Previous research has found that oversubscribed urban charter schools produce large academic gains for their students. But are these results related to test score inflation (defined by one assessment expert as increases in scores that do not signal a commensurate increase in proficiency in the domain of interest)? In other words, do these schools merely figure out how to prepare their students to do well on the high-stakes exam, or are they contributing to real learning writ large?

To explore this question, a recent study examines state testing data from 2006 to 2011 at nine Boston middle school charters with lottery-based admissions. By exploiting the random nature of the lottery system, prior studies have found that these schools produce substantial learning gains on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).

To carry out the analysis, author Sarah Cohodes breaks down the learning gains by the various components of the state assessment—akin to how one might disaggregate overall gains by student subgroup. A math assessment might contain several different testing domains (e.g., geometry versus statistics), with some topics being tested more frequently than others. Cohodes’s hypothesis is as follows: If the gains are attributable to score inflation, we might expect to see stronger results on...

This new research report from Educational Testing Services is a solid contribution to the evidence base—rather than the opinion base—about the so-called “opt-out” movement. Author Randy E. Bennett finds that parents’ refusal to let their children sit for standardized tests is “a complicated, politically charged issue made more so by its social class and racial/ethnic associations. It is also an issue that appears to be as much about test use as about tests themselves.”

Opt-out true believers will likely dismiss out of hand anything coming from a testing outfit. but they ought to take a long look. The report does a good job synthesizing data from both the national and state departments of education, published surveys, and other sources to put between two covers exactly what is known—and can be sensibly divined—about who is opting out and why. “Parents who opt their children out appear to represent a distinct subpopulation,” the report notes. In New York, for example, “opt-outs were more likely to be white and not to have achieved proficiency on the previous year’s state examinations.” Test refusers are also less likely to be poor or to attend a school district serving large numbers of low-income families or ELL students. None...

This is the first 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 other essays here, here, here, and here.

Next month marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of America’s first charter school law, which Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson signed on June 4, 1991. This statute birthed a sector that has become not just a source of new schools for kids who need them, but also a structural reform of public education’s governance and delivery systems. It’s as close as K–12 schooling has come to what Clayton Christenson calls “disruptive innovation.”

This is worth celebrating—and charter advocates across the country have planned many festivities and events. But as we applaud this movement and the bold Minnesota lawmakers who launched it, let’s also recall what led up to it and, one might say, made it almost inevitable.

The onset of chartering was no lightning bolt. This audacious innovation had multiple ancestors and antecedents. School choice...

Dave Yost

I am a conflicted man.

Professionally, I lead Ohio’s auditing staff, a team of financial experts whose job it is to verify that tax dollars are being properly spent and to root out any misuse or theft of public money. That includes charter school spending.

Yet personally, I’m a strong proponent of the charter school movement. I believe in the lifetime benefits of school choice and affording all parents the ability to choose the school that will best serve their children.

My friends sometimes question how I can be so tough on charters when I personally support them. The answer, I tell them, is simple: We don’t play favorites. We can’t. We shouldn’t. Doing so would erode the public’s trust in our office, which we must faithfully and ardently protect. To ignore the misdeeds of the few problem charters would stain the great work of many. Turning a blind eye to the problems in a charter school, or any school, would mean that we failed our children, which is never an option.

It’s a conflict that public officials often face when their official duties require them to make decisions running counter to their personal beliefs.

The mission of the auditor...

Joan Franklin Smutny

Although we consider creativity and critical thinking two of the most important skills today, children often have limited opportunities to flex their creative muscles. Parents and teachers need to encourage creative children to find at least one outlet, along with venues and audiences to showcase their work. With summer on the way, now is the right time for parents and teachers to help gifted children look for ways to expand their creative horizons.

The International Torrance Legacy Creativity Awards competition is one way gifted children ages from ages eight to eighteen can nurture their inventiveness in the areas of writing, visual arts, musical composition, and inventions. Judged by professionals in those fields, the competition (now in its eighth year) has grown to include original submissions from hundreds of students around the world, including Australia, Bahrain, China, New Zealand, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, and the United States.

The awards honor the fundamental contributions of psychologist E. Paul Torrance (1915–2003), who devoted his life to examining correlations between intelligence and creativity. Throughout his career, Torrance wrote over 1,500 books and articles and enabled thousands of young people around the world to realize their potential. He described the talents and abilities of gifted children in...

