Small but noticeable early-stage differences
Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.

In reading, Finland’s girls are the real superstars.
Robert Pondiscio

Matthew Levey

The impulse to protect kids from bad choices serves no one well.
Matthew Levey

The benefit of different post-diploma paths.
Michael J. Petrilli and Chester E. Finn, Jr.

This post has been updated with the full text of "A troubling verdict."

This is how it starts: You work with these kids all year. You teach them how to do fractions or find the main idea. They struggle; they make mistakes. They get it. They forget it. You keep at it. Some days you go home with tire tracks on your back, but you come back the next day. They’re your kids, even the ones who push your buttons. Especially them.

On test day, you look over their shoulders while proctoring. You cringe. A careless mistake. Another one. You know they know this stuff. You’ve been over it enough. The one kid, he’s bright enough, but unfocused. Always rushing; always has to be done first. Use the remaining time to check your answers, you suggest. “I did,” he says.

Your finger comes to rest on his answer sheet. "Check this one."

This is how it ends: In an Atlanta courtroom, with eleven educators convicted of criminal charges in a cheating scandal dating back to 2001. Forty-four schools, 180 educators, thirty-five indictments. The ones convicted Wednesday face up to twenty years in prison. They were all found guilty under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Charges usually brought against mobsters and organized crime bosses were brought against elementary school teachers.

It’s hard to look at what’s happened in Atlanta without alarm and a bit of revulsion. How could this happen? What signal, spoken or unspoken, leads elementary school teachers to engage in “organized and systemic misconduct” bad enough to warrant a conviction on racketeering charges? No one wakes up one morning with a fully formed plot in their head to change hundreds of test scores in dozens of schools. Who bears the responsibility for creating "a culture...

John H. "Skip" McKoy
Scott Pearson

Andy Smarick is clearly disappointed with the op-ed we authored in the Washington Post. We argued that, for many reasons, the rough balance we have in Washington, D.C. between charter schools and traditional public schools is serving our children well.

We don’t want to debate Andy’s points one by one. Nor do we want to repeat many of the smart observations made by D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) member (and Smarick’s Bellwether colleague) Sara Mead in her recent post.

But we do want to clarify a few points that may have been ambiguous in the Post article, as we fear the lack of clarity may have contributed to Andy’s alarm and could possibly concern other education reformers.

First, this does not signal a slowdown in PCSB’s authorizing. PCSB has approved seventeen schools in the past three years. There is no intention on the part of PCSB’s staff—nor, to our knowledge, PCSB’s other board members—to stop approving strong charter applications. And there has been no slowdown in our efforts to support growth by high-performing charters already in D.C.  

There are still tens of thousands of children in D.C. attending low-performing schools.  Over eight thousand individual students are on charter school waitlists. On top of this, 2,500 new students come to D.C. each year. And PCSB’s constant oversight has led to the closure of many low-performing schools and campuses (eighteen since 2012). Only by adding and growing strong charters can we ensure that families have access to enough quality educational options.

Second, PCSB does not “ring fence” D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) or other charter schools when making authorizing decisions. We don’t deliberately keep charters away from other schools and...

Last year, Mike daydreamed of a future in which autonomous vehicles would shuttle his kids around the Beltway while he was freed to relax and tweet the extra hours away. It’s an attractive notion, and not just for reasons of convenience; this is an innovation that could reduce roadway congestion (thus benefiting the economy) and save many of the roughly one-and-a-quarter million lives lost each year in traffic accidents worldwide.

While the achievement of such a vision seems probable someday, it may not happen before the Petrilli boys get their driver’s licenses—and not because the technology is lacking. In recent months, nearly every major car company (and even companies previously having little to do with cars, like Apple and Google) have hinted that a bit of their autonomous vehicle magic is just around the corner. So-called "active safety" features have already become more commonplace. Anti-lock braking and stability control have been available for years, but several brands are rapidly adding features that alert you if you deviate from your lane; some can even help you brake and steer.

Now Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, promises that his company's vehicles will be able to drive themselves on highways and pick you up when called from your smartphone (on private property at first). Not only that, he says these features will be available this summer and will, most amazingly, arrive on existing Tesla vehicles through a mere automatic, wireless software update.

