Alex Hernandez

I remember this day as one of the worst days of my life. I remember opening the newspaper, looking at the internet and being like…what?!? It was like someone threw a brick at me. And there’s nothing worse in your professional life than working incredibly hard and then getting crappy results. Nothing feels worse than that. And that is what happened.

—Doug McCurry, co-CEO and superintendent of Achievement First

When New York’s first round of Common Core state test results came out in 2013, student results plummeted across all schools; district and charter. The decline was especially pronounced at charter school networks known for their stellar academic programs, names like Achievement First (AF), Uncommon Schools, and KIPP New York.

State tests are not the ultimate measure of a child’s education, but the declining scores were concerning because the Common Core standards asked students in grades 3–8, for the first time, to make meaning of a text, find evidence to support an argument, understand concepts, and apply their thinking. When students were asked to think more deeply, most could not.

Achievement First’s co-CEOs Dacia Toll and Doug McCurry are candid about their feelings in the...


In a recent AEI meta-analysis of school choice attainment literature, Michael McShane, Patrick Wolf, and Collin Hitt use thirty-nine impact estimates from studies of more than twenty school choice programs to argue that standardized-test impacts are too unreliable to serve as the “exclusive or primary metric on which to evaluate school choice programs.” In their words:

Programs that produced no measurable positive impacts on achievement have frequently produced positive impacts on attainment. And on the other hand, null effects on high school graduation and college attendance have been reported from programs that produced substantial test score gains. Across these studies, achievement impact estimates appear to be almost entirely uncorrelated with attainment impacts.

Are they right about that last part? As avid Fordham readers know, my colleague Mike Petrilli has already criticized the authors’ methodology and conclusions at length. But for those of you who don’t have time for Mike’s six-part mini-series, here is my abbreviated critique.

First, for a study’s achievement and attainment estimates to “match” under the authors’ methodology, both the sign and their statistical significance of those estimates must be the same. So, for example, if one estimate is positive and...


The effectiveness of public schools in developing engaged citizens has rarely been examined empirically,” notes a new Mathematica report on the impact on civic participation of Democracy Prep, a network of charter schools that educates more than 5,000 students, mostly in New York City. Perhaps not, but it’s certainly been assumed. We remain sentimentally attached to a gauzy myth of the American common school ideal and its presumed role in citizen-making, even without evidence of its effectiveness.

The number of Democracy Prep alumni who are of voting age is relatively small. Founded in 2006, and with twenty-two schools in five cities, the network only graduated its first class in 2013. But Mathematica’s study, using the most conservative interpretation of its data, found that “Democracy Prep increases the voter registration rates of its students by about 16 percentage points and increases the voting rates of its students by about 12 percentage points.” As a summary from the American Enterprise Institute notes, “the raw numbers were even stronger, a twenty-four-point increase in both, which suggest Democracy Prep doubled its students’ likelihood to register and vote.”

Bravo, Democracy Prep. But as a former (and hopefully future) DP civics teacher,...


Last week, I had the privilege of visiting several high-poverty urban schools in Cleveland. Each was serving some of the nation’s most disadvantaged students and beating the odds by arming their pupils with the knowledge, values, and skills they need to succeed.

Whenever I visit a school, I look for the unplanned things that give you a window into hidden vibrancy or challenges in the community. During my visit to one school last week, two unplanned interruptions stood out. First, the assistant principal received a call from her middle school social studies teacher to share some good news: A group of their seventh graders won first place in the John Carroll University “We the People” Call for Action and Social Justice Program, the school’s third first-place victory in as many years.

Not long after, an upper-elementary math teacher stepped out to take a call from the Cleveland Cavaliers. It seems that one of her students is the only student in Ohio to be chosen for the NBA Math Hoops competition, and its organizers wanted to let her know that they were sending the Cavs mascot to cheer on the student.

Was I getting a VIP tour of the latest hot...


Discussions about standards tend to focus on either the caliber of standards themselves or how well teachers understand them, but a third aspect of quality standards-based instruction is the support districts and schools give teachers to implement standards. Good standards-based instruction requires supports like aligned curricula and textbooks, professional development, and knowledgeable leadership. A recent RAND study finds deficiencies in two such supports: school leader knowledge of standards and the quality and alignment of classroom materials.

Researchers Julia Kaufman and Tiffany Tsai surveyed 1,349 members of the nationally representative American School Leader Panel (ASLP) in October 2016, and received responses from 422, or 31 percent. The survey asked what materials schools recommended or required in English language arts (ELA) and math, and compared responses to a report from EdReports, a nonprofit that has reviewed popular instructional materials for quality and alignment with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). RAND researchers used these reviews to calculate a “percent alignment” for all EdReports-rated materials. The ASLP survey also asked questions to assess school leaders’ knowledge about approaches and content in key areas aligned with the CCSS (and most non-CCSS state standards): use of close reading and complex texts for ELA and grade-level...

