Dan Quisenberry’s recent piece in Fordham’s Gadfly suggested that newly enacted legislation in Michigan represents a “victory for charter quality in Detroit.” Dan is great, and it’s true that the legislation will likely help a little with charter quality. But given the dire need to fix Detroit’s fundamentally broken public school system, his title really should have read “Victory for the charter school lobby.” 

Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh. But the fact is the state has offered the beleaguered residents of the Motor City the education equivalent of a scooter when what they need is a Range Rover. For a while, politicians in Lansing were weighing serious reform ideas to address the dismal financial and academic reality of Detroit’s public schools (charter and district alike). But those proposals made charter schools nervous.

The earlier bill would have created a Detroit Education Commission (DEC), overseen by the mayor, to close or turn around low-performing district and charter schools, allocate buildings, and manage the most chaotic problems around facilities and enrollment. It would have gone a long way toward addressing local problems by creating local solutions and requiring district-charter coordination to address the most pressing pain points for families. The legislation would...

Richard Kahlenberg

This week’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, supporting racial preferences at the University of Texas at Austin by a four-to-three margin, was a shocker. As Justice Samuel Alito noted in dissent, “Something strange has happened since our prior decision in this case.”

In the court’s first decision on the case in 2013, Justice Anthony Kennedy tightened the screws on racial affirmative action policies, declaring that universities bear “the ultimate burden of demonstrating, before turning to racial classifications, that available, workable race-neutral alternatives do not suffice.” The court supported the goal of racial diversity, but it appeared to push colleges to employ alternative means—such as providing a leg up to economically disadvantaged students of all races—before resorting to race per se. The Fisher I court emphasized that universities would receive “no deference” on the question of whether the use of race is “necessary” to achieve the educational benefits of diversity.

Fisher I sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit to apply the new standard. When the lower court came back with a decision supporting the use of race in admissions, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case again on appeal. Supporters of affirmative action were worried: Why would...

In Common Core Math in the K-8 Classroom: Results from a National Teacher SurveyJennifer Bay Williams, Ann Duffett, and David Griffith take a close look at how educators are implementing the Common Core math standards in classrooms across the nation. A nationally representative survey of over one thousand teachers reveals that they are increasingly familiar with the Common Core and believe that it will benefit students. Yet our findings also point to several areas that warrant mid-course corrections if we’re going to fulfill the standards’ more rigorous expectations.

Here are a few key takeaways: 

  1. Teachers like the Common Core but they don’t think all of their students and parents are equally enamored. Most teachers view the standards positively, believing that they will enhance their students’ math skills and prepare them for college and beyond. But they add that students’ and parents’ views are considerably less rosy. Some of their students have “math anxiety,” they say, and 85 percent believe that “reinforcement of math learning at home is declining because parents don’t understand the way that math is being taught.”
  2. Teachers know what’s in the Common Core—and they’re teaching it at the appropriate grade level. Though it may seem unsurprising,
  3. ...
Daniel L. Quisenberry

That education in Detroit, like much else in the Motor City, needs a reboot is beyond argument. The city’s students have endured increasing violence in recent decades, along with failed support systems, the absence of working streetlights, and the worst city transportation system in the country. People with the means to relocate have abandoned the city, and most of those who remained understandably sought ways to change the course of their children’s futures. The change of choice was to find a school of choice. Today, 53 percent of Detroit students attend a charter school—about the same as in Washington, D.C., and second only to New Orleans.

The mere presence of charter schools does not mean that Detroit’s education problems have been solved. Most of the city’s students are behind before they even begin. As in any community where poverty reigns, those with the fewest resources face the greatest challenges to overcome in reaching a satisfactory level of achievement. Charter schools have limited resources, but the best of them find success via innovative, student-focused approaches to teaching and learning. And while the city’s dire funding crisis masked the reality of what it takes to reach these kids, charter schools powered through...

Teachers don’t agree on much. Ask about curriculum, pedagogy, school culture, or discipline and you’re likely to encounter deeply held and conflicting opinions. But if there’s one belief that unites nearly all of the nation’s three million teachers, it’s this: Professional development sucks.

Indeed, before diving into this report from New America, I posted a note on Facebook asking my educator friends to play a game of word association. The phrase “professional development” quickly generated dozens of responses, including “Pay hike scheme,” “Waste of time,” “Nightmare suckfest run by non-teachers,” “Paid to drink the district Kool-Aid,” and simply “Kill me now.” One response summarized K–12’s relationship with professional development perfectly: “Generally crap. Could be awesome.”

So we agree that it’s generally crap, yet we lavish time and money on it hoping that it will be awesome. Our faith is largely misplaced: Despite an estimated $18 billion spent on PD per year, little evidence exists linking any of it to consistently effective improvement in teacher practices or student outcomes. Enter Melissa Tooley and Kaylan Connally, the authors of this report, who note that it makes no sense to bemoan the execrable state of PD until or unless there is agreement on what...

