This report from A+ Colorado examines Denver’s ProComp (Professional Compensation System for Teachers), a system forged collaboratively between the district and teachers union in 2005 that was on the vanguard of reforming teacher pay scales. The analysis is timely for Denver Public Schools and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, who are back at the negotiating table (the current agreement expires in December 2017).

The A+ report outlines the urgency of getting ProComp’s next iteration right. Denver loses about half of newly-hired teachers within the first three years—a turnover rate that is costly not only for the district, which must recruit, hire, and train new teachers, but for the students who are taught by inexperienced educators (research shows that effectiveness increases greatly in the first five years). Denver Public Schools also faces another challenge in that Denver’s cost of living has increased sharply. The report notes that more than half of all renters face “serious cost burdens,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of income on housing. The situation is worse for homeowners or would-be homeowners. Thus, ProComp is a critical part of “making DPS an attractive place to teach.” 

ProComp was revolutionary at its outset. Funded in...

Next week Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno Manno, and Brandon Wright’s book Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities will be released. Timed to the twenty-fifth anniversary of Minnesota’s passage of the nation’s first charter law, it takes a thorough look at what’s worked—and what hasn’t—in the charter movement's journey from a disruptive innovation to the source of school choice for almost three million kids in forty-two states. In anticipation of the release, we have created a timeline to illustrate chartering's history, as well as the Fordham Institute’s prolific commentary on, work in, and support of the sector. From early trailblazers to the emergence of outstanding networks such as KIPP and Success Academy, we invite you to explore charter schools' revolutionary and sometimes controversial past. Let's remember it as we look toward what chartering's future may hold.

Charter Schools at the Crossroads by Chester E. Finn, Jr., Bruno V. Manno, and Brandon L. Wright will be released October 25, 2016.

Timeline of Charter School History

Scroll left and right through significant events.


David Steiner

NOTE: The publication of a recent Flypaper post arguing that growth measures (like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”) are a fairer way to evaluate schools than are proficiency measures drew quick reaction both inside and outside of Fordham. Here we present a "letter to the editor" in response to the initial blog post, lightly edited.

To the editors:

I find your argument that state accountability systems should increase the weight of growth indicators, as against proficiency indicators, perplexing. Here is a summary as to why.

The most basic difficulty with the growth models you recommend is this: they attempt to estimate a school’s average contribution to students’ achievement based on past achievement within a given state and a comparison group in that state. Such a growth measure is norm-based rather than criteria-based, i.e., relative to other students in other schools as opposed to an external standard. Assigning such a heavy weight to relative growth may end up removing a school from funding and other support even if its students perform far more poorly than students in schools that would be identified for intervention.  

To focus on the details: The first problem in your recommendation is its lack...

The University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio is home to one of the most successful college football programs in America. The Purple Raiders have won twelve national championships since 1993 and have appeared in the title game eleven years in a row—a record of excellence matched by few collegiate teams in any sport.

If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of Mount Union, why they’re not mentioned in the same breath as football powerhouses like Alabama, Notre Dame or Ohio State, which has only one national championship in the last ten years, you’re not alone. It’s because Mount Union plays in Division III. They are not in the same league, literally, as the big Division I teams chasing bowl berths and the chance to be crowned national champs on New Year’s Day.

Mount Union and Ohio State both play football, but it’s barely the same game. If Mount Union were to square off against even a mediocre Division I football team, it would almost certainly be crushed. If your sights are set on a career in the NFL, there is a long list of Ohio schools that offer you better odds. Not just Ohio State, which had fifty-six alumni...

Naomi Rubin DeVeaux

Public charter school boards are often overlooked when it comes to assessing who and what contributes to public charter school quality. Yet these boards play an essential role. They provide the strategic vision for the school, hire leaders to run the school, hold those leaders accountable for academic success, and provide financial oversight. My colleagues and I at the D.C. Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), Washington, D.C.’s single public charter school authorizer, are in regular contact with public charter school board members as we carry out our responsibilities in approving new schools, providing oversight, permitting expansions and replications, and (when necessary) closing public charter schools.

The Fordham Institute’s new report Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital provides an important perspective about the composition and practices of boards, and how some of those practices align with strong school results. Another blog post recently summarized the report’s methods and findings, but a couple of points jumped out at me as an authorizer.

Firstly, the study confirms what we see anecdotally—that schools with strong academic outcomes have engaged, trained, and informed board members. They know their school: the demographics of their students and their strengths and weaknesses. We see...

