In the heart of the South Bronx, the neighborhoods served by the Boys Prep and Girls Prep public charter schools I lead, roam two ever-present twenty-seven-foot Winnebago trucks offering much needed services to the local community. Emblazoned with the words "Who's Your Daddy?" in graffiti-like lettering, these baby-blue vehicles offer convenient, mobile DNA testing to help residents answer basic questions like “Who is my father?” and “Is this my baby?” Its services have been featured on a VH1 reality show, and the company’s expanding fleet has made sojourns to D.C., Boston, and Chicago. The RV’s popularity is a symptom of the growing destabilization of American families—a harmful trend that threatens the homes and educations of our highest-need students, and that fellow school leaders must confront head-on.

It is a deeply held belief within the education reform community that a child born or raised in a low-income neighborhood should not be destined for a life of poverty as an adult. Poverty alone can't stop a great public school—one that has a strong principal, teachers with high expectations, and a rigorous, knowledge-rich curriculum—from producing exceptional student outcomes.

But what happens when poverty is intertwined with widespread fatherlessness and family disintegration? Perhaps...

The research on “what matters” when it comes to a child’s academic success has been clear for decades: more than anything else that a school can control, the classroom teacher matters most.

Understandably then, for the past eight or so years, everyone from educators to policymakers to statisticians has expended much effort to define and measure effective teaching. And while they have come to a diverse set of conclusions, it strains credulity to argue that an ineffective teacher should be invulnerable to losing his job.

Unfortunately, once a veteran teacher earns tenure, state and local policy make it complicated and cumbersome to fire him, even if he has demonstrated time and again that he is a poor educator. This seems illogical, or at least counterproductive, since research also shows that achievement would rise, achievement gaps would narrow, lifetime income would increase, and economic growth would surge if we identified and then replaced the bottom 5 or 10 percent of the teacher quality distribution.

Granted, much of what’s been said about the miles of red tape and years of administrative hurdles that comprise the dismissal process of ineffective, veteran teachers is anecdote. We assumed that the rules that...

Insofar as Donald Trump paid any attention to primary-secondary education during his campaign, he mostly touted school choice and promised, if elected, to mount a $20 billion federal program to enable low-income kids to attend private or charter schools. His selection of veteran school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education signals that his administration will seriously pursue an initiative of this sort.

So far as one can tell, the big choice program sketched during the campaign was intended to signal that Trump, like Republican candidates before him, cared about inner-city kids and was willing to disrupt an education system rigged against them. Still and all, now that he’s going to be President, one must wonder whether his signature campaign proposal in the K–12 space, should it come about, will do much to benefit those who actually voted for the Trump-Pence ticket.

Set aside both the (mixed) merits of choice as an education-improvement strategy and the many obstacles that any big choice program will face on Capitol Hill. Ask whether more charters and vouchers rank high on the Christmas lists of those who mainly elected the new administration, and whether more school choices are a fit solution to the education...

A new report from the Center for Reinventing Public Education investigates state-initiated turnarounds, which are intended to improve student achievement in the lowest-performing schools or districts. Such interventions can be difficult to implement successfully and even more difficult to sustain after the initial goals have been achieved. To that end, the report examines ways states can ensure their turnaround strategies are effective and long-lasting.

In the introduction, author Ashley Jochim discusses how the Every Student Succeed Act puts the “responsibility for improving student outcomes” back in the hands of the states and enables them “to craft their own ‘evidence-based’ turnarounds.” However, she asserts that the evidence for such evidence-based turnarounds is sorely lacking. So to inform states about various strategies and the conditions needed for them to succeed, the report examines eleven different initiatives in eight states and how they affect student outcomes.

Jochim reviewed state policies, analyzed studies about the effectiveness of turnaround initiatives, and interviewed stakeholders, such as state chiefs, district staff, educators, and community groups.

In this sample, she identified five distinct types of state-initiated turnarounds: state-supported local turnaround, state-authorized turnaround zones, mayoral control, state-led school takeover, and state-led district takeover. (Studies on mayoral control did not...

A new National Council on Teacher Quality report argues that higher admission standards in teacher preparation programs attract higher-quality teaching candidates and produce more effective educators.

From 2011 to 2015, several states and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) raised admission requirements for teacher preparation programs. Yet this change was short-lived. By 2016 CAEP backed away from their more rigorous requirements in response to criticism that the higher standards resulted in a less diverse teaching force and exacerbated teacher shortages. While enrollment in teacher preparation programs did drop from 2009 to 2014, NCTQ contends that this was a result of the difficult economic times and not caused by CAEP’s higher application standards—which NCTQ argues are still necessary if teacher preparation programs are to recruit high-quality applicants.

The study backs up these claims by pulling together data from various sources. It looks at the admission requirements of 221 elementary teacher education programs from twenty-five states, as well as data from a forthcoming NCTQ report, and a survey of college students conducted by the organization Third Way. From these, NCTQ shows that many states are already able to meet stricter requirements and argues that maintaining higher standards will likely...

