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

M. René Islas and Del Siegle

Earlier this month, the Department of Education released new data exposing the uneven suspension rates and limited learning opportunities faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Secretary John King is right in saying that the American education system is guilty of "systemic failure" in educating children of poverty and color.

As if locking students out of class through suspension weren’t bad enough, data from the federally funded National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) reveals an even more hidden and wicked form of marginalization: the exclusion of poor and minority students from advanced academic programs. According to the NCRGE research, it is virtually impossible— a less than 1 percent chance—for low-income, minority English language learners to be served in gifted and talented programs.    

We are optimistic about the true motivations of our nation's educators, and we hope that the narrowing of opportunities for disadvantaged students was inadvertent. It is high time that we rally to implement programs that recognize, support, and develop the talent of children from all backgrounds so that they achieve their full potential.

M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children. Del Siegle is the director and principal investigator of the University of Connecticut's National...

One of the most controversial aspects of school accountability is how to identify and improve persistently low-performing schools. Under NCLB, states were required to identify districts and schools that failed to make the federal standard known as adequate yearly progress. Failure led to a cascading set of consequences that were viewed by many as inflexible and ineffective.

The passage of a new national education law— the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by President Obama in December— has shifted more of the responsibility for identifying and intervening in persistently low-performing schools to states (though the Department of Education’s regulations attempt to pull some of that responsibility back to Washington—more on that later).

School identification under ESSA is determined by a state’s “system of meaningful differentiation.” This is based on the state’s accountability system, including indicators of student proficiency, student growth, graduation rates, and English language proficiency. The use of these indicators isn’t optional, though the weight of each (and the methodology crafted from them that is then used to identify schools) is left up to states. Using their chosen methodology, states are required to identify a minimum of two statewide categories of schools: comprehensive support and improvement schools and targeted support and intervention...

This is the fifth in a series of essays marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of America’s first charter school law. These commentaries are informed and inspired by our forthcoming book (co-authored with Bruno V. Manno), Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, to be published this fall by Harvard Education Press. Read the others hereherehere, and here.

Last time around, we argued that America’s charter marketplace has done a mediocre job of matching supply with demand and ensuring solid school quality. We fingered three (of many) sources of these partial market failures: too few (and, in some locales, too many) charter schools; weak consumer information; and distracted suppliers.

Due to these shortcomings, we concluded that today’s marketplace isn’t up to the challenge of ensuring strong academic achievement and other important education outcomes. The policies that constrain charter markets are part of the problem—but not the whole story.

Even after twenty-five years, charters in most places remain an alien implant in the body of American public education, and all sorts of immune reactions persist. Still, we can treat some of these symptoms while also repairing glitches in the original policy design.

Our book suggests a number of fixes...

It isn't perfect, but Jeanne Allen's new education reform "manifesto" makes a number of valuable points and powerful suggestions for the future. Notably, she argues for a fresh emphasis on innovation, an earnest embrace of upward mobility, and a heartfelt commitment to universal opportunity, flexibility, and transparency. She is right that we ought not confuse means with ends, allow charter schools for poor kids (valuable as they are) to be the only thing reformers obsess over, or spend so much energy bickering amongst ourselves. It’s sage and timely counsel from a veteran reform warrior.

But I'm not as glum as Jeanne about the accomplishments of recent years. Low-hanging fruit always gets picked first, and implementation is just plain harder than policy change. It inevitably brings mid-course corrections, delays, and some backsliding. (So do election returns.) Meanwhile, charters and choice continue to burgeon—a good thing—but it's clear today that ensuring high-quality school options is harder than simply providing options. Standards are more rigorous. Achievement among poor and minority kids has risen a bit. Teacher evaluations are more serious. Tests are better.

Yes, we have miles to go—many, many miles—and bravo for Jeanne’s pushing us forward. Sometimes, though, we also have to clean up behind ourselves. For...

A new study by WestEd researchers looks at the validity of ratings from the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, a very popular classroom observation instrument often used in teacher evaluation systems.

The study is small in scope, examining the framework’s use in just one district (Nevada’s Washoe County, which we profiled a few years ago for its work in implementing the Common Core.) Its purpose was to determine whether the ratings differentiate among teachers, measure distinct areas of teaching practice, and link to teacher effectiveness.

The data cover 713 Washoe elementary, middle, and high school teachers (both tenured and non-tenured) who were observed on all twenty-two components of the Danielson instrument in the 2012–13 school year. The instrument covers four domains: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. Each domain has five or six components that roll up into a single four-point rating for the domain (from ineffective to highly effective).

Key findings: Ratings showed at least 90 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective on nearly every one of the twenty-two components, with “effective” the most common rating. So principals tend to use the ratings to discriminate between effective and highly effective teachers but...