Flypaper

Darned USPS.

It appears that back in 2001 or so, now-Governor of Delaware Jack Markell wrote an opinion piece about private school choice. Because of some snafu at the post office, his letter just recently made it to Education Week.

Though some education issues are evergreen (say, the importance of highly effective teachers and strong content standards), much has changed over the last decade-plus in the world of private school choice. Unfortunately, for Markell (well, and for all of us), his out-of-date column was published.

If the governor could call a do-over, I’m sure he’d make adjustments in at least four areas.

First, he argued for limiting choice to the public system—“among traditional, charter, and magnet schools.” Obviously, 2001 Markell couldn’t have known that the public schools sector would be unable to create the number of seats needed. Indeed, as of last year, more than a million students were on charter waitlists nationwide.

Moreover, there’s no way he could have foreseen that future governors who claimed to support public school choice would actually take action to inhibit charter growth. For example, the Markell of 2001 never would have predicted that the Markell of 2015 would ...

Robert D. Putnam

The following is an excerpt from Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, by Robert D. Putnam (Simon & Schuster, 2015), reprinted with permission. Watch the video of last week’s Fordham event with Professor Putnam here.

America once had a vigorous system of vocational education, apprenticeship, and workforce training, both in and out of schools. Other countries, like Germany, still do, but over recent decades we have disinvested in such programs. Part of the reason is the rise of the “college for all” mantra, reflecting the belief that a college degree is the ticket to success in the contemporary economy. While it is true that the “college premium” is high, it is also true that very few kids from disadvantaged backgrounds now obtain college degrees. Efforts to improve access and completion rates for poor kids in four-year institutions are worthwhile, and those efforts must begin well before college looms, since the challenges that poor kids face are daunting even before they enter elementary school.

Nonetheless, the “college for all” motto has tended to undercut public and private support for secondary and postsecondary education in vocational skills. A notable example of the potential for contemporary vocational education is provided by Career Academies,...

According to a paper released this week by the American Enterprise Institute, charter authorizers are putting too many meaningless application requirements on organizations that propose to open schools, thereby limiting school autonomy and creating far too much red tape.

The report shares lessons, provides authorizer Dos and Don’ts, and divides charter application criteria into categories of appropriate and inappropriate based on AEI’s analysis of application requirements from forty authorizers around the land. The authors conclude that:

  • Charter applications could be streamlined to eliminate one-quarter of existing content
  • Authorizers may mistake length for rigor
  • The authorizer’s role is sometimes unclear
  • While there is much authorizer lip service for innovation, the application process doesn’t lend itself to fleshing out truly innovative school models

AEI correctly notes the importance of the authorizer’s role as gatekeeper for new schools and points out that authorizers should establish clear goals, hold schools accountable, review key aspects of school applications for developer capacity, and monitor compliance and finances. Authorizers shouldn’t see themselves as venture capitalists, assume the role of school management consultants, deem themselves curriculum experts, or feel entitled to include pet issues in applications.

All true, and all wise. Where it gets sticky—and where this report...

Last week, Fordham hosted Robert Putnam for a discussion of his new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, which argues that a growing opportunity gap is leaving many American children behind. Watch the replay of the event, or read the transcript of the event below.

Michael Petrilli:              

Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon. My name is Mike Petrilli. I am the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. For those of you that don’t know us, we are an educational policy think tank. We are based here in Washington, D.C. but we also do on-the-ground work in the great state of Ohio which also features prominently in Dr. Putnam’s book. You can shout out for Ohio, that’s okay. Yes, and just as long as it’s not Ohio State, that’s another story. But Thomas B. Fordham was an industrialist way back in the day in Dayton, Ohio, so we have a mission to do on-the-ground school reform work in Ohio. We push for educational reform out of Columbus and we are...

Jeb Bush told reporters Wednesday that he’s “running for president”—supposedly an accidental slip of the tongue. Nevertheless, if and when the former Florida governor makes an official proclamation, few will be surprised, and many will consider him a frontrunner. He’s also the subject of the ninth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Out of all the people who are running or may run for president, Bush is probably the most reform-minded. He was elected governor of Florida in 1999, and during his eight years in office, he focused heavily on public education—instituting, among other things, tougher standards, a voucher program, and corporate tax scholarships for low-income students. In 2008, a year after he left office, he founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an influential education reform nonprofit that works on standards and accountability, school choice, college and career readiness, and a number of other issues. The ...

