Naomi Rubin DeVeaux

Public charter school boards are often overlooked when it comes to assessing who and what contributes to public charter school quality. Yet these boards play an essential role. They provide the strategic vision for the school, hire leaders to run the school, hold those leaders accountable for academic success, and provide financial oversight. My colleagues and I at the D.C. Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), Washington, D.C.’s single public charter school authorizer, are in regular contact with public charter school board members as we carry out our responsibilities in approving new schools, providing oversight, permitting expansions and replications, and (when necessary) closing public charter schools.

The Fordham Institute’s new report Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital provides an important perspective about the composition and practices of boards, and how some of those practices align with strong school results. Another blog post recently summarized the report’s methods and findings, but a couple of points jumped out at me as an authorizer.

Firstly, the study confirms what we see anecdotally—that schools with strong academic outcomes have engaged, trained, and informed board members. They know their school: the demographics of their students and their strengths and weaknesses. We see...

The central problem with making growth the polestar of accountability systems, as Mike and Aaron argue, is that it is only convincing if one is rating schools from the perspective of a charter authorizer or local superintendent who wants to know whether a given school is boosting the achievement of its pupils, worsening their achievement, or holding it in some kind of steady state. To parents choosing among schools, to families deciding where to live, to taxpayers attempting to gauge the ROI on schools they’re supporting, and to policy makers concerned with big-picture questions such as how their education system is doing when compared with those in another city, state, or country, that information is only marginally helpful—and potentially quite misleading.

Worse still, it’s potentially very misleading to the kids who attend a given school and to their parents, as it can immerse them in a Lake Wobegon of complacency and false reality.

It’s certainly true, as Mike and Aaron say, that achievement tends to correlate with family wealth and with prior academic achievement. It’s therefore also true that judging a school’s effectiveness entirely on the basis of its students’ achievement as measured on test scores is unfair because,...

Juliet Squire

In Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital, my co-author Allison Crean Davis and I provide a wealth of new information on charter boards in Washington, D.C.—but one simple fact merits further consideration: Sixty-two different boards oversee the schools that enroll nearly half of the city’s children. Individually, each charter board makes consequential decisions for their school. Collectively, their decisions shape the evolution of the entire sector.

School-level governance means charter boards can act quickly, approve the roll-out (or roll-back) of programs in response to feedback, and even address individual student or parent concerns. Decisions at this scale can be faster, more responsive, and less bureaucratic than those at the district or state level. In short, it is far easier to change the course of a speedboat than the Queen Mary (or the Titanic, depending on your optimism regarding district reform efforts).

Depending on a school’s particular challenges, one charter board may spend a great deal of time and energy debating whether and how to increase the salaries of their teachers. Another may focus on student recruitment and retention. A third may spend most of its time searching for their next school leader. The open responses to our...

Karla Phillips and Carri Schneider

Mike Petrilli recently reopened an important conversation. Why is there still such a great disconnect between student and parent perceptions of student achievement and reality?

Petrilli calls for “courageous language” to find a way to explicitly report to students and their families whether they are on track to be college and career ready. We totally agree with his suggestions and examples of better reporting and have been committed to helping states improve school report cards. We’ve even gone so far as to suggest an approach that mirrors what is now required on credit card reports. After all, don’t we owe the same level of full disclosure to students and their families?

One option that wasn’t discussed in the original blog that we think deserves some attention is competency-based learning (also called “mastery-based” or “proficiency-based”). We believe that competency-based systems create a more transparent, complete, and accurate, picture of student achievement than the traditional time-based and cohort-based systems.

In a competency-based system, students advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place, or pace. Decisions of proficiency are based on true evidence and application of knowledge and not...

Michael Hartney

Fordham’s latest study, Charter School Boards in the Nation's Capital, doesn’t disappoint. Kudos to authors Juliet Squire and Allison Crean Davis (of Bellwether Education Partners) who, in tackling such a novel set of questions, have given us an array of heretofore-unknown information about the inner workings of school governance in the charter sector. While I won’t wade into every aspect of their voluminous findings, three items stood out for me, particularly with regard to what we currently know about traditional school boards.

First, charter boards are less stocked with “corporate” representation than your typical charter opponent would claim—yes, you read that correctly. Checker Finn once characterized traditional school boards as comprised mostly of politicians seeking higher office, disgruntled former school employees, and/or single-issue zealots. On the other end of the spectrum, charter opponents claim that charter schools are governed by profit seekers, big business types, and Wall Street executives rather than true “education professionals.” At least for D.C.’s charter sector, this assertion is not borne out by the data.

