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.

Ashley LiBetti Mitchel

As my colleague Sara Mead has written, we recently completed an analysis of state policies that affect charter/pre-K collaboration. In the analysis, we tried to figure out what a charter school would need to do and know in order to access state pre-K funds. In each state, we ask: Can charter schools offer state-funded pre-K? What’s the process for doing so? And how many charter schools serve preschoolers?

We used this information to rank states based on how hospitable an environment they offer for charter schools seeking to serve preschoolers. There are a few states where it is relatively easy for charters to offer pre-K. Washington, D.C. and Oklahoma top our list, with Wisconsin and Texas close behind. In these states, charter schools are one option in a network of diverse pre-K providers.

But in a majority of states, charter schools face numerous barriers to offering pre-K. Lots of these barriers are common across states, while others are unique to particular states. For example, low pre-K funding (less than 75 percent of what charters receive to serve K–12 students) creates a disincentive to offering pre-K in twenty-two states (and affects all potential providers, not just charter schools).

Nine states...

Jack McCarthy

Sara Mead and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel have done a great public service by providing a detailed study of how the early care and K–12 education policy landscape creates barriers to collaboration. It is good to see the Thomas B. Fordham Institute focusing its considerable knowledge and prestige on thinking about this opportunity.

From the perspective of someone who has been involved with charter schools since 1993, adding preschool and pre-kindergarten arrows to the education reform quiver has been a no-brainer since 2005. That was the year we launched AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School in Washington, D.C.

The science behind early learning is clear and compelling. With growing numbers of children living in poverty-stricken and fragmented family households, the need is clear and compelling too.

Resources are already being invested. By some estimates, federal, state, and local governments (as well as corporations and individuals) spend $70 billion each year on myriad programs for early care and education. But as the study illustrates, the sector is highly fragmented, lacks quality, and is not connected to K–12 education in any meaningful way. Few states currently even offer full-day kindergarten.

What's most lacking is a clear, compelling goal, so let me suggest one: We must...

Last week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute released a new report authored by my colleague Ashley LiBetti Mitchel and me on charter schools and pre-K. Ashley’s going to be sharing more about the report later today, but I wanted to answer some questions that came up a lot in our research: Why should charter schools be able to offer pre-K? And why should we care?  There are several reasons: 

  1. Supply. Even if universal pre-K (or even universal pre-K for poor kids) were fully funded today, we wouldn’t have enough high-quality providers to serve all kids. The challenges that New York City is facing as it expands access offer a case in point here. Getting great pre-K to all the kids who need it will require growing the supply of great providers. Charter schools are one potential source of this supply.
  2. Diversity. Both the charter movement and most state pre-K programs recognize that there is value in a diversity of providers that can offer different models and services to meet the needs of kids and families. In K–12, the charter sector has helped make new types of options, such as Montessori, Core Knowledge, or Dual Language schools, available to families who value them. Including
  3. ...

As everyone knows, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act is closer to the finish line now than at any time in the past eight years. (The law was due for an update in 2007—soon after NASA sent New Horizons to Pluto. That was a long time ago.)

For a great overview of where things stand, it’s hard to beat this excellent rundown by Alyson Klein of Politics K-12. But that won’t stop me from trotting out my ever-so-popular color-coded table. (Previous editions here, here, and here.)

The items that are “up in the air” are those that the Senate, House, and Obama administration will wrangle over in conference.

A few caveats: First, some of these provisions aren’t in current law—some were in the stimulus bill (like Race to the Top), some are in Arne Duncan’s conditional waivers (like teacher evaluations), and some are in one of the bills passed this month (like Title I portability). Second, the administration may very well try to add more items to the “up in the air” column in conference. For instance, it might try to save Race to...

  • Sure, you might die for your kids…but would how long would you sleep outside for them? That’s the question one Cincinnati dad had to answer when it was time to enroll his children in a coveted local school. The Fairview-Clifton German Language School, one of a handful of the city’s high-performing magnet schools, awards most of its kindergarten seats on a first-come, first-served basis rather than doing so exclusively via lottery. The result is a prolonged, nightmarish waiting game (on school grounds!) that now stretches over two weeks, with parents camping in tents and braving sub-freezing temperatures for a chance at one of a few dozen slots. The pageant of endurance is great for Fairview-Clifton, which ultimately selects it students from the most dedicated families in the city; but it’s terrible for parents who lack the resources to take time off work and pull a Grizzly Adams on behalf of their children. Going forward, the city (and every city) needs to offer more high-quality kindergarten seats. Until then, they should at least end this pathetic spectacle.
  • Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton drew a lot of headlines for her economic speech on Monday, predominantly for embracing liberal
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Massachusetts and Ohio: Study in contrasts, am I right? One gave the country its handsomest president; the other birthed its most corpulent. One is a mecca for athletics, home to storied franchises that have piled on championships over the course of decades; the other’s teams have known defeat so cruel and so persistent that many suspect the influence of a wrathful deity. One has been the setting of cherished cultural touchstones of television and film; the other is not so much like that. (What’s that? I’m from Boston, why do you ask?)

