Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the second half of a two-part interview (the first half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: Mike Feinberg had started KIPP as a kind of “classroom-within-a-school” program, and he needed support to expand and grow. There is a story of him sitting on your car and grading while he asked you for more space to grow his program. What did he say to you to convince you that you should invest in him—and that it wouldn't be a disaster?

Rod Paige: Well, there were two Teach For America teachers, Mike Feinberg and David Levin, both teaching in elementary schools in the east part of the city. They had provided a lot of innovative programs and activities for the students in their fifth-grade...

Editor’s note: This interview was originally posted on June 19, 2013, two and a half years into Kaya Henderson’s successful tenure as chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. She announced her resignation yesterday, and you’ll read many articles detailing her numerous accomplishments as helmswoman of the city’s school system—and rightly so. Yet she also ought to be honored for the kind of person she is, and this interview does just that.

For this week’s BTCIK, I wanted to celebrate the close of another school year by shining light on a true school leader—someone who’s taught, supported teachers, supported schools, and run schools.

Kaya Henderson District of Columbia Public Schools

So we’re lucky enough to have as a guest Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Like so many involved in this work, she is a passionate advocate for the interests of kids in need. But she’s been able to turn that commitment into a number of groundbreaking accomplishments—growing TFA, launching TNTP, crafting and implementing IMPACT, and more.

There’s no doubt that were she to decide to hang up her ed-reform cleats now and apply her talents elsewhere—God forbid!—she’d be a first-ballot Hall of...

Editor’s note: On Monday, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools inducted Rod Paige into their Charter School Hall of Fame. Rod’s contributions to education date back over half a century. Most notably, he rose to national prominence as the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and was appointed the first black secretary of education in 2001. The Fordham Institute is also proud to have him serve on our board of trustees. This is the first half of a two-part interview (second half is here) he conducted with our own Alyssa Schwenk.

Alyssa Schwenk: The first charter law was passed in 1991, and Texas's charter law passed in 1995. When you were the superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, do you remember the first time you heard about charter schools and what you thought about them?

Secretary Rod Paige: A couple of years before that, I read about charter schools in the press, and the idea impressed me even before the Texas legislature started to talk about it. I was excited about the idea because I thought it was a way to increase innovation in schools, a way to unleash the ideas that a lot of teachers...

Scott J. Peters

Gifted education has an identity problem.

If you ask many people, gifted programs exist because “gifted” students have unique needs. But what does this mean? And what is the overall purpose of K–12 gifted education? Even within the gifted education community, the actual outcomes of “gifted” programs are too often unclear, leading to charges of ineffectiveness at best and outright discrimination at worst.

Competing priorities

In one sense, gifted services exist to develop advanced abilities—to provide interventions to those students who need them in order to develop excellence. Some students have unmet academic needs, that’s where gifted education kicks in. Makes sense, right? However, the kids served in gifted programs are disproportionally from white, Asian, and higher-income families. This is a problem for political and advocacy reasons, but also because the majority of American students now come from low-income or racial/ethnic minority families. If the U.S. educational system can’t develop the talents of African American, Latino, or low-income students, what good is it?

In gifted education, there is often tension between two implied goals: developing excellence and promoting equity. In a recent Gifted Child Quarterly article, my colleague Kenneth Engerrand and I tried to come up with a way


Paul Tough’s 2012 book How Children Succeed helped popularize the notion that non-cognitive skills like resilience, perseverance, and conscientiousness could be as important to student success as performance on math and reading exams. Tough viewed character strengths as a tool that low-income and minority children can use to overcome enormous adversity.

His sequel, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why, expands on these ideas by asking: “Now that we know this, what do we do?” The book’s central tenet is that educators must compensate for the shortcomings in a student’s home environment in order to foster his character strengths. Tough argues that character can’t be taught in the same way as math: “There’s no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control.” Rather, such qualities are presented as psychological attributes that are products of a child’s home, daycare, and school.

Tough draws on new research from the fields of neuroscience, education, early childhood development, and psychology to highlight the effects of “toxic stress” caused by unstable home and family settings. These problems manifest in school through cycles of anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior.

The book’s strength is its effective and succinct depiction of what...

School choice advocates have long agreed on the importance of understanding what parents value when selecting a school for their children. A new study from Mathematica seeks to add to that conversation and generally echoes the results of prior research. What makes this study somewhat unusual, however, is that its analysis is based on parents’ rank-ordered preferences on a centralized school application rather than self-reported surveys.

To analyze preferences, researchers utilized data from Washington, D.C.’s common enrollment system, which includes traditional district schools and nearly all charters. D.C. families that want to send their children to a school other than the one they currently attend (or are zoned to attend) must submit a common application on which they rank their twelve most preferred schools. Students are then matched to available spaces using a random assignment algorithm.

The study tests for five domains of school choice factors: convenience (measured by commute distance from home to school), school demographics (the percentage of students in a school who are the same race or ethnicity as the chooser), academic indicators (including a school’s proficiency rate from the previous year), school neighborhood characteristics (crime rates and measures of residents’ socioeconomic status), and other school offerings (including average...

If you still think the education beat is where cub reporters cut their teeth, writing up summaries of tedious school board meetings and biding their time until something opens up on the metro desk, think again. This illuminating study by the Education Writers Association (EWA) and the Education Week Research Center suggests the beat is now more likely to be viewed as “a capstone, not a stepping stone” for journalists. Moreover, four out of five ink-stained wretches (a notoriously cranky lot) report that they are “very satisfied” or “fairly satisfied” with their jobs covering education. They even believe their reporting is “making a difference in their communities.”

The standard narrative holds that the typical education reporter is twenty-two years old with twenty-two minutes on the job. Not so. The four hundred respondents in the survey average thirty-six years of age with eleven years of experience. And if teaching is a “pink” profession, so is covering it: “Seventy-one percent of education journalists are female, compared with 38 percent of journalists as a whole,” the report finds. Also, one in five education journalists are non-white, “compared with 9 percent for the profession at large.” And—popular complaints notwithstanding—they actually talk to teachers. Asked...

June 4 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of Minnesota’s charter school law, the nation’s first. In broad terms, the authors’ vision allowed for the creation of new schools that would be exempt from many of K–12’s overbearing regulations in return for these schools being held accountable for results.

As charter pioneer Ted Kolderie wrote, this horse trade would “…introduce the dynamics of choice, competition, and innovation into American’s public school system, while at the same time ensuring that new schools serve broad public purposes.”

The visionaries who developed the concept of chartering as a way to disrupt the century-old public education monopoly of geographically defined school districts held many different expectations for the kinds of schools that this would bring into being: schools for poor kids, for sure, but also teacher-led schools, STEM schools, classical schools, language-intensive schools, art and music schools, schools for children with disabilities, for children with special gifts, for mobile families, and so much more.

It was, in fact, meant to serve as a kind of engine of innovation and experimentation for the entire K–12 enterprise, and not just with regard to curriculum and pedagogy. Chartering also held—and holds—the capacity to develop new structures for delivering and governing...

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...