A Reform-Driven System

Via this ambitious strand of work, we seek to deepen and strengthen the K–12 system’s capacity to deliver quality education to every child, based on rigorous standards and ample choices, by ensuring that it possesses the requisite talent, technology, policies, practices, structures, and nimble governance arrangements to promote efficiency as well as effectiveness.

George Pataki, the former three-term governor of New York, announced today that he’s running for president. He’s the eighth Republican to do so and the second in two days (Rick Santorum declared yesterday). He’s also the subject of the eleventh installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Pataki defeated Mario Cuomo back in 1994 to win the governorship of the Empire State, an office he held until 2006. In fact, he’s never lost an election. In 1982, he won the mayoral seat in Peekskill, NY. He was elected to the state assembly two years later, and to the state senate in 1992. He’s had a long, successful career—so long that if he wins in 2016, he’ll be the oldest American president in history. And during that time, he’s formed some strong opinions about education:

1. Common Core: “I oppose Common Core. I think it's a terrible idea.”...

  • Like raucous pep rallies, autumn school-supply binges, and despising every page of Ethan Frome, there’s something comfortingly banal about multiple choice tests. But there have always been doubts about the benefits of having kids choose between four potential antonyms for “circumscribe.” As a corrective, the Common Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests feature sections devoted to “performance tasks”—longer, in-depth assignments designed to evaluate strategic and critical thinking. The new approach combines a short classroom activity with complex individual components, such as argumentative essays or multi-step math problems. While advocates claim that the exercises give a fuller picture of students’ mastery over the material, some teachers lament lost instructional time and fret about the difficulties of implementation. We’ll know which side was right later this year, when Fordham releases its review of the next-generation assessments; until then, it’s usually safe to fill in “All of the above.”
  • In life, unlike in multiple choice exams, the correct answer isn’t always presented as part of a menu of options. You either know the quadratic formula or you don’t; either you can make a persuasive argument or you can’t. It is therefore critical to teach kids valuable skills for their future lives, and
  • ...

In the age of college- and career-ready standards, the education reform community is finally jumping on the career and technical education (CTE) bandwagon—and with good reason. As Mike Petrilli recently noted, “The best CTE programs, like Career Academies, tend to do a better job with both career skills and academic skills, and create a glide path for students into postsecondary education of the technical variety. Long-term outcomes are very promising, especially for low-income students and African American boys.” But what makes a good CTE program, and how can we ensure that students are benefiting from them?

Reading Visher and Stern’s policy brief is a good place to start. The authors meticulously describe existing CTE programs across the country, focusing on two approaches to CTE: systemic approaches and discrete programs. The former are usually state-driven, less rigid, partner-focused (typically with colleges and communities), and reach a large number of students. Examples are Linked Learning and California Partnership Academies. The latter are usually school-based, such as Career Academies and small schools of choice in New York City

CTE has the benefit of being the “both/and” of education reform: It can be for both college and career, and for all students....

Rick Santorum announced his second presidential bid on Wednesday. He joined six other candidates in the crowded GOP field—which sits in stark contrast to the Hillary Clinton-dominated Democratic race. He’s also the subject of the tenth installment of the Eduwatch 2016 series chronicling presidential candidates’ stances on education issues.

Santorum is a seasoned politician. He began his career in 1991 as a two-term congressman and went on to serve two terms in the Senate. In 2012, he ran for president for the first time and finished as the runner-up in the Republican primaries. He has homeschooled six of his children and voiced strong opinions about education. Here are some of them:

1. Common Core: “We need Common Sense not Common Core....From its beginning, the Common Core State Standards initiative has flown under the radar. Its funding, its implementation, and the substance of the standards it proposes have received little public attention, but all of them are wrong for families, wrong for...

In 2012, Denver and New Orleans became the first two cities in the country to utilize a common enrollment system that included both district-run and charter schools. A new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) takes a look at the benefits, limitations, and implications of these common enrollment systems. Both cities are widely regarded as leaders in developing well-functioning school marketplaces; for example, a recent Brookings institution report awarded New Orleans top marks in its “education choice and competition index” (Denver was rated sixth-best out of more than one hundred metropolitan areas).

In both cities, the enrollment systems were designed to make choosing a school a clearer and fairer process for all families. They employ a single application with a single deadline that parents use to apply for any and all schools within the city.  But the systems themselves are different: In New Orleans, students have no assigned school; instead, every family must use the OneApp to apply for schools. In Denver, however, choice is voluntary—students receive a default assignment, but the SchoolChoice application allows families (if they want) to apply to any public school in the city.

Despite these differences, both...