A few weeks ago, I argued that policy change is not the only path to education reform, floated five other approaches for improving educational practice, and promised to flesh them out in future posts. Here’s my attempt at the first of those five strategies, just in time for National Charter Schools Week: “Build a new system via charter schools, education savings accounts, or similar mechanisms” as an alternative to today’s traditional, ossified one.

What does that have to do with educational “practice”? Everything!

John Chubb and Terry Moe explained it well in Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools (1990):

Our analysis shows that the system’s familiar arrangements for direct democratic control do indeed impose a distinctive structure on the educational choices of all the various participants—and that this structure tends to promote organizational characteristics that are ill suited to the effective performance of American public schools. This social outcome is the product of countless individual decisions, but it is not an outcome that any of the major players would want or intend if acting alone. It is truly a product of the system as a whole, an unintended consequence of the way the system works.

Our perspective also suggests that, absent...

Editor's note: This article was first published on June 18, 2015. It was updated on May 4, 2016, when Donald Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee for the 2016 presidential election. Read similar posts for Trumps running mate Mike Pence, the Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, and the Libertarian party's Gary Johnson and William Weld.

Since Donald Trump announced his campaign on June 16, 2015, he has addressed many of today’s biggest education policy issues. But he’s also been talking about a number of these topics for more than a decade. For example, in The America We Deserve, published in 2000, he wrote about citizenship education, teachers unions, and school safety. And ten years later, in Think Like a Champion, he touched on American history and comprehensive education. Here are some of his views, with recent quotes first:

1. Common Core: “I have been consistent in my opposition to Common Core. Get rid of Common Core.” February 2016.

2. School choice: “Competition is why I'm very much in favor of school choice. Let schools compete for kids. I guarantee that if you forced schools to get better or close because parents...

Editor's note: This post is the third in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Michael Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? Prior entries can be found here and here.

It’s always nice to find areas of agreement, but I want to be sure that we really do agree as much as you suggest, Mike. I emphasized that it should take “a lot more than ‘bad’ test scores” to justify overriding parental preferences. You say that you agree. But at the end, you add that we may have no choice but to rely primarily on test scores to close schools and shutter programs—or else “succumb to ‘analysis paralysis’ and do nothing.”

This is a false dichotomy. If all we have are unreliable test scores, we don’t have to make decisions based on them or “do nothing.” Instead, we could rely on local actors who have more contextual knowledge about school or program quality. So if the charter board, local...

The federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which provides seed money for charter start-ups primarily through competitive state grants, got an upgrade in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December. Around the same time, CSP got a 32 percent funding boost from Congress. At its highest funding level ever, the program is primed to help states grow their charter sectors—a worthy goal considering that over a million students nationally wait for open seats in charter schools. The new program prioritizes strong authorizing practices and equitable funding for charters, and it attempts to influence state policies toward those ends.


Formed just three years into the nation’s charter movement, CSP embodies Washington’s bipartisan commitment to charters and is responsible for helping launch or expand over 40 percent of today’s operational charter schools. CSP was first created in 1994 as an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 via the Improving America’s Schools Act. At its outset, it was a bare-bones initiative that made competitive grants available to states to host their own sub-grant competitions (for which new start-ups or conversion schools could apply). Requirements were minimal: State applicants merely had to have a charter law, and school applicants had to adhere to the...

Editor's note: This post is the second in an ongoing discussion between Fordham's Mike Petrilli and the University of Arkansas's Jay Greene that seeks to answer this question: Are math and reading test results strong enough indicators of school quality that regulators can rely on them to determine which schools should be closed and which should be expanded—even if parental demand is inconsistent with test results? The first entry can be found here.

The prompt for this forum promised that we would explore “areas of agreement and disagreement.” I’m pleased, Jay (and not altogether surprised), to see that we share a lot of common ground. Let me start with that, then save what I see as our major dispute (what we can learn from reading and math scores) for another post.

I’m thrilled that you dismissed the extreme position of some libertarians, who argue that society should never override the choices of parents. You write:

I…do not mean to suggest that policy makers should never close a school or shutter a program in the face of parental demand. I’m just arguing that it should take a lot more than “bad” test scores to do that.

I agree entirely, and on...