In December 2014, Ohio Governor John Kasich promised wholesale charter school reform in the new year. “We are going to fix the lack of regulation on charter schools,” Kasich remarked. Now, thanks to the fearless leadership of the governor and members of the legislature, Ohio has revamped its charter law. Most impressively, the charter legislation that overwhelmingly passed last week drew bipartisan support and praise from editorial boards across the state.

It’s been a long road to comprehensive charter reform in Ohio. When the Buckeye State enacted its charter law in 1997, it became a national pioneer in charter quantity. Disappointingly, it has not been a leader on quality. To be sure, there are examples of phenomenal charter schools. Yet too many have struggled, and a surprising number of Ohio charters have failed altogether. The predictable result is that on average, Ohio charter school students have fallen behind academically. A 2014 study by CREDO found Buckeye charter students losing forty-three days of learning in math and fourteen days of learning in reading relative to their district peers.

As regular Gadfly readers know, we at Fordham have consistently voiced concerns about our home state’s ailing charter sector. In our view, many of these...

A reader recently posed this question:

The Atlantic just published an article about the mistake American educators make by teaching reading in kindergarten. Shouldn’t we do what the Finns do: let kids learn to read when they want to and end up with high achievement?

This article is from the “Whistle a Happy Tune” School of Philosophy. It links one cultural input with one achievement output and assumes both a causal connection (not teaching reading in kindergarten will result in higher achievement) and that if this cultural input were adopted elsewhere, the same outcome would result there as well. This is the third or fourth such article that I have read about Finland in the Atlantic, and the tone of the pieces has been pretty consistent—they’re feel-good fantasies to help us ward off the blues as the days grow shorter and the verdant earth seems to die yet again. It sure is fun to think about how easily we could remake our society.

The problem with this dream, however, is that cultural change doesn’t work that way.

America, unlike Finland, is not a relatively simple society, small in population and low in diversity. Of...

The Asian American Achievement Paradox, a new book by Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou, prompted New York Times columnist Nick Kristof to pen a provocative column on Sunday. Kristof agreed that “the success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education,” but went on to caution that “because one group can access the American dream does not mean that all groups can.”

I’m not that bleak. Though nobody’s education system can completely compensate for heedless parents, slothful ways, and an apathetic attitude, the truth is that policy does matter. Schools can do more than Kristof seems to think to help more kids climb the ladder toward the American dream.

My new book with Brandon Wright, Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students, looks closely at why American public education has been doing such a lackluster job helping smart children reach their full potential; how this failure of will, policy, and program is particularly devastating to high-ability youngsters from disadvantaged circumstances; and how a number of other countries do better than us.

The Asian nations in our study (Singapore, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) do all of this especially well. And yes, family...

Matt Barnum

In a series of blog posts (IIIIIIIV), Jay Greene argues against the “high-regulation approach” to school choice. I’m going to focus on the final two posts, in which Greene argues that student achievement tests are poor proxies for school quality and that they’re not correlated with other measures of quality.

I think Greene is right to a large extent. But he undersells the value of tests.

It’s pretty clear that the ability of a school or teacher to increase students’ standardized test scores is associated with long-run outcomes. Let’s dig in to some evidence:

  • The well-known Chetty study used a rigorous quasi-experiment to show that teachers with high value-added scores (which are based on standardized tests) produced higher income, greater college attendance, and lower teen pregnancy among students. (In the comments of his post, Greene acknowledges this study but describes the effects as small. I disagree, considering we are describing the effects of a single teacher at a single grade level.)
  • A different Chetty study reports that “students who were randomly assigned to higher-quality classrooms in grades K–3—as measured by classmates' end-of-class test scores—have higher earnings, college attendance rates, and other outcomes.”
  • Hanushek finds that international academic achievement
  • ...
Kelly Robson

Ohio’s charter school sector has been a thorn in the side of the Buckeye State for far too long. The Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) has documented that, on average, students in Ohio’s charter schools achieve fourteen fewer days of learning in reading and forty-three fewer days of learning in math than their traditional public school peers. The proliferation of authorizers has led to low-quality, sometimes questionable authorizing practices that allow persistently low-performing schools to remain open. And State Auditor David Yost has harshly criticized the charter school sector for misspending public tax dollars.