A new study evaluates the SEED School of Washington, D.C.—which, according to authors, is the “nation’s first urban, public, college-preparatory boarding school.” Located in Southeast Washington, it serves roughly 320 students between grades six and twelve. Most of the students admitted are African American, low-performing, and economically disadvantaged. The school operates under the assumption that breaking the cycle of poverty requires a holistic intervention that provides students with a safe place to live, regular healthy meals, caring adults, and resources like libraries and extracurricular activities that middle and high-income communities take for granted. Analysts from MDRC analyzed how the SEED program is run and whether being offered a seat impacted student academic and behavioral outcomes.

Because the school is a part of D.C.’s annual admissions lottery—open by law to any student who resides in the city (meaning that the school cannot select its students based on need or demographics)—researchers were able to identify two comparable groups totaling 766 students: those who applied and were randomly accepted, and those who applied and were denied, between 2006 and 2011. Of the accepted group, 80 percent were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and a little less than 50 percent scored at or...

On the heels of national research studies that have uncovered troubling findings on the performance of virtual charter schools, a new report provides solid, commonsense policy suggestions aimed at improving online schools and holding them more accountable for results. Three national charter advocacy organizations—NAPCS, NACSA, and 50CAN—united to produce these joint recommendations.

The paper’s recommendations focus on three key issues: authorizing, student enrollment, and funding. When it comes to authorizers, the authors suggest restricting oversight duties for statewide e-schools to state or regional entities; capping authorizing fees; and creating “virtual-specific goals” to which schools are held accountable. Such goals, which would be part of the authorizer-school contract, could include matters of enrollment, attendance, achievement, truancy, and finances. On enrollment, the authors cite evidence that online education may not be a good fit for every child and suggest that states study whether to create admissions standards for online schools (in contrast to open enrollment). They also recommend limits to enrollment growth based on performance; for instance, a high-performing school would have few (if any) caps on growth, while a low-performer would face strict limits. Finally, the report touches on funding policies, including recommendations to fund online schools based on their costs and to...

Many education reformers once thought that parental choice was the “ultimate local control.” When opponents of choice programs defended the district monopoly system by rhetorically asking, “Don’t you believe in your locally elected board?” we’d reply, “We want education decisions to be made as close to kids as possible—by families.”

We thought that this was the morally sound answer. But we also thought that it was a political winner. Sure, there’d be opposition from those lobbying on behalf of the districts that stood to lose control. But everyone else would want to empower parents.

Moreover, many of us had read John Chubb and Terry Moe’s seminal Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, which argued that democratic control was the cause of many of public education’s troubles. Local school boards, many reformers believed, were populated by aspiring politicians with pet issues and petty grievances. They were controlled by powerful interest groups who cared about things other than student learning.

We assumed that school results would be much better, and school politics much reduced, if we dramatically decentralized the system by handing authority to families, educators, and civil society. Teachers could start and lead schools, nonprofits could operate and support schools, and parents could match...

Scott Pearson

School districts across the country are asking high-quality charter school operators to restart failing public schools.  In New Orleans, nearly every public school has been relaunched as a charter school. In Tennessee, the new Achievement School District is focusing its attention on a range of school improvement options, including charters, to boost the state’s lowest-performers. The charter school model is popular because, as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently reported, increased flexibility in staffing, curriculum, time management, and resources allows charters to bore down on student achievement.

But what about when charter schools themselves aren’t meeting standards? Until recently, the only way to bring accountability to a failing charter school was to close it. While closure rescues students from persistent failure, it also puts them through a disruption that many families don’t welcome.

Now a new option is emerging: charter school restarts. This involves transferring management of an existing charter school to a new board and leadership team. If they choose to, students can stay in their schools while wholesale changes are instituted around them.

As the National Alliance notes, charter school restarts are occurring mainly in cities with large numbers of public charter schools....

Editor's note: On June 20, 2016, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 50CAN, and Education Post hosted a timely, vital discussion about the policy agenda that ties reformers together across the ideological spectrum. Discussants included Derrell Bradford, Executive Vice President of 50CAN; Valentina Korkes, Deputy Director of Policy and Strategy at Education Post; Vallay Varro, President of 50CAN; and Lindsay Hill, Program Officer for Education at the Raikes Foundation. Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, moderated. This is a transcript of that conversation. 




Good afternoon. I'm Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank here in Washington that also does on the ground work in the great State of Ohio. Welcome to our webcast, “Education Reform’s Common Ground,” or I think I just saw on Twitter somebody called it “Education Reform’s Live Marriage Counseling Session.” Whichever you prefer on that, but that is not the hashtag for the record. The hashtag is #educommonground. You can follow along on that hashtag on Twitter. I will being trying to