The sweetest and shiniest word in the progressive lexicon is “universal.” It connotes equity, equality, and above all fairness. As a practical matter, however, these lofty ideals are undermined when we give everyone the same even if some need more. This is a truth universally acknowledged.

It also seems lost upon New York City’s uber-progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, who seems oddly determined at times to make worse, not better, the “Tale of Two Cities” dichotomy between rich and poor New York that he rode into office two years ago.

The second year of de Blasio’s signature education initiative, a $300 million program to provide free, full-time pre-K to all New Yorkers, began this fall with troubling data suggesting that it is badly misfiring. Using census data and information from the mayor’s office, Bruce Fuller—a professor of education and public policy at University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley!)— estimates that there are 103,000 four-year-olds eligible for the program. In many instances, however, those who need it most are not being reached.

Children from low-income homes make up the largest share of program participants, accounting for roughly one-third of the sixty-five thousand registrations. But Fuller calculates that more than twelve thousand...

  • In the entire tortured lexicon of bureaucratese, no two words can inspire more dread in the hearts of academic administrators than “Dear Colleague” (well, maybe “NAEP scores,” but that’s a separate issue). President Obama’s Office of Civil Rights has issued a fusillade of “Dear Colleague” letters to educators at every level of schooling over the past few years, relying on the magic of governmental coercion to solve such diverse ills as campus rape, inequitably applied discipline, and the existence of languages besides English. In both the Wall Street Journal and Education Next, R. Shep Melnick has picked apart the legal rationale behind yet another pernicious edict, first disseminated late last year; this one pushes schools to shrink the nationwide racial achievement gap by providing their students with equal access to “resources” (read: funding, and everything else). The policy breezes past two Supreme Court rulings that explicitly reject its legal foundations, forcing schools to meticulously chronicle the “intensity” of their extracurricular activities and the condition of their carpeting if they wish to avoid a federal investigation. Educational disparities among ethnic groups are seriously concerning, but policymakers should consider whether the best way to counter them is
  • ...

Kim Davis, the Rowan (Kentucky) County clerk, is in the spotlight this week for ignoring a federal judge’s order to issue marriage licenses to gay couples seeking to wed. She claims that doing so would violate her Christian faith and her religious liberties. On Tuesday, she added that she was acting “under God’s authority.”

You don’t have to be a Constitutional scholar to know that her legal argument has no merit. As a public official, she took an oath to follow the rule of law. If she believes that doing so would conflict with her religious beliefs, then she should do the honorable thing and resign.

This episode goes far beyond the gay marriage debate, though. It brings to mind another class of public employees: educators. Must they always follow the rule of law—even when it conflicts with their personal beliefs, religious or otherwise? In a system that is overly rule-bound, bureaucratic, and politicized, where is the line between “cage busting” and law breaking? And does it matter that they are government employees instead of elected officials?

Sometimes the answers are clear and straightforward. For instance: Public school science teachers should teach what’s in...

  • As traditionalist gift givers are no doubt aware, the tenth anniversary metal is tin. Last week, with a slew of ten-year retrospectives and events commemorating the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, a longtime reform critic traded in her responsible commentator’s hat for one of those nifty ones made from tin foil. Business journalist Andrea Gabor, who has spent years grinding an axe against school choice and high standards, attempted to bury it in the back of the New York Times with a breathless op-ed decrying the “myth” of the post-hurricane New Orleans schools revival. The Seventy Four quickly published a rebuttal of the simple factual inaccuracies in Gabor’s piece, and reform-friendly superintendent John White wrote a paean to the city’s charter district and the educators who work there. But the best response has come from liberal pundit Jonathan Chait, who defended high-achieving charters as “one of the most impressive triumphs of American social policy.” New Orleans still hasn’t completely turned around a school system that was irrevocably broken even before the storm. But after a decade of progress, it’s attracted allies from across the spectrum, and that’s something to celebrate.
  • Franz Kafka is most famous
  • ...

Anyone who has spent serious time within the U.S. public education system would likely agree that there are too many chefs in the school governance kitchen. Not only that, some of them are terrible cooks. Which means that great governance is scarce, consensus is hard to achieve, and significant change is rare. Yet our education governance system, lamented and disparaged as it often is, is one of the least understood aspects of American K–12 schooling.  So while it’s easy to agree that “bad” governance gets in the way of doing what’s best for kids, it’s harder to pinpoint just what exactly is so dysfunctional when it comes to running schools. 