But at last, there may be a light at the end of this dark tunnel.

Yesterday, the Ohio legislature passed House Bill 2 by an overwhelming majority (91-6 in the House and 32-0 in the Senate). The bill is designed to remedy many of the incoherent policies and loopholes in the current law, which my colleagues and I documented last December in our report, “The Road to Redemption: Ten Policy Recommendations for Ohio’s Charter School Sector.”

The legislation follows our recommendations quite closely, making considerable changes that will strengthen authorizer oversight, governing board independence, and school operator transparency. The...

For two decades now, American education reform has been obsessed with raising the performance of our lowest-achieving students. And it’s worked—national assessment results show huge gains for the country’s low-performing, low-income, and minority children since the late 1990s, especially in the early grades, and especially in math.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that America’s highest-performing students have made very meager progress during this time period. Meanwhile, countries around the world are investing heavily in talent development, and particularly in their most able students.

To find out if these nations might have something to teach us, the Fordham Institute’s Chester E. Finn, Jr. circled the globe, searching for answers, talking to educators and officials, and learning how leading countries do “gifted and talented education.”

The result is his book, written with our Fordham colleague Brandon Wright, Failing our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students.

Checker and Brandon visit the Ed Next Book Club podcast to talk about the book, what they’ve learned from countries overseas, and whether there’s


Boehner is out! McCarthy is in! No, wait, McCarthy is out! Maybe Paul Ryan is in? Or even John Kline?!? What will this mean for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act?

It reminds of this famous Buddhist story:

An old farmer had worked his crops for many years. One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically. "Maybe," the farmer replied.

The next morning, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "Maybe," replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "Maybe," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "Maybe," said the farmer.

So will the current House chaos kill off reauthorization chances this year?



Writing in his always-entertaining blog a few weeks ago, Whitney Tilson gave a nice nod to Dan Willingham’s New York Times op-ed addressing the sorry state of American teacher preparation. Amid effusive praise of the piece, Whitney writes, “I think morphemes and phonemes matter too but maybe not as much as Willingham does.”  
This gently stated but dismissive view of the importance of reading instruction troubles me because I think it captures a viewpoint widely shared by many education reformers.
I don’t think it’s because there are many education reformers who reject the science here (unlike many in teacher preparation). Researchers long ago identified the reading methods that would reduce the current deplorable rate of reading failure from 30 percent to somewhere well south of 10 percent, if only schools would take that step. Teacher preparation programs that fail to impress upon elementary teacher candidates the integral connection between spoken sounds and written words are essentially committing malpractice.
Instead, I think the issue for some education reformers is that other reforms seem much more important. I can’t figure out why there are still perfectly reasonable, rational people who aren’t willing to embrace the 2 + 2...

The Seventy Four had a simple goal: to make the 2016 presidential election season one in which candidates could pause in their frenzy of backstabbing and baby kissing to talk about education. In a first-of-its-kind education forum, the site (with the help of sponsor and cohost the American Federation for Children) invited presidential candidates to discuss their vision for public schools. Republicans spoke in August, and Democrats were supposed to take their turn later this month.

But as Politico recently reported, the Democrats declined their invitations. It’s a missed opportunity. Worse, nobody seems to know why the candidates backed out.

Campbell Brown, the Seventy Four’s co-founder and would-be forum moderator, says it’s due to pressure from teachers’ unions (both the AFT and NEA have publically endorsed Hillary Clinton). “What happened here is very clear: The teachers’ unions have gotten to these candidates,” Brown told Politico. “All we asked is that these candidates explain their vision for public education in this country, and how we address the inequality that leaves so many poor children behind.” Representatives from the unions, unsurprisingly, won’t verify her claim. More troubling, the candidates won’t comment on their refusal to join in the debate. They’re remaining...

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...