itself and the school’s operator. If we’re to adopt this model across two or three sectors, we need to make sure authorizers are ready for the promotion.

NACSA’s sixth annual survey of authorizers is a must-read for anyone trying to become familiar with the ins and outs of authorizing, as well as those interested in seeing big gains in authorizer quality.

The report doesn’t diverge much from previous editions, but the basic descriptive statistics are important, especially as they relate to NACSA’s “12 Essential Practices.” ...