Robert D. Putnam

The following is an excerpt from Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, by Robert D. Putnam (Simon & Schuster, 2015), reprinted with permission. Watch the video of last week’s Fordham event with Professor Putnam here.

America once had a vigorous system of vocational education, apprenticeship, and workforce training, both in and out of schools. Other countries, like Germany, still do, but over recent decades we have disinvested in such programs. Part of the reason is the rise of the “college for all” mantra, reflecting the belief that a college degree is the ticket to success in the contemporary economy. While it is true that the “college premium” is high, it is also true that very few kids from disadvantaged backgrounds now obtain college degrees. Efforts to improve access and completion rates for poor kids in four-year institutions are worthwhile, and those efforts must begin well before college looms, since the challenges that poor kids face are daunting even before they enter elementary school.

Nonetheless, the “college for all” motto has tended to undercut public and private support for secondary and postsecondary education in vocational skills. A notable example of the potential for contemporary vocational education is provided by Career Academies,...

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s at it again, stumping in Brooklyn churches on behalf of a tax break aimed at kids attending private schools. The initiative would extend middle class families credits of up to $500 for each child enrolled in private schools, including parochial schools; donors to nonprofits funding scholarships to such institutions would also receive some relief. Unfortunately, it’s a great policy in search of a credible advocate: Cuomo’s recent tumble in the polls has been directly tied to his education policies, especially his insistence on chaining teacher evaluations and tenure even more closely to standardized tests. That’s really not a great idea (though it’s probably not as bad as interfering with your own ethics commission). The proposal now has Cardinal Timothy Dolan praying for it, which should help its prospects. But the governor’s approval ratings could need something even stronger than divine intervention.
  • So do the students of the Normandy Schools Collaborative, a Missouri district that demonstrates perfectly why some parents feel they have to desperately scrimp to help their children escape from public schools. A heartbreaking article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch details one diligent student’s lost year at
  • ...

Last week, Fordham hosted Robert Putnam for a discussion of his new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, which argues that a growing opportunity gap is leaving many American children behind. Watch the replay of the event, or read the transcript of the event below.

Michael Petrilli:              

Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon. My name is Mike Petrilli. I am the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. For those of you that don’t know us, we are an educational policy think tank. We are based here in Washington, D.C. but we also do on-the-ground work in the great state of Ohio which also features prominently in Dr. Putnam’s book. You can shout out for Ohio, that’s okay. Yes, and just as long as it’s not Ohio State, that’s another story. But Thomas B. Fordham was an industrialist way back in the day in Dayton, Ohio, so we have a mission to do on-the-ground school reform work in Ohio. We push for educational reform out of Columbus and we are...

In 2006, Ohio enacted one of the nation’s first “default closure” laws, which requires the lowest-performing charter schools to shut down whether their authorizers want them to or not. The law, still in effect today, has forced twenty-four charters to close. The criteria for automatic closure are well defined in law and are based on the state’s accountability system.

This new working paper, which complements our recent study on Ohio school closures, evaluates the effect of closures induced by the automatic closure law on student achievement. (By contrast, Fordham’s study examined both district and charter closures that occurred regardless of cause, be it financial, academic, or other.) To carry out this analysis, the researchers compared the outcomes of students attending charters that closed by default to those of pupils attending charters that just narrowly escaped the state’s chopping block. The sharp “cut point” for closure versus non-closure allowed the analysts to compare very similar students who attended similarly performing schools—thus approximating a “gold-standard” random experiment.

The key finding: Students displaced by an automatic closure made significant gains in math and reading after their schools closed, a result consistent with our broader study. Moreover, the analysts found that the academic...

When the Foundation for Excellence in Education released its first “Digital Learning Report Card” in 2011, the state-by-state outlook for ed-tech innovation was worrying. Twenty-one states received failing grades. Four years on, the picture looks very different. While there are still only two states—Florida and Utah—earning A grades, this year’s scorecard shows half of them with improved grades and just five (Connecticut, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Tennessee) with Fs. Barriers to digital learning are falling fast.

The report card grades states on ten “elements of high-quality digital learning,” including whether students can advance by demonstrating proficiency (not merely by warming classroom seats for enough months) and whether they have the ability to customize their education through digital providers. And of course, the funding and infrastructure must be in place to support digital learning. Broadly speaking, the report praises states for adopting policies that embrace new models and ways of thinking, and shames them if they don’t. States might get dinged, for example, if they restrict student eligibility for online courses (allowing kids only to take online versions of courses already offered in schools seems truly pointless). That said, some of the report’s criteria feel more like an ed-tech enthusiast’s...

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