William J. Bennett

Students of history know that governments rarely give up power without a fight. To paraphrase Edmund Burke, those who have been intoxicated with power never willingly abandon it. Yet, last year, the federal government passed a new education law which returns a significant amount of power and decision-making authority to states, districts, and schools.

The bi-partisan passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act creates a unique and exciting opportunity for improving American education. The law explicitly bars the Department of Education from dictating or influencing standards or curricula at the federal level, and states and districts have a wide range of new liberties when it comes to developing accountability systems, testing, and content.

But with this newfound freedom from Washington comes a newfound responsibility for excellence at the state and district level. We cannot confuse local control with laissez faire. State and local leaders must embrace this opportunity and lift expectations, not relax them.

This is a large task and will require some heavy lifting, though. For years, states have been in compliance mode—overly focused on meeting detailed federal criteria—and that mindset has lulled some states into complacency. But that is the case no longer. Authority over American education has...

Courtney McKinney

When I moved from California to Texas at age four, I was reading full books and writing at a first-grade level. After being iced out of one upscale community that wasn’t keen on having a single black mother as a neighbor, my mom moved us into a different district, specifically for its public schools. But when she went to enroll me in kindergarten, she was told that under no circumstances would I be allowed to enter kindergarten as a four-year-old, no matter what grade level I tested into.

School staff recommended I attend preschool for a year to wait it out. My mom did not accept that recommendation. Instead, she sent me to a nearby private school where I was welcomed into kindergarten with open arms. I excelled, and instead of falling behind a year, I stayed in private school through fourth grade. Then I transferred to public school, where I took part in programs for gifted students. When I graduated from high school at seventeen and went on to the Ivy League, it looked like the public education system had served me well, but the real reason I made it was the commitment of my mother.

Earlier this year,...

A new report examines whether the effect of a teacher’s value added persists over one to two years and across subject areas. In particular, it asks if the impact of an English language arts teacher has any bearing on a student’s math achievement. Prior research has provided some evidence that ELA instructional effects may be generalizable across subjects, given the applicability and transferability of reading and language skills.

Using data from the New York City and Miami-Dade school districts, Benjamin Master and colleagues use student records in grades four through eight, where current and prior year achievement data are available for students. They investigate the persistence of teachers’ value added effects on student achievement in the first and second year after they teach a student, distinguishing between short-term, test-specific knowledge and longer-term, generic knowledge that accumulates. The methods are complex: They attempt to isolate teacher-specific value added that persists both in the same subject and into another subject (either ELA or math), and to isolate this from teacher spillover effects that stem from same-year instructional collaboration with peers—while also estimating how much typical “decay” one might expect of student’s prior long-term knowledge—and also controlling for various student, school, and classroom...

This study examines the impacts of the most recent iteration of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which was first established by Congress in 2003 but was allowed to expire in 2009 before being reauthorized again in 2011.

Overall, the study finds that participating in the program for one year reduced achievement in math and reading by 7.3 and 4.9 percentile points, respectively. However, because the study only includes data from the first year of program participation, these numbers should be interpreted with caution.

Interestingly, for the 68 percent of students in grades K–5, participating in the program reduced achievement in math and reading by 14.7 and 9.3 percentile points, respectively; whereas, for the 32 percent of participants in grades six through twelve, it was associated with statistically insignificant increases of 7.6 and 4.9 percentile points. Across all grades, the program had a little apparent impact on the 71 percent of students applying from low-performing “schools in need of improvement” (SINI), who were given priority in the scholarship lottery. However, for the 29 percent of students enrolled in a non-SINI school, it reduced math and reading achievement by 18.3 and 14.6 percentile points, respectively. Finally, on a slightly more positive...

Dear Rick,

Congratulations on your new book, Letters to a Young Education Reformer. It’s fantastic, and should be read widely by wonks and teachers, young and old, and everyone in between. Its major themes are spot-on: That we in reform need to be more respectful (of reformers who came before us, of the critical role that parents play, and of teachers in the field) and more humble (about what we don’t know, what our reforms might reasonably accomplish, or how they might backfire). I especially appreciate your twenty-five-year-long crusade against hitting schools with one damn reform after another, which breeds cynicism, induces burnout, and ultimately doesn’t work.

So I’m with you on 98 percent of what’s in the book. But I see a blind spot. And it’s a surprising one for you, what with your own considerable prowess as a political scientist, and your previous body of work: Politics. At times you come close to denigrating the people who are doing the work of political advocacy on the reform side. Yet, as I think you would acknowledge, their labors are essential, too.

What’s missing, in particular, is any discussion of the efforts of the teachers unions and their...

Joe Nathan, Ph.D.

