A major development of recent years has been the explosive growth of online learning in K–12 education. Sometimes it takes the form of “blended learning,” with students receiving a mix of online and face-to-face instruction. Students may also learn via web-based resources like the Khan Academy, or by enrolling in distance-learning “independent study” courses. In addition, an increasing number of pupils are taking the plunge into fully online schools: In 2015, an estimated 275,000 students enrolled in full-time virtual charter schools across twenty-five states.

The Internet has obviously opened a new frontier of instructional possibilities. Much less certain is whether such opportunities are actually improving achievement, especially for the types of students who enroll in virtual schools. In Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools, we at Fordham examined this issue using data from our home state of Ohio, where online charter schools (“e-schools”) are a rapidly growing segment of K–12 education. Today they enroll more than thirty-five thousand students, one of the country’s largest populations of full-time online students. Ohio e-school enrollment has grown 60 percent over the last four years, a rate greater than any other type of public school. But even since they launched, e-schools...

M. René Islas

Earlier this year, in his final State of the Union address, President Barak Obama asked, “How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity in this new economy?” Education is a powerful tool to help do that. However, we know that this is not necessarily the case for children with extraordinary gifts and talents—particularly those bright students who are racial and ethnic minorities, economically disadvantaged, or learning English as a second language.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) makes positive steps toward improving the learning lives of the 3–5 million gifted students (who account for between 6 and 10 percent of the U.S. student population). An upcoming paper by Matthew C. Makel, Michael S. Matthews, Scott J. Peters, Karen Rambo-Hernandez, and Jonathan A. Plucker, leading researchers in the field of gifted education, shows that 15–45 percent of these students enter the late elementary classroom each fall already performing at least one year ahead of expectations.

In his recent letter to U.S. Education Secretary John King, NAGC Board President George Betts said, “The failure to support our best students, including supporting those who have the ability to become high achievers and challenging those who already are above grade level, has...

It used to be that when people talked about urban school success stories, Catholic schools were at the center of the discussion. Twenty years ago, Cardinal John O’Connor, then archbishop of New York, all but dared public school leaders to send their hardest-to-teach students to archdiocesan schools. “Send me the lowest-performing 5 percent of children presently in the public schools,” O’Connor declared, “and I will put them in Catholic schools—where they will succeed.”

Such was the audacity of urban Catholic school leaders back then. We were confident. Our schools routinely outperformed neighborhood public schools. Our results were stronger—and longer-lasting—and our success came at a bargain price.In fact, it was the historic success of urban Catholic schools that fed the reform movement in general and the charter school movement in particular. Catholic schools were proving what was possible, and entrepreneurial young education leaders were quick to seize the opportunity to do the same in the public sector.

Over the past two decades, that confident leadership has been shaken by declining enrollment and financial struggles. Some in the reform sector and elsewhere have even taken to writing off urban Catholic schools as a relic of a bygone day.

At the same time, efforts from...

Editor's note: This post reproduces a letter sent to Secretary of Education John King on July 29. 

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing to suggest two very specific changes to the proposed rule that your department published on May 31, 2016, regarding the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and its provisions for school-level accountability.

  1. For the “academic achievement” indicator mandated by ESSA, do not require states to use proficiency rates.
  2. Allow states to provide evidence that their proposed “other indicators of student success or school quality” are related to improved graduation, college completion, employment, civic engagement, and/or military readiness rates as alternatives to achievement.

These two tweaks will maintain the law’s strong focus on results while allowing states to develop accountability systems that are maximally fair and useful to educators, parents, and the public.

Recommendation #1: Make states report proficiency rates, but don’t require their use for the “academic achievement” indicator.

As Morgan Polikoff and dozens of scholars and policy analysts explained in a letter submitted to your department on July 22, proficiency rates are extremely poor measures of school quality. Other approaches—such as proficiency indices or scale scores—would meet ESSA’s mandate for measuring proficiency without encouraging schools...

A few weeks from now, my wife and I will pack our only child and all her gear into the back of our rapidly aging Ford Escape with a big new college decal on the back window. We will drive her across five states and 500 miles to Chapel Hill, N.C. Interstate 95 will henceforth be known in our home as the Trail of Tears.

There is nothing novel about my family’s bittersweet road trip. And despite how anachronistic and inefficient college has become, I expect and hope that the sight of cars packed to the windows with bedding, clothes, and the trappings of teenage life will remain a late summer fixture on America’s highways for generations to come.

Few spheres of American life are more ripe for disruption by technology and price pressures than our higher education system. College can be difficult to defend in the face of runaway tuition, crushing debt, and educational outcomes of questionable value. Undergraduate teaching is too often treated as an afterthought at major research universities. The next scandal with big-time college sports is never far away. Good jobs requiring technical skills go unfilled while philosophy majors make cappuccinos at Starbucks. Students still pile...

