Richard J. Wenning and Damian W. Betebenner

David Griffith recently praised Colorado’s ESSA plan and how it addresses growth. While doing so, he discourages states from including growth-to-standard (criterion-referenced growth) in education accountability systems under ESSA. We agree with his general sentiment that Colorado’s plan is laudable, but we worry that arguments against using growth-to-standard measures to rate schools obscures the important role that these measures should play in communicating with parents, teachers, and the public.

David’s objections specifically concern school rating systems, but accountability systems also evaluate the educational outcomes of states, districts, and—most importantly, in our view—individual students. Some of the data the systems collect are used to rate or grade these various entities, while other information is simply reported to teachers, administrators, parents, and the public at large. Both of these purposes are important.

Our view is that any accountability system committed to standards-based outcomes (e.g. college and career ready by exit) must insure that indicators used in that system are consistent with those outcomes. Growth-to-standard is relevant for exactly that reason. It allows us to connect indicators that measure the growth for all students—which are by and large norm-referenced and divorced from any standard—to each student’s readiness for college or career. Checker...

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It turns out this adage applies not just to global politics, but also to state education policies, and groups on both the left and the right should take heed.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is among the most lamented education policies in recent memory, and few of NCLB’s provisions received as much scorn as its singular focus on grade-level proficiency as the sole measure of school performance. Researchers and practitioners alike faulted the fetishizing of proficiency for things like:

  • Encouraging schools to focus their attention on students close to the proficiency cut (the “bubble kids”) as opposed to all students, including high- and low-achievers.
  • Incentivizing states to lower their definitions of “proficiency” over time.
  • Resulting in unreliable ratings of school performance that were highly sensitive to the cut scores chosen.
  • Misrepresenting both school “effectiveness” (since proficiency is so highly correlated with student characteristics) and “achievement gaps” (since the magnitude of gaps again depends tremendously on where the proficiency cut is set).
  • Throwing away vast quantities of useful information by essentially turning every child into a 1 (proficient) or a 0 (not).

(For more details on these criticisms...

Elliot Regenstein and Maia Connors

Fordham’s recent report, Leveraging ESSA to Support Quality-School Growth, lays out some school improvement strategies that states should strongly consider. But in analyzing how to strengthen school improvement, there are really two separate questions to ponder. First, are states correctly diagnosing why a school isn’t meeting its students’ needs? And second, if they are, are they then responding with the correct solutions?

To date, elementary-school improvement has suffered from a massive problem of misdiagnosis. Fortunately, ESSA scraps school-improvement grants and their narrowly prescribed requirements for a 7 percent set-aside of states Title I money, giving states much more freedom to better figure out what lies at the core of a school’s poor performance—and which interventions will actually lead to durable school improvement.

To better understand the problem, let’s look at the data from two high-poverty schools. Figure 1 compares the percentage of students in each school who meet state standards on the state’s required assessments:

Figure 1. Percentage of students exceeding state standards in two schools, by grade and subject

Identical, right? Not so fast. At School A, a kindergarten readiness assessment indicated that 15 percent of kids...

Lyall Swim

Editor’s note: This is the second article in a series that will outline some foundational principles for successful adoption of innovative education reforms. The next post will explain the why political campaigns and innovation don’t mix.

Full disclosure: Patience is not a virtue that I’m anywhere close to mastering. This is not from a lack of effort. I’ve tried to work on being more patient at several points in my life, but the results just didn’t come fast enough. I often felt like the man who prayed, “Lord bless me with patience, and do it now.”

Yet I’m not alone in this struggle. We live in a society that promotes, expects, and thrives on getting things done immediately, if not yesterday.

That urge is even stronger when it comes to things like improving education or health care. When we look around and see children that are being robbed of their futures because the current education system has failed them and reforms continue to stall, we want and need results now. In these instances, patience seems less like a virtue and more like a roadblock.

When it comes to the adoption of education innovation, however, patience isn’t just nice to...

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...