Jeremy Noonan

In October, President Obama announced that the national high school graduation rate had reached an all-time high in 2015. Yet that same year, the percentage of high school seniors ready for college-level reading and math declined to 37 percent. In other words, as graduation rates rise, other metrics of student achievement are falling, raising questions about how schools are getting more students to graduate. One answer could be the widespread but questionable use of online credit recovery courses (OCRCs).

Students can enroll in OCRCs to earn credits in courses they’ve previously failed. They’re often administered by private companies that contract with school districts. National enrollment statistics are unavailable, but according to the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), more than 75 percent of U.S. school districts use online learning for expanded course offerings and credit recovery. In Georgia, for instance, approximately 20,700 OCRCs were taken in 2016. And the Los Angeles Unified School District recently credited its highest ever graduation rate to the use of these courses.

One of the biggest red flags about this method of remediation is that passage rates don’t match achievement data. For example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently reported...

Today, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is pleased to formally announce that we’re adding four new senior fellows to our team: Derrell Bradford, Jason Crye, Ian Rowe, and Erika Sanzi.

You may have spotted Derrell’s, Jason’s, and Erika’s work on Flypaper already, and you should expect to see each of them, plus Ian, writing regularly moving forward. All four bring talent, thoughtfulness, and a range of perspectives on education reform to inform our blog.


Derrell Bradford is the executive vice president of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now and the executive director of its New York branch, NYCAN, with more than fourteen years working in education reform policy and advocacy. In his role, Derrell trains and recruits local leaders across the country to serve as executive directors of state CANs, advocacy fellows, and citizen advocates. He is also a member of the organization’s executive and leadership teams. He serves on several boards and leadership councils that focus on educational equity, including Success Academy Charter Schools, the Partnership for Education Justice, EdBuild, and the National Alliance of

I voted for Hillary Clinton. I wasn’t excited about it as so many other women, young and old, were. And the #ImWithHer movement didn’t resonate all that much with me because those who wrapped themselves in the hashtag and wore pantsuits to vote have never been willing to do the same for other women candidates, albeit conservative, who have faced the very same glass ceiling that women on the left have faced: Condi. Nikki.Carly.

My heart goes out to Mrs. Clinton. And her supporters. And all the little girls who were promised before they went to bed that they’d wake up to the first woman president. An ultimately misguided promise, indeed. But I shared their hope. The first woman president was certainly something that I, as a forty-three-year-old woman and mother, would celebrate. Hell, it’s about time.

Her concession speech moved and inspired me. Truth is, I’ve watched it a few times and each time, my eyes well up and the lump in my throat is big. Unfortunately, as a candidate, she didn’t move enough people the way she did in defeat. And despite her decision to apologize for the loss, she has nothing for which to apologize. If there...

In “Lost opportunity for charter schools,” Robert Pondiscio says education reformers should blame themselves for the failure of a ballot initiative this month to establish more charter schools in Massachusetts. The vote on “Question 2” wasn’t even close: 62 percent of voters were against it. That’s embarrassing. Only one other ballot question was answered more decisively: 77 percent of voters were against “extreme farm animal confinement.” No more eggs from cramped chickens.

But that’s another story.

Pondiscio explains that education reformers have been “too enamored of our own civil-rights-issue-of-our-time rhetoric to worry much about building a constituency among the middle class.” In other words, we’re out of touch.

I think Pondiscio is right: There are groups out there who aren’t hearing us. One such group, as he says, is middle class voters.

Another is Latinos.

According to the Pew Research Center, 729,000 Latinos live in Massachusetts, which is about 11 percent of the state’s population. Of those, 372,000 were eligible to vote in this month’s election: 8 percent of the electorate. This group is growing by the year.

Now, what would have happened if even half of Latino voters had supported Question 2? Charter schools would be...

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

As described in our prior post, Liquid Interactive’s Writelike is designed to strengthen a writer’s craft through analysis, writing exercises, and emulation of master authors. How does this design translate into strengths and weaknesses for the user?

What are Writelike’s most notable strengths?

Writelike’s greatest strength is the creative way in which it exposes students to numerous authentic literary excerpts and strong texts that they can read and emulate. The interactive exercises are fun and will likely keep students engaged, while helping to improve important writing skills such as writing in different styles, rearranging sentences into the correct order, and proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar (grammatical elements notably get more sophisticated treatment than in typical grammar texts: fragments are handled in a category amusingly entitled “four and a half types of sentences,” for example).

