When Hillary Clinton recently told an audience that the purpose of charter schooling is to “learn what works and then apply (it) in the public schools,” she made the obvious mistake of implying that charters are not public schools.

But in her comments, Clinton contributed to another purposeful, longstanding, and inaccurate narrative. She suggested that chartering is, always has been, and should remain an R&D effort for the district sector. This argument serves the purposes of charter opponents and those who want to limit charter growth. That is, if you convince people that charters are only meant to think up and test a few new ideas, then you’ve established that the district is the real system and that chartering should never grow too large.

I’ve been trying to dispel this myth for some time. Chapter Five of my book The Urban School System of the Future chronicles the intellectual history of chartering, which includes motivations well beyond district R&D. In the 1980s, Ray Budde was looking for ways to permanently empower teachers in new environments. At the same time, Joe Loftus wanted new ways to oversee persistently failing schools. In 1988, Minnesota’s nonpartisan Citizen’s League argued that educators should have an ongoing way to...

I spent a few hours digging into the recently released 2015 NAEP TUDA data. The results didn’t get much media coverage. That’s a shame because these are the best assessments for understanding student performance in (and comparing the results of) America’s biggest urban districts.

It’s a treasure trove of information, and it tells hundreds of stories. I encourage you to get into the numbers and see what pops for you.

I tried to condense my big takeaways into six headlines and images.

1. We’ve been trying to improve urban districts for half a century. These are the results. No district is able to get even one in five black kids up to proficiency in eighth-grade math or reading.

2. Across the participating districts, there has been meager progress in both subjects and both grades for more than a decade.

3. A few districts, however, have made gains over time, most notably Atlanta, Chicago, D.C., and Los Angeles. They deserve credit.

4. Instances of progress deserve attention because progress is not guaranteed. For example,...

Finland has been lauded for years as this planet's grand K-12 education success story, deserving of study and emulation by other nations. The buzz began with its impressive Program for International Student Assessment results in 2000, which stayed strong through 2006. Educators hastened to Helsinki from far and wide to sample the secret sauce, hoping they might recreate it back home. And most of them loved the taste, as Finland's recipe contained many ingredients that educators generally like and shunned those they typically find repugnant. It was all about teachers, professionalism, and equity, rather than jarring notions like standards, choice, assessments, and accountability.

Gradually, however, the sauna cooled a bit. Finland's PISA scores and rankings slipped in 2009, and again in 2012, followed by a scathing report from the University of Helsinki that led the program's uber-advocate Pasi Sahlberg to warn that the time had come for Finns "to concede that the signals of change have been discernible already for a while and to open up a national discussion regarding the state and future of the Finnish comprehensive school that rose to international acclaim due to our students' success in the PISA studies."

He was right. There had,...

Van Schoales

Editor's note: On Tuesday, November 3, Denver and its surrounding suburbs held school board elections. What follows are five takeaways from Van Schoales and his colleagues at A+ Denver, a local education reform organization that aims to harness civil leadership to increase student achievement in the area.

Our congratulations go out to new and re-elected board members in Denver and Aurora: Lisa Flores (NW Denver), Happy Haynes (Denver At-Large), Anne Rowe (SE Denver), Monica Colbert (Aurora At-Large), Dan Jorgensen (Aurora At-Large), and Cathy Wildman (Aurora At-Large). We look forward to working with all of you in the coming years.

Tuesday's election provided an important snapshot on the state of voters' perceptions of public education in Colorado. Here are our five key takeaways:

  1. Buy Local. While education politics is increasingly influenced by national organizations and trends, local politics, policy and practice matter more. Diane Ravitch, the Koch brothers, the national teachers unions, Democrats for Education Reform, and other national education players can influence local education elections, but they do not trump the local conditions. "Reformers" won in Denver while "reformers" (please see #2 for definition) lost in Jefferson County and Douglas County.
  2. "Education Reform" is a Rorschach. While the term once referred
  3. ...

Across the nation, charter schools continue to expand. Over the past five years, their enrollment has grown by 70 percent, so that approximately 2.7 million youngsters now attend these schools of choice—over 5 percent of the total number enrolled in public schools. Dozens of cities educate more than one in five of their public school students in charter schools.

This is a hugely positive development—provided, of course, that those schools are delivering a high-quality education.

Whether you think the current “mixed economy” of district and charter schools should be an all-charter system (as in New Orleans) or a dual model (as in Washington D.C.), for the foreseeable future, most cities are likely to continue with a blend of these two sectors.

Can they peacefully coexist? Can they do better than that? Can they actually collaborate in the service of students, families and the public interest?

To answer these questions, we at the Fordham Institute teamed up with Public Impact to publish a new report, Is Détente Possible? We examined five cities that had among the best conditions for district-charter collaboration: Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

Boston, for instance, boasts some of the highest-performing charters in the land. All sixteen...

