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.

During the summer of 2012, Governor Kasich signed House Bill 525 into law. The bill, dubbed the Cleveland Plan, implemented aggressive reforms aimed at substantially improving academic performance in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The plan focused on four strategies: growing the number of high-performing schools while closing and replacing failing schools; investing and phasing in educational reforms from pre-K to college and career; shifting authority and resources to individual schools; and creating the Cleveland Transformation Alliance (CTA), a nonprofit responsible for supporting implementation and holding schools accountable. Soon after the bill was passed, Cleveland voters approved a four-year, $15 million levy to support the plan.

Soon, the district will need to go back to the voters to renew the levy that passed in 2012. District leaders have been working hard to demonstrate enough progress on their goals to maintain community support, and they’re right that several promising signs of progress exist. But Cleveland has long been one of the worst-performing districts in the country, and incremental glimmers of progress may not cut it for families and taxpayers. One only needs to glance at the comments section of a Plain Dealer article...

The possible existence of a gender bias in the classroom is not a new controversy. Research has shown that, consciously or not, some teachers treat students differently according to gender; they may give boys more (or different types of) attention, encourage boys more in certain subjects and girls in others, and otherwise interact with each gender differently.

Economists Victor Lavy and Edith Sand bring us an important continuation of that work with a National Bureau of Economic Research paper that explores whether students are exposed to gender bias during elementary school. It then examines whether that exposure has an impact on students’ later academic achievement.

Their study follows approximately three thousand elementary school students and eighty teachers from twenty-five different elementary schools in Israel. They first ask: Is there gender bias? In other words, do teachers believe one gender is academically stronger than the other when there’s actually no difference (or even if the preferred gender is actually doing worse)? The answer to this question is yes. By comparing a teacher’s assessment of a student’s performance in a variety of subjects to the student’s scores on external exams in the same subject, the researchers find that girls outscore boys on...

Tomorrow is Constitution Day, when all schools receiving federal funds are expected to provide lessons or other programming on our most important founding document. But when only one-quarter of eighth graders score “proficient” on the most recent NAEP civics exam, it’s also a reminder of how rarely civics and citizenship take center stage in America’s public schools. 

The public-spirited mission of preparing children for self-government in a democracy was a founding ideal of America’s education system. To see how far we have strayed from it, Fordham reviewed the publicly available mission, vision, and values statements adopted by the nation’s hundred largest school districts to see whether they still view the preparation of students for participation in democratic life as an essential outcome. Very few do. Well over half (fifty-nine) of those districts make no mention of civics or citizenship whatsoever in either their mission or vision statements. 

The personal and private reasons for education—preparation for college and career, for example—are much more on the minds of school district officials who write and adopt these statements and goals than the public virtue of citizenship. The words “college” (thirty-seven occurrences) and “career” (forty-six), for...

  • 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
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NOTE: Chad Aldis addressed the Ohio Board of Education in Columbus this morning. These are his written remarks in full.

Thank you, President Gunlock and state board members, for giving me the opportunity to offer public comment today.

My name is Chad Aldis. I am the vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education-oriented nonprofit focused on research, analysis, and policy advocacy with offices in Columbus, Dayton, and Washington, D.C.

One of the major strands of our work involves support for school choice, and that’s why I’d like to talk with you this morning about charter schools. Before I begin, and in the interest of full disclosure, I would like to note that Fordham’s Dayton office currently sponsors eleven charter schools around the state.

We believe that charter schools can make a huge positive impact in the lives of kids, and in many places around the country, they already are. It has become increasingly clear that while Ohio has many outstanding charter schools, the state’s laws must be strengthened if our charter sector is going to match the success being realized elsewhere. This past year, to achieve that goal, we’ve sponsored two major...

In a previous post, I explained course access and its potential to revolutionize school choice in Ohio. The best example of this is the Florida Virtual School (FLVS), which Brookings evaluated in 2014. But Ohio wouldn’t have to copy Florida’s entire model. Instead, it could create a unique one complementing its successful CTE and College Credit Plus programs. While there are plenty of ways to get to the mountaintop, here are a few ideas for how Ohio could establish a pilot program that—if it successfully meets the needs of students—could be grown into a statewide program.