By Jonathan Plucker, Ph.D.

If you have any friends concerned with gifted education—or educational excellence in general—you saw them doing cartwheels last week, and for good reason: The final Every Student Succeeds Act accountability regulations were released, and language was added allowing for pro-excellence strategies to be used in states’ K–12 accountability systems (some ideas here and here). This is a huge improvement over No Child Left Behind, which incentivized states to design these systems in ways that gave no credit to schools and educators who moved students into advanced levels of achievement. Providing credit to schools that produce advanced learners has been widely suggested as a way to promote excellence in our schools and society at large, so this was unambiguously great news.

But we also received information last week that should temper the enthusiasm and reinforce the urgency for fostering educational excellence.

The 2015 results from the Trends in Math and Science Study (TIMSS) were released, and as one of the two major international, comparative assessments, the findings are eagerly anticipated every four years. TIMSS always tests grades 4 and 8, and this year they tested high school students in advanced math and science (which they last did in...

What do Jonathan Swift’s essay A Modest Proposal and the NAACP’s charter school moratorium resolution have in common? Far more than you might think.

In A Modest Proposal, Swift suggests that poor children born to poor families—who were a tremendous financial burden on society and had little opportunity to become successful themselves—be rounded up and sold as food. He reckoned the children could be cooked many ways, that they would taste delicious, and that the sale price would more than cover the cost of actually rearing them.

Swift was a satirist; his disdain for the British crown and fierce loyalty to the Irish—his people —led him to write stinging and incisive commentary on the British Empire. Humor and absurdity have long played an important role in changing the political minds of the many.

Swift’s lesson in the face of cold imperialism is that an immodest proposal—indeed, an outrageous one—is no less so if it is offered clinically and in the flat, moderated tone of the oppressor. Indeed, the appearance of reason is often the finest window dressing for an unreasonable request.

Fast-forward to the present day, and a great deal of internet chatter would have you believe the NAACP’s adoption...

Elissa F. Brown, Ph.D.

Twelve teachers who work in some of the lowest-performing schools in New York City are now certified in gifted education thanks to a laudable inter-agency partnership between the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), the New-York Historical Society (NYHS), and Hunter College’s (HC) Advanced Certificate Program in Gifted Education. The partnership was launched in 2016, and the selected teachers are called “The Hunter College, New-York Historical Society Gifted and Talented Scholars.

Each partner got something worthwhile out of the collaboration. The New York Department of Education’s impetus was to raise the bar of teaching in some of its lowest performing schools. It believed that certifying more teachers in gifted education and pairing them with supportive principals would lead to better grassroots, classroom-level implementation of best practices that would ripple organically throughout the city and benefit all students and professionals.

The New York Historical Society’s motivation was to have teachers more effectively utilize the museum within the classroom through the study of social studies—and use it more broadly to ensure that a cohort of teachers knew how to use museums to enhance K–12 education.

Hunter College sought to increase enrollment, maintain course integrity and outcome standards, and certify more teachers...

Ever since our president-elect nominated school choice champion Betsy DeVos to be education secretary, there’s been a vigorous debate amongst us education nerds about the proper way to think about school choice. It’s a civil war! Another divide in the reform movement!

Not so fast. Sure, there are disagreements on key policy design issues, but where we differ is dwarfed by our common cause. We don’t have a split as much as a spectrum—a range of views, all of which are worlds away from the position of our opponents in the teachers unions and other parts of the education establishment. (And yes, I say that as someone who has written about our own “schisms.”)

To test the proposition, give the following Buzzfeed-style quiz a try. Check all the boxes that apply to your personal views:

I support a parent’s right to choose the best school for their child, using public funds, as long as that school:

☐ Is overseen by an elected school board
☐ Submits to a financial audit on a regular basis
☐ Follows state class-size mandates
☐ Adheres to health, safety, and civil rights laws
☐ Teaches a curriculum aligned to...

Daniel L. Quisenberry

The announcement that Betsy DeVos would be the President-elect’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Education has touched off more speculation than the College Football Playoffs. But at least in football, expert opinions are usually grounded in facts. For the incoming secretary, opinion and commentary have mostly taken place in a reality that is, as Einstein once said, “merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”  

Indicative of this trend is the falsehood that Michigan charters have no regulation, no oversight, and no accountability. Critics who employ this fiction often roll it into the fallacy that, because Betsy is influential in the state, those mistaken characteristics will soon be national objectives. This defective perception of Michigan tells you nothing of the potential DeVos agenda. To do so is to use the logic of Monty Python: If wood floats and a duck floats, a duck must be made of wood.

In truth, DeVos and the organizations she has supported have played a positive role in shaping Michigan’s charter sector—which is quite strong. Indeed, it took the bronze in a recent report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools that looked at real outcomes of charter quality, growth, and innovation...