To shine a flashlight into this murk, we must first define the governance “system” that we’re talking about. Who exactly makes which kinds of education decisions? State or local? Who has the power? Is that power dispersed or centralized? To what degree can the wider public—not just insiders—participate in policymaking? These are some of the gnarly questions that characterize governance; but because they’re also humdrum and wonky, not many people bother trying to ask them.

Some of this apathy (or is it despair?) arises from the reality...

Ashley Jochim

The push to raise standards and boost outcomes for students has placed states at the center of efforts to improve public education. But as many have observed, few are well positioned to deliver on these aims.

The challenges of advancing reform from the statehouse have led many education reformers to turn to governance. Education governance both determines which institutions have the authority to make education decisions and also shapes how those decisions are made.

In a new report from the Fordham Institute, Dara Zeehandelaar and David Griffith tackle the thorny challenge of depicting the range of governance arrangements that structure state education policy. The authors create a taxonomy classifying the ways that states differ on three dimensions: concentration of decision-making authority at the state versus the local level; distribution of authority among many institutions versus consolidation of authority in only a few; and the degree to which the public can participate in making particular decisions. They combine these dimensions into eight governance types.

The authors reserve judgment on how governance shapes the ability of states to meet their constitutional obligations to students. But they provide some illustrative examples of how governance structures can limit the actions available to states and localities....

The Donald edition

Insolvent districts, alleged teacher shortages, NOLA’s ed reforms, and the market’s effect on teacher effectiveness.

Amber's Research Minute

SOURCE: Markus Nagler, Marc Piopiunik, and Martin R. West, "Weak Markets, Strong Teachers: Recession at Career Start and Teacher Effectiveness", National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 21393 (July 2015).


Mike Petrilli:               Hello, this is your host, Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, here at the Education Gadfly Show and online at Now, please join me in welcoming my co-host, the Megyn Kelly of education reform, Dara Zeehandelaarar.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    That was better than I thought it was going to be.

Mike Petrilli:               Megyn Kelly. This has been a fascinating week with the response to the debate, of course, and the ongoing debate between Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly. In the conservative movement, people do not like it when people mess with one of their favorite Fox news correspondents.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    I have to say I, in general, don't understand the mental process of, let's say some of the candidates, but don't go after one of the most beloved figures on the network that you really need to support you, who by the way, has shown in the past that she has absolutely no problem standing up for herself.

Mike Petrilli:               Yes, and that she asked a reasonable question. This, again, is like you, Dara, you are willing to ask tough questions. Like Megyn Kelly, he had to be asked these questions. He's called women these horrible names and he did it again with Megyn Kelly, providing her point. Why is it that we have so many Americans out there who are still attracted by that? I mean, this is not about political correctness. This is about just being polite.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    Misogyny.

Mike Petrilli:               Misogyny. Civic discord.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    Sexism.

Mike Petrilli:               Sexism, like don't be rude. When was it that conservatives suddenly loved New Yorkers? I mean, this is ridiculous.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    I don't know.

Mike Petrilli:               No offensive to the New Yorkers out there or Robert Pondiscio on our staff, a guy who would never say something like this.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    I have to give her props for not actually stooping to his level on this one because give the man a shovel and he'll dig the hole himself.

Mike Petrilli:               I would love it ... I wish he was participating on Campbell Brown's debate on education policy to see if he would do this to Campbell Brown. Would love to see what she would do. Would also love to see him and Eva Moskowitz at one point. He would get ...

                                    Okay. Enough with that. We have some fun stuff to cover. I am back from vacation. Rio, baby, Rio. It's got to be on your bucket list. It is an amazingly beautiful place.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    You guys can't see, but I'm standing here glaring at Mike because he was in Rio and we were in the humidity.

Mike Petrilli:               Yes, it was actually a beautiful time to go. Okay, let's get started. Clara, let's play Pardon the Gadfly.

Clara:                          All right. First question: A new Fordham report offered solutions for insolvent school districts. What's the best way to get them out of the red?

