Rekha Balu and Barbara Condliffe

As school choice expands in different states and districts, it appears in several different forms: (1) open enrollment policies among traditional public schools, (2) charter schools available to students regardless of their neighborhood (including online charter schools), or (3) school vouchers that families can use to enroll in other districts or private institutions. Each of these school choice systems can be complex and confusing for low-income families, especially when they are contending with challenges ranging from unstable employment and housing to limited transportation.

In the search for solutions, education researchers and policymakers may have overlooked lessons about systems of choice from other policy arenas. Below, we suggest strategies for consideration from MDRC’s extensive experience designing and evaluating interventions to support low-income people’s decision making in arenas outside P–12 choice systems.

What P12 choice systems can learn from other policy arenas

Housing choice: Similar to families choosing schools, holders of housing vouchers face supply-side constraints, and they struggle to find and understand information that will help them in the decision-making process. Even though voucher holders tend to prefer higher-opportunity and lower-poverty neighborhoods, they do not necessarily end up in those neighborhoods because of limited affordable housing options and the search...

Betty A. Rosa

In his April 5 commentary (“Education Reform in New York? Fuhgeddaboutit.”), Robert Pondiscio writes that “the era of high standards and accountability for schools, teachers, and those who train them…[is] over” in New York. I could not disagree more. The Board of Regents and I are forging ahead with our work to ensure that all students have access to high-quality teachers in high-quality schools led by high-quality principals. We simply have a different view of how to best deliver those things to our students.

To frame his argument that New York has lost its way, Mr. Pondiscio begins and ends his piece by pointing to two recent decisions by the Board of Regents—first, our decision to return to the SUNY Trustees ten applications seeking the early renewal of charter schools in New York City; second, our decision to drop one of the exams needed to become a certified teacher in New York State.

Let’s look first at the charter school decision. In making its decision to return the applications to the SUNY Trustees, the Board of Regents did not comment in any way on the efficacy of the schools seeking early renewal of their charters. Rather, the Board based...

Michael J. Petrilli, Alicia Menendez, and Darren Walker

Editor's note: The following video features a panel at the America's Promise Alliance's Summit for America's Future, held on Tuesday, April 17, in New York City. Beginning at 1:16:31, Moderator Alicia Menendez, an anchor on the Fusion television network, interviews Fordham Institute president Michael Petrilli and Darren Walker, president of Ford Foundation, about the state of the American Dream and how it relates to education reform, family breakdown, and more.

Tenure arrived in K–12 education as a trickle-down from higher ed. Will the demise of tenure follow a similar sequence? Let us earnestly pray for it—for tenure’s negatives today outweigh its positives—but let us not count on it.

Almost every time I’ve had an off-the-record conversation in recent years with a university provost, they’ve confided that their institutions are phasing tenure out. Sometimes it’s dramatic, especially when prompted by lawmakers, such as the changes underway at the University of Wisconsin in the aftermath of Governor Scott Walker’s 2015 legislative success, and the bills pending in Missouri and Iowa.

Often, though, the impulse to contain tenure on their campus arises within the institution’s own leadership and takes the form of hiring far fewer tenured or tenure-track faculty and filling vacancies with what the American Association of University Professors terms “contingent” faculty, i.e., non-tenured instructors, clinical professors, adjunct professors, part-timers, or—especially in medical schools—severing tenure from pay such that professors may nominally win tenure but that status carries no right to a salary unless they raise the money themselves from grants, patients, etc.

This is happening across much of U.S. postsecondary education, and the data show it. Whereas in the...

Prior studies have shown that English-language learners (ELLs) score lower on standardized tests in part because of their challenges in developing background knowledge and English vocabulary. A new experimental study in the Journal of Educational Psychology examines whether an intervention designed to enhance knowledge acquisition and reading comprehension for middle school ELLs actually does those two things.

The twenty-week intervention is called PACT (Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text). It is a set of instructional practices that have been modified to include more focus on content, academic vocabulary, and peer dialogue.

The study was implemented in 2013–14 in three school districts in both the southwest and southeast of the U.S. across seven middle schools with moderate to high concentrations of ELLs. Roughly 1,600 eighth-grade students participated in ninety-four U.S. History class sections taught by eighteen teachers.

Class sections were randomly assigned to forty-nine treatment and forty-five comparison classes, such that teachers could be teaching both treatment and comparison classes. Both groups taught the same content in three units—Colonial America, the Road to the Revolution, and the American Revolution—over the same amount of time (three times a week for fifteen to forty-five minutes, depending on the week). The comparison group...

