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.

  • With the hue and cry surrounding big policy issues like testing, school choice, accountability, and labor, too little bandwidth remains for district- and building-level ideas that can spark energy in new directions. In the pages of Education Next, Fordham Senior Visiting Fellow Peter Meyer tells the tangled story of one such innovation: New York City’s small high schools. An early fixation of philanthreformers like Walter Annenberg and Bill Gates, the broader movement away from colossal public schools and toward more manageable, specialized academies was for years widely viewed as a failed effort; students could be sorted into the redesigned schools, but curriculum and instruction always seemed to lag. New York’s effort, the brainchild of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein, changed all that by providing institutional backing behind the initiative. Rather than scattering isolated seeds throughout an otherwise unaltered system, the city’s leaders directly engaged educators to develop a broad and resilient base of some two hundred schools. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that breaking up crowded behemoths into fun-sized institutions of learning increases graduation rates for low-income kids, but this tactic is an avenue to academic success that hasn’t been given the recognition it’s due. Thankfully,
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This book, an updated edition of Stanford professor Jo Boaler’s seminal 2008 work of the same name, tackles an important if familiar issue: The United States has a mathematics problem. On the 2012 iteration of PISA, the international test administered by the OECD, we ranked thirty-sixth out of sixty-five countries in math performance—and twenty-seventh out of thirty-four among OECD members. More ominously, 70 percent of students attending two-year colleges require remedial math courses—which only one in ten successfully passes.

Boaler argues that American math education is ineffective for three reasons: First, classroom learning is too passive, with teachers lecturing from the blackboard instead of actively interacting with their students. Second, instruction doesn’t emphasize understanding and critical thought, leaning instead on memorization and regurgitation. And third, the contexts in which content is taught don’t reflect the way math is used in everyday life. Take for example the following textbook question: “A pizza is divided into fifths for five friends at a party. Three of the friends eat their slices, but then four more friends arrive. What fractions should the remaining two slices be divided into?” When, in real life, would you need this, when you could just order more pizza?...

On May 13, Fordham President Michael J. Petrilli delivered testimony before a Pennsylvania State Senate committee. These were his remarks.

Chairman Smucker, Minority Chairman Dinniman, members of the committee: It’s an honor to be with you. My name is Mike Petrilli. I’m the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-of-center education policy think tank based in Washington that also does on-the-ground school reform work in the great state of Ohio. I was honored to serve in the George W. Bush administration; our founder and president emeritus, Chester Finn, served in the Reagan administration.

As a strong conservative and a strong supporter of education reform, I am pleased to speak in favor of Senate Bill 6 and its intent to create an Achievement School District for Pennsylvania. Turnaround school districts are among the most promising reforms in American education today.

Over four years ago, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, along with our friends at the Center for American Progress, began a multi-year initiative designed to draw attention to the elephant in the ed-reform living room: governance. Given its ability to trample any promising education improvement—or clear the way for its implementation—it was high time to put governance...

Recently I had the privilege of listening to practitioners from Ohio’s high-performing districts who shared how they’re achieving success. These districts are earning A grades on their state report cards in notoriously difficult areas such as closing achievement gaps, effectively serving gifted students and students with disabilities, and increasing student achievement across the board. 

The series of events was hosted by Battelle for Kids in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Education, and I was able to hear from five of the exemplary districts: Marysville, Orange City, Oak Hills Local, Solon City, and Mechanicsburg. Here are the important commonalities I found among the strategies discussed.

1. Plus time

This strategy goes by a different name depending on which district you visit: “no-new-instruction time,” “flex time,” “plus time,” and “support classes” were all terms I heard, but the basic idea was the same. Each of these high flyers altered their daily schedule so that students received around forty minutes a day of either enrichment or remediation. To be clear, this isn’t an additional class in which students learn new information; instead, this is a time for...

Cohabitation continues between the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). And they don't appear to be practicing birth control, because every year brings one or two new joint products. NIEER's hot-off-the-presses report—the tenth in its series of annual "state of preschool" data-and-advocacy scorecards—was again paid for via a multi-year sole-source contract from the National Center for Education Statistics, and was released at an event featuring none other than Arne Duncan.