Mike Petrilli:               So, Dara, you were the lead author of this report. Tell us: What is this all about?

Dara Zeehandelaar:    Well, to answer the question by not answering the question, the best way to help districts who are in the red is to very, very strongly prevent them from getting that far in the first place. There are an incredible amount of ways that districts can get into trouble. Some of them are just pretty mind-boggling, like districts allowed to operate with a deficit and deficit spend for several years in a row and nobody steps in until they are already in debt. That doesn't make any sense. Districts being allowed to enter into long-term contracts based on future revenue that they have, not only no guarantee off, but probably aren't going to get because of declining enrollment. Yet, nobody is monitoring them to say, maybe it's not a good idea for you to enter into a 10-year vendor contract with money we're pretty sure you're not going to have.

Mike Petrilli:               Let's be clear about this. We're talking about districts out there, right. They go broke. This is not ... sometimes it may be a matter of not having somebody on the team that really knows finances. Sometimes, very rarely, it could be something about fraud or somebody stealing money. Most of the time, it's just the normal way that we do business in education, which is that, particularly with these contracts, and your teacher union contracts, other labor agreements, they go for these 3 or 5 year contracts. In many cases, the districts don't know what their enrollment's going to be. They don't know what the revenue is. You look at, for example, after the great recession, all of a sudden the birth rate plummeting in America. Now, we are finding in lots of places around the country, we have fewer kids coming in in Kindergarten and first grade. This was not foreseen. Well, guess what. Fewer kids mean less money, means you don't necessarily to pay those higher salaries that you promised 3 or 4 years ago, or that the previous superintendent promised.

                                    Here in this brief, we try to give states some ideas about what they can do to try to be, as you say, pro-active in keeping districts from completely crashing and burning.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    Well, yes. Also, now to answer the question that was actually asked. What happens when they're actually in trouble. We can't districts to take ... states to take ... high quality preventative measures. In this brief, we outline a series of 3 tiers of interventions. The first one is collaborative supports, which I realize is dissatisfying for people who want to just sweep the problem clear and take over a district, or something like that. Collaborative supports for existing leaders to identify problems and even give them political cover to make decisions. They know they need to raise class sizes or operate closer to class size maximums and they just need someone to come in and be like, well it's out of my hands. Now, I can make the hard choice and then, towards financial management, and then full-district administrative control we call state takeover.

                                    The fact is, states are not good at running districts. Let's not jump to that step right away and, instead, have a tiered system, a prescriptive tiered system, with very clear triggers for moving from one stage to the next.

Mike Petrilli:               Check it out on our website. Share it with your friends and family. Okay, topic number 2.

Clara:                          Alleged teacher shortages have been getting a lot of press lately. Is this something something parents and policymakers should be concerned about?

Mike Petrilli:               Well, in some places, right. This has really dominated the news this week, in part because, there's nothing else going on. The big New York Times story over the weekend about teacher shortages nationwide. As Alexander Ruso pointed out, rightly I think, this stuff varies dramatically. It's not nationwide. It is localized in some places. There are districts that are scrambling to find teachers but other places don't have the same. Then, you dig deeper and you probably would find that there are certain areas, like math and science, who were struggling more than other places. This is, Dara, this is partly, this is about demographics. We say, we fired a lot of teachers a few years ago. Now we need more teachers again.

                                    Part of it is just getting schools to be smarter about the ways they recruit and identify teachers. You can't just sit around twiddling your thumbs, waiting for people to apply. You've got to be pro-active out there and go out and find great people and bring them to you.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    I agree, but the problem is that: Who's problem is this really? It's not the parents. It's not the policy makers. It's the principals, but the principals, who are scrambling to find teachers. Especially I know in Los Angeles, charter school principals are scrambling to find teachers, even at the elementary level, which are supposedly easy to find. The principals, that's whose problem it is, but the principals are not in charge of recruiting and teacher training writ large. This really needs to be an opportunity for collaboration between the principal saying here's what we need and then the policymakers or even district officials, being more strategic about recruiting teachers.

