2017 presented a paradox for education reformers. American politics was at a low point, what with the polarization, trampling of civic norms, prominence of xenophobia and hate groups, and so much else. Yet when it came to policy in the K–12 realm, the states and the feds took several important steps forward. It doesn’t feel right to celebrate the latter without acknowledging the former. But when taking stock of the year, we do well to look at both sides of the equation.

The progress on education was real. That’s surely true when it comes to charter school policy. Not only did Kentucky finally pass a charter law—and a good one at that—several major states made big strides in bringing charter funding closer to parity with traditional public schools. That includes Colorado and Florida, both of which gave charters access to local property tax levies; Texas, which gave charters state funding for facilities for the first time; and Illinois, which passed a comprehensive overhaul of its school finance system that brought greater equity to schools statewide and created a new tax credit scholarship program, to boot.

We’re also in much better shape on accountability than we could have expected a year ago. To be sure, some reformers are disappointed with elements of state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). But they are looking at trees and missing the forest. State leaders could have eviscerated their accountability systems, doing the bare minimum under federal law by identifying their very worst schools and staying mum about the other 90 or 95 percent. By our count, only nine states backslid in that way, opting not to rate any school except for those identified for interventions.

This means that forty-one states and the District of Columbia decided to go well beyond the bare minimum and continued to apply ratings to every school. And those ratings, for the most part, are clearer than ever before, with more states using A–F grades, five-star ratings, or 1–100 scores. Though we wonks will squabble forever over the details regarding how these ratings are determined, in every state they are dominated by student achievement. These are huge victories for school reform and losses for those (teacher unions and too many others) who seek to hide the truth from parents and the public.

Here at Fordham, we did our best in 2017 to stay focused on our mission, promoting educational excellence nationally and in our home state of Ohio. We feel good about our contributions in getting many more states to attend to the progress of high-achieving students in their ESSA accountability systems, in maintaining the charter movement’s focus on growth and quality, and in calling attention to the teacher absenteeism crisis in our schools. In the Buckeye State, we had to play defense on many fronts but are guardedly optimistic that the coming race to succeed John Kasich in the Governor’s mansion could put important new reforms in play. And we’re encouraged to see clear signs that Ohio’s charter sector is beginning to turn the corner on quality, including progress among the dozen schools in our own authorizing portfolio. We are particularly proud of the incredible student-achievement gains produced by KIPP–Columbus and the Columbus Collegiate Academy, schools we authorize that are among the best in the whole state.

In this year’s annual report, we’ll escort you through a deep dive into Fordham’s work and impact in 2017. Through it all, we tried to serve as a lighthouse in the storm, a beacon through the fog. We wouldn’t mind sunnier skies in 2018, but whatever the weather, we’ll keep focusing on education policies and practices that are best for kids. Thanks, as always, for your support and encouragement.


Michael J. Petrilli


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Annual Reports