Thomas B. Fordham (1892-1945)
(Courtesy of Special Collections and Archives, Wright State University)
ONE QUESTION THAT WE’VE BEEN ASKED multiple times over the seventeen years of Fordham’s existence is, “Why the gadfly?” A gadfly is one who challenges the status quo by asking provocative, sometimes upsetting, but much-needed questions. He or she persistently speaks truth to power, challenges conventional wisdom, and poses queries that many would rather overlook. This is a vital role in a democracy and in democratic debate.
We take our role as the Education Gadfly seriously, arising from our conviction that the United States can and must do better for its children, particularly those most dependent on public policy if they’re to gain a quality education.
We believe that the education-reform movement could do better, too.
Thus, our primary role—both nationally and in our home state of Ohio—is to frame the debate, occasionally in unconventional ways, and to identify problems that are ignored or glossed over by the mainstream. We offer independent and thoughtful criticisms of friend and foe alike. We advocate policies and practices that we believe will advance educational excellence for young Americans. Through it all, we bring to the education-policy debates a measure of humility, a respect for data and analysis, and a willingness to change our minds—and admit when we are wrong. (We also bring an occasional dash of humor, all too rare in these circles.)
Read Checker's letter describing the birth of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation (now Institute), as a rebirth of the Educational Excellence Network.
Within education, we focus on three key policy priorities: rigorous standards for students and schools; quality choices for every family and community; and strengthening the education sector’s capacity to deliver a solid education effectively, efficiently, and equitably. We occasionally dip our toes into other salient issues, from preschool and childhood poverty to school leadership and special education. We also pay attention, when warranted, to federal policy.
Within these categories, we produce a steady flow of quality research projects. We aim for studies that are credible, rigorous, impactful, and—importantly—accessible to ordinary mortals. On hot-button issues (such as the current debate on the Common Core state academic standards), we provide expert testimony and lend a friendly hand to others who care more about what’s good for kids than what’s palatable to adult interest groups. Our work in Ohio, authorizing charters and taking an active role in state-level policy debates, complements our research and commentary. Both of these activities give us a real-world perspective that’s rare in national “think-tank” circles. Similarly, our research informs the work we do in Ohio, guiding our practice with charters and edifying our policy positions. This symbiotic relationship strengthens our efforts in both D.C. and the Buckeye State.
To disseminate our work and engage in contemporary debates, we maintain a lively presence on the web. Our weekly Education Gadfly e-magazine is regularly read by more than 2,500 educators, wonks, and policymakers, and our strong press and social-media presence allow us to engage with audiences far and near. Through Twitter and YouTube, our audience continues to widen. (In 2013, we gained our 20,000th Twitter follower and expect to add thousands more in 2014.) Our four blogs allow us to keep our commentary fresh, incisive, and thoughtful. Checker and Mike—as well as Kathleen Porter-Magee and Andy Smarick, our wise and energized Bernard Lee Schwartz policy fellows—use these platforms to lend their perspectives on issues ranging from Common Core implementation to which television shows pack the greatest educational punch for young learners.
So, our answer to “why the Gadfly”? It’s simple: we are the Gadfly because education needs it—and we’re pretty good at it. Few organizations have the independence and agility to frame issues so forthrightly, and our capacity to combine rigorous research and education-policy expertise with making real impacts for schools and students is unparalleled. We’re proud to have played this role for nearly two decades, and we look forward to playing it for years to come.
Neither organization has any connection to Fordham University (though we hear it's a pretty good school).