Mike Petrilli:               I'm confused now. It's interesting on charters because I would ... My impression is that in a lot of places, at least the high performing charters that have a long track record, they continue to get tons of applications because teachers want to teach in effective schools. They want to teach in places that are working well, where they can be successful, so the Kips of the world end up having a lot of people apply. Now they are very selective. In a place like L.A., is it because in California they need to be certified? What is causing the shortage or what's blocking up the system?

Dara Zeehandelaar:    What's blocking up the system at this point is job security and salary. Now that the big districts are hiring, teachers, especially younger teachers, would rather work for a district with a guaranteed job, where they're not going to get a pink slip and where their salary is secure and is set to raise every year, versus the unknown of a charter school.

Mike Petrilli:               Now, that's interesting.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    It's going to be different in other places with other job markets, but in large urban centers where the district is a secure source of employment and the district is hiring, the charters are having to hold.

Mike Petrilli:               This is fascinating, Dara, because it was not that long enough. It was just before the great recession, when all the talk was about how young people today, they don't want to be in one job for their whole life. They're going to have lots of different jobs. They want to be in a place that's entrepreneurial. Well, suddenly, the great recession happens, right. We just talked about the birth rate. This also has an impact on people's outlook on work, on psychology. The same thing happened with the Great Depression. It really freaked a lot of people out. Suddenly, a secured job and job security and all the rest start to look like something that's much more attractive, even to young people, even to millennials.

                                    That is interesting. It is true that in Ohio, for example, a few years ago, there was a push to try to buy-out veteran teachers, in part because of expenses, because of pension stuff, other reforms. You've had a wave of veteran teachers leave. As you say, these big urban districts now are hiring lots of people. When they can pay more than the charters, that is a challenge for the charter schools. Hey, you know what causes that is funding and equity.

                                    Okay, topic number 3.

Clara:                          A set of articles out of Two Lane concluded that New Orleans ed reforms are working. How applicable is this success to other locals?

Mike Petrilli:               Dara, what's your take on this? You're the researcher, so tell us. It looks like pretty compelling evidence. It's hard. We can't randomly assign hurricanes to city, thank God. Well, maybe actually Mother Nature does sort of ...

Dara Zeehandelaar:    No.

Mike Petrilli:               .. no, no. Okay, as you can see the wheels turning in my head there. It is hard to figure out some of the methodology of how do you ... There's so many factors going on in New Orleans, lots of different reforms. Are the kids the same? Are they not the same? Who came back after the storm? Still, you've got some very smart people in New Orleans trying to untangle all of this. What they conclude is, hey, as far as we can tell, the schools today are dramatically better than they used to be.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    I won't be able to answer that question specifically, but I'll tell you who can, which is, if say, Chicago or New York City or Los Angeles or Houston is trying to learn from New Orleans, then what they will be able to take from those reforms is really up to them. It's really kind of the job of the researchers here to present their results in a way that people from other districts can decide: Is this applicable to my context?

Mike Petrilli:               All right, well that's fine. That's a little bit of a non-answer.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    A non-answer to the the answer. I know.

Mike Petrilli:               Look, and you say what were the New Orleans reforms. I mean, the city is now mostly charter schools, but a charter school system that had a very strong focus on quality. They have been closing bad charter schools. They have been working very hard at all kinds of the nitty-gritty problems that we know about, funding. What's an appropriate discipline policy? How do we make sure special ed kids have access to these schools? Uniform enrollment system, more outreach to parents. I guess one interesting thing that kind of met a narrative here in New Orleans. It does appear that the schools are getting better. Achievement is better. Still not where we want it to be. There are still plenty of parents, in particularly African American parents who are not happy with how it all went down. There's still a sense that this was done to them rather than done with them.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    It's up to the school leaders in Louisiana and in other places to figure out how much do they really care about that. Right?

Mike Petrilli:               That is. I mean, is that inevitable. Is there always going to be that tension? That if you want to move quickly, if you want to do really hard stuff and stuff that's transformative, you're not going to get at least 100% community support for that. Is there other things that the folks in New Orleans could have done better to bring the community along? I guess the next couple of years, as they work more and more on those community issues may tell.

                                    Okay, that's all the time we've got for Pardon the Gadfly. Now it is time for everyone's favorite: Amber's Research Minute. David Griffith, welcome back to the show.

David Griffith:             Thanks for having me.

