I stared at the tweet, dumbfounded.

Houston: 2013 Broad Prize finalist?

That can’t be.

I had recently dug through old city-level NAEP results. They were all terribly depressing. 

But Houston’s stopped me cold.

Somehow it had won the 2002 Broad Prize (for supposed urban district excellence) despite dreadfully low performance.  Worse, its scores are virtually unchanged nearly a decade later.

It’s being honored again?

This is what earns an urban district Broad Prize–finalist status?

San Diego is also a finalist and also participates in TUDA. So off I went searching for its data.

Maybe it will be better; Houston was probably just a mistake.

San Diego’s overall scores are slightly better than the appallingly low “large-city” average (8th reading, 27 percent vs. 23 percent). But it has considerably fewer low-income students than other participating cities: 61 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch; in Cleveland it’s 100 percent; Dallas, 85 percent; Chicago and Baltimore, 84 percent.

Hmm. Does San Diego still have an advantage if we compare similar cohorts of students?

No. Its performance is as heartbreakingly low.

In Houston and San Diego, about one in ten African American eighth graders can read proficiently. Their low-income students do only the smallest bit better.

This is what earns...

Dear Deborah,

I’m glad you brought up the topic of democracy. In future posts, I plan to explore the habits and attributes we hope to inculcate in our youthful, budding citizens, including a commitment to self-sufficiency. But today let’s continue the conversation about democratic governance of our public schools.

You and I have more in common than we might want to concede, in that we share a somewhat cynical view of politics. Namely, we see most political actors and institutions as acting out of self-interest. You, and many other liberals, are obsessed with “the rich,” worrying that they will buy elections and promote their own narrow interests (while becoming even richer in the process). I, and many other ed-reformers, am obsessed with the teachers’ unions and other “adult interest groups,” worrying that they will buy elections, run their own candidates, and promote their own narrow interests.

Yet look at what just happened in New York City: Neither the candidate of the rich nor the candidate of the unions won the Democratic primary. Bill de Blasio, untethered from both the 1 percent and organized labor, marched to an impressive victory. (Whether he actually becomes mayor depends, of course, on the November election.)

Maybe we both overestimate the clout of our respective boogeymen.

We also might want to consider that what we see as a clash of interests is really just a clash of ideology.

Consider this quote from Robert Samuelson, discussing lessons from the financial collapse of five years ago:

I concede: I’ve told...

This collection of case studies from the Center for Reform of School Systems’s Donald McAdams and the Broad Foundation’s Dan Katzir, intended for use in school-board-training institutes, explores the strategies used by twelve governance teams to implement major, district-wide reforms in nine of the nation’s largest school districts (four of which won the Broad Prize for Urban Education), during the 1990s and early 2000s. After one chapter on each of the teams, the authors dive into an analysis of which strategies worked best and why. In Houston, for example, the school board’s shared vision of a decentralized system helped empower schools to work together with community and business leaders in their areas. However, in Aldine, just a few miles north of Houston, board members centralized most of the decision-making. McAdams and Katzir note that, while some management styles worked well for some school boards, no single method was best for all of them. But through the case studies, one can discern four main characteristics of success that other reform-minded school boards might usefully consider emulating: Boards should pick a superintendent whose reform agenda aligns with theirs, strive for cohesion at all times, and—importantly—pay attention to the political environment of the district and community. While these may not be ground-shaking conclusions, they are presented clearly and thoughtfully. The cases are fast-paced and comprehensive in their retelling, and the book is replete with insightful observations worthy of reflection in districts looking to start their own reforms....

Education Next

It’s not exactly news that America’s education system is mediocre and expensive in international comparison. What’s less well known is that our schools’ ineffectiveness and inefficiency could have big implications for the country’s economic growth in decades to come. In a new book from the Brookings Institution Press, three of the world’s leading education scholars explain that nothing short of America’s prosperity is at risk due to our educational underperformance.

In today’s Education Next book club, Mike Petrilli speaks with all three authors—Eric Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann—about the evidence they bring to bear in Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School.

Additional installments of the Ed Next Book Club podcast can be heard here.

This post originally appeared on the Education Next blog. Check out the Education Gadfly Weekly for a short review of the book.

Why is the U.S. getting its butt kicked by other countries’ education systems? Amanda Ripley’s fine new book ultimately attributes most of the difference to culture, values, and priorities. She says, in effect, that we’ve got “the schools we deserve,” to borrow the title of a fine old book written by Diane Ravitch (back in the day!). True enough. But tucked away in Ripley’s pages are also a number of examples of how those other lands—her examples are Finland, South Korea and Poland—organize and govern their education systems, and these are illuminating, too, as well as being more actionable in the policy realm.  

Governance matters

Poland, for example, a country understandably allergic to strong central governments, reformed its education system after 1997 in part by empowering school principals to make teacher-hiring decisions. And Finland shut down its inferior ed schools! In Ripley’s words,

Finland’s landscape used to be littered with small teaching colleges of varying quality, just like in the United States….[Then] the Finnish government did something…that has never happened in the United States or most other countries. The Finns rebooted their teacher training colleges, forcing them to become much more selective and rigorous. As part of a broader reform of higher education, the government shuttered the smaller schools and moved teacher preparation into the more respected universities. It was a bold reform, and not without controversy.

Our states could do that, too....

Driving Quality: Can charter incubators solve the problem of too many mediocre charter schools?

Driving Quality: Can charter incubators solve the problem of too many mediocre charter schools?