The central problem with making growth the polestar of accountability systems, as Mike and Aaron argue, is that it is only convincing if one is rating schools from the perspective of a charter authorizer or local superintendent who wants to know whether a given school is boosting the achievement of its pupils, worsening their achievement, or holding it in some kind of steady state. To parents choosing among schools, to families deciding where to live, to taxpayers attempting to gauge the ROI on schools they’re supporting, and to policy makers concerned with big-picture questions such as how their education system is doing when compared with those in another city, state, or country, that information is only marginally helpful—and potentially quite misleading.

Worse still, it’s potentially very misleading to the kids who attend a given school and to their parents, as it can immerse them in a Lake Wobegon of complacency and false reality.

It’s certainly true, as Mike and Aaron say, that achievement tends to correlate with family wealth and with prior academic achievement. It’s therefore also true that judging a school’s effectiveness entirely on the basis of its students’ achievement as measured on test scores is unfair because,...

Juliet Squire

In Charter School Boards in the Nation’s Capital, my co-author Allison Crean Davis and I provide a wealth of new information on charter boards in Washington, D.C.—but one simple fact merits further consideration: Sixty-two different boards oversee the schools that enroll nearly half of the city’s children. Individually, each charter board makes consequential decisions for their school. Collectively, their decisions shape the evolution of the entire sector.

School-level governance means charter boards can act quickly, approve the roll-out (or roll-back) of programs in response to feedback, and even address individual student or parent concerns. Decisions at this scale can be faster, more responsive, and less bureaucratic than those at the district or state level. In short, it is far easier to change the course of a speedboat than the Queen Mary (or the Titanic, depending on your optimism regarding district reform efforts).

Depending on a school’s particular challenges, one charter board may spend a great deal of time and energy debating whether and how to increase the salaries of their teachers. Another may focus on student recruitment and retention. A third may spend most of its time searching for their next school leader. The open responses to our...

Karla Phillips and Carri Schneider

Mike Petrilli recently reopened an important conversation. Why is there still such a great disconnect between student and parent perceptions of student achievement and reality?

Petrilli calls for “courageous language” to find a way to explicitly report to students and their families whether they are on track to be college and career ready. We totally agree with his suggestions and examples of better reporting and have been committed to helping states improve school report cards. We’ve even gone so far as to suggest an approach that mirrors what is now required on credit card reports. After all, don’t we owe the same level of full disclosure to students and their families?

One option that wasn’t discussed in the original blog that we think deserves some attention is competency-based learning (also called “mastery-based” or “proficiency-based”). We believe that competency-based systems create a more transparent, complete, and accurate, picture of student achievement than the traditional time-based and cohort-based systems.

In a competency-based system, students advance to higher levels of learning when they demonstrate mastery of concepts and skills regardless of time, place, or pace. Decisions of proficiency are based on true evidence and application of knowledge and not...

Michael Hartney

Fordham’s latest study, Charter School Boards in the Nation's Capital, doesn’t disappoint. Kudos to authors Juliet Squire and Allison Crean Davis (of Bellwether Education Partners) who, in tackling such a novel set of questions, have given us an array of heretofore-unknown information about the inner workings of school governance in the charter sector. While I won’t wade into every aspect of their voluminous findings, three items stood out for me, particularly with regard to what we currently know about traditional school boards.

First, charter boards are less stocked with “corporate” representation than your typical charter opponent would claim—yes, you read that correctly. Checker Finn once characterized traditional school boards as comprised mostly of politicians seeking higher office, disgruntled former school employees, and/or single-issue zealots. On the other end of the spectrum, charter opponents claim that charter schools are governed by profit seekers, big business types, and Wall Street executives rather than true “education professionals.” At least for D.C.’s charter sector, this assertion is not borne out by the data.

The table below compares occupations of traditional school board members and D.C.’s charter board members, using data from the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) 2009 survey. (Disclosure:...

Our goal with this post is to convince you that continuing to use status measures like proficiency rates to grade schools is misleading and irresponsible—so much so that the results from growth measures ought to count much more—three, five, maybe even nine times more—than proficiency when determining school performance under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We draw upon our experience with our home state of Ohio and its current accountability system, which currently generates separate school grades for proficiency and for growth.

We argue three points:

  1. In an era of high standards and tough tests, proficiency rates are correlated with student demographics and prior achievement. If schools are judged predominantly on these rates, almost every high-poverty school will be labeled a failure. That is not only inaccurate and unfair, but it will also demoralize educators and/or hurt the credibility of school accountability systems. In turn, states will be pressured to lower their proficiency standards.
  2. Growth measures—like “value added” or “student growth percentiles”—are a much fairer way to evaluate schools, since they can control for prior achievement and can ascertain progress over the course of the school year. They can also differentiate between high-poverty schools where kids are making steady
  3. ...