Education Next

Richard Whitmire is a former reporter and editorialist for USA Today,and the author of The Bee Eater (about Michelle Rhee) and Why Boys Fail. Now, in his latest book, On the Rocketshiphe turns his attention to how top charter schools are pushing the envelope. Through dozens of short chapters he tells the story of the meteoric growth of the Rocketship network of charter schools, known as a leader in “blended learning,” along with the trials and tribulations of other charter chains. He looks for insights into how other charter schools—and traditional public schools—can learn from their successes and failures.

On this edition of the Education Next Book Club, Richard talks with Mike Petrilli about the book, about Rocketship and other high performing charter networks, and what he learned that surprised him most.

To listen to the podcast, visit Education Next.

To watch Richard Whitmore and other charter experts discuss the future of charter schooling, attend or live-stream our Fordham LIVE! event "On the Rocketship: Expanding the high-quality charter school movement," taking place June 26 from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET....

Fordham has long been a supporter of results-based accountability for private-school choice programs. In January, we released a “policy toolkit” that recommended, among other measures, that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) be required to participate in state assessments and that those results be made publicly available at the school level (except when doing so would violate student privacy).

This rustled a few libertarian and conservative feathers: the folks at Cato called this “the Common Coring of private schools,” James Shuls yelled “Don’t Test Me, Bro!,” and Jay Greene reversed his lifelong commitment to standards-based reform.  (Many wonks opined in support of our accountability recommendations, too.)

While we didn’t agree with the all of the arguments forwarded by our friends, we did come to see the risk to private-school autonomy and innovation that a test-based accountability system could create. We also understood the particular sensitivity around using Common Core tests for this purpose. So in April, in the National Review, we offered an olive branch:

Without backing away from our commitment to the inseparability of the two tracks of education reform, we see room for compromise on specifics. Yes, some degree of transparency and accountability is essential for all choice schools. We don’t buy the argument that we should leave it to “parental choice alone”; experience in the real world demonstrates (here as in every other market that we know of) that some external quality control is needed if


Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal announced that he is withdrawing his state from the Common Core State Standards—while his top education officials maintained this isn’t so. One thing seems apparent: Jindal is likely mounting a 2016 presidential bid. (New York Times and Washington Post)
Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York state lawmakers are deciding whether to tie the results of Common Core–aligned tests to teacher evaluations, and they’re facing pressure from both sides: the teacher unions have ratcheted up their rhetoric, while USED could take away some of the state’s Race to the Top grant. (Politics K–12 and Chalkbeat New York)
A study of 960 Montgomery County youngsters finds high dropout rates and school disengagement among the county’s growing Latino population. (Washington Post)
Education officials in Wisconsin are investigating whether voucher-receiving private schools adequately serve students with special needs. (Charters & Choice)
The Daily Caller: “Jindal Moves To Dump Common Core, Sparking La. Civil War
New York Post: “The price of summer: Some vacation costs are hidden
Deseret News: “‘Where all kids are above average’: Should schools separate gifted students?
Chalkbeat New York: “NYSUT head: Getting rid of test scores only a ‘first step’ toward evaluation overhaul
San Jose Mercury News: “Herhold: Two attempts to bring the temple down


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Vicki Phillips, Hanna Skandera, and Patricia Levesque

Here follow the opinions of four experts on whether states should consider “pressing the pause button” for a couple of years before taking Common Core–aligned assessment results into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation, school accountability, and student promotion.

Let’s give students and teachers time

Vicki Phillips

As the school year comes to a close and we have a chance to reflect on the successes and challenges of the past nine months, I wanted to write to you about our work together to make sure the Common Core State Standards help teachers prepare their students for success. It’s been inspiring this past year to hear from teachers and educators in many states and school districts who are excited about the standards and the new lessons and materials they’ve been able to develop. Some are already seeing clear advances from their students.

An assistant superintendent in a Kentucky school district wrote to tell me that “reading and writing scores have increased across the board in our middle and high school....We see results not only in classroom visits, but on our state assessment, which is based on the common core.”

It is especially thrilling to hear about these students’ gains because we know they’re performing against rigorous standards. They’re taught to analyze and apply information, not just gather it and remember it. They’re encouraged to ask questions, solve problems, and think for themselves; they are becoming strong learners who can succeed in college or career; and they are gaining the skills...


Over the past three weeks, Fordham’s Flypaper blog hosted the charter school wonk-a-thon, an exercise in punditry and policy analysis that exceeded all expectations. (Congrats to our winning wonk,Joe Siedlecki of the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation.) Let me ambitiously attempt to synthesize the major arguments into a unified theory: the Wise Wonks’ Hierarchy of Charter School Quality.

At the bottom of our pyramid are Charter States in Name Only. These are the ones with nominal charter laws but very few actual charter schools. That’s because they only allow entities to authorize charter schools that don’t like charters (i.e., traditional school districts) and/or because they provide paltry funding and/or because they don’t offer schools the autonomy that would make starting a charter worth the effort.

One level up, we find Bad Charter Sectors. These are the states at the bottom of the heap when it comes to test-score gains as measured by CREDO* and other sophisticated analyses. (No, test scores and score gains aren’t everything, but let’s assume for now that these indicators relate to the other stuff we also care about, such as long-term student success.) Their charters mostly falter because of some combination of low-quality authorizers (unselective when handing out charters, unwilling to shut down low performers) and mediocre funding. (In a few cases, such as Arizona, there were major problems in...