But when it comes to education, the two have more in common that you might imagine. Last week, Achieve released detailed profiles of each state’s career and technical education (CTE) programs. The reports arrive at a turning point in the history of workforce training, as noted policy commentators are beginning to embrace vocational instruction as an underutilized tool for spurring upward mobility. CTE students, we now know, are just as likely as students on a college preparatory track to pursue postsecondary education; what’s more, their starting salaries after obtaining associate’s degrees and professional certifications are impressive enough to make this liberal...

A new study in the scientific journal Brain and Language examines how the brain responds when presented with two different methods of reading instruction. It examines a small sample—sixteen adults (with an average age of twenty-two) who are native English speakers and do not face reading disabilities.

Participants took two days to undergo training, whereby they learn an invented language based on hieroglyphics. Each participant was taught two ways to associate a set of words read aloud to a corresponding set of visual characters (or “glyphs”). The first was a phonics-based approach focusing on letter-sound relationships; the second was a whole-word approach relying on memorization. After training, the participants took part in testing sessions during which they were hooked up to an EEG machine that monitored their brain response. They were then instructed to approach their “reading” using one strategy or the other.

Scientists found that the phonics approach activated the left side of the brain—which is where the visual and language regions lie, and which has been shown in prior studies to support later word recognition. Thus, activating this part of the brain helps to spur on beginning readers. This approach also enabled participants to decode “words” they had...

There are no grand revelations, but this new report about New York’s robust charter sector from the city’s Independent Budget Office offers useful data on a range of hotly debated topics, including student demographics, attrition, and “backfilling” seats left by departing students.

For starters, it’s good to be reminded just how small that sector is, in spite of its rapid growth. Gotham boasts some of the nation’s highest-profile and most closely watched charters, including Success Academy, KIPP, and Achievement First, but only seventy-two thousand of the city’s 1.1 million school-aged children attend a charter school. And those major players are a fraction of the New York’s charter school scene, which is almost evenly split between network-run schools and independents. Some New York City neighborhoods are particularly charter-rich (Harlem, for instance, enrolls 37 percent of its students in charters as of 2013–2014), but charters remain relatively rare in the boroughs of Queens and Staten Island. The sector also serves an overwhelmingly black and Hispanic population. Charter students are more likely to be poor than traditional Department of Education (DOE) schools, though charters serve smaller concentrations of English language learners and special education students.

Another fascinating bit of data: The controversial practice of...

Shortly before ten o’clock on a recent warm summer morning, the grand old Apollo Theater on Harlem's 125th Street filled up with the friends and families of the members of Democracy Prep Charter High School's third-ever graduating class. The soon-to-be graduates milled about in the lobby, hugging each other and taking selfies in their bright golden robes and mortarboards before filing in, grinning, for their moment of glory.

I got to know each of these sixty-one students in my senior seminar class this year. It was a deeply satisfying year for the school and an extraordinary one for the students, each of Latino and African descent, and nearly all of modest means. Come September, every single one of them will attending colleges, including several institutions that would be the envy of parents and students at the elite private schools just a few blocks south of here. Ashlynn and Chris will be heading to Dartmouth; Hawa turned down Stanford to attend Yale; Tyisha will join the freshman class at Princeton. Other members of Democracy Prep's Class of 2019 are bound for Emory, Smith, SUNY Albany, Boston College, and Brown, among many others.

Class of 2019 is not a typo. It...

You don’t have to be a diehard liberal to believe that it’s nuts to wait until kids—especially poor kids—are five years old to start their formal education. We know that many children arrive in kindergarten with major gaps in knowledge, vocabulary, and social skills. We know that first-rate preschools can make a big difference on the readiness front. And we know from the work of Richard Wenning and others that even those K–12 schools that are helping poor kids make significant progress aren’t fully catching them up to their more affluent peers. Six hours a day spread over thirteen years isn’t enough. Indeed, as our colleague Chester Finn calculated years ago, that amount of schooling adds up to just 9 percent of a person’s life on this planet by the age of eighteen. We need to start earlier and go faster.

But the challenge in pre-K, as in K–12 education, is one of quality at scale. As much as preschool education makes sense—as much as it should help kids get off to an even start, if not a “head start”—the actual experience has been consistently disappointing. Quality is uneven....

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