I named my blog “Good School Hunting” not because I’m necessarily a big fan of the actor Matt Damon, but because I thought the Boston-based storyline of Damon’s debut movie, “Good Will Hunting,” suited a New England–based blog written by a mom who believes every kid deserves an awesome school. And I really did like that movie. 

So, sure, it was a bit disappointing to learn that one of Damon’s pet causes is opposing school choice and accountability, two issues near and dear to the heart of this former teacher, school committee member, and mother of three boys who currently attend both traditional and charter public schools.

Adding insult to injury, I quickly discovered that Damon—one of the loudest and most well known proponents of public education—sends his own children to private school. “I pay for a private education and I’m trying to get the one that most matches the public education that I had,” he told the Guardian, “but that kind of progressive education no longer exists in the public system. It’s unfair.”

Damon’s entire experience raising his four daughters has been one of wealth and privilege. He can’t easily empathize with low-income parents whose zip codes...

It’s the chicken-or-the-egg question at the heart of the education-reform wars: Can education help young people overcome poverty, or must we defeat poverty before more young people from disadvantaged circumstances can successfully learn?

You don’t have to be a sunny-side-up optimist (or even a hard-boiled pessimist) to get that the right answer to this riddle is “yes.” Yes, education can help young people overcome an impoverished childhood, and yes we need to supplement great schools with smart anti-poverty efforts, too. The best schools—public, private, and charter—do this already, identifying and seeking to furnish the out-of-school “social supports” that will help their kids and their families thrive, while preparing them academically for postsecondary learning and beyond.

A recent article by Rachel Cohen in The Atlantic, however, scrambles this narrative, claiming (in the title at least) that “Education Isn't the Key to a Good Income.” One might surmise that Cohen has found evidence of thousands of young people who grew up poor, succeeded in school and college, and still failed to find good-paying jobs. Alas, that’s not what she found at all—probably because that almost never happens. What she did find was a study by Jesse Rothstein that looked at...

Most American public school teachers are paid according to salary schedules that take into account their years of experience and number of degrees earned. This compensation approach has been criticized because it doesn’t anchor teacher pay to instructional effectiveness or other factors that merit consideration (e.g., specializing in harder-to-staff fields or working in high-needs schools). Instead, teacher pay depends on factors that research suggests are not closely tied to student achievement. Now a new study by Michael Hansen and Diana Quintero of the Brookings Institution takes a different look at teacher salary schedules, this time through the lens of equitable pay and patterns of school funding.

In terms of wage distribution, the analysts find that public school teacher pay is more equitable relative to other occupations. Using the Theil Index—a measure of equity—they find that teacher pay is more evenly distributed than for doctors or lawyers and just slightly more equitable than for nurses or social workers. This is not surprising, as salary schedules tend to fit teacher pay within a relatively narrow range; for instance, salaries for Columbus, Ohio, educators range from about $40,000 to $90,000. Within the teaching profession, the pay differences...

By expanding access to options including charter schools, choice advocates hope that more students will reap the benefits of attending high-performing schools. But do all families have charter options in their area? In this study, researchers chart the Ohio landscape and seek to answer two questions: First, where are charter schools located with respect to the poverty and racial demographics of their community? Second, do low-income families have equal access to charter schools?

To answer these questions, researchers Andrew Saultz of the University of Miami and Christopher Yaluma of the Ohio State University (and a Fordham research intern this past summer) collected data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Ohio Department of Education. These data were then used to conduct analyses on the geographic locations of brick-and-mortar charters and the characteristics of their surrounding communities. For the purposes of this study, a family is said to have access to a charter school if they live within a five-mile radius of one.

Unsurprisingly for those who are familiar with Ohio, the majority of charters are located in large cities like Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton. This is almost certainly due to Ohio law, which restricts...

When conservatives hark back to a golden age, they understandably think of the 1980s and the economic growth and Cold War victory that President Reagan unleashed. But there’s an argument to be made that the apogee of conservative social policy was actually in the 1990s, with tough-on-crime laws, which broke the back of a crack-fueled murder wave; welfare reform, which reined in government dependency; and education reform, which curbed monopoly power of the teachers’ unions in our big cities.

It’s no surprise that folks on the left deplore this trifecta today, as they did then. And there’s no shame in conservatives’ reappraising certain consequences of their ’90s agenda, such as mass incarceration. What’s worrying, though, is to see conservatives grow soft on what has arguably been the most successful and transformative part of the package: education reform, particularly the charter school movement. That’s one way to read the recent poll from Education Next, where I serve as an executive editor.

We found a 12-percentage-point drop in public support for charter schools from the spring of 2016 to the spring of 2017. What’s most surprising is that Republican and Republican-leaning respondents helped to drive this trend, with GOP support down...

