The Fordham Institute has been engaged in a wide range of conversations recently, ranging from gifted-student education to Common Core to charter school quality. If you’ve missed any of these events or publications, check out the following notes.


Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Ohio’s schools will fully implement the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC exams--online assessments aligned to the Common Core. As the Buckeye State draws nearer to lift off for these new academic standards and tests, school districts are ratcheting up their technological infrastructure and capacity.

Consider a few recent examples of how schools are improving their technological infrastructure in advance of the Common Core and the PARCC exams:

  • The Akron Beacon Journal reported that the Akron Public Schools recently approved $300,000 plus in spending to upgrade its computer software and Internet bandwidth. These improvements will ensure that its students are able to take the online PARCC exams.
  • Meanwhile on the other side of the Buckeye State, The Lima News reported that Delphos and Ottawa-Glandorf school districts, both located in rural Northwest Ohio, have purchased new computers to ensure that their students will be able to take the PARCC exams.
  • Finally, in rural Southeast Ohio, The Marietta Times reported that Morgan Local School District has been piloting Thinkgate. Teachers at Morgan Local will use this digital instructional system to provide real-time feedback to students about how well they are progressing toward meeting the learning expectations of the Common Core.  

In addition to these local efforts, the governor’s budget proposal (see page D-180) also takes steps to improve technology as schools transition to the Common Core and the PARCC exams. In the state’s student assessment line-item, the governor proposes...


This Q&A with T.J. Wallace, the executive director for Dayton Liberty Academies, is the sixth of our seven-part series on school leadership. (Please see our Q&A with Dr. Glenda Brown, Andy BoyDr. Judy Hennessey, and Hannah Powell Tuney, and Chad Webb.)

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Two years ago T.J. Wallace was recruited to be a principal at the Dayton Leadership Academies. His job was to turn around the Dayton Liberty campus, which was facing possible closure for back-to-back failing state report cards.

At the time, EdisonLearning, Inc., a for-profit management company, was operating his school and a second, known as the Dayton View campus. Both had poor test scores and were plagued by administrative chaos. The schools’ board and their authorizer, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, were out of patience. Fordham and the board took matters into their own hands and chose Wallace, imposing him on their management company.

This year Edison Learning is gone and Wallace is the executive director of both schools.

The 58-year-old former Catholic high school principal is running one school that last year was graded a “C” by the state and a second that received an “F.” The K-8 buildings can hold more than a 1,000 students each, but enrollment has plummeted from 2,500 in 2004 to 735.

Wallace is taking over buildings that, for more than a decade, were managed from afar. His board and Fordham have given him two years to stop the enrollment decline and to bring...


Richard (Dick) Ross was sworn into Monday by State Board of Education President Debe Terhar as Ohio’s 37th State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The ceremony took place at Reynoldsburg City High School (just east of Columbus, where Ross was formerly district superintendent). Dr. Ross takes over the leadership reigns of the Ohio Department of Education after serving as Governor Kasich’s director of 21st Century Education for the last year. While in the Governor’s office Ross helped to craft the state’s A-F report card, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, and the new school funding plan being debated in the legislature. For more see here.

Congratulations Dr. Ross and we wish you the very best. The children and families of Ohio need you to be successful.


“Autonomy, in exchange for accountability” has been the mantra of charter school theorists since before the first charter opened its doors in Minnesota in 1991. But, far too often over the last two decades this mantra has been more ideal than reality. Getting the balance right between autonomy and accountability has been so hard because there has been much confusion over the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the non-profit charter school governing boards, school operators, and authorizers in the autonomy/accountability deal.

Fordham’s new policy brief by Adam Emerson, “Governance in the Charter School Sector: Time for a Reboot,” tackles the governance issue head-on. One section in particular is especially interesting to me because of our role as a charter school authorizer in the Buckeye State. Ohio, and other states with strong charter school networks (both non-profit CMOs and for-profit EMOs), has struggled to balance the power and influence of school operators with that of their non-profit governing board. Too often boards are seen as little more than a necessary evil while operators run the show. It is not at all uncommon for charter school operators in Ohio to “hire” board members, and then use them as a rubber stamp for all school operations. 

As a state approved charter school authorizer in Ohio we have always held a different view. Our position has been that the non-profit governing boards are independent, and clearly in charge of, any outside organization that they engage to run their education programs. It has been our...


Ohio’s urban school districts, like many others across the country, face a slow burning governance crisis. Elected school boards in cities like Columbus, Dayton, Lorain, and Youngstown are proving incapable of providing the leadership their cities, schools, families and children need to be successful. In Dayton, for example, long-time school board member Yvonne Isaacs summed up the challenge when she told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 2012, “There is really no continuity in terms of the vision and the direction of the district…I think what we have lost is the ability to collaborate and to set vision.” Youngstown’s dysfunction is legendary: It’s been under state financial control for years and now faces a state academic takeover.

