The big news to emerge from the forty-eighth annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools is that when a public school has been failing for a number of years, Americans would prefer to try to fix it by a six-to-one margin rather than to close it. More than any other finding in the poll, PDK says this result “exemplifies the divide between the reform agenda of the past sixteen years and the actual desires of the American public.” I’m not completely convinced. If school choice of any kind weren’t so utterly foreign to the experience of an overwhelming majority of Americans (nearly three out of four of us have no public school of choice available whatsoever), I’d be more surprised by the result. You’d likely get a similar ratio if you polled 1,221 adult Americans, as PDK has, and asked, “Given the option, would you like to have your home’s leaky roof and faulty wiring repaired? Or would you prefer to have your home condemned?” Without some clear sense of the alternative, you’d likely opt to stay put too. But let me not quibble too strenuously. The finding is noteworthy enough and surely says something about the disconnect...

A new report uncovers some good news about narrowing socioeconomic gaps in kindergarten readiness.

It compares the early life experiences of incoming kindergarteners in 1998 with those in 2010 using two large, nationally representative data sets called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS). The data include survey information from a child’s parents and his/her teachers, as well as results from assessments of skills administered multiple times during kindergarten and elementary school.

Analysts examine, among other things, various readiness gaps at the tenth and ninetieth percentiles of the income distribution. For the most part, the data showed many encouraging signs: Across the board, analysts found that both high- and low-income young children in the 2010 cohort were exposed to more books and reading in the home than their 1998 peers. They also had more access to educational games on computers, and they engaged with their parents more both inside and outside the home.

These developments took shape despite the fact that other negative shifts in family characteristics have occurred in the twelve years between samples. Among families at the tenth percentile, the likelihood that a mother was married at the time of a child’s birth dropped five percentage points; fathers in...

June 4 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Minnesota's charter school law, the nation's first. In 1990, charter pioneer Ted Kolderie foresaw that chartering would "introduce the dynamics of choice, competition, and innovation into America's public school system, while at the same time ensuring that new schools serve broad public purposes."

A quarter-century later, forty-three states and the District of Columbia have passed such laws, and 6,800 charter schools educate almost three million children. Remarkably, charters account for the entire enrollment growth in American public education since 2006. District schools actually lost students during this time, as did some private schools.

Thus far, the mission that chartering has carried out with greatest success and acclaim has been to place tens of thousands of disadvantaged children on a path to college and upward mobility. In fact, charters today primarily serve low-income children of color—the kids who typically fare worst in big-district systems. For reasons of both equity and politics, many state charter laws give priority to schools that focus on such students, while some confine chartering to core cities.

University of Michigan economist Susan Dynarski put it this way: "In urban areas, where students are overwhelmingly low-achieving, poor, and nonwhite, charter schools...

It is not reasonable to expect research to resolve all issues or to erase all differences of opinion. We can but supply some information that we think reliable, and we will continue in the future to supply more. But it is up to the American people to decide what to do. The better their information, the wiser will be their decisions.

So wrote my colleague Chester Finn in his introduction to a compendium of research findings about teaching and learning.

The book was called What Works, and it was published in March.

March of 1986.

In the thirty years since, America has gone through several waves of reform, but we’re still talking about establishing research-based practices in our schools. Figuring out how to do this better is another way that reformers and funders might improve our education system without overhauling laws and regulations. (I’ve identified other tactics, besides policy change, for reforming our schools, namely building a new system via charters or education savings accounts; spurring disruptive innovations that target students, parents, or teachers directly; and investing in leadership.)

No, it’s not easy. Policy makers can exhort educators to adopt “evidence-based practices,”...

Jonathan Butcher

Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice

Those debating reforms to American education should remember this memorial to Sir Christopher Wren, architect of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wren is buried inside his masterpiece with no marking other than the inscription: If you seek a monument, look around.

Some education reform advocates are starting to wonder whether the long battle to increase parental choice in schooling (among other things) is really making a difference, particularly in light of the growing criticism of public charter schools. Despite recent victories giving students more opportunities in education, Robert Pondiscio recently accused reformers of “cowardice”—of having lost their will to fight.

Yet in states around the country, families and advocates still struggle on students’ behalf. Parental choice in education has seen great successes, and stories of students’ changed lives and parents’ acts of courage are all around us.

Let’s start in Washington State. In 2015, a successful union lawsuit shut down the state’s new charter school law. Prior to the ruling, unionized Seattle teachers went on strike just as the school year began, leaving charter schools the only public schools in the city open for business. District schools forced students to stay home, disrupting their...