The activities themselves are also user-friendly. Exercises and drills allow users to check their answers instantly as they progress, and the site also offers ongoing assistance for students...

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

It may not be a word in Webster’s, but Writelike ought to be, at least according to those of us who have an interest in helping our students become excellent writers. Many lament the decline of writing from “the good ole’ days” and claim that our students can’t write the way that Americans used to write. Fortunately, Writelike—which aims to improve higher-order literacy—offers an excellent solution through careful analysis of the masters and re-creation of their stylistic traits. Best of all, much of what Writelike accomplishes is so user-friendly and game-like that students could be trapped into learning before they even realize it.

What is Writelike?

Developed by Liquid Interactive with a target audience of middle school students and their teachers, Writelike meets a modern need to challenge writers into new ways of developing their craft, in this case by emulating great writers of centuries past and current. The site includes exercises, drills, lessons, and courses that are all graduated in...

Chester E. Finn, Jr., Lauren Wells, and David Steiner

Editor’s note: On November 2, 2016, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy hosted a discussion on the successes, challenges, and future of charter schools. The talk featured Chester E. Finn, Jr., Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Dr. Lauren Wells, Professorial Lecturer at the American University School of Education; and Dr. David Steiner, Executive Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. It was sponsored by the Achelis & Bodman Foundation, and anchored in the recent book Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, by Chester Finn, Bruno Manno, and Brandon Wright. This is a video of that conversation. 

Many prior studies have found that low-income students have less qualified teachers based on measures such as years of teaching experience, teacher licensure test scores, certification status, and educational attainment, but they say very little about how these differences relate to closing the achievement gap, nor do they examine the magnitude of how differences in access to effective teachers might impact performance.

Yet a new Mathematica study is full of surprises. It examines low-income students’ access to effective teachers in grades four through eight over five years (2008–09 to 2012–13). “Low income” is defined as being eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL), and “high income” includes everyone else (so not much nuance there). The sample includes twenty-six geographically diverse, large school districts across the country, with a median enrollment of 70,000. And analysts measure the effectiveness of each teacher in the district using a value-added model.

There are five key findings.

First, contrary to conventional wisdom, teachers of low-income students are nearly as effective as teachers of high-income students on average (a difference of one percentile point). Specifically, the average teacher of a low-income student is just below the fiftieth percentile, while the average teacher of a high-income student...

Eleven weeks back, those of us at the Fordham Institute reported that current accountability systems in most states give primary and middle school educators scant reason to attend to the learning of high-achieving youngsters—which is to say, those systems generally fail to create incentives, rewards, or even transparency regarding the learning gains that schools are producing for students who have already crossed the proficiency threshold.

We coupled that bleak finding with a reminder that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) creates a rare opportunity for state leaders to rethink their accountability systems and thereby set matters right.

Now we’re back with a similar appraisal of state accountability regimes as they affect high schools. This one isn’t quite as gloomy, as we find more states paying attention to high achievers in the upper grades—and the structure of high school is more amenable to such attention, organized as it is around courses and course sequences, including electives that may include honors and AP classes and other means of accelerating one’s learning.

Not as gloomy, no, but not exactly rosy, as we can identify just four states that are doing it well today (Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas) and four more...

Recently, the New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) released a brief that examines how various factors determine which high schools students prefer to attend.

In 2003–04, New York City public schools implemented a computer-based system that assigns middle school students to the city’s 691 high school programs. Students submit a list of up to twelve high school programs ranked in the order of preference; an algorithm that accounts for admission qualifications and seat availability assigns as many students as possible to their first-choice. The IBO used data from 2004–05 through 2011–12 to compare the programs students preferred to the graduation rates of those programs, student test scores, and the proficiency scores of NYC middle schools to see how school quality and student achievement influence student preferences.

Within the NYC public school system, there are seven types of high school programs a student can choose to attend. Each type varies in terms of how selective it is of the students it admits. Some, like fine arts programs, require students to audition before they are accepted. Others screen applicants by evaluating entrance essays, test scores, or attendance records. The least competitive programs usually admit students through a lottery where every applicant...