Charter school performance is a mixed bag: some charters outdo their neighborhood district schools, others show no difference, and some do worse. A new Mathematica meta-analysis attempts to identify the characteristics common to each of these groups. What, in other words, makes a high-performing charter schools so effective?

As author Phillip Gleason notes, it is difficult to carry out studies of this nature. Much of the data are based on observation, so determining causation is essentially impossible. Observation also takes time and costs money, which usually necessitates small sample sizes. And many of the “practices” being studied are abstract concepts, such as principal quality, that are difficult to measure quantitatively and objectively.

To mitigate these impediments, Gleason compiled seven studies that used different methods—including observational study, survey administration, and lottery-based designs (comparing students who won a spot via charter lotteries to those who did not)—to study charters schools around the country. The sample sizes in each of these studies range from twenty-nine to seventy-six schools.  

Three charter characteristics were found to be linked to high student achievement in many studies (therefore showing a ‘strong association,” according to Gleason—a term he never defines quantitatively): longer school days and/or school years; a...

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) recently reviewed one hundred of the nation’s pre-K teacher preparation programs, attempting to answer whether pre-K teacher candidates are being adequately prepared for effectiveness in their future jobs. The answer is, largely, no.

The programs spanned twenty-nine states that certify pre-K teachers, most of them offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees. They reviewed course requirements and descriptions, course syllabi, student teaching observation and evaluation forms, and other course materials required for degree completion.

The bottom line, reported NCTQ, is that most of the programs spend far too much of their limited time focusing on how to teach older children rather than on the specific training needed to teach three- and four-year-olds. Some specific findings are neatly summarized in the following slides from NCTQ:

NCTQ recommends, among other things, that states narrow their licensure to certify educators to no more than the years between pre-K and third grade, rather than treating pre-K as a part of a broader elementary teaching credential; that they encourage teacher preparation programs to offer either more specialized degrees or early childhood education as...

A new Education Next article examines the impact of New York City school closures on a variety of student outcomes, including graduation rates, attendance, and academic performance.

Analysts studied twenty-nine high school closures announced between 2003 and 2009, analyzing outcomes for over twenty thousand affected ninth graders in several groups: those who were just beginning their ninth-grade year when closure was announced (called the “phase-out” cohort); those who chose to stay after the closure announcement (the “phase-out” process allowed them to stay until their expected year of graduation); those who transferred elsewhere; and those rising ninth graders who were required to attend a different high school because of closure. The  schools in the treatment group slated for closure were, as you would expect, among the lowest-performing in the city. (Another group of high schools that exhibited both similar poor performance and similar low-achieving students served as the comparison group, although it was not clear why they weren’t slated for closure.)

Analysts first predicted the impact of the closure decision on graduation rates for the “phase-out” cohort. They found small but statistically insignificant differences, concluding that the phase-out process did not negatively impact graduation rates or make a clear impact on credits earned,...

June Ahn, Ph.D.

I had the great pleasure of working with Dara Zeehandelaar and the staff at the Fordham Institute on our recent report, Enrollment and Achievement in Ohio's Virtual Charter Schools. The findings add to the emerging and disconcerting evidence that online charter schools are not serving students well. We found that students who enroll in Ohio’s e-schools tend to be the ones who need the most support and investment—having failed or struggled academically in brick-and-mortar schools—yet they’re faring even worse in these virtual classrooms than similar students in neighborhood schools.

Because of this, we ought to substantially limit the expansion of online charter schools and hold them accountable until they can show that they serve students effectively.

The question, then, is how to improve online learning through experimentation, iteration, and innovation while avoiding the major pitfalls that often plague new implementations of educational technology.

Here are two possible ways forward:

1. Understand that today’s implementation of online learning falls far short of what it takes to offer rich learning environments for children.

I lay out some similar arguments in an upcoming book chapter, but the short version is that new technological developments often allow us to do new things faster and...

While everyone is fixated on the Rio Olympics and the impressive start that U.S. athletes have made there, it’s worth a brief detour to the results of another summer competition—this one in Hong Kong—in which the American team dominated: the International Math Olympiad (IMO) for high-school students.

More than one hundred countries fielded teams at this year’s fifty-seventh annual competition, including most of those whose students surpass American teens when PISA and TIMSS assess math prowess. And yes, it’s true that Korea, China, and Singapore placed second, third, and fourth in this year’s IMO. But the six Olympians who represented the United States won gold. Nor was this a fluke. The American team came in first last year, too. In fact, with a single exception, it has placed in the IMO’s top five every year since 2000.

Selection for the U.S. team is, in its way, as rigorous as that for the Olympics, and it is conducted through a series of assessments and competitions organized by the Mathematics Association of America.

The six kids who represented the United States in Hong Kong last month are an interesting bunch: Five of them appear to be Asian-Americans, and four attend selective-admission high schools (three...

