Washington's "Opportunity Scholarship Program" has gotten a lot of attention lately, what with Democrats in Congress moving to kill it and the Obama Administration seeking a way to lessen the blow to participating students. But there is life beyond the Beltway, and that's where debates over vouchers tend to be more nuanced and perhaps even more consequential.

Take Wisconsin and our home state of Ohio, for example, which together provide vouchers for more than 30,000 students (compared to 1,700 in D.C.). In both states, Democratic governors are pushing new policies that would up the ante on "accountability" for private schools participating in the voucher programs. In Ohio, for example, Governor Strickland would require that every student in a participating private school sit for the state test, even if just a single student receives a publicly-funded voucher. (As Emmy reports, 94 of the program's 279 participating private schools enroll ten voucher-bearing students or fewer.)

Readers who follow Fordham's work know that we're not adverse to accountability. Far from it. We've led the charge for greater transparency and accountability in the charter school movement, and we've been open to more of...

There was a time when I was generally skeptical, even hostile, towards the views of Charles Murray, at least as they pertained to education. But I found plenty to like about Real Education, and now he's given a very strong speech at the American Enterprise Institute (which he turned into an article for the Washington Post yesterday) which I think deserves to be taken seriously. So is he becoming more convincing or am I becoming more easily convinced?

Take a look at this long passage from both the speech and the article:

Two premises about human beings are at the heart of the social democratic agenda: what I label "the equality premise" and "the New Man premise." The equality premise says that, in a fair society, different groups of people -- men and women, blacks and whites, straights and gays -- will naturally have the same distributions of outcomes in life -- the same mean income, the same mean educational attainment, the same proportions who become janitors and who become CEOs. When that doesn't happen, it is because of bad human behavior and an unfair society. Much of the Democratic Party's proposed domestic legislation assumes


This weekend's Washington Post offered an anecdotal look at DC's Capital Gains Program, aka Washington's own pay kids for performance system. The program has its logistical issues, but one of great significance has cropped up: theft. Apparently some students at one DC middle school have made a habit of stealing checks from backpacks and lockers. Capital Gains partners with SunTrust Bank, which puts on money management classes for students. But where's the accompanying ethics curriculum? The pay for performance experiment intends to teach students the value of working hard. But do these programs do enough to close the door on the other options, like, say, stealing from someone who worked just a bit harder? Students might not be gaining an appreciation of learning for learning's sake, but they could be learning larger life lessons about good citizenship. I suspect that KIPP schools that employ a reward structure don't have issues with theft. After all, the schools promote a general honor code and high standard of good behavior. KIPP strives to produce students who are both good learners and productive members of society. Public schools are often a far cry from KIPP, but if they're already paying students...

The Ohio Academy of Science has provided a little reality check to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's evidence-based education proposals and found them lacking--actually, way lacking. The governor has been working on his education reforms for at least a year and has gone out of his way to tout the "evidence." Now, we learn from a real, scientific organization that real, scientifically valid evidence is practically nonexistent in the plan.

Although this news from the Academy is not good for Ohioans, especially the youngest Buckeyes, it's good to know we can all stop wasting time looking. A lot of people have been searching for the governor's evidence for weeks and coming up empty handed. University of Washington education finance expert Paul T. Hill found little merit in the governor's assurances.

According to Academy Chief Executive Officer Lynn Elfner, who reviewed the bibliography of Strickland's evidence for his massive school reform plan (four Fordham reports are cited), "most references are to political action or opinion reports; only a few articles appear to be from primary, peer-reviewed, refereed journals that the Academy would consider fundamental to understanding how children learn and how we should organize learning environments...

As I continue to make my way through the gigantic stack of articles and reports I should've read over the last year and a half or so, I keep finding interesting and timely stuff. ????Given the critical role being played by high-quality charter networks in our cities and the stimulus plan's $650 million fund for scaling up what works, two articles from the 2008 summer edition of Education Next deserve particular attention.

"Brand-Name Charters" takes a look at the growth of "franchising" great schools and how it relates to similar practices outside of education. ????It includes a good discussion of the history, challenges, and successes of well-known nonprofit charter management organizations ("CMOs") like KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First, and their for-profit cousins, education management organizations ("EMOs", which are different than this). ????There's been entirely too little written about this phenomenon, which I consider among the three most important education reform developments of the last 20 years, so this is a worthwhile and much-needed contribution.

"Scaling Up in Chile" is an excellent companion piece. ????It discusses similar developments that have taken place since Chile overhauled its public education system in the early 1980s. ????Today,...

My son Nico was born in 2007, and he wasn't alone. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (and reported by the Times), more babies were born in 2007 than any other year in U.S. history. The 4.3 million births were even more than the number in 1957, which was the height of the Baby Boom.

For??school systems,??which are just now seeing their high school enrollments peak, this means that another wave of growth is just around the corner. Which??officials might consider before they react to budget cuts by laying off all of their young teachers; they're going to need them.

Laura Pohl

The creative team over at C. Murray Consulting, a web technology company in Rhode Island, has highlighted us on their blog. You may not recognize their name, but surely you recognize their work: they built the funny video game and useful data map featured on our Accountability Illusion report web page.

Here at Fordham we're keen on multimedia ventures that complement our print work (sometimes we're a little silly, too). Most of our new media is created in house. But when we don't have the capacity to do everything ourselves, companies like C. Murray Consulting breathe life into our ideas and even go above and beyond: they came up with the majority of the video game's hilarious pop-up phrases ("Who's awesome? You're awesome! You made AYP!!!")....

According to a new report by RAND, charter schools don't produce substantially different academic results than their district peers. Charter Schools in Eight States: Effects on Achievement, Attainment, Integration, and Competition is the result of a longitudinal study using student-level data to examine charter schools in Chicago, San Diego, Philadelphia, Denver, Milwaukee, and the states of Ohio, Texas and Florida. It found, among other things, that charter schools do not have an effect, good or bad, on the achievement of students in nearby district schools. The study also confirms that charter schools do not "skim the cream" when it comes to recruiting students--children enrolling in charter schools have similar academic achievement levels as those attending district schools, except in Ohio and Texas, where students entering charter schools are substantially behind the achievement levels of their district peers.

The report offers two major concerns about the Buckeye State's charter schools where the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation has served as a charter school authorizer since 2005. First, that the state's virtual schools lag far behind both district schools and brick-and-mortar charter schools in terms of student performance, and second, that the performance levels of charter schools in Ohio vary...

That's the title of a longish piece on merit pay in the latest Christian Science Monitor. This article, part 1 of 2, takes a look at Denver's ProComp and the difficulty of figuring out two things: how to use merit pay systems to get rid of bad teachers and how to tie bonuses to the results of individual teachers. It also makes the case that younger teachers are not enticed to the profession by the promise of a cushy retirement. They want to see their rewards now, not later. Since the (large) size of teacher pensions (in a sour economy) have turned into a hot potato issue recently, this might prove fodder for arguing to readjust the pay scale. It's a good read for anyone unfamiliar with the debate.

George Will sits down with Arne Duncan and comes away impressed. Though Will's major takeaway is that "time and talent" are needed to turn around schools, this quote caught my eye:

By closing failing schools and opening replacements, Chicago is ensuring that the portfolio of schools is churned and improved.

"Portfolios"?! "Churn"?!

When a major syndicated columnist begins using language once reserved for wonks and academics, you know that systemic ed reform has gone mainstream. Paul Hill and Ted Kolderie should be smiling.