My memory is a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure the first time I heard the term “Nazi” was when I was nine or ten and watching the “Blues Brothers” on TV. All I remember is that the neo-Nazis were having a parade, and getting in the Blues Brothers’ way, and the whole thing was treated as farce. They were clearly a bunch of losers and idiots, not even worthy of fear. They were a punchline, the butt of a joke.

Of course, as I got older, the ugly, evil reality of Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists became clear to me, thanks in large part to Mr. Klein at Parkway West Senior High School, and his World History and AP U.S. History courses. I’m pretty sure Mr. Klein didn’t just care about making us “college and career ready”; he wanted us to understand the full scope of humanity’s history, both the wonders of our cultural achievements and the depravity of totalitarianism. Today I feel a special sense of gratitude for Mr. Klein, and all his compatriots in social studies departments across the country, who gave us the gift of understanding the beauty, and evil, of which humans are capable....

Kate Walsh

If you're anything like me, you can't help but grow really discouraged at what seems like a lack of progress toward improving public education. I’ll admit there are days when I just want to throw in the towel.

I keep noticing, though, that there is actually a substantial amount of good news about American education that never seems to get any traction in either traditional or social media. I also suspect education reformers are so accustomed to calling out the bad news in order to incite action that we fail to appreciate the importance of good news. I’ve discussed this previously, but feel the need to revisit it as there’s been a spat of generally unheralded good news.

There is new clear evidence that we are making slow, gradual gains adding up to significant change. Though you almost had to read between the lines to appreciate the genuinely good news in a recent Department of Education report, “The Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups,” and good news it was, indisputably. It cited the following progress:

  • Since 1992, on the fourth grade NAEP reading assessment, the white-black score gap narrowed from 32 points to
  • ...

When you think about education, it’s worth asking two questions over and over again: Why is this thing the way it is? And does it have to stay this way?

One thing you hear often in education is that your ZIP code shouldn’t determine your educational destiny. This is something even folks who say they oppose “education reform” ostensibly believe.

So if that’s true, why is your house the overwhelming predictor of the sort of education you will receive?

I am willing to concede that during the early days of public education—open to all, paid for by taxpayers, and free at the point of delivery, as Sir Ken Robinson describes it—it might have made sense to organize compulsory schooling for children around small localities, principally because, in the absence of state and federal revenue streams or even state mandates and responsibility for education, taxing a community via its wealth in property probably made sense.

It was also probably easier to ask your neighbor to chip in on the financing of the local common school than it would have been to get someone from another town to do it. This was a policy decision grounded in localism and local identity,...

What if we could scale up evidence-based practices, shift the reform conversation in a more positive direction, and boost student outcomes, all at the same time?

Might you be interested?

No, this is not the pitch of a carnival barker or snake oil salesman, but a crazy (or maybe crazy smart?) idea for a new non-profit initiative.

Presenting the National Award for Excellence in Elementary Education, the N-A-Triple-E. (I clearly haven’t paid for any branding help as yet.)

Though it would be a massive undertaking, the core idea is simple: Develop a national recognition program for excellent elementary schools (with middle and high schools to follow) in the district, charter, and private sectors. As with the federal Blue Ribbon Schools program, schools would be recognized for strong results in student achievement. But applicants would also go through an intensive process, not unlike a UK-style inspectorate, resulting in a comprehensive analysis and holistic review of their practices. Only schools that can demonstrate a commitment to striving for excellence in all aspects of their enterprises, from curriculum to talent development to parent engagement and on and on, would win the prestigious award.

First the why, then we’ll tackle the how....

A handful of law changes in Ohio have accomplished what decades of “self-policing” among authorizers could not: Authorizers have been forced to act more judiciously when determining who should be allowed to start a school and what it takes to keep a school open. But while we at Fordham are encouraged to see the state’s charter sector become more quality-focused, contraction of the sector alone won’t deliver great options for kids who desperately need them.

Indeed, Ohio will see a record-low number of new charter schools open this fall, a slow-down that persists for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, twenty-two schools shut down at the end of the 2016–17 school year, the fourth highest number in Ohio’s almost twenty-year charter history. (See Figure 1.) These numbers point to a worrisome lack of capacity in the state around launching new schools and replicating high-quality models—to say nothing of how hard it is to attract quality national operators. It’s a situation that warrants action in the state of Ohio—but also attention from the charter sector at large, where leaders are struggling to balance measures meant to ensure quality with policies that allow more schools to open for the students who...