On Tuesday, Georgetown University hosted President Obama, Harvard public policy professor Robert Putnam, and American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks for a talk about poverty and opportunity. With typical brilliance, the three men discussed myriad issues that affect the lives of America’s most disadvantaged—offering thoughtful insights into all of them. From an education policy standpoint, however, President Obama’s call for greater investment in public schools was the most interesting.

Robert Putnam, in his new book Our Kids, argues that over the last thirty to forty years, disadvantaged youth have faced diminishing opportunities while their more affluent peers have enjoyed dramatically more. President Obama agreed, but also observed that this is nothing new. “This pattern,” he said, “is no different than what William Julius Wilson was talking about when he talked about the truly disadvantaged [thirty years ago].”

The president acknowledged that some of the challenges facing the middle class come from macroeconomic changes, such as technological innovation and globalization. But he also argued that some of it resulted from public policy choices we’ve made in recent decades. In...

Last Friday, I was sworn in as a member of the Maryland State Board of Education.

It’s an honor to have this chance to serve. It also has great personal meaning to me. I’m a product of Maryland public education from start to finish: from Broadneck Elementary through Magothy River Middle and Severn River Junior High, then Broadneck High, and into the University of Maryland, I’ve attended only Maryland public schools since I was six years old. Now my oldest—a soon-to-be five-year old who loves math problems, puzzles, his scooter, and Spider-Man—begins kindergarten this fall in our local Maryland public school.

Before he administered my oath, the court clerk reminded me how personally we all take our schools. He talked about the high school just down the road—the same high school he attended decades earlier, the high school where he met some of the people in the photos hanging on his office walls.

During my drive to the courthouse, I passed a number of working farms in my rural county. I remembered my elementary school’s annual tradition of watching Maryland: America in Miniature. I learned that the ...

This book, an updated edition of Stanford professor Jo Boaler’s seminal 2008 work of the same name, tackles an important if familiar issue: The United States has a mathematics problem. On the 2012 iteration of PISA, the international test administered by the OECD, we ranked thirty-sixth out of sixty-five countries in math performance—and twenty-seventh out of thirty-four among OECD members. More ominously, 70 percent of students attending two-year colleges require remedial math courses—which only one in ten successfully passes.

Boaler argues that American math education is ineffective for three reasons: First, classroom learning is too passive, with teachers lecturing from the blackboard instead of actively interacting with their students. Second, instruction doesn’t emphasize understanding and critical thought, leaning instead on memorization and regurgitation. And third, the contexts in which content is taught don’t reflect the way math is used in everyday life. Take for example the following textbook question: “A pizza is divided into fifths for five friends at a party. Three of the friends eat their slices, but then four more friends arrive. What fractions should the remaining two slices be divided into?” When, in real life, would you need this, when you could just order more pizza?...

Whenever I review compelling research, I end up mentally pairing it with a corresponding work of literature. Maybe it’s the liberal arts student in me (or maybe it’s because I flunked stats and require an alternative frame of reference). Take for example this study of comparative school funding and performance in Nashville, which brought Dickens to mind almost immediately. Compiled by the education advisory firm Afton Partners on behalf of the Tennessee Charter School Center, it makes perfectly clear that for this city’s charters, it’s both the best of times and the worst of times. “Mean academic performance for all grades is significantly higher for charter-managed schools,” it reads, “though MNPS [Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools] spent approximately $100 more per pupil on district-managed schools.”

A measly c-note may not sound like much—in this instance, it’s the difference between roughly $9,800 and $9,700 annually—but that discrepancy only represents one chapter of this twisted tale of two funding standards. The per-pupil analysis doesn’t include a $73 million gap in capital support between district schools and charters. Meanwhile, those same neglected charters are reporting mean scores on the APF (Academic Performance Framework, a statewide metric that includes test scores, graduation rates, college readiness,...

On May 13, Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli delivered testimony before a Pennsylvania State Senate committee. These were his remarks.

Chairman Smucker, Minority Chairman Dinniman, members of the committee: It’s an honor to be with you. My name is Mike Petrilli. I’m the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education policy think tank based in Washington that also does on-the-ground school reform work in the great state of Ohio. I was honored to serve in the George W. Bush administration; our founder and president emeritus, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan administration.

As a strong conservative and a strong supporter of education reform, I am pleased to speak in favor of Senate Bill 6 and its intent to create an Achievement School District for Pennsylvania. Turnaround school districts are among the most promising reforms in American education today.

Over four years ago, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, along with our friends at the Center for American Progress, began a multi-year initiative designed to draw attention to the elephant in the ed-reform living room: governance. Given its ability to trample any promising education improvement—or clear the way for its implementation—it was high time to put governance...

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