While well intentioned, Fordham’s new report, Three Signs that a Proposed Charter School is at Risk of Failing, risks being a step backward for the charter movement. The study’s design misses several important aspects of the public’s attitude toward schooling, predictors of adult success, and advances in tools to assess a school’s impact. Policymakers and authorizers should be asking at least four key questions as they assess currently operating, and proposed new chartered public schools. Here’s a brief overview, and then the question.


From the beginning, Minnesota and many charter laws have included as one of their purposes to, as Minnesota puts it: “measure learning outcomes and create different and innovative forms of measuring outcomes.”

However, the report judges new chartered public schools in four states solely on “school-level student growth and academic proficiency data” on standardized tests. Researchers found that “student-centered” schools, such as those using a Waldorf or Montessori model, tend to struggle on these measures in their early years. Other forms of impact on students were not included.

The report prefaces the analysis with an acknowledgement that child-centered schools “aren’t ‘failing’ in the eyes of ... parents who choose them [and] may not...

Twenty-five years into charter schooling, there’s no shortage of horse-race research on whether charters or district schools are pulling ahead. But regrettably little attention has been paid to what it takes for charters to get out of the starting gate. Last year’s report by the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans broke some useful ground on that subject, but was focused solely on the record in one quite idiosyncratic community.

So it’s welcome news that Fordham has taken a vital next step by expanding the scope of the inquiry to four large chartering states, and by widening the kinds of questions asked. And I’m pleased to report that its new study, Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School Is at Risk of Failing, was written by my former colleague Anna Nicotera, along with another estimable researcher David Stuit, both now at Basis Policy Research.

Once past the somewhat lugubrious title, the reader will find lots to think about. The authors go to an obvious but underexplored source of data—charter applications. After poring over more than six hundred apps from Texas, Colorado, Indiana, and North Carolina to identify common characteristics, they conclude that three indicators correlate with likelihood of...

"School choice” is one of those word combinations that lead people to think in sweeping generalities that align with their own beliefs about how schools should look. Political ideology gets in the way, and the zero sum game mentality takes over, leaving no room for nuance or compromise.

Some hear the phrase and immediately think “corporate profiteers,” “privatizers,” “vouchers,” “religious zealots,” “anti-union,” “competition,” and now even “Donald Trump.”

Others hear “states’ rights,” “flexibility,” “non-union,” “market driven,” “one size doesn’t fit all,” “autonomy,” and “innovation.”

Parents aren’t fixated on any of these things. Those who have chosen to exercise school choice don’t think in this binary way. They make choices based on their children’s best interest, overall well being, and future opportunities, and they give nary a thought to politics or governance models or the pontificating of folks on either side of the school choice debate. While folks fight over charters and vouchers policies, parents fight for their kids.

Parents want good schools with good teachers. They want their children to have limitless opportunities. And they need to know that their children are safe.

Moreover, our kids’ needs change. I speak from experience. I have three children who have attended our...

Conservatives have long complained about a liberal bias in the mainstream media. President Trump has (as with so much else) taken that line of attack to its illogical and extreme conclusion: the news is “fake” and some reporters are “dishonest” and “scum.”

Still, just because Trump says something doesn’t mean it’s entirely wrong—not the fake or dishonest or (for Pete’s sake) scum parts, but the bias. As with racial bias in schools, it may be implicit, but it’s there nonetheless.

Three examples from the past twenty-four hours. First, Marketplace dedicated more than three minutes of limited airtime to a discussion about Los Angeles Unified’s initiative to purchase chickens for their school lunches that meet specified “labor and production standards.” (This was inspired by a Los Angeles Times story on the same subject.) This is more important than, say, LA Unified’s war on charter schools, or its high-profile, union-rigged, school board election—or, I don’t know, its inability to help its own students meet specified learning standards?

Then there was National Public Radio’s puff piece on Exeter’s and Andover’s decisions to create gender-neutral dorms, complete with proud alumni boasting about their alma maters’ “very significant and...

School segregation has been in the news a lot lately, with journalists examining the policy decisions that cause it, and the parental decisions that perpetuate it. See, for example, Kate Taylor’s New York Times article, “Family by Family, How School Segregation Still Happens,” and Patrick Wall’s Atlantic article, “The Privilege of School Choice,” subtitled, “When given the chance, will wealthy parents ever choose to desegregate schools?”

In 2012, the Fordham Institute published The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools, by now-Fordham president Michael J. Petrilli. The following excerpt examines why it is that upper-middle-class parents often put other considerations ahead of school diversity.


Naomi Calvo is a recently minted Harvard Ph.D. who immersed herself in Seattle’s “controlled choice” program for her dissertation. The intent of that effort, which offered parents public school options from across the city, was to better integrate Seattle’s sharply segregated schools. The program required all parents to list their school preferences. Calvo later pored over these choices to look for patterns. How important was the proximity of the school to home? Test scores? Demographics? Did these preferences vary by race and class?

Calvo spoke to...