With the city council scheduled to begin its summer break tomorrow, Philadelphia schools superintendent William R. Hite Jr. has made a last-minute appeal for an additional $96 million in funding. (Associated Press and NPR)
In an op-ed, Leading Educators CEO Jonas Cartock argues that the Vergara ruling has opened a window of opportunity to improve the teaching profession in California—and that districts should commit to crafting leadership paths for teachers. (Hechinger Report)
With the fate of Florida’s voucher-program expansion now in the hands of Governor Rick Scott, opponents are pushing hard for a veto. (Charters & Choice)
According to Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, conservatives are evenly split over the Common Core State Standards, with 45 percent in support and 46 percent in opposition. (Wall Street Journal)
Andy Rotherham and Emmeline Zhao of RealClearEducation somehow convince D.C. schools chancellor Kaya Henderson to get in their car and talk about the pace of change in D.C. schools and the upcoming mayoral election. (RealClearEducation)
Northern Public Radio: “The Starting Line For Common Core Training”...


In its “Room for Debate” series recently, the New York Times published a quartet of opinion pieces discussing the value of gifted and talented programs. New York City schools chancellor Carmen Fariña prompted this discussion by promoting the faddish and contradictory mantra of “gifted education for all,” downplaying the role of the city’s current programs for high-achieving students. But in the end, the opponents’ arguments simply don’t hold any more water than the Chancellor’s banal but unactionable formulation.

The overarching theme of the two critics of gifted programs is that they lead to inequality. Authors of the first piece point out that such programs are disproportionately comprised of white and Asian- American kids. This is true and is surely something to work on. But then the authors suggest replacing these separate-and-distinct programs with “gifted education for all” (that phrase again…) because some research has found that ability grouping might worsen the educational outcomes of lower-achieving students. Moreover, say the authors, students in gifted programs are missing out on the benefits that diverse classrooms provide. (Shouldn’t their parents decide whether that outweighs the benefits of an accelerated curriculum?)

The second critical piece approaches the matter differently. Instead of citing the benefits of diversity per se—a proposition the author actually undermines by saying “there’s nothing magical or inherently good or bad about exposing black children to white children”—he worries about the self-fulfilling nature of...


Numerous and varied efforts to get kids enthusiastic about STEM jobs thus far have not made much of a difference. (New York Times)
A job-fair ad targeting North Carolina teachers for recruitment to Texas schools promised a starting salary of $46,805 per year, more than $16,000 more than what North Carolina teachers are paid. Hundreds turned out. (Fox 8)
A new study finds that the simple, old-fashioned Good Behavior Game had a positive effect on reducing challenging classroom behaviors. (Inside School Research)
In Pittsburgh, the first results of the city’s new (and expensive) teacher-evaluation system did not expose huge numbers of ineffective teachers. (Hechinger Report)
Tahlequah Daily Press: “Need for standards remains
Times-Picayune: “World Cup and world education: How does the U.S. rank? Think tank weighs in
Oregon Live: “USA: Bad at soccer, worse at math and science, edu-nerds say”...

What do the education-policy world and the sports world have in common? For one, Americans are rabidly passionate about both. What’s more, both really love rankings. And you think we’re bad at soccer? We’re even worse in education.

As everyone reading this probably knows, the U.S. has chronically lagged behind our competitors on international tests. It doesn’t matter which subgroup one looks at—high SES, low SES, top scorers, average scorers—the U.S. hasn’t lived up to its potential. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. And all of us in the ed-policy world do what we do because we believe our education system can improve. We know we can do better by our eager students.

Well, the World Cup—the crowning jewel of the “Beautiful Game” and the biggest sporting event in the world—is upon us. And it struck us here at Fordham that the similarities are uncanny. Here, too, the rankings don’t love us. Sports Illustrated and the Soccer Power Index say we’re the nineteenth-best team in the tournament. Heck, even our coach Jürgen Klinsmann doesn’t like our chances. Indeed, look at our soccer and education rankings in the graphic below.

So here we are, nineteenth best in the world in the country’s sixth most popular sport (behind golf), which is, frankly, not high enough. We have 318 million people....


A nine-year-old struggling with New York City’s new math curriculum highlights challenges in Common Core implementation. (New York Times)
South Carolina governor Nikki Haley signed legislation enacting a third-grade reading guarantee. (Curriculum Matters)
Success Academy’s planned expansion has put Mayor Bill de Blasio in a tough spot: share public-school space with charters or face escalating space costs. (New York Times)
On Friday, a coalition of business and civic groups in Louisiana called on Governor Bobby Jindal to keep the Common Core. (Associated Press)
A recent paper finds that under New York City’s tenure changes, ineffective teachers are more likely to leave schools voluntarily. (Teacher Beat)
The Common Core–spurred move to online testing is driving California’s school districts to close the tech gap. (Hechinger Report)
President Obama has announced new efforts to improve the schooling of American Indian students. (Politics K–12)
Associated Press: “Common Core Upsets Home-Schooling Parents
Forbes: “Why The Vergara Decision Will Not Fundamentally Help Poor And Minority Students
Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: Act 10 is working; state is in a better place”...