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...

Back in November, I praised the Obama Administration’s Every Student Succeeds Act accountability regulations for permitting states to use performance indices in lieu of simple, problematic proficiency rates. Such applause is, of course, water under the bridge after congressional Republicans and President Trump repealed those rules and, instead of replacing them, will rely on promises, “Dear Colleague” letters, and other means that fall short of formal regulation.

Yet new praise is in order for Secretary DeVos et al.’s recently released “State Plan Peer Review Criteria,” which explains the process through which state ESSA plans will gain approval or rejection. It, like the regulations that came and went before it, expressly permits accountability systems that measure student achievement at multiple levels—not just “proficient”—using a performance index.

This is an important—even essential—innovation. Despite the good intentions of No Child Left Behind, which ESSA replaced a year ago, it erred by encouraging states to focus almost exclusively on helping low-performing students achieve proficiency and graduate from high school. Consequently, many schools ignored pupils who would easily pass state reading and math tests and earn diplomas regardless of what happened in the classroom—a particularly pernicious problem for high-achieving poor and minority...

A few weeks ago in Washington, D.C., I saw the National Gallery’s knockout exhibit, Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence. Three generations of one Italian family produced amazing terracotta sculptures that are not as famous as they deserve to be. The above image is one such piece, complete with a glowing white figure on a cobalt blue background surrounded by a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, and green flowers and fruit. After 530 years, they still wow.

The show kicks off with this challenging and beautiful sculpture—a personification of Prudence, the mother of all virtues according to Christian philosophers, as well as the work’s namesake. The piece strikes a bizarre figure; she has two faces. One is a young woman gazing forward into a mirror. But on the other side, an old man looks back. The hair falling down the woman’s back forms the old man’s beard. The figure holds a snake.

What does it all mean? Think of the name, Prudence. The woman is literally reflecting before she acts. The snake signifies wisdom, recalling Jesus’s words from the Gospel of Matthew, “Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The old man stands for experience and...

Today’s conventional wisdom says that kids are too stressed out by the burdens we parents are placing on them, and we need to help them relax. Maybe that’s true for the tiny sliver of students who attend hothouse high schools in the bubbles where many of us happen to live. But for America at large, it’s exactly the wrong advice. We need the majority of parents and kids to be more stressed out. We need to shake them out of their complacency and tell them: You and your kids are heading toward a coming-of-age catastrophe, but you can avoid it if you act now!

I’m referring to the fact that only about one-third of American teenagers leave the K–12 system ready to succeed in postsecondary education. Another third go to college unprepared, where they hit the brick wall of remedial coursework, and many of them—including almost all of the low-income students—drop out. That amounts to more than a million kids a year seeing their dreams dashed before they are old enough to legally drink a beer.

Chart 1: College preparedness, college matriculation, and college completion


My proposition is that illegitimacy is the single most important social problem of our time—more important than crime, drugs, poverty, illiteracy, welfare or homelessness because it drives everything else. Doing something about it is not just one more item on the American policy agenda, but should be at the top.”

In 1993, when the largely white and affluent readership of the Wall Street Journal read this editorial excerpt, the presumption was that the author must be referring to the unfortunate denizens of the urban ghetto. The face of illegitimacy then (and now) were low-income black and brown people incapable of delaying gratification.

Without urgent action, these impoverished people would continue to raise staggering numbers of children in single parent households. These poor souls would then perpetuate the pathologies that were figuratively and literally burning down their neighborhoods.

But the title of the essay was “The Coming White Underclass,” and the author was Charles Murray. Yes, this is the same Charles Murray who today is being apoplectically protested by college faculty and students who likely have never read this 1993 essay nor Coming Apart: The State of White America, which in 2012 foreshadowed the conditions that would...

Nine states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans to the U.S. Department of Education to meet their obligations under the Every Student Succeeds Act. And by May 3, seven more will likely do the same. These submissions describe how states will satisfy a number of ESSA’s requirements, including those concerning testing, accountability, and school improvement. This lattermost issue, which seeks to fix—or better yet replace—failing schools, is among the most important. Yet, in this area, these first plans are a very mixed bag.