Mike Petrilli:               David is pinch-hitting for Amber this week. She is busy with our big evaluation with the Common Core Assessments that's going on right now, so David's going to be pinch-hitting. David, we were talking earlier about Donald Trump versus Megyn Kelly. Has this turned you into a Megyn Kelly, Fox News fan? I'm curious.

David Griffith:             The phrase that comes to mind is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Mike Petrilli:               Okay, well played.

David Griffith:             I'm not sure who that makes my friend, but ...

Mike Petrilli:               Well played. Well played. All right, hey, so what have you got for us, David? This is your second time on the show. This is a big opportunity here but big shoes to fill because everybody makes it very clear whenever I talk to them, whenever I talk to podcast listeners, that most people listen for Amber. This is the meat of it here. No pressure, but you've really got to nail this one.

David Griffith:             Well, today I have a study entitled, "Weak Markets, Strong Teachers, Recession at Career-Start and Teacher Effectiveness."

Mike Petrilli:               Ooo, wow.

David Griffith:             Yep.

Mike Petrilli:               Very relevant to what we're talking about today about the teacher shortage.

David Griffith:             For sure. The study is conducted by Martin West of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Markus Nagler of the University of Munich, and Mark Peunich of the Ethos Institute of Economical Research. In the study, they essentially assess the impact of the business cycle on teacher quality. They use recessions to see if there's any impact on either the demand or supply for teachers on their quality. For the study, they essentially rely on data from Florida. It comes from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. That's reading and math scores for every 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade student who was tested in Florida between 2000 - 2001 and 2008 - 2009. In addition to sort of the beginning of the major recession that we're all familiar with, it also captures the earlier, sort of smaller recession from the Bush years. They use those scores to construct test-based value-added scores for 33,000 4th and 5th grade teachers in Florida Public Schools. They use value-added as their measure of teacher quality.

                                    The main finding of the study is that teachers who enter the profession during a recession are roughly .1 standard deviations more effective in teaching math and .05 standard deviations more effective in teacher English/Language Arts than non-recession teachers. There are a number of factors that could explain this, but the results of the study basically suggest that it's driven by increases in the supply of very effective teachers during recessions, rather than decreases in the demands for teachers because the government is hiring fewer of them, or some differences in the rates of attrition as between recession and non-recession teachers after the end of their profession. Essentially, they suggest that stronger teachers are entering the profession or trying to enter the profession during recessions, most likely because they have relatively few alternatives.

                                    There's some interesting nuances. For example, the effect seems to be stronger for male teachers than female teachers. It seems to be stronger for minority teachers. It seems to be stronger for teachers who are entering the profession later in life, suggesting perhaps that those groups are a little bit more motivated by the economic returns to teaching than other groups. I think the really interesting part for me was trying to actually estimate how much better the teachers who entered the recessions were than the teachers who would have entered otherwise because if all the teachers who start teaching during recessions become teachers only because of the recession, then the effectiveness difference between these groups would essentially be equal to the measured effect, the .1 standard deviations. However, if only 10% of the recession teachers went into teaching due to the recession, then the difference in effectiveness could actually be much much larger, as much as 10 times larger or a whole standard deviation.

                                    The study has a couple of pretty clear policy implications. First, and most obviously, recessions may be a really great time for the government to hire effective teachers. Because ...

Mike Petrilli:               I thought you were going to say, have a pro-recession government policy.

David Griffith:             Yeah, right. Obviously, we need to create more recessions so our kids can learn. Second of all, regardless of where we are on the business cycle, the study provides pretty strong evidence that we will be able to attract better teachers to the professions if we pay new teachers more, although that's very different from say that increasing the salary of the current teaching workforce would lead to higher achievement. Those are the big takeaways. It was an interesting study.

Mike Petrilli:               Very well timed, David, as we were just talking about the teacher shortage problem that we're hearing about this week. It's kind of crazy, right. Recessions, but for education, at least for this respect, a tighter labor market, which we're now finally so many years after the great recession we were experiencing is bad for hiring teachers. There's not as many of them. It makes me wonder if you charted Teach for America in their sort of good years and bad years, I bet that this would be very counter-cyclical, as well. You think about TFA getting started back in the early 90s after a recession. I remember in the mid-90s when the economy's booming, things were tough for Teach for America. This is just one of these facts of life.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    Teach for America applications are down now, too.