Recorded December 7, 2011

Communities across the country are struggling to meet parental demand for high quality school options, including high-performing charter schools. Yet, with hundreds of new charter schools opening every year, not nearly enough of them offer the quality education that parents crave and kids deserve. Indeed, far too many fail to deliver education any better than the troubled neighborhood schools that they are meant as alternatives to.

But a new model for charter school growth has taken root in several cities and it appears to be boosting quality as well as quantity. Charter "incubators" are accelerating the launch and development of top-flight charter schools in communities that need them most. Incubators offer the promise of not only more school choice but schools that reliably deliver academic results.

Join us at the Fordham Institute to hear from leaders that are running some of the best of these new organizations. Co-sponsored by the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust), this discussion will analyze the key findings from a new policy brief by Public Impact, and provide lessons on how federal, state and local policymakers can help launch new quality charter schools while encouraging the culling of weak ones.

Back in June, we at Fordham released a critical review of the final Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). As we explained at the time,

…using substantially the same criteria as we previously applied to state science standards—criteria that focus primarily on the content, rigor, and clarity of K–12 expectations for this key subject—our considered judgment is that NGSS deserves a C.

Our review team felt that these new standards fell short in a number of critical areas. Far too much essential science content was either missing entirely or merely implied. Science practices, while essential to K-12 science learning, were given...

Back-to-school season is officially upon us and for many families that means new school supplies and backpacks and recalling where they stashed the warmer clothes. But if you're a public opinion pollster, back-to-school means it's time to dust off your old education surveys and see if anything’s changed from last year.

With three polls released this week (AP-NORC, PDK/Gallup, and Education Next),  trying to draw broad conclusions can be tricky given what, at times, seem to be fairly contradictory answers from the public. Some commentators have focused on what the data seem to show regarding hot-button policy...

“No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.” This is carved into a massive stone wall on the FDR memorial in Washington, but it could have been the preface to this slender, timely, punchy book by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann. These authors make a persuasive case for improving the academic achievement of U.S. students—and thus America’s human resources—so that the nation thrives well into the future. Schools are where human capital gets built, they argue, and the acquisition of essential skills is better measured by standardized tests than by years spent in class....

British author and director of research at the Centre for Market Reform of Education, Gabriel Sahlgren brings us back to Economics 101 with the contention that there is one root cause of all problems afflicting education today: a lack of proper incentives for quality. He argues that the strongest system would be built on a functioning, choice-heavy education market. From there, his argument proceeds rationally: Readers are treated to a thorough explanation underpinning school choice as it relates to competition and quality. Sahlgren evaluates an impressive body of research, covering studies that are cross national (such as Hensvik’s 2012 finding...

Is it all just politics in the Badger State? Have you ever heard of the Common Core? Mike and Brickman talk dairy, while Amber hashes out the latest Education Next survey results.

Amber's Research Minute

The 2013 Education Next Survey by Michael Henderson and Paul E. Peterson, (Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG))

Chester E. Finn, Jr. breaks down why Fordham does not support implementation of the NGSS.

Many states have found a solution for how to better serve their inner-city students through portfolio districts, urban districts that prescribe to a continuous improvement model based on seven key components. Ohio is no exception to that as Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus all participate in the portfolio district network. In order to become a portfolio district, central offices must learn to give the decision making authority to school leaders.  In transitioning, however, district officials are left wondering how much power to give and who to give it to. Simply giving all schools full autonomy is a bad idea. In a short piece by Paul Hill, creator of the portfolio school district, management strategy provides advice to central offices by determining what authority schools should receive and which ones should be chosen.  Hill delineates between two types of autonomy—basic and advanced. If a school is selected to be autonomous, basic autonomies are those that are “non-negotiables.” The list of basic autonomies include control of spending, control of hiring, control of student grouping, and control of funds for professional development. Advanced autonomies are those that, according to Hill, “ensure that the school is fully in charge of itself and can be held accountable for student learning.” Among the advanced autonomies are the control of teacher pay, control of firing, and freedom to make purchases for academic support services. In developing the first pilot group for school autonomy, Hill recommends that central office staff consider schools that, more than anything, are...

Following the Tony Bennett flap, the A-to-F school-grading systems that Bennett championed are themselves under the gun. Some have argued in favor of increasing the number of measures upon which schools are graded, reflecting the variety of grades that parents see their children bring home from school every year. But at what point will more information become too much information? For a great discussion, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show.

After announcing its plans to withdraw from both Common Core–assessment consortia, Pennsylvania has clarified that it will in fact remain a member of both PARCC and Smarter Balanced—it just won’t be using either test. “Huh,” you say? The nominal difference means that the Keystone State will retain the right to “participate” in each group’s discussions.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Robert Samuelson argued that the fiscal crisis facing state and local governments can be boiled down to the clash of two interests: schools versus nursing homes. Samuelson characterized the impending pension crisis as a “prolonged squeeze” from retirement commitments to public employees, while we call it the “big squeeze” in our series of reports on retirement costs of teachers....

Opt-Out or Cop-Out? A Debate on 'New' Accountability Systems

Opt-Out or Cop-Out? A Debate on 'New' Accountability Systems

Growing numbers of parents, educators, and school administrators are calling for a local "opt-out" from state tests and accountability systems.

Is this opt-out a cop-out? Or would students benefit from a system that their own teachers and principals devised? Should all schools be offered an opt-out alternative, one in which they propose to be held accountable to a different set of measures? What about opt-outs for high-achieving schools or schools with good reason to be different? Would such a system move us toward or away from the goals of the Common Core? As for charter schools, must they continue to be tethered to uniform statewide accountability systems? Or should we rekindle the concept of customizing each school's charter and performance expectations?