Lauren Morando Rhim

In a recent commentary on this blog, I expressed concern regarding the growth of specialized charter schools: that is, schools designed solely or primarily to educate students with disabilities. Regrettably, my commentary failed to convey the nuance this complex and important topic deserves. The National Center for Special Education Charter Schools (NCSECS), and I as its founding executive director, support the creation of a wide range of high-quality educational environments for students with disabilities. And many of the specialized charter schools currently operating across the country are providing excellent and legally compliant educational options to students.

While I support the concept of specialized charter schools, I do so in ways that are highly context-specific, and with an awareness of the risks these schools can create. Continued authorization and growth of specialized charter schools requires care and precision given the potential unintended consequences, which could include: limiting choices for students, driving students into unnecessarily restrictive settings, and decreasing accountability and expectations. Each of these risks is elaborated more fully below along with a few examples of why these apprehensions require consideration.

Limitation of choice

Growth of specialized charter schools designed to provide parents with choice could have the unintended consequence...


EdNavigator’s new report, Muddled, describes how schools are providing confusing information to parents, and makes recommendations for how parents can be provided with better information. But while the report focuses on activities at the school level, we got to wondering: Is there a potential role for states in helping to improve communication to parents? We think the answer is yes—and we have some ideas for how states might play a constructive role in solving this problem.

In thinking about the right role for states in this work, we are keenly aware of Rick Hess’s admonition that policy can make people do things, but it can’t make them do those things well—and communicating with parents already suffers from being a box schools have to check. So whether or not we’re really at the end of education policy, we’re not at a point where policy is the solution to this problem. But this problem is not best solved by dozens or hundreds of districts in a state going it alone.

State boards of education and chief state school officers have substantial power to place focus and attention on issues that matter. In some states, task forces have been used...


If we are going to take advantage of the End of Education Policy, and usher in a Golden Age of Educational Practice, we need our field to start taking rigorous evidence much more seriously. Getting inside the black box of the classroom is a necessary first step, and launching lots more research initiatives about teaching and learning is second. But the big payoff will come if we can more accurately and constructively identify “what works” (and when it works, and what it costs)—and get it implemented more widely across the country. 

That’s not a particularly revolutionary notion. People have been trying to figure out what works in education for at least fifty years. But we still haven’t come close to cracking this nut, and if we want to make progress, we need to figure it out. Below I offer some of my ideas on how to do so. In future posts I’ll tackle the much tougher question of scaling up evidence-based practices in the real world.


There are many debates in education policy that will never be settled by science because they mostly involve values, priorities, and tradeoffs. (Should parents get to choose their...


Recent weeks have seen multiple efforts to declare and prove that the United States has entered a post-policy era, complete with multiple references to Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. As you may recall, Fukuyama suggested that the Berlin Wall’s fall and end of the Cold War signaled the triumph of western-style liberal democracy and a conclusion—even a happy finale—to the various struggles and conflicts that came before.

Fast forward to today. Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle cited a dinner companion who declared that “Policy is dead.” She went on to comment that policymaking in Washington has “ground to a halt” in general. On the rare occasions when anyone is moved to try to do something, she wrote, “They’re interested in talking points that flatter the folk beliefs of their base, and if the data contradicts voter opinion, they’d rather do the wrong thing than the unpopular one….Actual legislation, the kind that provides novel solutions to new problems, is generally dismissed as impossibly ambitious.”

Last month, my colleague Mike Petrilli devoted 1354 words to “The End of Education Policy,” wherein he argued that “Our own Cold War pitted reformers against traditional...


I owe Education Gadfly readers an apology. Dylan Wiliam’s excellent and eminently sensible book was published nine months ago and has been sitting on my desk since then. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Creating the Schools Our Children Need deserves your immediate attention.

An authority on assessment, a former ed school dean, and researcher at ETS, Wiliam is something of an education celebrity in the U.K. and internationally. But he remains comparatively unknown and underappreciated in America, where he has lived on and off for fifteen years. Creating the Schools Our Children Need, which is aimed directly at American readers and written for non-experts, should change that. Wiliam’s goal is to help school board members, administrators, and others who are concerned with raising broadly the performance of U.S. schools to become “critical consumers of research.” His straightforward prose, blessedly free of jargon and unerringly practical, is uniquely well suited to his purpose. “Research will never tell school board members exactly what they need to do to improve their schools,” Wiliam writes, since districts vary too much for the same thing to work everywhere. One of his most trenchant observations is that the reason it is so hard to...