Somewhere between the Right and the Left—between the un-nuanced mantras of personal responsibility and big government—lie most of the problems related to poverty, as well as most of the solutions. So said Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in his opening remarks at an event in Columbus, Ohio, last week. He noted that putting both problems and possible solutions at the extreme end of either political ideology ignores reality and stymies understanding and effective action. Any successful effort to address poverty requires individuals to leave their extreme positions and to meet somewhere between. Fordham was proud to co-sponsor the event with the hope that Vance’s new and increasingly important take on the topic would find room at the table for education issues as well.

And education quickly became key to the personal stories shared during the panel portion of the event. Vance referenced the now-familiar story of his own difficult upbringing in Middletown, Ohio, as detailed in his bestselling memoir. Cynthia Dungey, Director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), was co-panelist, and her personal story provided both counterpoint and amplification of Vance’s. As a woman of color who grew up in inner-city Columbus, Dungey had two working...

A new study examines the impact of requiring and paying for all students in high school to take the ACT college entrance exam. Eleven states have implemented free and mandatory college entrance exams for all high school juniors. Public policy scholar Joshua Hyman (University of Connecticut) looks at the impact of such a policy in Michigan, which began requiring juniors to take the ACT in 2007.

He analyzes outcomes for six recent eleventh-grade cohorts (2003–04 through 2008–09). Specifically, he compares the changes in college attendance between the pre- and post-policy periods in schools that did and did not have a testing center in the school building before the ACT policy. The idea is that schools without a testing center will experience slightly larger increases in ACT-taking because of the mandatory ACT policy than will schools with a pre-existing center. In this way, any differential changes in college enrollment after the policy between the two groups of students are likely due to the effects of the policy because other happenings that might occur simultaneously—like other statewide education reforms—are assumed to affect both types of schools equally. He also matches the test-center and non-test-center schools so that they are similar in demographics...

Using data from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Washington State, a 2017 study published in the Statistics and Public Policy journal examines how teachers of various levels of effectiveness impact student achievement. Researchers analyze multiple years of educator data, using as many data points as were available for each teacher.

Not surprisingly, the authors find that the distribution of teacher effectiveness resembles a bell curve. As Figure 1 demonstrates, educators who are nearer to the middle of the curve have similar effects on student achievement, regardless of which percentile the teachers fall into. The impacts of those in the 45th and 55th percentiles are quite close, for example. This is not, however, true of those at the tail ends of the bell curve—teachers who are very bad or very good. Compared to more average educators, the impacts of those in the 2nd and 12th percentiles, for instance, are markedly different, with the bad-but-not-as-bad teachers producing much better student results. And the same goes for those at the high end. Students educated by teachers in the 98th percentile are much better off than their peers whose teachers fall into the 88th percentile.

Figure 1. Gains in student achievement associated with gains in...

You’ve got to be kidding me. Steven Singer has actually penned a piece in which he claims that Common Core has led to a spike in middle school suicides. Though he does admit that there are a variety of reasons for the increase, he stands firm in his claim that the Common Core State Standards are one of them.

I grew up and used to teach in metro-west Boston, which has its share of affluent districts known to be pressure cookers for kids and where adolescent suicide has devastated families and rocked school communities. They are places where the schools and parents’ expectations are high, where it’s not unusual for students to be doing extra work and SAT prep after-school, where high priced tutors abound to keep the dreaded C+ at bay, where parents dole out many thousands of dollars to pay for a private college counselor, and where the only acceptable colleges are the most prestigious (and selective) ones. Many students do fine and even thrive in the pressure-filled environment, but some internalize the pressure to a point that the expectations they put on themselves make them quite literally sick. Because we know that no one who is...

The NAACP caused quite a stir recently when it released a report calling for a moratorium on new charter schools for the next ten years. While the proposed charter ban has drawn most of the headlines—and with good reason—the NAACP report also offered a number of recommendations to address what it claims are widespread problems and abuses of power in the charter sector. These recommendations, which haven’t generated as much scrutiny, were incorporated into a model law for use by interested states.

Hailing from Ohio, a state with a history of charter-quality challenges, we cannot deny the charter sector’s warts. Outcomes in some charter schools are indeed much too poor, and financial shenanigans have been much too common. That’s why those of us at Fordham-Ohio and our partners worked hard to pass historic reforms to the state’s charter laws in 2015.

So we decided to review NAACP’s recommendations with an open mind, hoping to see them embrace the sort of quality-control policies that we identified and helped to enact in Ohio.

Sadly, that’s not what we found. The NAACP model law is not about improving charter schools, but strangling them. Moreover, if a law like...