Much attention has been paid to why teachers quit. Statistics and studies get thrown around, and there are countless theories to explain the attrition rate. While recent reports indicate that the trend might not be as bad as we’ve thought, teacher attrition isn’t just about whole-population numbers—it’s about retaining the most effective teachers within those numbers. Indeed, a 2012 study from TNTP (formerly known as the New Teacher Project) notes that our failure to improve teacher retention is largely a matter of failing to retain the right teachers. A separate study suggests that retaining the best teachers is all about reducing barriers that make teachers feel powerless and isolated. The 2014 National Teacher of the Year recently pointed out that, among myriad other causes, lacking influence in their own schools and districts (let alone in state policy) is often at the root of teacher attrition.

Keeping high-performers in the classroom has long been a trouble spot for schools. “If you don’t offer leadership opportunities for teachers to excel in their profession, to grow, and still allow them to stay in the classroom,” says Ruthanne Buck, senior advisor to Secretary of...

With little fanfare, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) last month released a draft of its new “School Quality Snapshot”—Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s bid to evaluate each of Gotham’s more than 1,800 schools based on “multiple measures.” The DOE’s website invites public comment on the new reports until May 8. Here’s mine:

I confess I wasn’t the biggest fan of the single-letter-grade school report cards of the Bloomberg-Klein era. But as a signaling device to schools and teachers about what mattered to the higher-ups at the DOE’s Tweed Courthouse headquarters, they were clear and unambiguous: Raise test scores, but most importantly raise everyone’s test scores. With 85 percent of a school’s grade based on test scores—and 60 percent of the total based on test score growth—the report cards, for good or for ill, left little room for doubt that  testing was king. Valorizing growth was an earnest attempt to measure schools’ contributions to student learning, not merely demographics or zip code.

Fariña, whose contempt for data I’ve remarked upon previously, values “trust.” You may worry if your child can’t read or do math. So does Chancellor Fariña, sort of. But she deeply cares if “teachers trust the...

The education components of Governor Kasich’s proposed budget—and the House's subsequent revisions—made a big splash in Ohio's news outlets. Much of the attention has been devoted to the House’s (unwise) moves to eliminate PARCC funding and their rewrite of Kasich’s funding formula changes. Amidst all this noise, however, are a few other education issues in the House’s revisions that have slipped by largely unnoticed. Let’s examine a few.

Nationally normed vs. criterion-referenced tests

As part of its attempt to get rid of PARCC, the House added text dictating that state assessments “shall be nationally normed, standardized assessments.” This is worrisome, as there is a big difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests.

A norm-referenced test determines scores by comparing a student’s performance to the entire pool of test takers. Each student’s test score is compared to other students in order to determine their percentile ranking in the distribution of test takers. Examples of norm-referenced tests are the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Stanford 10 exams. A criterion-referenced test, on the other hand, is scored on an absolute scale. Instead of being compared to other students, students are compared against a standard of achievement (i.e.,...

School closures should never be undertaken lightly, be they district or charter schools. Academic troubles, a fall in enrollment, economic problems, and a myriad of other issues can push the issue to the forefront. Under such times of duress, policymakers and education officials are forced to ask a difficult question: Does closing a school cause more harm than good, especially for students?

Report Co-Author, Stéphane Lavertu

Today, Fordham released a new study called School Closures and Student Achievement that seeks to answer this very question. At a breakfast event on April 28th that attracted around fifty Ohio education leaders, the report’s co-author, Dr. Stéphane Lavertu, presented a summary of the study’s findings. These findings showed that three years after closure, displaced students typically make significant academic gains.

After Dr. Lavertu’s presentation, Chad moderated a panel of policymakers and practitioners who discussed the findings and policy implications. The panel consisted of: the Honorable Nan Whaley, Mayor of Dayton; Tracie Craft, Deputy Director of Advocacy, Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO); Stephanie Groce, former member Columbus City Schools Board of Education;...

How should city-level leaders manage a portfolio of schools? The first thing they should do is take stock of the city’s supply of public schools. A new report from IFF, a nonprofit community development financial institution, provides a helpful look at Cleveland’s public schools, both district and charter. In an effort to uncover those with the highest need for quality seats, the analysis slices the city into thirty neighborhoods based on several variables: schools’ academic performance, facility utilization and physical condition, and commuting patterns. The facility analyses are the major contribution of this work, principally the schools’ utilization rates—the ratio of student enrollment to the physical capacity of the building. The utilization rates are needed to determine the actual number of available high-quality seats. The analysts obtained building-capacity statistics through the district; they estimated charter capacity by using the schools’ highest enrollment point (perhaps underreporting charters’ capacity—especially for new schools). Happily, the study reports that Cleveland’s highly rated K–8 schools are at 90 percent capacity. Yet it is less satisfying to learn that its highest-rated high schools are at only 68 percent capacity (the report does not suggest any reasons why). Meanwhile, most of the city’s poorly rated schools...

Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for giving me the opportunity to testify today in support of House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 148.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit research and policy organization with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C. It’s worth noting, given the subject matter of my testimony, that Fordham’s Dayton office is also a charter school sponsor.

I’d like to start by commending Governor Kasich and legislative leaders from both chambers and both parties for taking on the issue of charter school reform. Despite bipartisan support for charter schools in much of the nation, they remain a deeply divisive issue in Ohio. My hope is that this bill could start to change that. At the end of the day, we all want our students to have access to high-quality schools.

Organizationally, Fordham has long focused on the need to improve accountability and performance in all Ohio schools. Last year, after seeing an onslaught of troubling stories about charter schools, we commissioned research to learn more about the problems...

The process of reforming charter school law in Ohio took another big step forward last week with the introduction of S.B. 148 in the Ohio Senate. Jointly sponsored by Senator Peggy Lehner (R-Kettering) and Senator Tom Sawyer (D-Akron), the bill is the result of workgroup sessions over the last nine months to craft the best legislation possible to improve charter school oversight and accountability.

The new Senate bill follows on the heels of House Bill 2, a strong charter school reform measure passed by the House last month. The Senate proposal maintains many of the critical provisions that the House bill included and adds some additional measures. Specifically, the Senate bill:

  • Strengthens House language around sponsor hopping
  • Increases transparency around expenditures by operators
  • Requires all sponsors to have a contract with the Ohio Department of Education
  • Incorporates much of Governor Kasich’s proposal related to charter school sponsor oversight
  • Prohibits sponsors from spending charter funds outside of their statutory responsibilities
  • Assists high-performing charter schools with facilities by encouraging co-location and providing some facility funding

We published a full roundup of press coverage of the rollout in a special edition of Gadfly Bites on April 16. Important highlights can be...

In a 2011 Education Next article called “The Middle School Mess,” Peter Meyer equated middle school with bungee jumping: a place of academic and social freefall that loses kids the way the Bermuda triangle loses ships. Experts have long cited concerns about drops in students’ achievement, interest in school, and self-confidence when they arrive in middle school. Teachers have discussed why teaching middle school is different—and arguably harder—than teaching other grades. There’s even a book called Middle School Stinks

In an attempt to solve the middle school problem, many cities are transitioning to schools with wider grade spans. Instead of buildings for grades K–5, 6–8, and 9–12 (or any other combination that has a separate middle school), districts are housing students at levels ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade on one campus. To determine if a switch to K–8 grade span buildings is in the best interest of Ohio districts, I took a look at the research, benefits, and drawbacks surrounding the model.


A 2009 study examined data from New York City to determine if student performance is affected by two measures: the grade spans of previously attended schools, and transitions between elementary and...

In a previous post, I explained competency-based or “mastery” grading: a restructuring of the common grade system that compresses everything from course tests, homework, and class participation into a system that assesses students based entirely on whether or not they’ve mastered specific skills and concepts. (For a look at how mastery grading works in practice, check out how schools like Columbus’s Metro Early College School and Cleveland’s MC²STEM high school, and even suburban districts like Pickerington, make it work). In this piece, I’ll discuss some additional benefits and drawbacks of mastery grading.

Mastery grading is innovative in that students only move on to more complex concepts and skills once they mastered simpler ones. As a result, the failure to master on the first attempt isn’t “failure.” It’s a chance for students to receive additional instruction and support targeted at specific weak spots, work hard, master key concepts, and move on with a firm foundation in place.

For teachers, the possibility of meaningful achievement data that is disaggregated by child and skill and directly drives instruction should be drool-worthy. Imagine knowing at the beginning of the year—before ever giving a diagnostic assessment—what your new students have fully,...

Rick Hess opens his book, The Same Thing Over and Over, by asking readers to imagine the following scenario:

How would you respond if asked for a plan to transform America’s schools into a world-class, twenty-first century system?

Then imagine that there is one condition: you must retain the job descriptions, governance arrangements, management practices, compensation strategies, licensure requirements, and calendar of the existing system.

Hopefully, you would flee just as fast as you possibly could.

Red tape stifles innovation, dynamism, and entrepreneurship in public schooling, while creating a culture of risk aversion and defensiveness. These latter two are hardly the features of nimble organizations that can adapt to a changing world; rather, they are the marks of decaying institutions.

Here in Ohio, state leaders are taking note. On several occasions, both Governor John Kasich and Senate President Keith Faber have expressed their desire to “deregulate” public education. That is great news. Yet the task of deregulation is not a simple one. It requires carefully distinguishing the areas where the state has a valid regulatory role from those where it should defer to local, on-the-ground decision making.

The regulatory framework that we at Fordham have advocated...