In both our role as researchers and as a charter school authorizer we have come to appreciate over-and-over again the critical importance of school leaders in making schools great. Yet, there is no harder job than running a successful school building for high-poverty students; nor a more important job. There are school leaders across the state and the nation who do it day-in and day-out, and too few get recognized for their great work. We are fortunate that some of these leaders work in schools that Fordham sponsors and it is our privilege to tell a little bit of their stories and the impact they are having on students in Ohio.

This Q&A with Chad Webb, the head of school for Village Preparatory School-Woodland Hill campus, is the fifth of our seven-part series on school leadership. (Please see our Q&A with Dr. Glenda Brown, Andy Boy, Dr. Judy Hennessey, and Hannah Powell Tuney.) Village Prep is part of the Breakthrough network of charter schools. Breakthrough operates the highest-performing charters in Cleveland—and, according to Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), are some of the finest charter schools in the nation.

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Chad Webb doesn’t think kindergarteners are too young to start thinking about college. At his Village Preparatory School-Woodland Hills Campus in Cleveland, each of the school’s six classrooms is named after a college, most after the teacher’s alma mater.

On Fridays, the school’s students in grades...


In just two decades charter schools have grown from a boutique school reform strategy to an alternative public school system serving a significant percentage of the nation’s K-12 students. In 1996, just 19 states had charter legislation in place, and there were only about 250 charters serving some 20,000 pupils. Fast forward to 2013: 41 states and the District of Columbia now have charter laws on the books, and there are more than 2 million students enrolled in 5,600 charter schools.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, seven school districts in the nation have at least 30 percent of their public school students enrolled in public charter schools (in Fordham’s home state of Ohio Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown each have 25 percent or more of their students enrolled in charters). An additional 18 districts have 20 percent or more of their public school students enrolled in charter schools. And, there are now more than 100 districts across the country with at least 10 percent of public school students enrolled in charters. Charter schools are undeniably one of the most popular and growing school reforms of the last 25 years.

But, there is still much work to be done, especially when it comes to improving student achievement in the nation’s charter schools. The fact is that the quality of charter schools remains uneven. While there are hundreds of high-performing charter schools across the country serving some of the nation’s neediest students there are an equal number...


wise wonk once wrote that the biggest challenge facing America’s schools is the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom. The subject of this NBER working paper is one proposed solution to this quandary: sorting students by ability. And though conventional wisdom (and some prior research) suggests that kids in the lower-achieving groups would fare worse with such an approach, the researchers in this study concluded that sorting is beneficial for both high and low achievers—though high achievers did see larger gains than those of their lower-scoring peers (approximately 1.6 times greater). The analysis used student- and classroom- level  data linked to one cohort of Dallas elementary students—amounting to roughly 9,000 children in 135 schools who progress from the third to fourth grade (in 2003–04 and 2004–05). Analysts attempt to account for unobservable ways that schools might sort (say, by student behavior) and ultimately find that three-quarters of the schools organize students along at least one dimension: Nineteen percent by prior math scores, 24 percent by prior reading scores, 28 percent by “gifted” status, 57 percent by LEP (limited English proficiency) status, and 13 percent by special-education status (further, around 40 percent sort by at least two dimensions). If schools began perfectly grouping by ability, they would see a 0.4 SD gain in student learning. While this small-scale study provides evidence that sorting is beneficial for increased test scores, school leaders must bear in mind the importance of other factors, such as the impact of...


A shoddily constructed stool, no matter the quality of wood used or the care given to whittling its parts, will not stand. And so it is with Common Core implementation: No matter the strength of the standards (and their linked assessments and accountability systems), they will collapse if not implemented with fidelity at the state, district, school, and classroom levels. Unfortunately, these two survey reports from EPE’s research shop (one done in collaboration with Education First) elicit little confidence that this is happening. The first, a survey of 600 teachers, found that while most are aware of the content within the CCSS ELA standards (92 percent) and math standards (78 percent), only 33 percent believe their schools are primed to implement them in both subjects—and an even smaller percentage believe that their districts and states are prepared. The second survey asked state departments of education how far they’ve come in creating plans for CCSS implementation in the following three categories: teacher professional development, assessment alignment, and curricular-materials alignment. And on these fronts, we learn that only twenty-one states have, as of yet, constructed fully developed plans for all three (note that the report evaluates neither the strength of these plans nor the states’ adherence to their timetables). The take-home message: Common Core supporters need to keep hammering away at these implementation issues.

EPE Research Center, Findings from a National Survey of Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core (Bethesda, MD: EPE Research Center, 2013).
William Porter, et...


Education reformers who take on the important but massive issue of school governance often find themselves, like three captains at the helm of the same ship, attempting to navigate in different directions. The devolution model, piloted by Andy Smarick and Neerav Kingsland, embraces efforts to expand the role of charter organizations and dispenses with the district. The school-transformation model, put forward by Mass Insight, relies on third-party support to construct K–12 feeder patterns of allied schools; and the portfolio strategy, championed by the authors of this short CRPE paper, puts forward a system in which diverse, autonomous schools are governed by the district via performance contracts. Though these approaches seem to conflict, the authors of this paper contend that these proposals are actually complimentary variations on a theme: Government ought to steer (e.g., set goals, judge performance) but not row (i.e., provide). The success of the portfolio model, which creates exactly this kind of government, depends on the supply response: the presence of smart entrepreneurs with innovative ideas about education, folks who are willing to fund those ideas, and so on. And while the devolution and school-transformation models can provide the supply response (respectively, a marketplace for providers and networks of schools organized in feeder patterns), they need a government that allows schools to innovate but closes those that fail. Though this report takes the (not unexpected) perspective that the portfolio strategy charts the clearest course through these stormy seas, it is an important step...