A recent Pew Research study found that by 2016, half of all Millennial women—those born between 1981 and 1996—were mothers. And as we in the education reform business keep working to make schools better for future generations, we should be paying attention to what this generation’s parents say about schools right now. That’s why the Walton Family Foundation and Echelon Insights, a Virginia-based data analytics firm, partnered to conduct a survey of what millennial parents think about schools and their children’s education.

To help determine what questions to ask a broad sample of these parents, researchers first conducted focus groups with millennial parents in three cities (Orlando, Minneapolis, and Richmond) to learn about their dreams for their kids and what they expect from their local schools. Armed with these insights, they wrote and administered a survey to 800 millennial parents, a nationally representative sample, with questions covering five themes: (1) How are schools doing? (2) What should schools be doing? (3) How can we measure how students are doing? (4) How can we measure how schools are doing? (5) How should we hold schools accountable? The results are broken down by demographic factors like race, gender, and yearly income....


In April, we published a report by Andrew Saultz and colleagues—along with an interactive website—that mapped the locations of “charter school deserts” across the country. These are high poverty areas that could use additional options for disadvantaged students but nonetheless lack charter schools. The website enables users to look at every neighborhood in the country to identify underserved areas. And from the looks of it, journalists, education wonks, and curmudgeonly teachers alike took advantage of the unique opportunity to eyeball their neighborhoods and come to their own conclusions. We also heard from charter operators who used the map to identify areas ripe for expansion.

We were pleased to see all of that. But one critique we received was that the map did not show the locations of private schools—obviously a critical additional “option” for poor kids, particularly so in the areas that operate private school choice and tax-credit scholarship programs. So with a little help from our friends at the American Federation for Children, we’re back with an updated map that includes not just traditional and charter public schools, but private schools as well. Using data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Private School Universe...

Isabel Sawhill

In my new book, The Forgotten Americans, I revisit what has come to be called “the success sequence.” That’s the idea that if a young person gets a decent education (at least high school), works full-time, and finds a committed partner to marry before having children, that person’s chances of achieving the American dream of a middle-class income or better are high, while the chances of ending up poor are very low.

Critics of the success sequence note two flaws. The first is that the relationships may not be causal. Second, what is true in a one-year cross-section might not be true if one used longitudinal data and looked at the entire life cycle. Recent research by W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang has partially addressed both of these flaws in the earlier work done by myself and Ron Haskins. They find that 86 percent of Millennials (ages twenty-eight to thirty-four) achieve at least middle-class status if they follow the success sequence and that all but 3 percent of them avoid being poor. Because they control for many other possibly confounding variables and follow one cohort for a number of years, their work is also responsive to earlier...

Nicholas Sproull

The NCAA cares a great deal about college readiness, access, and success. As we work to stay current on trends and issues in education, one of our greatest challenges is maintaining an open mind to innovation in the field of education, while also guarding against propensities for shortcuts. Nowhere is this more difficult than with online learning and credit recovery (CR).

The NCAA first became aware of CR programs in 2008, when students’ transcripts showed failing grades replaced with A’s, often with course titles that included a specific designation such as “CR.” We also observed transcripts where D’s and C’s were replaced with A’s—showing that credit recovery programs are used not only to recover credits, but also to earn higher grades. As we collected more data about these courses, we discovered students receiving grades and credits for a semester’s worth of work — sometimes even an entire year’s worth of work—in a matter of days, sometimes hours, and in a small number of cases just minutes. In a common example, one student received a year’s worth of credit and an A-minus after completing a credit recovery biology course in four hours and thirty-six minutes over a two-day period. The most...


Proposals set forth by the forty-first president have influenced decades of K–12 education policy.

“I want to be the education president. I want to lead a renaissance of quality in our schools.”

George H.W. Bush made that declaration in January 1988, at a high school in Manchester, New Hampshire.

As Americans reflect on his legacy following his death, one thing is clear: This was a promise kept.

Bush’s America 2000: An Education Strategy, unveiled at the White House on April 18, 1991, contained nearly all the key ingredients for what became the mainline, bipartisan K–12 reform legislative agenda for governors and succeeding presidents.

His school choice legislative proposal for a GI Bill for Kids, while controversial and never enacted, was also far-sighted and inspired many of today’s state school choice programs.

Together, the ideas found in these proposals formed a strategy and framework for K–12 policy discussions since then.

I was privileged—and honored—to have a front seat during much of this policy work, especially America 2000 and the GI Bill for Kids. I led a small group working with then-U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to develop the framework, strategy, and school choice proposal.

A nation...