A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) examines the quality of 875 undergraduate preparation programs for elementary teachers. While some gains are visible since NCTQ’s 2014 report, teachers emerging from most of these programs are still ill-prepared to enter the classroom.

Reviewers scrutinized programs in 396 public and 479 private colleges and universities in D.C. and all fifty states, programs enrolling anywhere from a handful of prospective teachers to 1,700. They used an A–F grading system to rank programs based on three criteria: admissions (selection criteria), knowledge (coverage of early reading, math, and other content), and practice (student teaching, with a focus on classroom management). They also analyzed each program’s foundational materials, including syllabi, course textbooks, and observation forms. And they employed additional research, international comparisons, and consultation from experts on teaching practice.

Reviewers find that programs are somewhat more selective than they were in 2014. NCTQ has shown before a correlation between program selectivity and teacher effectiveness. Yet only 26 percent of programs draw most of their applicants from the top-half of the college-bound population (based on the GPA or SAT/ACT score required by the program to enroll). And a measly 13 percent...

2016 has been, in many ways, one for the history books. From Michael Phelps’ final Olympic tear to Donald Trump’s improbable electoral victory, from the Cubs’ 108-years-in-the-making World Series win to a continued—and provocative—discussion around race in America, the past year has been a whirlwind of events and discussions that cut to the core of what it means to be America and American. Those shifts—as well as more specific changes to education policy—similarly dominated conversation on our blogs.

The two lists that follow comprise fifteen of our most-read articles and, together, are a look at the tumultuous year that was. The first ten articles come from Fordham staff members, and the last five were written by guests.

The top ten Fordham-authored posts of 2016

1. President-elect Donald Trump quotes about education By Brandon Wright

We originally published this post in 2015 when Donald Trump announced his candidacy, but we updated it regularly throughout 2016 as the campaign progressed. Viewed approximately 75,000 times in 2016, perhaps the post’s popularity should have clued us in that something was resonating with Mr. Trump’s campaign.

2. The Left's drive to push conservatives out of education reform By Robert Pondiscio

Tying into broader conversations

Victoria McDougald, David Griffith, Kaitlin Pennington, and Sara Mead

Teacher evaluation was one of President Obama’s signature policies, and a controversial element of education reform during his tenure. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which does not require states and districts to implement performance-based teacher evaluations like No Child Left Behind waivers did, teacher evaluation policy has largely fallen out of the public narrative. But that does not mean states or districts know how they are going to proceed with teacher evaluation policy—in fact, its future remains unclear in this new era of lessened federal oversight.

In December 2016, Bellwether Education Partners and The Thomas B. Fordham Institute independently released two reports centered on teacher evaluation and its consequences. Bellwether’s report summarizes the teacher evaluation policy landscape and points out potential risks for teacher evaluation in the wake of the passage of ESSA. The Fordham Institute’s report studies twenty-five districts to determine if those districts can terminate veteran teachers once evaluation systems have deemed them ineffective.

Both reports offer a glimpse into ongoing challenges and opportunities with teacher evaluation reform, but they have very different analyses. To understand our different approaches and the places where we might overlap on teacher evaluation policy, Bellwether and Fordham hosted an...

Every once in a while, American K–12 education is overwhelmed by the conviction that its basic design is obsolete and that it needs somehow to reinvent schooling. One hears statements such as “If Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today from a century-long slumber, the only institutions he’d recognize would be schools and cemeteries.” We hear of education being stuck in an “industrial model.” And we observe educators, policymakers, and philanthropists scurrying to replace the schools of their childhoods with something different for their children and grandchildren to attend. We always seem to be, in the memorable phrase of Larry Cuban and the late David Tyack, “Tinkering Toward Utopia”—although those engaged in what generally ends up resembling tinkering actually fancy themselves to be bold revolutionaries.

We went through a phase of this a century ago when educators and policymakers sought to apply Frederick Taylor’s principles of “scientific management” to our disorderly collection of locally devised schools.

We went through a further round in the 1920s and ‘30s as notions of child-centered education and “social efficiency” permeated the schools.

We went through another round in the 1960s and 70s as “open classrooms” proliferated, schools were desegregated and detracked, and sundry curricular...

In this paper, three rock star scholars examine the combined effects of teacher turnover and the “quality distribution of teacher transitions” using data from a large urban school district in Texas. Based on their results, they draw two main conclusions. First, teachers who leave the school system are generally less effective than those who stay. Second, teacher turnover nevertheless has a negative effect on schools where students are achieving at a low level—not because these schools are losing their “best” teachers but because they are losing more experienced teachers and because teachers who stay at these schools are often assigned to different grades in the wake of their colleagues’ departure, making them less effective. In short, low-achieving—mostly poor—schools are losing experience, not teaching talent per se.

On average, teachers who leave the Texas school system are roughly 50 percent of a standard deviation less effective than their colleagues—a massive difference with clear implications for policy. As the authors put it, the study highlights “the inadequacy of unfocused teacher policies, including universal pay increases, designed to reduce overall turnover without consideration of quality.”

