America’s devotion to local control of schools is dying, but it is also being reborn as a new faith in charter schools. These independently operated public schools—nearly 7,000 across the country, and counting—provide a much-needed option for almost three million youngsters in forty-two states and Washington, D.C.

The prevailing arrangement in America’s 14,000 school systems starts with an elected board. The board appoints a superintendent, who manages more-or-less uniform public schools staffed by a unionized workforce of government employees. This setup may have functioned well for an agrarian and small-town society in which people spent their entire lives in one place, towns paid for their own schools, and those schools met most of the workforce needs of the local community.

This arrangement does not perform nearly so well in a country of mobile and cosmopolitan citizens, where states make most education rules and furnish the greatest share of the money, where government intrudes in myriad ways, and where discontent with education outcomes is rampant. It doesn’t meet the requirements of people who change neighborhoods and cities as well as jobs and careers, and it’s ill-suited for an era of fervent agitation about equalizing—and compensating for—the treatment of children from...

To ensure that pupils aren’t stuck in chronically low-performing schools, policymakers are increasingly turning to strategies such as permanent closure or charter-school takeovers. But do these strategies benefit students? A couple recent studies, including our own from Ohio and one from New York City, have found that closing troubled schools improves outcomes. Meanwhile, just one study from Tennessee has examined charter takeovers, and its results were mostly inconclusive.

A new study from Louisiana adds to this research, examining whether closures and charter takeovers improve student outcomes. The analysis uses student-level data and statistical methods to examine the impact of such interventions on students’ state test scores, graduation rates, and matriculation to college. The study focuses on New Orleans and Baton Rouge, with the interventions occurring between 2008 and 2014. During this period, fourteen schools were closed and seventeen were taken over by charter management organizations. Most of these schools—twenty-six of the thirty-one—were located in New Orleans. The five Baton Rouge schools were all high schools.

The study finds that students tend to earn higher test scores after their schools are closed or taken over. In New Orleans, the impact of the interventions was positive and statistically...

A new CALDER study by David Figlio and colleagues examines the implementation of Florida’s third-grade reading guarantee. The analysts study whether the policy is enforced differently based on a student’s socioeconomic status. The short answer: yes.

Florida legislators enacted a statewide grade retention policy in 2002 requiring that, in the absence of an exemption, students were not to be promoted from third to fourth grade unless they met a minimum reading standard (i.e., meeting the “level 2” benchmark or higher on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) reading exam). However, there are several reasons why a student might qualify for an exemption and be promoted, despite not having reached the requisite level: they have limited English proficiency and have received fewer than two years of instruction in an English as a second language program; have certain disabilities; or have received reading remediation for two years and have already been retained twice between kindergarten and third grade. Moreover, students can also obtain an exemption by demonstrating acceptable reading performance on a reading test other than FCAT that has been approved by the State Board, such as scoring in the fifty-first percentile or above on the Stanford-10, or by demonstrating reading proficiency...

This report from the Council for a Strong America provides an alarming snapshot of how ill-prepared many of the nation’s young adults are to become productive members of society.

The Council is an 8,500-member coalition comprised of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors, and coaches and athletes. Its inaugural “Citizen-Readiness Index” gives more than three quarters of states a C or below on the index, due to staggering numbers of young people who are 1) unprepared for the workforce, 2) involved in crime, and/or 3) unqualified for the military. (Eligibility to enter the military depends on a range of factors, including physical fitness and attainment of a high school diploma.)

Nationwide, almost a third of our young people (31 percent) are disqualified from serving in the military due to obesity alone. Factoring in drug abuse, crime (more than 25 percent of young adults have an arrest record), and “educational shortcomings” raises that number to 70 percent. These data are shocking and should remind everyone of the stakes at hand. Given the proven and widely known negative correlation between educational attainment and crime, drug use, unemployment, and other negative life events, it is all the more...

If the latest polls are to be believed, Hillary Clinton may be heading toward a landslide victory, especially as far as the Electoral College is concerned. If that happens, it will likely reverberate through down-ballot races—for the Senate and House of Representatives but also for gubernatorial and state legislative offices, too. The conventional wisdom is that disaffected moderate Republican voters may stay home, hurting GOP chances across the board.

What if this scenario comes to pass? What would it mean for education reform?

In short: It ain’t good.

The reason, in my view, is that the politicians most likely to stand up for smart, robust education reforms—expanding charter schools but also holding them accountable, for example, or setting high standards and empowering educators to meet them as they see fit—are mainstream conservative Republicans. These are the folks who have led the push for expanded parental choice, who held the line on the Common Core when the going got tough, and are willing to make investments in education as long as they are tied to results.