Keri Guilbault

Editor's note: This blog was first published as a letter to the editor in the Washington Post on August 7, 2016.

A profound injustice occurs when our schools fail to meet the needs of our most advanced students—and, in some cases, actively work against these learners and their parents—as Jay Mathews noted in his August 1 column, “She is a gifted young student, so why did educators doubt her ability?

Caitlyn Singam and her family had to overcome the obstinacy of teachers and administrators in Montgomery County who doubted Caitlyn’s brilliance and erected roadblocks to her being appropriately served. Unfortunately, gifted learners often suffer similar slights and all-out neglect, even in well-regarded districts like Montgomery County.

Under last year’s rewrite of No Child Left Behind, federal law explicitly authorizes school districts to use Title I funds to identify and serve gifted students and Title II funds to train teachers in working with such students. The law also enhances reporting on the progress of gifted students, and it supports research on identifying and serving gifted children from underrepresented populations in gifted education programs.

None of these provisions offers a panacea for decades of neglect and mistreatment, but they move us in...

No, I’m not referring to the Golden State’s rich palette of ethnic and other minority (and majority) groups, nor to its desire that they’ll live, work, and go to school in harmony, like Monet’s Water Lilies or Matisse’s Fauve masterpieces. I’m on the case of California’s nutty new color-coded approach to school accountability and school report cards. Not only is it manifestly discriminatory against color-blind people like me; it’s overall baffling and unhelpful to just about everyone who might ever want to make use of it.

We all know that the Every Student Succeeds Act gives states much wider leeway than they had under NCLB to craft school accountability arrangements that suit them. Just about every state is frantically working to get its Title I plan to Washington by the March 2017 deadline, and battles are raging over the Education Department’s interpretation (via draft regulations) of several key pieces of the new law.

One of those battles is about whether the feds should require states to issue a single “summative” rating, such as an A-to-F grade, for every public school. There are plenty of reasons why that’s a bad idea. Would you not, for example, know more about a school...

Jill Stein is the Green Party’s presumptive nominee for president in the 2016 election. She and Ajamu Baraka will face off in November against the Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, the Republican Party’s Donald Trump and Mike Pence, and the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and William Weld.

Here’s what she’s said about education:

1. Common Core: “Replace Common Core with curriculum developed by educators, not corporations, with input from parents and communities.” August 2016.

2. Charter schools: “Public education is another example where there has been a complete scam [regarding privatization]—charter schools are not better than public schools—and in many cases they are far worse. They cherry-pick their students so they can show better test scores. The treasure of our public schools system has been assaulted by the process of privatization.” July 2015.

3. U.S. Secretary of Education John King, Jr.: “President Obama’s choice for Education Secretary has earned a failing grade from parents, students, teachers, and education advocates across the nation….King’s corporate education agenda has given Wall Street A+ profits, but has robbed our children of the quality education they need and deserve.” March 2016.


Catherine Worth

During my tenure as a teacher, I would inevitably listen to at least one of my colleagues explain their decision to leave the classroom at the end of each school year. When explaining their choice to throw in the towel, novice and veteran teachers alike would cite reasons along the lines of “This work is just too hard” or “I’m burned out and can’t do it anymore.” These teachers became part of a statistic we hear about often—the teacher turnover rate. Eventually, I joined them myself. Yet if my three years of teaching in a high-performing, majority-minority, urban charter school taught me anything, it’s that this revolving door can be a positive thing for schools and their students.

Teacher turnover is a buzzy concept typically used in conversations regarding school effectiveness and the issues plaguing urban schools. The 2012–13 Teacher Follow-up Survey to the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), commissioned by the National Center for Education and Statistics (NCES), found that 15.7 percent of public school teachers either moved schools or left the profession between 2011–12 and 2012–13. In charter schools, this number is slightly higher at 18.4 percent. Despite this meager difference, charter schools typically receive the most flack when...

Gisèle Huff

After almost eighteen years in the field of education, I have become convinced of the need to transform the way our children learn so that they can confront the unknowable challenges of the twenty-first century. I applaud any effort aimed at changing the mindset of those involved in the education system so that they can leave behind the traditional twentieth-century paradigm, which was (and in most places still is) an industrial model. Today’s enthusiasm for project-based learning (PBL) fits into the paradigm-shifting category, helpfully emphasizing that we learn best by doing. As a complete educational philosophy or strategy, however, it falls short on many fronts.

At some level, doing must be based on knowing. Yet in almost every PBL model that I’ve observed—Summit Public Schools being the main exception—little or nothing is said about the acquisition of knowledge. Instead, these models emphasize the completion of the project, and whatever knowledge students may actually acquire seems incidental and not clearly assessed. Of course, it’s true that knowledge alone is insufficient for today’s economy. Skills and dispositions must be developed in the learner for content to be relevant and engaging. But it is that “content” (a.k.a. knowledge) that students must master in order...