Erika Sanzi

It’s no secret that principals are pretty stoked when students who transfer into their schools have a history of high scores on required annual tests. School leaders feel great pressure to perform in the public eye, and having a few more kids to bump those numbers up is certainly a welcome surprise.

It’s usually light hearted and all in good fun when they say, “ooh, we’ll gladly take her,” knowing that with each academically strong test taker, their overall school profile is likely to at least hold steady and hopefully even improve. The more 4s and 5s their students get on PARCC or Smarter Balanced, the better they look to district and state leaders, as well as parents, reporters, prospective home buyers, and the community at large.

I have no problem with a school leader wanting to land a good headline for performing well in every way, including on mandated tests. Who wouldn’t want a new kid coming in who scored double 5s on PARCC last year?

But this relationship needs to be a reciprocal one in which all parties get what they need. And in far too many schools, that symbiosis is missing.

The high achieving test...

As readers may recall, I’m in the middle of a series of posts about ways we can improve our schools beyond changing public policy. If this is only mildly familiar, it might be because of the hiatus since my last contribution, which is due to my procrastinating. And for good reason, I believe: I have very mixed feelings about the argument I’m about to make.

The argument is simple: If we want to improve our schools and school systems, we need to do much better at recruiting, developing, placing, and supporting effective leaders. That much is plain common sense, and not very controversial. Various strains of “effective schools” research going back decades find that leadership is essential for excellence.

Where I get hung up, though, is with the idea that great leaders can make schools—and especially school districts—work well, given the dysfunction of the larger system within which they must work, and the Gordian knot that’s been tied by decades of contradictory, often compromising, laws and regulations, not to mention the impossible politics often created by unruly elected school boards. (A knot that reform—especially charter schooling—has tried to cut.)

Strong leaders are surely better...

Frank C. Worrell and Rena F. Subotnik

Every instructional strategy, from direct instruction to the flipped classroom, elicits both negative and positive outcomes depending on when, where, and how it is employed. When it comes to using competition, however, schools tend to favor cooperative learning as the preferred approach for inter-student activities designed to increase learning and motivation.

Negative views of competition stem from early research purporting that its use in most contexts led to undermined motivation, negative self-concept, and anxiety on the part of participants.  However, research on resiliency highlights the fact that adverse conditions do not universally lead to despair; they may, in fact, fuel motivation for high levels of achievement. Failure to achieve valued goals (e.g., winning a competition) may hurt, but the result does not have to be debilitating. In fact, experiences with competition during youth present opportunities to fail under safe conditions. In doing so, they provide lessons on how to manage the range of emotions and possible behavioral responses to setbacks, particularly for those who have been sheltered from such experiences. Thus, participating in competitions also facilitates teaching about coping skills in the face of disappointment.

Another important benefit of competition is deriving feedback that leads to self-reflection and improvement. If...

When it comes to reform for urban school systems, effective community organizing is crucial. Community Organizing for Stronger Schools: Strategies and Successes takes an in-depth look at the practice and how it affects schools.

The authors conducted a six-year longitudinal study on eight groups across the United States, all of which had been in existence for at least five years: the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, Oakland Community Organizations, Chicago ACORN, Austin Interfaith, Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope, People Acting for Community Together, Community Coalition, and the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizing Project. The data sources included: archival documents, adult member survey, youth survey, observations, interviews, teacher survey, public administration data, and media coverage. Dating back to 2003, the study is one of the largest ever to examine the relationship between community organizing and educational outcomes.

Across the sites studied, community organizing was shown to increase awareness of the needs of low-income parents and youth of color. This organizing was characterized by frequent meetings and interactions between organizers and education leaders that typically included discussions around joint reform efforts and implementation.

More district resources were also allocated for low-performing, high-poverty schools, and new policy initiatives echoed the proposals of community organizers. For...

This report from Civic Enterprises and Hart Research Associates provides a trove of data on students experiencing homelessness—a dramatically underreported and underserved demographic, according to the U.S. Department of Education—and makes policy recommendations (some more actionable than others) to help states, schools, and communities better serve students facing this disruptive life event.

To glean the information, researchers conducted surveys of homeless youth and homeless liaisons (school staff funded by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act who have the most in-depth knowledge regarding students facing homelessness), as well as telephone focus groups and in-depth interviews with homeless youth around the country. The findings are sobering.

  • In 2013–141.3 million students experienced homelessness—a 100 percent increase from 2006–07. The figure is still likely understated given the stigma associated with self-reporting and the highly fluid nature of homelessness. Under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, homelessness includes not just living “on the streets” but also residing with other families, living out of a motel or shelter, and facing the imminent loss of housing (eviction) without resources to obtain other permanent housing. Almost seven in ten formerly homeless youth reported feeling uncomfortable talking with school staff about their housing situation. Homeless students often don’t describe themselves as such and
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