Mike Petrilli:               Absolutely.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    Which speaks to, exactly what David was saying about making the entry-level salaries more lucrative. I think it, unfortunately, also speaks to the fact that teaching is still perceived as a back-up plan or a second-tier profession. I can't do what I really want to do, so I'll teach for a couple of years.

Mike Petrilli:               Right, right right, right. The question is, so their takeaway is what? Take advantage of this during the recession, but of course, during recession, schools also tend to have a bit hit on their funding and, so it's perhaps hard to do those things. This is one of those dynamics that it is helpful to understand but it's not quite clear we can do much about.

David Griffith:             Yeah, I think there are a couple of things we could do, but there's political barriers to them. Right? For example, we spend a lot of money on pensions. Right? We could shift that investment to the front-end and try to attract better people to the profession. That's easier said than done.

Mike Petrilli:               I would like to point out as a former member of the Bush Administration, that to the extent that you blame the Bush Administration for the great recession. Well, it looks like this was one of our great accomplishments in education.

Dara Zeehandelaar:    Keep telling yourself that.

Mike Petrilli:               All right. That is all the time we've got for this week. Thank you, David. Until next week ...

Dara Zeehandelaar:    I'm Dara Zeehandelaarar.

Mike Petrilli:               And I'm Mike Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, signing off.

Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock

One of the most hotly debated issues in American education today revolves around low-performing schools and districts: how to define “low-performing,” what to do about them, and who gets to decide. That’s at the heart of the deliberations—and arguments—over the No Child Left Behind reauthorization now moving through Congress.

But there’s another species of “failing” schools and districts that doesn’t attract the same controversy, even though it should: institutions that are financially insolvent, or headed toward that status. For example, as of the 2014–15 school year, the School District of Philadelphia had massive deficits—to the tune of $320 million. In Michigan, nearly 7 percent of all traditional school districts and charter school districts (57 of 843) were operating at a deficit at the end of the 2013–14 fiscal year. Over 25 percent of New Mexico districts (23 of 89) required emergency state aid in 2013–14. And there are similar problems in Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere.

Districts go insolvent primarily because there are insufficient counter-pressures on their leaders to stay fiscally solvent. Existing leaders are often rewarded—through elections, appointments, or re-appointments—when they make promises that...

Report by Dara Zeehandelaar, Victoria Sears, and Alyssa Schwenk

Foreword by Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Northern

School districts across the land are contending with rising education costs and constrained revenues. Yet state policies for assisting school districts in financial trouble are uneven and complex. Interventions are often haphazard, occur arbitrarily, and routinely place politics over sound economics.

This brief presents a menu of sensible state responses when districts are insolvent or nearly so, arranged into a tiered sequence of interventions.

1. Collaborative Supports

District leaders receive low-impact assistance in managing their finances. Supports might include convening a budget review committee to identify unnecessary expenditures or assisting district finance officers to develop more accurate projections of future revenue. The goal is to work with leaders to recognize and rectify the causes of distress.

2. Financial Management

At this stage, experts are no longer advisory; they now oversee and manage a district’s financial matters. The goal is immediately to improve district finances so as to avert costly bailouts down the line, while building the capacity of district leaders to manage...

This book out of Harvard’s Public Educational Leadership Project (PELP) takes on one of the biggest challenges in managing school districts: the relationship between the central office and schools. In meeting needs that vary from building to building, do certain governance structures work better than others? For example, is it better to centralize and make all the decisions “downtown” or decentralize and give autonomy to schools?

Researchers analyzed five large urban districts in four states with varying approaches to their central office/schools relationships, all of which were selected based on improvements in student achievement. The districts shared other similarities, such as serving a wide range of schools and communities, and each enrolled more than sixty-thousand students (mostly of color). PELP’s methodology is best described as a case study approach that included combing through news sources and research reports and interviewing sixty-three district and school leaders.

Researchers reached a perplexing conclusion: Both styles can be successful if the central office and school coordinate their systems, strategies, and visions. Whether centralized, decentralized, or a blend of both, structure has no bearing on student performance. Instead, all that matters is that both parties openly communicate and readjust in order to figure out what...