Leveraging the power of parent engagement is one of the under-appreciated ways in which Eva Moskowitz and her New York City-based network of Success Academy charter schools has significantly improved upon the work of pioneering “no excuses” charter schools. Many high-performing charters talk about parents as partners in their children’s education. Success Academy mandates it, monitors it, and holds parents to account for honoring the agreement they signed when enrolling their children. That agreement includes faithful adherence to school policies on things like bringing kids to school and picking them up on time and in uniform; avoiding unexcused absences and tardiness; and monitoring homework and maintaining their child’s reading logs. “We've never believed that we could educate kids without the parents,” Moskowitz told me recently. “We're not that good.”

Success Academy is now pushing its belief in parent engagement to a level that may be unprecedented in U.S. public education. With little fanfare, the network has in the past week begun sending home “Parent Investment Cards” evaluating how well—or how poorly—parents are fulfilling their promise to honor Success Academy’s “parent responsibilities” in three areas: “school readiness,” “homework supervision,” and “parent responsiveness and investment.” In each category, the parent is adjudged...

Robert Harris

In the U.S., the substitute teacher industry is big business, with approximately $3.5 billion expended annually. Office-temp agencies, advertising agencies, software developers, recruiters, educational training providers, and others (including but not limited to the substitute teachers themselves) continue to cash-in on the substitute teaching labor market with great economic success while, on the other hand, school districts continue to fail at providing students with the academic supports they need when their regular teachers are absent from school.

Back in the day, when a teacher called-in sick, a school principal hired a well-regarded adult from within the community to fill-in for the day. Since dedicated teachers rarely missed a day of school, paying a member of the community (perhaps a retired teacher) to supervise a classroom of students for one day made perfect sense.

Today, after successful lobbying by teachers’ unions, educators now have expanded sick, personal, and other leave provisions in their collective bargaining agreements. Unfortunately, some teachers view these contractual benefits as entitlements rather than as leaves for necessity, and they have little compunction about taking advantage of them quite liberally, regardless of the actual nature of their absence from school. As it is a well-established union doctrine to...

Now that states have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education as part of their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act, what happens next? And which states are most likely to see significant achievement gains in the coming years?

To answer these questions, Fordham hosted “The ESSA Achievement Challenge,” an event featuring Matthew Ladner, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute (representing Arizona); Candice McQueen, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education; Glen Price, chief deputy superintendent of public instruction for the California Department of Education; and John White, state superintendent of the Louisiana Department of Education. Each made the case that their respective state’s plan will lead to the greatest student success.

We kicked off the festivities by asking the audience to vote for the state most likely to make significant progress in the years ahead, and Louisiana won out. But would this hold up after each state’s defense?

Going first, Matthew Ladner focused on Arizona’s prioritization of school choice. First highlighting the positive impact of competition on all schools, he described what he called, “Arizona’s virtuous K–12 cycle,” with parental choice leading low-performing schools to shutter and high performing ones to replicate. While illustrating...

High-achieving, well-behaved students learning to code, reciting Shakespeare, engaging in debates about the validity of climate science or the merits of Columbus Day, and taking advanced courses in a welcoming atmosphere—if this is what you see when you’re walking the hallways, it makes sense to call this a good school. Many experts, however, see schools differently. To them, the impact of the teachers and curriculum on the school’s students is the most important thing. In line with this vision, experts and policy wonks tend to lobby for greater focus on student growth measures when holding schools accountable, while families care most about the overall proficiency of the student body. Who is right?

The debate between “growth” and “proficiency” generates a lot of conversation in the education policy world, but what appear to be irreconcilable differences can be resolved if we acknowledge that each metric maps to a valid view of school quality, and that both types of metrics can serve worthwhile, if distinct, functions.

The wonk’s perspective

We wonks—the policy nerds, bureaucrats, and legislators who argue about and, ultimately, design the school ratings formulas that determine whether the school down the block...

In part 1 of this two-part essay, I argued that if we want to empower our scholars to truly be on the path to college completion, charter school leaders should use the occasion of the sector’s silver anniversary to stop measuring student performance against the worst outcomes of the frayed traditional public school system. It’s a sector that’s long produced dismal district, city, and state test averages and graduation rates.

Consider, for example, my home state of New York, which is regularly guilty of these comparisons based on low expectations:

  • City: In Rochester, New York, a criminally low 7.6 and 7.9 percent of all students citywide passed the state’s 2016–17 English language arts and math exams, respectively. And of the eleven charter schools in Rochester, only eight exceeded the city’s 8 percent average passage rate on both assessments. Hardly a cause for celebration.
  • District: In Community School District 8 in the South Bronx, 63 percent of all boys who started ninth grade in 2011 never graduated high school at all. And over the last three years, an average of 11.9 percent of eighth grade boys in District 8 passed the state math exam. So how does
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