The table below compares occupations of traditional school board members and D.C.’s charter board members, using data from the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) 2009 survey. (Disclosure:...

Our goal with this post is to convince you that continuing to use status measures like proficiency rates to grade schools is misleading and irresponsible—so much so that the results from growth measures ought to count much more—three, five, maybe even nine times more—than proficiency when determining school performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We draw upon our experience with our home state of Ohio and its current accountability system, which currently generates separate school grades for proficiency and for growth.

We argue three points:

  1. In an era of high standards and tough tests, proficiency rates are correlated with student demographics and prior achievement. If schools are judged predominantly on these rates, almost every high-poverty school will be labeled a failure. That is not only inaccurate and unfair, but it will also demoralize educators and/or hurt the credibility of school accountability systems. In turn, states will be pressured to lower their proficiency standards.
  2. Growth measures—like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”—are a much fairer way to evaluate schools, since they can control for prior achievement and can ascertain progress over the course of the school year. They can also differentiate between high-poverty schools where kids are making steady
  3. ...
Shannon Garrison

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom that provides in-depth reviews of several promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

The use of text sets is a promising instructional approach that is informed by solid research on reading comprehension. A text set is a collection of texts that are tightly focused on a specific topic. As described in this earlier post, it may include varied genres and media and can be organized in many different ways. But all high-quality text sets have this in common: they are designed to build knowledge of an academic topic and are presented in a specific order with attention to text complexity, vocabulary development, and background knowledge.

However, quality text sets are difficult to find and not easy to create, so identifying resources that can assist is invaluable. Newsela, ReadWorks, and Achieve the Core are three sites that all provide particularly high-quality text sets for use in the classroom. I have reviewed each of them previously, and you can find those reviews here, here, and here.

All three sites offer useful...

In this study, the authors examine the long-term impacts of publicly subsidized preschool and nurse home visitation in Denmark, using administrative data from preschools that began receiving public funding between 1930 and 1957.

Overall, they find that low-income Danish kids benefited from preschool access in several ways, and that some of those benefits were passed on to the next generation. However, for kids who also had nurse home visitation at birth, the positive effects of receiving pre-school were reduced by 80–90 percent. For example, Danish kids who had access preschool by age three were about 10 percent less likely to have only a compulsory education at age twenty-five—unless they also had nurse home visitation, in which case the impact of pre-school was only a fifth as large. Similarly, male students with access to preschool earned about 2 percent more as adults. However, those with nurse home visitation saw an earnings boost only a tenth as large.

This pattern suggests that preschool and nurse home visitation may have been substitutes rather than complements—at least in pre-World War II Denmark. However, the program’s design makes it difficult to know what to make of this finding.

To receive public funding, Danish preschools had...

Maryland governor Larry Hogan has excellent political judgment. I wish I could say the same of his educational judgment. With yesterday’s revision of his already-controversial executive order regarding school calendars, he managed, in one fell swoop, (a) to delight the Ocean City vacation industry, (b) to please a great many Maryland voters who, when polled, favor a long, uninterrupted summer vacation, (c) to take away from the state’s school districts and counties an important element of local control, (d) to disregard the findings and views of just about every knowledgeable educator in the land, (e) to undermine the State Board of Education, almost all of whose members are Hogan appointees, and (f) to dim the future prospects of hundreds of thousands of young Marylanders who are not yet learning nearly enough to be prepared to succeed in college and modern careers.

Not a bad day’s work. I suppose it’s just coincidence that the amended executive order appeared on the eve of the Day of Atonement.

The key issue, as just about everyone now knows, is whether Maryland schools and districts should be able to start the year before Labor Day and continue it into the summer, or...

A multitude of research has shown that quality teaching is necessary for student achievement and positive labor market outcomes. Rigorous evaluations have been hailed as a way to improve the teacher workforce by recognizing and rewarding excellence, providing detailed and ongoing feedback to improve practice, and identifying low-performers who should be let go. While plenty of time has been devoted to how best to provide teachers with feedback, less time has been spent examining how evaluation systems contribute to the removal of underperforming teachers and the resulting changes in the teacher workforce.

This study examines the Excellence in Teaching Project (EITP), a teacher evaluation system piloted in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in 2008. The program focuses solely on classroom observations and uses Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching (FFT) as the basis for evaluation (unlike many current systems, which rely on multiple measures including student test scores). Roughly 9 percent of all CPS elementary teachers participated in the first year of the pilot, which was considered a “low-stakes intervention” since scores on the FFT rubric were not officially included on teachers’ summative evaluation ratings.

Prior to the use of the FFT, teachers in Chicago were evaluated against...