Given that revelation, one wonders if we may wake up one day, years from now, to find a text message from our car letting us know it can drive on its own, 100 percent of the time. Not only that,...

If you’re at all interested in school choice, you really should read a trio of recent reports.

They’re unusually informative. The CREDO study on urban chartering found that most city-based charter school sectors are producing substantially more academic growth than comparable district-run schools (others’ take on the report here, here, and here).

The Brookings “Education Choice and Competition Index” rates the school choice environment in 107 cities. An interactive tool helps you see how the cities compare with one another on everything from the accessibility of non-assigned educational options and the availability of school information to policies on enrollment, funding, and transportation.

The NACSA report on state policies associated with charter school accountability attempts to describe how laws, regulations, and authorizer practices interact to influence charter quality. The report translates NACSA’s excellent “principles and standards” for quality authorizing into a tool for describing, assessing, and comparing states (TBFI Ohio on the report here).

I could write at length about the finer points of each. They all have valuable arguments and findings.

But I want to call your attention to something in particular. The Brookings and NACSA reports assess environmental conditions (inputs) that might influence charter school performance (outputs). The CREDO study gauges charters’ academic growth relative to district-run schools (an output measure).

So I created two scatter plots to see how each of the inputs correlates with the output. For CREDO, I use an average of each city’s reading and math effects. For Brookings, I use each city’s score. I apply NACSA’s state score to each city in its borders.

Brookings and CREDO are positively correlated; the more choice and competition a city has, the higher-performing its charter sector.


Ashley W. Jochim

We need to take issue with a point in Andy Smarick’s thoughtful review, published in Flypaper, of our new book, A Democratic Constitution for Public Education.

As Andy describes, the book proposes a new local oversight body for public education, the Civic Education Council (CEC). The CEC would have only two powers—annually approve a slate of independently run public schools to operate in the locality and hire a CEO. The CEO would be responsible for conducting the data analysis required to support CEC action and establishing systems to ensure fair treatment of students. The CEC would not have the authority to employ teachers, principals, or administrators other than a small number required to support the CEO.

Andy characterized this arrangement as a continuation of the district and predicted that the transition would never be made, based on the leopard/spots metaphor. But under our plan, the district would be replaced by an entirely new entity, based on new law and established with a totally different set of powers than local school boards now have. It is hard to see how this is the old “district” unless the term is used equivocally (i.e., at one time to describe an organization that operates schools directly and at another time to refer to a geographic area).

Andy also thinks that the role we assign the CEC in overseeing the transition to the new system will preserve the old district. Again, we disagree. 

Though the replacement of school boards with CECs would be complete and instantaneous, schools that operated under the old school board would still need to exist to serve the children enrolled in them. This would continue until the CEC either authorized replacements or recognized them as independent school providers eligible to operate under the new rules.   

Educators who worked in those schools, or...

D.C.’s charter school sector stands as a shining example of what urban chartering can accomplish for kids in need.

It has outstanding results and serves a student population that mirrors the District’s. Just as importantly, it refutes the simplistic narrative that a New Orleans-style system is only possible through a natural disaster. The D.C. charter sector has grown methodically for almost two decades, now serving nearly half the city’s public school students.

It is demonstrating that the district can be replaced in a gradual, deliberate fashion.

It could offer America’s cities an invaluable new example of an all-charter approach. NOLA’s pioneering Recovery School District-led system is hugely promising, but D.C.’s Public Charter School Board (PCSB)-led system could potentially show us even better strategies.

Unfortunately—almost unbelievably—that won’t come to pass should PCSB’s current leadership have its way.

In a Washington Post op-ed and Education Next article, the board’s executive director and chair explain that they don’t want high-quality charters to become the system or even to predominate. They want “balance” with the district.

Their justification reflects an unwarranted deference to the status quo, a surprising dearth of vision in tackling emergent challenges, and a lack of appreciation for the half-century failure of America’s urban districts.

They say DCPS is “strong and successful.” But according to 2013 NAEP TUDA, it still has the lowest eighth-grade reading scores of every participating city.

They say DCPS is progressing. It is. But despite mayoral control, a reform-friendly union contract, a leading educator evaluation system, and amazing talent in schools and the central office, charter kids acquire about one hundred more days of learning annually. As Neerav Kingsland wrote, “We have witnessed what the best of...