Some charter schools do far better than others at educating their students, a reality that has profound implications for charter-goers, and for the charter sector writ large. Painful experience also shows that rebooting or closing a low-performing school is a drawn-out and excruciating process that often backfires or simply doesn’t happen. So what if we could predict which schools are likely not to succeed—before they even open their doors? If authorizers had that capability, they could select stronger schools to launch, thereby protecting children and ultimately leading to a higher-performing charter sector overall.

A new Fordham study, Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School Is at Risk of Failing, employs an empirical approach to do just that. Authors Dr. Anna Nicotera and Dr. David Stuit, respectively senior associate and co-founder of Basis Policy Research, coded charter applications for easy-to-spot indicators and used them to predict the schools’ academic performance in their first years of operation.

Authorizers rejected 77 percent of applications from a sample of over six hundred applications from four states. They worked hard at screening those applications, seemingly homing in on a common set of indicators—“red flags,” if you will—whose presence in or absence from applications made...

Back in November, I praised the Obama Administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act accountability regulations for permitting states to use performance indices in lieu of simple, problematic proficiency rates. Such applause is, of course, water under the bridge after congressional Republicans and President Trump repealed those rules and, instead of replacing them, will rely on promises, “Dear Colleague” letters, and other means that fall short of formal regulation.

Yet new praise is in order for Secretary DeVos et al.’s recently released “State Plan Peer Review Criteria,” which explains the process through which state ESSA plans will gain approval or rejection. It, like the regulations that came and went before it, expressly permits accountability systems that measure student achievement at multiple levels—not just “proficient”—using a performance index.

This is an important—even essential—innovation. Despite the good intentions of No Child Left Behind, which ESSA replaced a year ago, it erred by encouraging states to focus almost exclusively on helping low-performing students achieve proficiency and graduate from high school. Consequently, many schools ignored pupils who would easily pass state reading and math tests and earn diplomas regardless of what happened in the classroom—a particularly pernicious problem for high-achieving poor and minority...

A few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., I saw the National Gallery’s knockout exhibit, Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence. Three generations of one Italian family produced amazing terracotta sculptures that are not as famous as they deserve to be. The above image is one such piece, complete with a glowing white figure on a cobalt blue background surrounded by a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, and green flowers and fruit. After 530 years, they still wow.

The show kicks off with this challenging and beautiful sculpture—a personification of Prudence, the mother of all virtues according to Christian philosophers, as well as the work’s namesake. The piece strikes a bizarre figure; she has two faces. One is a young woman gazing forward into a mirror. But on the other side, an old man looks back. The hair falling down the woman’s back forms the old man’s beard. The figure holds a snake.

What does it all mean? Think of the name, Prudence. The woman is literally reflecting before she acts. The snake signifies wisdom, recalling Jesus’s words from the Gospel of Matthew, “Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The old man stands for experience and...

Today’s conventional wisdom says that kids are too stressed out by the burdens we parents are placing on them, and we need to help them relax. Maybe that’s true for the tiny sliver of students who attend hothouse high schools in the bubbles where many of us happen to live. But for America at large, it’s exactly the wrong advice. We need the majority of parents and kids to be more stressed out. We need to shake them out of their complacency and tell them: You and your kids are heading toward a coming-of-age catastrophe, but you can avoid it if you act now!

I’m referring to the fact that only about one-third of American teenagers leave the K–12 system ready to succeed in postsecondary education. Another third go to college unprepared, where they hit the brick wall of remedial coursework, and many of them—including almost all of the low-income students—drop out. That amounts to more than a million kids a year seeing their dreams dashed before they are old enough to legally drink a beer.

Chart 1: College preparedness, college matriculation, and college completion


My proposition is that illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time—more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare or homelessness because it drives everything else. Doing something about it is not just one more item on the American policy agenda, but should be at the top.”

In 1993, when the largely white and affluent readership of the Wall Street Journal read this editorial excerpt, the presumption was that the author must be referring to the unfortunate denizens of the urban ghetto. The face of illegitimacy then (and now) were low-income black and brown people incapable of delaying gratification.

Without urgent action, these impoverished people would continue to raise staggering numbers of children in single parent households. These poor souls would then perpetuate the pathologies that were figuratively and literally burning down their neighborhoods.

But the title of the essay was “The Coming White Underclass,” and the author was Charles Murray. Yes, this is the same Charles Murray who today is being apoplectically protested by college faculty and students who likely have never read this 1993 essay nor Coming Apart: The State of White America, which in 2012 foreshadowed the conditions that would...