Under the law, states must identify and take action on two types of troubled schools: those requiring “comprehensive support and improvement” (the lowest achieving 5 percent of Title I schools, plus high schools with low graduation rates), and those that need “targeted improvement” because they routinely fail a particular group such as low-income, minority, or special education students.

ESSA includes criteria states should use for placing schools in these two buckets, but it is intentionally silent on what they should do about them—even when schools require “rigorous intervention” because less substantial corrections, like counseling and professional development, haven’t lead to adequate improvement after a specified period of time (decided by...

A RAND report last year found that virtually every teacher in America—99 percent of elementary teachers; 96 percent of secondary school—draws upon “materials I developed and/or selected myself” in teaching English language arts. And where are they finding said materials? Mostly Google (94 percent) and Pinterest (87 percent). Thus it is hard to be anything other that cheered by a new RAND report that explores the use of math and ELA materials on EngageNY, “one of the first efforts to create coherent, standards-aligned Open Educational Resource curriculum materials.” Created by New York State, the site features full sets of Common Core-aligned ELA and math curricula for use in K–12 classrooms, all of it available for free.

Looking at usage patterns during the 2014–15 and 2015–16 school years, as well as survey results from the nationally representative American Teacher Panel survey, the authors of this case study want to know who is using EngageNY, which elements are the most popular, how it supports teaching and learning, and what explains the site’s “high uptake.” Unsurprisingly, EngageNY sees heavy use in New York State, however its math and ELA materials were accessed in every state, with particularly high traffic states that have adopted...

As we stress in our recent review of online instructional tools, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards seven years ago led to unprecedented levels of information and resource sharing across states. Technological advancements and a growing movement towards open-source educational resources have further contributed to a huge explosion of choice on the K–12 curricular marketplace. And while choice can be a good thing, many educators remain completely overwhelmed by the vast array of curricular and instructional resources now available.

A new Education Week special report released last month, comprising eight separate articles, aims to help educators “navigate [this] increasingly diverse marketplace of new—and often promising—curricular choices.”

The series kicks off with a helpful overview of several national organizations conducting independent reviews of curricular and instructional materials (such as EdReports, Learning List, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association). It highlights several recent state and district efforts to create curriculum from the ground up, such as Louisiana’s recent partnership with LearnZillion to create a new English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum for the state, and weighs the relative advantages of online versus traditional print resources (such as real-time assessment and student data reporting features).


University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax has a provocative lead essay in the latest issue of National Affairs that warrants thoughtful attention by all concerned with boosting the educational opportunities of poor and minority youngsters. (Isn’t that just about everyone in education these days?)

She compares and contrasts the “no excuses” model of charter schools with sundry “diversity” initiatives—mainly socio-economic mixing à la Rick Kahlenberg—and finds the former possibly more effective and definitely more politically viable. “Educational efficacy,” she writes, “is not the only consideration in deciding which of these strategies should be favored and how much society should invest in each. In assessing the feasibility of these models, pragmatic and political considerations loom large.”

Professor Wax doesn’t overstate the results of no-excuses charters, candidly acknowledging the lack of long term data on such key measures as college completions. She also shares the surprising (at least to me) factoid that few graduates of Eva Moskowitz’s acclaimed no-excuses charter middle schools have gained admission to New York City’s selective-admission high schools. (None in 2014 or 2015, just six last year.) She admits that it’s hard to “scale” the no-excuses model, largely due to the paucity of capable, committed...

Lyall Swim

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series that will outline some foundational principles for successful adoption of innovative education reforms. The next post will explain the role of patience in effective innovation.

When was the last time you heard a corporation, university, government agency, or school champion the idea that innovation is overrated? I’m guessing that you might have an easier time trying to locate the Loch Ness monster. Even if you could find some company or school that actually believed innovation was overrated, odds are they’d never openly admit it.

In today’s world, being innovative is equated with success and progress. As a result, everyone wants to be innovative. But what does that really mean? I’m reminded of the classic scene from The Princess Bride where Inigo Montoya turns to his boss, Vizzini, who has just used the word “inconceivable” for the umpteenth time and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The purpose of this series of blog posts is to make the case that creating great policy ideas, even identifying disruptive education innovations, is not enough if we really want to bring about real...