This report, recently released by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), explores how states can better prepare students for successful careers by reviewing policies in thirteen states related to career and technical education (CTE). Specifically, its authors look at whether each state has: (1) facilitated collaboration between education and employer communities to promote CTE and close job gaps; and (2) created CTE learning opportunities and credentials that provide students with multiple pathways to gainful employment in high-skill industries.

Nine of these states do both, often by designating or creating groups responsible for providing these services. Some (such as Colorado) rely on state-level actors. Others opt for regional- and local-level institutions. Louisiana offers “Jump Start CTE programs” that are developed by “regional teams consisting of LEAs, technical and community colleges, business and industry leaders, and economic and workforce development experts.”

Ohio has taken a more interesting approach. In the Buckeye State, OhioMeansJobs disseminates workforce-demand data through the K–12 system. Schools then use this information to apprise the students of career opportunities via the Ohio Career Counselling Pilot Program.

Unfortunately, several states in the report fall short. Kentucky has no system in place for schools to collaborate with businesses in need...

Teachers affect student academic achievement more than any other school-based factor. As a result, states and school districts have experimented with incentive pay programs as a twofold strategy to both attract high-quality teachers and boost student performance. Evidence on the effectiveness of this tactic is mixed, but the policies can differ greatly in structure, and little is known about how the design of incentive plans might impact their effectiveness.

Enter a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study that examines the structure of Houston’s recently implemented incentive pay system, as well as its effect on student achievement.

The researchers analyzed data from grades 3–8 from the Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) merit pay system, ASPIRE (“Accelerating Student Progress, Increasing Results and Expectations”). ASPIRE is designed as a “rank-order tournament,” which rewards top-performing math, reading, language arts, science, and social studies teachers based on their value-added scores (estimates of the effect individual teachers have on student learning over a school year). Under ASPIRE, teachers receive a $3,870 bonus if their students receive value-added scores above the fiftieth percentile; scores above the seventy-fifth percentile result in even larger bumps—up to $7,700 per teacher.

The authors initially hypothesized that teachers who...

The Center for Research on Educational Options (CREDO) at Stanford University released findings last week from a first-of-its-kind study assessing the impact of online charter schools in seventeen states (including Ohio) and Washington, D.C. The news is dismal—for “virtual” charters nationally; for advocates like Fordham, who argue for e-schools’ rightful place in the school choice landscape but are weary of their quality problems; and most of all, for the students losing dozens (in some cases hundreds) of days of learning by opting into a virtual environment.

CREDO found that virtual charter school students nationally (those enrolled in a public, full-time online school) learned the equivalent of seventy-two fewer days in reading and 180 days in math compared with the traditional public school students to whom they were matched. That’s essentially an entire school year gone to waste in math and almost half a year gone in reading.

It is also striking that—unlike CREDO’s national charter studies, which discovered that many states’ charter school sectors handily outperform traditional public schools—in no state did online charter students outperform their traditional peers in both subjects. Two states’ online charters outpaced traditional public schools in reading; none did in math.

Why are...

Low-income strivers—impoverished families who work hard to climb the ladder to the middle class—may be the most underserved population in America today.

In few realms is that more evident than in education reform. For twenty years, national policies have focused largely on the lowest-performing students, often to the detriment of their higher-achieving, low-income peers. Many cities—including Chicago, Philadelphia, and Syracuse—have recently made a goal of reducing the number of school suspensions and other tough-love approaches to school discipline, with little concern for the impact on the kids who come to school ready to follow the rules. These efforts have received vocal support from the Department of Education. Policymakers and educators say they that are doing this in the name of equity. But when everyone in a school is harmed by some students' unruly behavior, it’s a strange notion of fairness.

Imagine that we wanted to prioritize the needs of low-income students who demonstrated a willingness to work hard and the aptitude to achieve at high levels—the kids with the best shot to use a solid education to put poverty behind them. What might we do?

First, we would put in place “universal screening” tests to look for gifted students in elementary...

In The Atlantic this week, Carly Berwick praised Germany for raising its nationwide test scores while simultaneously reducing educational inequality. That’s no small feat—and one well worthy of recognition and accolades. Indeed, in our recent book, Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Education High-Ability Students, we reported the same dual accomplishment in the Federal Republic. But we also pointed to a few weeds among these roses—namely Germany’s bright students, who aren’t enjoying any of these gains.

Much like the U.S., Germany has a decentralized education system—with sixteen Bundesländer that resemble American states in the ways they shape and pay for their school systems. This system was fairly static—and complacent—through the twentieth century. The economy was strong, east-west reunification was succeeding, employers and unions made decisions together, and the integration of vocational schooling with apprentice-style training produced a well-functioning workforce.

Then came what some Germans call the “PISA shock” of 2001. Much like the U.S. reaction to A Nation at Risk in 1983, residents of Germany were stunned to learn from their first Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data that their children were scoring well below the OECD average in reading, results that had been foreshadowed,...