In contrast, the 18 percent of teachers who switch to a different school or district during or after...

Back in 2012, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) began evaluating and ranking state charter laws based on eight policies they consider “cornerstones of charter school excellence.” These policies—quite reasonable in our view—are based on the principles of access, autonomy, and accountability and require each state to:

  1. Have at least two high quality authorizers, one of which is an alternative to the local district
  2. Endorse national professional authorizer standards
  3. Evaluate authorizers regularly or as needed
  4. Sanction authorizers that do not meet professional standards or that oversee persistently failing schools
  5. Require authorizers to report annually and publicly on the academic performance of each school they oversee
  6. Require authorizers to maintain charter contracts with academic performance expectations, and encourage high-performers to replicate
  7. Maintain strong renewal standards that permit authorizers to hold schools accountable for failing to meet academic expectations
  8. Close charter schools that perform below an established threshold of academic performance

In their latest annual state policy analysis, NACSA notes a few key changes from last year. Michigan, for instance, gets props for establishing default closure for schools that perform beneath a minimum threshold. Missouri smoothed the way for high-performing charters to replicate, and now mandates annual charter school...

The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) recently released its analysis of state report cards—the annual summations of student and school achievement data that states are required to make available to the public under the Every Student Succeeds Act and, previously, No Child Left Behind—to determine if they’re easy for parents and other community members to find and understand. The authors examined report cards in all fifty states and D.C. for content, presentation, accessibility, and clarity, using more than sixty data points all together.

Unsurprisingly, they found that most were too difficult to find and interpret. Nineteen states maintain labyrinthine department of education websites that require three or more clicks to arrive at the report card after a simple Google search. Once found, they often comprise confusing displays, organization, and jargon that make the information difficult to interpret. For example, across the fifty-one jurisdictions, authors found more than five terms that referred to students of low-income families.

Over a dozen were also out-of-date. Only four state report cards contained all the student performance data that was first required fifteen years ago under No Child Left Behind, and ten states’ latest assessment scores were from the 2012–13 or 2013–14 school year.

More specifically,...

We recommend our new report, Undue Process: Why Teachers in Twenty-Five Diverse Districts Rarely Get Fired, to any and all budget-conscious holiday shoppers. At a breezy fifty-six pages, it’s seven times shorter than the Los Angeles teachers’ contract. And unlike the appeals process in New York, it won’t cost you a penny (so you can still afford that dream honeymoon and Death Star-themed waffle-maker).

Still not convinced? Let us give you a sneak preview. Here are just a few of the woeful and wacky tidbits we unearthed while writing the report.

First the woeful:

  1. In the Los Angeles Unified School District and the San Francisco Unified School District, some veteran teachers are only evaluated once every five years. (On the bright side, as of this year, members of the Communist Party can once again teach in California classrooms, which is a relief for those concerned about ideological balance.)
  2. In the Providence Public School District, tenured teachers must be observed at least fifteen times during remediation. (In contrast, in over half of the districts in our study, the evaluation and remediation processes combined require five or fewer observations.)
  3. In Albuquerque and Boston, complex and lengthy grievance processes can delay a
  4. ...
Jeremy Noonan

In 2015, my school district in Douglas County, Georgia, received two accolades for its Advanced Placement program. The first was the College Board's prestigious AP District Honor Roll, which recognizes growth in AP enrollment if districts also “simultaneously maintain or increase” AP exam passage rates—defined by the percentage of test takers earning a 3 or higher out of 5 on the assessments. Only five other districts in the state made that list.

The second was that all five Douglas County high schools were named AP Honor Schools by the Georgia Department of Education—despite their students’ less-than-impressive results on Advanced Placement tests. The failure rate (scores of less than 3) was 77 percent. Approximately 47 percent earned a 1, while less than 2 percent got a 5—12 percentage points below the national rate. And more than one-third of the district’s seventy-three AP classes had failure rates of 90 percent or more.

With such low scores on the AP exams, how is it possible that a district can be honored for its AP program? And how does the dismal passing rate square with the College Board’s requirement that those rates must be maintained or raised as the program expands?


Editor’s note: Earlier today, the Center for American Progress, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, and the Fordham Institute released the following letter to states outlining the opportunities in the Every Student Succeeds Act to support high-achieving students.

Collectively, the three organizations, which span the ideological spectrum, make the case for how and why the outcomes of high-achieving students deserve attention, and we also briefly describe the research base supporting our position.

We know governors and state superintendents are committed to supporting high-achieving, low-income students, and we hope this letter can help inform the development of their state accountability systems to meaningfully include the performance of all students.


Dear Governor,

As leaders of three organizations that span the ideological spectrum—and that all care deeply about boosting educational opportunities for all students—we write to urge you to keep high-achieving low-income students in mind when designing your state’s new school accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). While we believe that students struggling to meet grade-level targets should be a major focus for school reform, we also believe that high-achieving at-risk students should not be overlooked.

For much of its history, our country has ignored the talents...