FLVS was created as the nation’s first statewide, Internet-based public high school. Students can enroll full-time, but approximately 97 percent of students are part-time. Students who are enrolled at a traditional school (district, charter, or private) can sign up part-time for a course for a multitude of reasons: to make up course credit, to take a class not offered at their schools, or to accelerate their learning. Just imagine the possibilities for schools that want to incorporate mastery grading or competency-based education!

To provide Ohio students with similar options, policymakers in the Buckeye...

The first few weeks of September make up a sweet spot between seasons, with summer's last days of warmth and play mingling with the beginning a new school year. All that beauty and excitement can make it easy to forget the significance of today's date: Fourteen years have passed since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Though the distance of time has made it gradually easier for that anniversary to pass by unnoticed, we should all take a few moments to remember the thousands who were taken from their families and communities. Their lives are as worthy of consideration today, after fourteen years, as after five, ten, or twenty. 

But the job of an educator, or a society, is not merely to commemorate. We must also teach. Freshmen entering high school this month have no memory of the horrors of 9/11. Indeed, many were born after the events took place. For the sake of their education and our democracy, it's crucial that they learn what the attacks meant to our nation—their place in American history, their impact on law and citizenship, and their effect on our geopolitical posture around the world. This is complex and sometimes...

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman

In the vast “how-to-fix-education” universe, early childhood programming seems to be the new elixir. Governors and mayors push it, as does our president, viewing it as a smart investment in the future. Many children come to school unprepared to learn, so we have to intervene earlier. Right? An instinctive response is to advocate for more early childhood education. Who can argue with that? Some seek universal full-day programs for three- and four-year-olds, while others focus on babies from birth to age two.

As an early childhood observer (though not a practitioner), I suggest we step back to ask whether a different, more direct approach might be better. Before we create new programs, let’s consider Sutton’s Law. This delightful decree is named after Willie Sutton, who robbed banks because, as he put it, “that is where the money is.” Thus, when diagnosing challenges, consider the obvious first. “When you hear hoof beats behind you, think horses and not zebras.” 

When children come to school unprepared, think home! Build on the reality that home is where children reside with their first teachers, their parents and caregivers. The road to improve early education—especially in the area of language skills, so vital to school...

Linda K. Wertheimer

In Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance, Linda K. Wertheimer argues that American schools should do more to teach students about world religions because it reduces ignorance and encourages coexistence. She tells stories of students who have taken these classes and, in many cases, experienced personal growth. One such pupil is Celia Golod, who was a sixth grader in 2010–11 at Wellesley Middle School in suburban Boston. What follows is her story, as excerpted from the book.

Some students brought heavy baggage with them. Long before middle school, they were picked on because they were members of a religious minority. Celia Golod had been teased for being a Jew ever since her family moved from a largely Jewish area in New Jersey to the mostly Christian town of Wellesley. At the time, Celia was in third grade. During the first year in a Wellesley school, a kid came up to her with a ruler to measure her nose. Celia hid in a corner afterward. In fifth grade, around Christmas time, she clashed with peers who wanted to know why she did not believe in...

Lisa Hansel

“Programmatic series of studies”—that’s how one of my psychology professors described research on learning and memory around twenty years ago. Do a study, tweak it, try again. Persist.

I was reminded of that while reading this new volume by Tony Bryk and colleagues. After thirty years of constant reform and little improvement, it’s clear that there’s a fundamental flaw in how the education field goes about effecting change. Quick fixes, sweeping transformations, and mandates aren’t working. Ongoing professional development isn’t working either.

What might work much better is a sustained, systemic commitment to improvement—and a willingness to start with a series of small pilots instead of leaping into large-scale implementation. Guided by “improvement science” pioneered in the medical field, Learning to Improve shows how education could finally stop its reform churn. As Bryk et al. write:

All activity in improvement science is disciplined by three deceptively simple questions:

  1. What specifically are we trying to accomplish?

  2. What change might we introduce and why?

  3. How will we know that a change is actually an improvement?...

A set of general principles guides the approach: (1) wherever possible, learn quickly and cheaply;...