After a busy and often fraught summer, this week marks the unofficial start of fall, and the hope and wonder that accompany a new school year. As you settle back in after the long holiday weekend, Fordham thought it worthwhile to catch you up with some of our takes on the key stories of the last few months. Happy reading!


Wonks waited for much of June to see what the U.S. Department of Education thought of the first seventeen ESSA plans. The review process packed plenty of twists and turns, and the plans themselves provided advocates and analysts with plenty of fodder for debate. In Rating the Ratings, Brandon Wright and Mike Petrilli found most of the first seventeen ESSA accountability plans submitted to the Department of Education to be improvements over NCLB-era systems, earning marks for user-friendliness, straightforwardness, and transparency.

2. Debating the language of privilege

Conversations about privilege and access dominated headlines this summer, and included one memorable David Brooks column on upper-middle-class parenting and norms. Robert Pondiscio responded by arguing that fluency in power and privilege is not learned in affluent communities and elite universities, but instead allows access...

When I endorsed the “Dream Act” fourteen long years ago, I introduced “Alex,” the then-very-young lad whom my wife and I were helping to cope with some of the challenges of life in America for an entirely innocent victim of this country’s wretchedly screwed up and inhumane immigration laws.

Today, he’s a beneficiary of DACA, which was one of Barack Obama’s best deeds and which Messrs. Trump and Sessions are now consigning to the tender mercies of a dysfunctional Congress. He’s got a driver’s license and a social security number. He’s got a college degree. He’s a social worker helping counsel elderly people and their families about sensitive, sad, and gnarly end-of-life issues. He’s also become a playwright and actor, with several successes to his credit. His teenage daughter is thriving in a top-notch charter school. His life is together. He pays his taxes. He obeys the law. He’s not only a proper American, he’s the kind we need many more of. (Senator Jeff Flake has written movingly of another stellar example, though now too old for DACA.)

DACA changed Alex’s life—and changed America for the better. He’s had it renewed once. Will he ever have it renewed...

Scott J. Peters

Any educator or parent who has interacted with the field of gifted and talented education has probably come across the “bright vs. gifted” or “bright child vs. gifted learner” checklist. It seems to have first appeared in a 1989 article by Janice Szabos in Challenge Magazine, but was likely around in similar forms long before that. This checklist seems to be one of the most ubiquitous publications related to gifted education. It is included in formal district gifted education plans and even posted to state department of education websites with the implicit endorsement of it and its key distinction as best practice.

The overall suggestion seems to be that as a teacher or even as an educational system, educationally useful information comes from knowing if one of your students is “just bright” as opposed to being “truly” gifted. In other words, if two children are otherwise identical in their level of achievement, aptitude, creativity, and so on, they should still be treated differently if one is “truly” gifted and one is “just” bright. A few years ago, a senior scholar in the field of gifted education, was handed the form as a rationale for why his kindergartener (who...

Tina Long, Dennis Tiede, and Ben Lindquist

Editor's note: This is the second article in a two-part series on school startup lessons. Read part one here.

As communities in every part of the nation are being reshaped by such forces as urbanization, gentrification, and immigration, the creation of new public schools is vital. When done right, the startup of new schools fosters innovation, engages parents, empowers educators, unlocks community resources, and creates new options for learners and families with differing needs and preferences.

Between the three of us, we have started ten new public charter schools in three regions of the country, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the Mid-South. Building on part one in this two-part series, here are six more lessons that we believe are key to engineering a successful school start: 

1. Available cash flow and financial strength matter. One of the biggest impediments to quality school startups today is a lack of flexible funding. If everything falls into place, it is possible to pull off a strong school opening on limited resources. But considering the high cost of failure or consequences of subpar school performance for students, families, and the community, it simply isn’t worth the risk. As access to free...

A recent New York Times analysis suggests that a generation of policies meant to bring racial proportionality to our selective colleges has failed. “Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago,” declared the authors.

In 2015, black and Hispanic students made up 15 and 22 percent of the U.S. college age population, respectively, but just 8 and 14 percent of the enrollments at top universities. Those gaps are wider today than in 1980—and, in the case of Hispanic students, the gap has tripled over that time.

Yet these higher-education problems are a consequence and symptom of a systemic ailment that is typically caught as soon as students of color enter the classroom. Some, of course, have been immunized before they get there and some were hit well before kindergarten. For many, however, the K–12 system is where trouble begins. “Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities,” writes the Times, citing data from the Office for Civil Rights.

These school-level deficiencies...