Nobody is making any effort to conceal this romance (which is just as well if you believe in governmental transparency).

Its progeny, however, all seem to look alike. This report is more of the same: a celebration of various increases in state-funded early childhood programs, strong recommendations for yet more increases, sundry state-by-state comparisons, and individual state profiles. The only difference between it and the most recent one published by the Education Department itself is that NIEER's policy advocacy is naked while the federal versions at least wear diapers.

Aside from the question of whether Uncle Sam should be paying for this, my biggest issue continues to be NIEER's woeful definition of preschool "quality." At least eight of their ten "national...

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...

There’s been a lot of pontificating lately about how to interpret the opt-out movement and the message parents are trying to deliver. The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Riley believes that “soccer moms” are mad at Common Core. Jay Greene, channeled by Riley, blames the diminishment of parental control. Rick Hess fingers the reformers’ social justice agenda, which is at odds with the interests of middle class suburban parents.

These guesses are as good as anyone’s because the truth is: We don’t know. To my knowledge, nobody has surveyed a representative sample of the opt-outers; nobody knows for sure what’s motivating them. So let’s pause for a moment and examine what we do know. In other words, let’s establish the fact base.

  1. A whole lot of parents in New York State opted out their kids of state exams this spring. According to New York State Allies for Public Education, almost 200,000 students did not take the tests; in several districts, that number was as high as 70 percent.
  2. A handful of New Jersey districts also saw sky-high opt-out numbers,
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Editor's note: On May 6, Fordham contributor Andy Smarick delivered testimony before an Ohio education subcommittee on Senate Bill 148, a critical piece of legislation that would help clean up the state's troubled charter sector. With his permission, we're reproducing his remarks.

Thank you Chair Hite, Vice Chair Sawyer, and subcommittee members for allowing me to offer some thoughts on your ongoing efforts to improve charter schooling in Ohio. Congratulations and thank you for the important progress that’s reflected in the legislation being considered here today.

My name is Andy Smarick, and I’m a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization committed to improving K–12 schooling, especially for high-need students. I’ve worked on education policy for most of my career—at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. House of Representatives, a state department of education, and a state legislature.

I’m also a strong advocate for high-quality charter schooling. I helped start a charter school for low-income students, I helped found the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and I’ve written extensively about charter schooling, including a book on how—when done right—it can dramatically improve student results in cities.

I was a coauthor of the...

  • Michigan Governor Rick Snyder isn’t likely to set any Iowa cornfields flame with his kinda-sorta candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination (though Fordham’s Brandon Wright will be ready to give him the Eduwatch 2016 treatment if and when he throws his hat in). But he’s continuing to bolster an interesting policy profile with his new proposal to divide the Detroit school district, Solomon-like, in two. The system is both a ghastly failure of public education (just 6 percent of its high schoolers are rated proficient in math) and a sinkhole of red ink, and Snyder’s initiative could help clear some of the $2 billion in bond and operating debt off its books. Reformers are already working to reshape the city’s worst-performing schools, and more such innovation might be necessary in the coming years.
  • When we imagine a child plagued by a lack of educational choice and opportunity, it’s probably one living in a city like Detroit. But while the woes of the urban school district can’t be ignored, kids living far from the bright lights might have it just as bad. Of the fifty counties in the United States with the greatest percentages of
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A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences presents new data from a national survey of teachers, which is part of a longitudinal study of public school teachers who began teaching sometime between the school years 2007–2008 and 2011–2012. Of the many findings, six stand out.

  1. During their second year, 74 percent of beginning teachers taught in the same school as the previous year, 16 percent taught in a different school, and 10 percent were not teaching. By year five, 17 percent of teachers had left teaching.
  2. The percentage of beginning teachers who continued to teach after the first year varied by first year salary level. For example, 97 percent of beginning teachers whose first year base salaries were $40,000 or more were still teaching in year two of the study, whereas only 87 percent of those with a first year salary less than $40,000 taught for a second year.
  3. No differences were detected between the percentages of current teachers who started teaching with a bachelor’s degree and those who started teaching with a master’s degree.
  4. The percentage of beginning teachers who continued to teach was larger among those who were assigned a first year mentor than among
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