And these are precisely the sorts of Republicans likely to succumb to a wave election, representing, as they do, swingy suburban...

Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

For teachers looking for high-quality online reading resources, Lexia Reading Core5 (Core5) is one promising—yet pricey—option. Let us examine the site’s key features, strengths, and weaknesses and how it might be useful to classroom teachers.

Usability, features, and functions

Core5 can be accessed on a web browser, an iPad or Android tablet, or installed locally on a computer. It offers clear and sufficient guidance for teachers on how to set up and implement the program and then gather data on student performance. The site is well organized and easy for both teachers and pupils to use because it moves students through the activities step by step (and cleverly adapts based on their performance). It is also likely to keep kids engaged, thanks to its colorful background, pictures, and music.

In the free-trial version of Core5, I had limited access to four levels of the student program: beginning mid-Kindergarten, beginning second grade, beginning fourth grade, and beginning fifth grade (though, as described previously, the...

Melody Arabo

Editor’s note: This article is part of the series The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom, which provides in-depth reviews of promising digital tools for English language arts classrooms.

Many educators struggle with finding resources that can help educators teach reading skills in a comprehensive yet individualized way. In a typical elementary classroom of thirty or more students, children can range in ability so much that instruction must be drastically differentiated to meet each pupil’s needs. As a third-grade teacher, I am constantly on the hunt for tools that can minimize my preparation time and maximize instructional time with kids. Lexia Reading Core5 is a promising reading program that can help teachers meet those goals.


According to its website, Lexia Reading Core5 “supports educators in providing differentiated literacy instruction for students of all abilities in grades pre-K–5” (as defined by Carol Tomlinson, differentiated instruction is “an approach to teaching that advocates active planning for student differences in classrooms”). The site also includes embedded assessments that deliver “norm-referenced performance data and analysis without interrupting the flow of instruction to administer a test” (norm referenced is a type of test that reveals whether...

Lisette Paretlow

In a recent blog post on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog, writer Kay Hymowitz erroneously stated that “implicit bias—assuming there is such a thing, and that we know how to measure it—has no clear real-life consequences.”

Sorry, Ms. Hymowitz, but that is simply false. Implicit bias most certainly does exist, and it has some very significant and often severe real-life consequences.

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in psychology to have been exposed to the overwhelming evidence that implicit bias exists in our society. I would argue that just being an empathetic and observant person is enough to make implicit bias obvious in our day-to-day lives. In fact, one can simply turn to the front page of just about any newspaper to see implicit bias play out in instances of police brutality against communities of color and blatant Islamophobia plaguing communities throughout the country.

But aside from anecdotal evidence, there is also an abundance of hard data affirming the existence of implicit bias.

Ms. Hymowitz’s critique of implicit bias was based on a Yale study performed in preschool classrooms, in which they concluded that implicit bias led...

Kevin Hesla

A new article by Matthew Davis of the University of Pennsylvania and Blake Heller of Harvard University entitled “Raising More than Test Scores” looks at the long-term outcomes of attending the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago. Founded in 1999, Noble Street Charter School has since expanded to a network of sixteen high schools serving more than 11,000 students. Noble’s schools largely serve low-income and minority students: 98 percent of students are minorities and 89 percent are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The authors set out to answer the following questions: Do “no excuses” charter high schools merely help students succeed on standardized tests? Or are their students more likely to succeed after they leave school behind? And are their results due to test prep or true learning?

Using experimental and nonexperimental approaches, the authors find that attending one of Noble’s schools has a significant and positive impact on ACT scores, high school graduation, college enrollment, college quality, and college persistence:

  • Noble students enter high school with slightly lower test performance than the average Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student. However, by eleventh grade, Noble students score markedly higher than the CPS average (and the charter average) on
  • ...
Sharif El-Mekki

I’m concerned about the growing backlash against what are referred to as “no excuses” schools. Too often, critics depict overly-rigid approaches to discipline that pave the road from school to prison.

I agree that too much rigidity can be problematic and can harm efforts to build community in a school. But I am also nervous that the pendulum will, as often happens in education, swing too far to the other extreme.

“No Excuses” Worked for Me

I have a slightly different opinion of both the origin and role of no-excuses policies in schools. As a student who attended a school that had a no-excuses policy, I benefitted from it tremendously, and so did my classmates.

We were taught to be self-disciplined, inspired by the Black Panthers and a long list of Freedom Fighters on whose shoulders we stood (Malcolm, Martin, Fannie, Huey, Sojourner, Ella—the list goes on). At a very early age, we knew these civil rights legends we dreamt of emulating didn’t make a ton of excuses.

Our teachers knew that the Black children in front of them needed to work twice as hard in order to gain any ground....