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...

Those who follow federal education policy or work on education at the state level are well aware of a few big changes wrought by the Trump team (with some help from Congress) in its first hundred days, including wiping out the late Obama ESSA accountability regs and easing off on bathroom access rules.

But another quintet of recent ed-related developments in Washington begs for attention by anyone wondering what may actually be changing (or hoping or fearing that change will occur) in our schools and for our children in the Trump era.

First, the latest IES evaluation of the D.C. school-voucher program, which showed that voucher users lost ground (compared with non-users) during their first year in private schools, when judged by test scores. This isn’t going to stop Congress from reauthorizing and re-funding the program, mind you, but it’s already been seized on by voucher haters and added to a spate of recent statewide studies in Louisiana, Ohio, and Indiana that found little or no gain for the voucher kids. (Choice boosters though we are, Fordham is responsible for commissioning the Ohio study.) There are beaucoup reasons why the new D.C. study ought not be...

Slowly, slowly, a small but persuasive body of work is emerging which raises curriculum to an object of pressing concern for educators, and expresses long overdue appreciation for the idea that the instructional materials we put in front of children actually matter to student outcomes. A welcome addition to this emerging corpus is a new Aspen Institute paper by Ross Wiener and Susan Pimentel, which makes a compelling case—equally overdue—that professional development and teacher training ought to be connected to curriculum. A primary role of school systems, states, districts, and charter-management organizations, the pair write, “is to create the conditions in schools through which teachers can become experts at teaching the curriculum they are using and adapting instruction to the needs of their particular students.”

Note the italics, which are Weiner’s and Pimental’s, not mine. It underscores that regardless of how unremarkable this may sound to lay readers (“Wait. Teachers should be expert at teaching their curriculum? Aren’t they already!?”), what the duo are suggesting is something new, even revolutionary. Sadly, it is.

Practice What You Teach begins with a discussion of research demonstrating the frustrating state of teacher “PD,” which, like the sitcom Seinfeld, is a...

A new Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis study examines a simple yet largely unexamined question: How does school transportation relate to student absences?

Author Michael Gottfried asks whether children who take the school bus to kindergarten have fewer absences, and if there are key differences by child and family characteristics. Apparently elementary school absenteeism is highest in kindergarten, though we don’t exactly know why. In fact, prior research has suggested that at least 25 percent of all kindergarteners miss about a month of school. We know that absences in general are linked to lower test scores, higher chances of grade retention, more difficulty with social development, and other negative outcomes.

The study uses data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Class of 2010–11, which includes nationally representative cohort of children in public-school kindergarten in 2010–11. Data were collected in the fall and again in the spring of that year, mostly from surveys of teachers and parents and from direct assessments of students. The author deploys an array of control variables relating to the child (like race, gender, and whether the parent considered their child to be healthy), entry skills in kindergarten, kindergarten and pre-K experiences (such as distance from...

A new EdChoice report examines the potential effect of charter schools on family relocation and urban revitalization. The authors focus on the Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) in Santa Ana, a charter school serving grades 7–12 that was established as part of an urban renewal effort in one of the poorest places in Southern California. Families with school-age children were avoiding the area, worsening its economic issues. Indeed, they appeared to be fleeing. Compared to all of Orange County, 11 percent fewer elementary school kids lived in Santa Ana than would be expected based on the number of preschool children. The question, then, was whether a charter school could draw families (and school employees) into the area and stimulate the local economy.

The authors looked at home residence data for 7,000 students who attended OCSA between 2000–01 and 2013–14, and separated them into students who started at OCSA in ninth grade and those who enrolled in one of the other five grades.

Of those 7,000 students, 1,217 changed addresses after being admitted, with 55 percent of them relocating closer to the school. For students who entered the school in ninth grade, their families were 50 to 59 percent...

Kevin D. Besnoy

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Teaching for High Potential. Research from Mathematica and CREDO have shown disappointing results for online schools, though the studies do not address how well or poorly they serve gifted students.

Over the past twenty years, the world of online learning has exploded with roughly 5 million of the country’s 54 million K–12 students having taken at least one online or virtual class during the 2015–2016 school year. While there are some advantages to virtual schools, we must seek answers to important questions about the type of education our gifted and talented students are receiving in these settings. Given that nearly all of the learning takes place online, what types of digital-personal interactions do our students experience? How do we evaluate a virtual learning environment to determine if it is right for gifted children or programs?

What is Virtual Education?

Effective K–12 online learning environments are comprised of a variety of places, pedagogies, and policies. Unfortunately, educators do not agree as to how best to define each of these elements, and politicians cannot find consensus as to how best to evaluate the return on investment of taxpayers’...