Sally Krisel

Throughout the recent Olympic Games, I reflected on the parallels between elite-level athletics and gifted education, and I thought how much we could learn about developing exceptional ability from what we saw during those two weeks. We appreciate diverse forms of brilliance on the field, in the pool, on the court, and on the track. And we support the long-term dedication of time and resources it takes to achieve athletic excellence. And yet we wonder why, as a society, we have had a harder time openly embracing and celebrating the development of intellectual and creative talent.

It has been suggested that the answer lies in some vague (I would suggest misguided) discomfort related to our nation’s egalitarian roots. Supporters of gifted education counter with the argument that there is something decidedly undemocratic about not providing all children—including those of exceptional ability—with equal opportunity to develop their talents.

A second argument—one that came to mind many times when Rio commentators talked about records that fell during the games—is that by investing heavily in the kinds of programs that promote exceptional performance from gifted students, we may indeed be showing the way to much-improved educational experiences (and achievement) for all students. This argument may finally...

Last week, several of my Fordham colleagues published a fantastic fifty-state review of accountability systems and how they impact high achievers. Lamentably, they found that most states do almost nothing to hold schools accountable for the progress of their most able pupils. There are several reasons for this neglect, as the report’s foreword discusses; but with states now revamping their school report cards under the new federal education law, they have a great chance to bolster accountability for their high-achieving students.

How did Ohio fare? We’re pleased to report that the Buckeye State is a national leader in accounting for the outcomes of high-achieving students. As the Fordham study points out, Ohio accomplishes this in three important ways. First, to rate schools, the state relies heavily on the performance index. This measure gives schools additional credit when students reach advanced levels on state exams, encouraging them to teach to all learners and not just those on the cusp of proficiency. Second, Ohio utilizes a robust value-added measure that expects schools to contribute to all students’ academic growth, including high achievers (and regardless of whether they come from low- or higher-income backgrounds). Third, state report cards...

During the No Child Left Behind era of education reform, now winding down, teachers, schools and districts were tacitly encouraged to focus their efforts on raising the floor rather than raising the roof on student achievement. Whether by accident, choice or neglect, high-achievers as well as those merely "above proficient" received little attention. And why should they? With so many struggling in the water, why concern ourselves with those standing safely on dry land?

A new report from my colleagues at Fordham tells why. Simple fairness, for starters. We should strive to develop the full potential of all children, not encourage schools to choose winners and losers either by design or neglect. It's also in our strategic interests not to ignore high-achievers. From their ranks will surely emerge many of the men and women for whom our children and grandchildren will work and vote, and whose talents will hopefully keep the nation secure and economically competitive well into the future.

There's a moral component to consider as well. "If we want tomorrow's scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors to 'look like America,' our schools need to take special pains with the education of high-ability kids from disadvantaged circumstances," the report...

Much like the typical American fourth grader, education news tends go on a ten-week vacation each June after a year of intermittently joyous, raucous, and bizarre happenings. While parents take their precious ones to Disneyland, education commentators—who have spent months poring over testing data and marveling at the intricacies of “supplement, not supplant” language—unwind with a Moscow Mule and a sheaf of white papers.

But Fordham hasn’t gone anywhere. We’ve stoically kept off the beaches and chronicled the important developments in education politics and policy. And to ward off the summer slide, we’ve compiled a list of the ten biggest ones.

10.) Education reformers find common ground

This one actually kicked off at the end of last school year, when our own Robert Pondiscio wrote a scalding philippic against the perceived encroachments of progressive politics into the reform movement. The reform Left didn’t take kindly to the piece, arguing that any mention of education would be incomplete without addressing issues of race, class, and social equity. With the conversation threatening to devolve into a Hobbesian war of wonk against wonk, Fordham leapt into the fray to convene a roundtable on points of concordance across the political spectrum....

Thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), state leaders today have a rare opportunity to set schools on the right trajectory for years to come. The law gives those policy makers significant leeway to design school accountability systems that will work for students at all levels of achievement.

This is welcome news because most state models need a total overhaul. Relics of the No Child Left Behind Era, they continue to judge schools based largely on the percentage of their students who attain the “proficient” mark on state tests. The signal those schools receive is that “bubble kids”—those performing just below or just above the “proficiency” line—are the students whose learning really matters. Indeed, research has demonstrated that students just below that bar were most likely to make large gains in the NCLB era, while high achievers made lesser improvements.

The students most harmed by these perverse incentives are high-achieving, disadvantaged students who depend most heavily on the public education system to do right by them. Under today’s accountability regimes, their teachers often feel pressure to elevate their low achievers to pass state tests. And their schools face so many other challenges—attendance, discipline, nutrition, etc.—that attending to the educational needs of high...