The End of Exceptionalism in American Education: The Changing PoLong viewed as the purview of local school boards and superintendents, education governance has become more complicated—and politicized—in recent years. Executives at every level, including mayors and governors, have gotten into the act. So have judges, legislators, and federal officials. In this book, Teachers College professor Jeff Henig makes sense of the complex and intersecting governance structures that we have today. He explains the “whys” of this shift: While school boards and superintendents (what he calls “single-purpose institutions”) were once widely viewed as apolitical experts, concerns about the country’s global competitiveness have called their expertise into question and opened school systems to criticism. He also speculates that newly active outside organizations (i.e., reform groups) find the more distant decision-makers (what Henig dubs “general purpose” bodies) more amenable to their interests and policy goals—and thus have advocated for their increased involvement in education. Henig also offers perspective on how the various actors engage with policy: Analyzing data on legislative activity, he finds that Congress and statehouses micromanage in all manners, while courts have become more active on such issues as racial segregation and school finance. Looking forward, Henig offers reasons for both concern and optimism. With so many cooks in the kitchen, there may be little hope for policy coherence. Still and all, he concludes that...


GadflyAfter attracting criticism for his description of how sequestration would impact schools (most notably, his comment that schools were already sending “pink slips” and that 40,000 teachers would be out of a job), Education Secretary Arne Duncan apologized for his “choice of words,” but emphasized that the cuts are still a big problem. Apology accepted—though we still miss the Arne Duncan who used to say that “doing more with less” was “the New Normal.”

After a school board election with a price tag in the millions, Los Angeles superintendent John Deasy’s job appears to be safe, at least for now. The board president, Deasy ally, and two-term incumbent Monica Garcia, won her district handily despite fierce opposition of the unions, though one-term incumbent and union ally Steven Zimmer won a close race versus a reform-y newcomer. Whether or not the reformers maintain a voting majority will be determined by a third race, which is headed to a runoff. Back to the trenches!

In an unprecedented move, Georgia governor Nathan Deal removed six members of the dysfunctional DeKalb County school board—and a federal judge upheld his right to do so. The case is likely to move on to the Georgia Supreme Court. But in the meantime, the search is on for six...


Mega States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated States in the NationCalifornia, Florida, Illinois, New York, and Texas: Together, these five states educate nearly 40 percent of public school students and more than half of all English language learners in the land. But how well do they do this? This latest report from the National Center for Education Statistics explains. And the results are a mixed bag (nothing new to wonks who have read previous NAEP reports). California’s students gained, on average, twenty-six points in fourth-grade math since 1992, though their average scores in 2011 still lagged behind the national average. And Illinois’s eighth graders’ scores declined in reading and science—the only state where that happened. On the upside, though, Florida’s students made important reading gains: Its fourth graders improved by sixteen points, beating the national average gain (five points), while its eighth graders jumped eight points. While NAEP data are far from causal, Florida’s surge in reading may be due in part to its third-grade reading guarantee (a policy Ohio has recently adopted), and/or its Reading-First-like early-literacy initiative. Data lovers: dig in!

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics, The Nation’s Report Card: Mega-States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated...


This latest installment in CRPE’s “Making Ends Meet” policy-brief series laudably infuses a dram of reason into the class-size whirlpool. The brief counters the common and mistaken belief—spurred on by knee-jerk sensationalism and politicking—that class sizes are “skyrocketing”; rather, according to the report’s estimates, class sizes in 2011–12 were actually slightly smaller than they were in 1999–2000. This misconception aside, the authors then set out to determine if the benefits of small class sizes (more individual attention per student) outweigh the costs (both monetary and the cost of saddling students with lower-performing teachers in order to keep class sizes small). The authors demonstrate that increasing the nation’s average class size by just two students could free up $15.7 billion—enough to raise average teacher salary by $5,000 per teacher, provide a laptop for every student, or lengthen the school day in the poorest quintile of schools. Tony Bennett, heads up. (Tom Torklason and leaders of other states with class-size mandates, you too.)

SOURCE: Marguerite Roza and Monica Ouijdani, The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes: A State-By-State Spending Analysis (Seattle, WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, December 2012)....


The release of this year’s Metlife Survey of the American Teacher, conducted annually since 1984, caused an uproar: “Record low job satisfaction among teachers—down 23 percentage points since 2008!,” a typical headline might have read. While a drop in teacher satisfaction is nothing to sneeze at, upon closer inspection, the degree to which this is the case may be overblown. In an insightful article, Bellwether Education’s Andy Rotherham pointed out that the wording of the question aimed at gauging teacher job satisfaction was altered: In 2008 and 2009, teachers were asked, “How satisfied would you say you are with teaching as a career?” In 2011 and 2012, the survey queried, “How satisfied would you say you are with your job as a teacher in the public schools?” Hence, this five-year “trend” appears to be based on survey methods that can be fairly dubbed “questionable.” The numbers bear this out: In the eight years that teachers were asked the “career” question, an average of 53 percent responded that they were “very satisfied”; in the six years that they were asked the “job” version, the average was 41 percent. Still, the decline in job satisfaction marked between 2011 and 2012—5 percent fewer teachers responded that they were “very satisfied”—is cause for some concern. Whether related to heightened accountability or tightened budget belts, this trend may carry consequences for the reform movement in the years ahead.

SOURCE: Harris Interactive, The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Challenges for...