Jeremy Noonan

The Big Shortcut,” a striking eight-part series in Slate, reveals the broad scope of our public education system’s abuses of online credit recovery courses to boost graduation rates. Indeed, the series portrays an educational travesty of epic proportions, whose flagrant problems have rapidly proliferated as institutions at local, state, and federal levels have done little to address them.

One such group of institutions that should be doing a better job is accrediting agencies. Accreditation agencies have been around for decades, with a mission of ensuring quality control and academic integrity in our schools. That makes them perfect institutions to push back against the scourge of online credit recovery, whereby schools hand out dubious credits to students who click through watered down online courses. Yet some of these agencies appear to be not only missing in action, but complicit in this burgeoning scandal.

To illustrate this problem, herein are three accreditation standards used by AdvancED, one of the country’s largest accreditors, claiming as clients 34,000 schools worldwide that educate more than 20 million students—including the Georgia school district in which I live and where I have worked (and whose credit recovery abuses I have reported here). My district’s...

Richard Vineyard

There is a healthy national debate about charter school accountability: What is the appropriate balance between performance-based measures and parental choice? There are good arguments for both viewpoints, and the charter movement will emerge stronger because of this discourse. But advocates on both sides should be troubled by a situation currently brewing in my home state of Nevada.

The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority (SPCSA) is on the verge of closing the Nevada Connections Academy (NCA), an online K–12 charter school serving 3,300 students, based on a single data point, the school’s four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR). In an August 23 hearing, the SPCSA decided that the school’s proposed plan to cure its low graduation rate was insufficient. A further hearing was scheduled for October, at which time the SPCSA will decide whether to close the school or reconstitute the school’s board.

The SPCSA justifies the action by citing a new provision in Nevada charter law that allows but does not require a charter school authorizer to close or reconstitute the board of a charter school if it has an ACGR of less than 60 percent.

At first glance, this may seem reasonable. After all, a 60 percent...

The impacts of school closures on student achievement have been studied in various locales, including Louisiana, Michigan, New York City, and our home state of Ohio. But a new report from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) is the most expansive analysis on this topic to date. Analysts examine 1,204 district and 318 charter school closures across twenty-six states occurring between 2006–07 and 2012–13. The study focuses on low-achieving schools—those whose students’ math and reading scores were in the bottom quintile in their respective states prior to closure. Most of the closures took place in urban areas—69 percent across both district and charter sectors. 

CREDO offers a comprehensive view of closures in these states, including the patterns of closures and their academic impacts on students. Though not an experimental analysis, by matching students on observable characteristics and baseline achievement, CREDO does offer solid evidence on the impacts of closure. There were a few striking findings.

First, the schools that closed were on downward trajectories prior to shutting. The analysis found that average math and reading achievement were deteriorating across these schools, as was average student enrollment. The enrollment data suggest that market-oriented...

Charter opponents have long claimed that charter schools siphon resources away from the traditional public school system. The ideological motivation for this line of reasoning is clear when touted by teachers unions and their friends: i.e., calling charters parasitic unless they conform to traditional school practices, including mandatory unionization, makes that bias obvious.

But what impact do charter schools actually have on traditional public schools and the students who remain there? Are such loaded accusations deserved? Or might the presence of charters improve student outcomes through competition or as effective charter practices spill over into district schools?  

Recent research from Temple University professor Sarah Cordes sheds needed light on this question. Cordes examined the impact of charter schools in close proximity to, or even co-located with, traditional public schools (TPS) in New York City over a fourteen-year time span. Her analysis departed from previous research examining charter effects at the district level or across a much-wider radius (up to 10 miles, versus Cordes’ one-mile radius), and was also the first peer-reviewed study of the academic impacts of co-location. Data came from 900,000 students in grades three through five. The study design (a difference-in-differences model) was similar to...

Tina Long, Dennis Tiede, and Ben Lindquist

Over the last twenty-six years, a growing number of entrepreneurial educators have begun reinventing public education by starting thousands of public charter schools. These new schools have helped school districts nationwide—who authorize four out of every five charter schools—build the capacity to serve the most heterogeneous cross-section of learners in the world. As the school-age population continues to diversify in rural, suburban, and urban communities alike, more excellent public education options are badly needed. What will it take to create these distinctive, high quality options? 

Combined, the three of us have started ten new public charter schools in three regions of the country— the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the Mid-South. These schools have been authorized by such public agencies as the Reynolds School District in East Portland, the Chicago Board of Education, and the Arkansas State Board of Education. At least seven of the ten schools have opened in the highest poverty neighborhoods in their respective metropolitan areas. Through our experiences, we have learned—sometimes the hard way—how best to engineer a strong school startup.

Here are six of the twelve school startup lessons that we agree are key to success (click here to read the other six):