But, no city in Ohio currently displays better the dysfunction of big city elected school boards than does Columbus. Columbus City Schools is a district in turmoil. Mayor Michael Coleman spelled out the challenges in a recent Columbus Dispatch op-ed thusly:

The children of Columbus City Schools need our help. Forty-seven percent of kids enrolled in the district attend schools receiving a D or F grade by the Ohio Department of Education, while just 21 percent go to A or B schools. The district ranks near the very bottom statewide in terms of how much a student learns in a given year.
State and federal investigations into allegations of student-data manipulation hang like a black cloud over the district. The results threaten to further lower the academic-performance scores of our schools,...

The 2013 Brown Center Report on American EducationThe Brown Center’s annual report always takes on three big issues in education policy—and always delivers the goods. Thank you, Brookings! This year’s edition is no exception, broaching the topics of ability grouping in elementary schools (which it finds is on the rise), whether teaching Algebra in eighth grade improves NAEP math scores (it doesn’t), and how American students compare with their international peers (one of report author Tom Loveless's favorite topics). In service of the latter, the report firmly discredits the notion that the U.S. must copy and paste the instructional practices of so-called “A+ countries” (the six that scored at the top of the TIMSS charts in 1995). Rather, since 1995, the U.S. has gained seventeen points in eighth-grade mathematics—an achievement exceeded by only one A+ nation, Korea, and matched by one other, Hong Kong. Moreover, though Finland’s PISA scores have earned them near-worship in many U.S. education circles, that country’s performance on the TIMSS was statistically indistinguishable from ours. Be sure to read Kathleen Porter-Magee’s nuanced perspective on the “Finnish miracle” for real lessons we can learn from our friends across the pond.

SOURCE: Tom Loveless, The 2013 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning? (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, March 2013)....


From Resegregation to ReintegrationThat segregation in public schools is on the rise, threatening the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, has been a point of disquiet among academics and policymakers and a mainstay of the education-research narrative. But according to this new study of 350 metropolitan areas, it’s time to refresh our datasets—and our mindsets: While a measure of “resegregation” did occur in 1990s, that trend has largely reversed in the twenty-first century. The level of racial segregation (measured by comparing each school’s racial/ethnic composition to the overall composition in the surrounding area) increased 2.3 percent between 1993 and 1998—but declined 12.6 percent by 2009. There do, however, exist caveats: Metropolitan areas that experienced rapid increases in minority students have seen smaller decreases in segregation since 1998 than their more stable peers. And while black-white segregation across the land fell by 6.4 percent in the years studied, in the formerly de jure segregated South, the statistic has actually risen by 1.1 percent. Still and all, the national trend-line is far more positive than previously thought.

SOURCE: Kori J. Stroub, and Meredith P. Richards, "From Resegregation to Reintegration: Trends in the Racial/Ethnic Segregation of Metropolitan Public Schools, 1993–2009," American Educational Research Journal (March 2013)....


GadflyIn the latest dust-up over the Common Core, the inclusion of some (arguably) violent, war-themed picture books in New York City’s third-grade English curriculum has some whining that the recommended texts were not vetted properly—and, predictably, claiming that implementation is moving too fast. For straight talk, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

A national database called inBloom that warehouses millions of students’ personal information for school districts has a slightly unfortunate side business: selling realistic-but-fake student data to application developers. According to inBloom, the two sides of its operation are strictly separate—but that hasn’t stopped parent listservs from exploding with the rage of a thousand mothers.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal found that more than 10 percent of New York City’s principals did not issue a single teacher an “unsatisfactory” grade (the city uses a pass/fail system for reviewing job performance). While this may seem like bad news, flip that number around and notice that nearly 90 percent did. For comparison, consider that, according to Education Week, 98 percent of Michigan’s teachers and 97 percent of Florida’s were rated effective or better—and those are states that recently revamped their evaluation systems. New York City is a cage-busting leader in ferreting out bad teachers. Note, too, that if and when personnel decisions are truly devolved to school principals,...

Joshua Dunn

Alabama governor Robert Bentley signed into law a comprehensive school-choice bill that will equip those parents who wish to send their kids to another public or private school with tax credits—but not before a series of events too ridiculous to even be termed a farce.

Theater of the absurd
Farce doesn't even begin to describe what happened last week in Alabama.

Two weeks ago, the Alabama House and Senate, both controlled by Republican supermajorities, passed the Alabama Accountability Act, giving parents with children in failing schools a tax credit for tuition at private schools. Naturally, organizations such as the Alabama Education Association (AEA), opposed as they are to letting students escape even the worst of public schools, howled that the measure violated state law. But this time, rather than at least having the decency to sue once the legislation was signed, the AEA decided to lawyer up before it even reached the governor’s desk.

Initially, the bill was called the School Flexibility Act and did not include tax credits. After the House and Senate passed different versions of the bill, the conference committee added the tax-credit provision and changed the name. The restructured and renamed legislation then passed 51-26 in the House and 22-11 in the Senate on party-line votes.

Horrified after realizing that a program increasing options for children trapped in failing schools had passed, the AEA sued. It asked...