Travis Pillow

Florida is one of the leading states in the nation for public school choice. Its charter schools are widespread, often serving rural or suburban areas. Nevertheless, the state is home to more than its share of charter school “deserts,” according to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The charter-friendly think tank used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to map high-poverty areas around the county. It counted a string of three Census tracts with high or moderate poverty levels and no charter schools as a desert. Florida is home to twenty such areas.

Looking at the report and the three urban areas it highlights offers several takeaways for Florida’s charter school movement.

This is why ‘Hope’ matters.

When House Speaker Richard Corcoran started pushing his Schools of Hope proposal, he pointed to the dearth of proven charter school operators in Florida’s most disadvantaged communities. One Fordham map zooms in on South Florida and helps illustrate his point.

Map 1. Charter school deserts in the Miami Metro Area

A star represents a charter school. An oval represents a charter school desert....


For weeks now, I’ve been debating Patrick Wolf, Michael McShane, and Collin Hitt about the relationship between short-term test score changes and long-term student outcomes, like college enrollment and graduation. Most recently I proposed three hypotheses that those of us who support test-based accountability—for schools of choice and beyond—would embrace. Now let’s see how the evidence stacks up against them.

To be clear, this is a slightly different exercise from asking whether test-based accountability policies lead to stronger outcomes in terms of student achievement. That’s an important endeavor too, and studies like Thomas Dee’s and Brian Jacob’s evaluation of accountability systems under No Child Left Behind indicate that the answer is yes.

But that’s not quite what we’re after, because those studies show that holding schools accountable for raising test scores…results in higher test scores. What we want to know is whether higher test scores—or, more accurately, stronger test score growth—relates to better outcomes for students in the real world.

So let’s take it one hypothesis at a time.

1. Students who learn dramatically more at school, as measured by valid and reliable assessments, will go on to graduate from high school, enroll in and complete...

Anna Egalite

In June 2003, the Library of Congress completed its $10 million purchase of the only known copy of the 1507 world map by Martin Waldseemüller, making it the most expensive map ever purchased. Considered a milestone in cartography, Waldseemüller’s map is the first work of any kind to depict the New World as a separate continent, which he named “America” in recognition of the Italian sailor who documented his travels there in colorful detail, Amerigo Vespucci. “America’s birth certificate” signaled a significant shift in how Europeans viewed the world and understood their place in it.

Of course, today, it’s easy to overlook the many ways cartography enhances our daily lives. Our maps are digital, connected to satellites in space that beam directions directly to the device in our hand so that, even in a foreign country, the disembodied voice of a digital assistant guarantees we will not feel disoriented.

The accessibility and prevalence of modern-day GPS doesn’t diminish the power of maps, however, which have always represented more than simple navigation aids. Maps tell stories, they reflect our values and priorities, they can be empowering, and they can identify disparities. That latter quality is what has caught my...

Amy Ruck Kagan

At NACSA, I lead a team that works directly with hundreds of charter school authorizers across the country. I interact with many of them on a day-to-day basis, and they’re all driven by a commitment to ensure that every child has access to quality schools, regardless of zip codes. They know that great charter schools can transform children’s lives and that too many neighborhoods are void of quality educational opportunities.

Doing the work thoughtfully and meeting this critical demand requires the right tools and supporting data. Our research finds that the best authorizers are obsessed with data: They actively and intentionally seek out new information about their schools and communities, and they incorporate it into their decisionmaking when it’s appropriate. When this information is accessible, authorizers have the power to do something about the charter deserts within their communities.

One piece of this data puzzle might be a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Charter School Deserts: High-Poverty Neighborhoods with Limited Educational Options. It seeks to help authorizers and those in the charter sector answer the question: What high-need areas in my city or state lack elementary charter schools?

The report maps the location of elementary...

Dale Chu

I’ll admit it: When the NAEP results landed last month, I had to fight off the urge to issue a statement. In hindsight, it was probably for the best, as a lot of people much smarter than me have since weighed in. I don’t have much more to add, but I can share some perspective through the lens of one state that I have some firsthand knowledge of: Indiana.

Even though it’s difficult to draw causal inferences based on one assessment, I still think it’s instructive to understand where the state was headed directionally during a period of putative success and what it was doing to get there. By virtually any measure (both serious ones and those less so), Indiana had until very recently been making improvements, and I would submit that these gains weren’t purely serendipitous. There are real lessons to be had in what was happening concurrently in the state while it was making its strides. But first, it’s important to have some context.


Indiana’s governor and state superintendent are arguably two of the most powerful positions when it comes to state education policy—and both are elected partisan offices. Ten years ago, Governor Mitch...