Scott Pearson

School districts across the country are asking high-quality charter school operators to restart failing public schools.  In New Orleans, nearly every public school has been relaunched as a charter school. In Tennessee, the new Achievement School District is focusing its attention on a range of school improvement options, including charters, to boost the state’s lowest-performers. The charter school model is popular because, as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently reported, increased flexibility in staffing, curriculum, time management, and resources allows charters to bore down on student achievement.

But what about when charter schools themselves aren’t meeting standards? Until recently, the only way to bring accountability to a failing charter school was to close it. While closure rescues students from persistent failure, it also puts them through a disruption that many families don’t welcome.

Now a new option is emerging: charter school restarts. This involves transferring management of an existing charter school to a new board and leadership team. If they choose to, students can stay in their schools while wholesale changes are instituted around them.

As the National Alliance notes, charter school restarts are occurring mainly in cities with large numbers of public charter schools....

Editor's note: On June 20, 2016, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, 50CAN, and Education Post hosted a timely, vital discussion about the policy agenda that ties reformers together across the ideological spectrum. Discussants included Derrell Bradford, Executive Vice President of 50CAN; Valentina Korkes, Deputy Director of Policy and Strategy at Education Post; Vallay Varro, President of 50CAN; and Lindsay Hill, Program Officer for Education at the Raikes Foundation. Michael Petrilli, President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, moderated. This is a transcript of that conversation. 




Good afternoon. I'm Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank here in Washington that also does on the ground work in the great State of Ohio. Welcome to our webcast, “Education Reform’s Common Ground,” or I think I just saw on Twitter somebody called it “Education Reform’s Live Marriage Counseling Session.” Whichever you prefer on that, but that is not the hashtag for the record. The hashtag is #educommonground. You can follow along on that hashtag on Twitter. I will being trying to

M. René Islas and Del Siegle

Earlier this month, the Department of Education released new data exposing the uneven suspension rates and limited learning opportunities faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Secretary John King is right in saying that the American education system is guilty of "systemic failure" in educating children of poverty and color.

As if locking students out of class through suspension weren’t bad enough, data from the federally funded National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) reveals an even more hidden and wicked form of marginalization: the exclusion of poor and minority students from advanced academic programs. According to the NCRGE research, it is virtually impossible— a less than 1 percent chance—for low-income, minority English language learners to be served in gifted and talented programs.    

We are optimistic about the true motivations of our nation's educators, and we hope that the narrowing of opportunities for disadvantaged students was inadvertent. It is high time that we rally to implement programs that recognize, support, and develop the talent of children from all backgrounds so that they achieve their full potential.

M. René Islas is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children. Del Siegle is the director and principal investigator of the University of Connecticut's National...

One of the most controversial aspects of school accountability is how to identify and improve persistently low-performing schools. Under NCLB, states were required to identify districts and schools that failed to make the federal standard known as adequate yearly progress. Failure led to a cascading set of consequences that were viewed by many as inflexible and ineffective.

The passage of a new national education law— the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by President Obama in December— has shifted more of the responsibility for identifying and intervening in persistently low-performing schools to states (though the Department of Education’s regulations attempt to pull some of that responsibility back to Washington—more on that later).

School identification under ESSA is determined by a state’s “system of meaningful differentiation.” This is based on the state’s accountability system, including indicators of student proficiency, student growth, graduation rates, and English language proficiency. The use of these indicators isn’t optional, though the weight of each (and the methodology crafted from them that is then used to identify schools) is left up to states. Using their chosen methodology, states are required to identify a minimum of two statewide categories of schools: comprehensive support and improvement schools and targeted support and intervention...

This is the fifth in a series of essays marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of America’s first charter school law. These commentaries are informed and inspired by our forthcoming book (co-authored with Bruno V. Manno), Charter Schools at the Crossroads: Predicaments, Paradoxes, Possibilities, to be published this fall by Harvard Education Press. Read the others hereherehere, and here.

Last time around, we argued that America’s charter marketplace has done a mediocre job of matching supply with demand and ensuring solid school quality. We fingered three (of many) sources of these partial market failures: too few (and, in some locales, too many) charter schools; weak consumer information; and distracted suppliers.

Due to these shortcomings, we concluded that today’s marketplace isn’t up to the challenge of ensuring strong academic achievement and other important education outcomes. The policies that constrain charter markets are part of the problem—but not the whole story.

Even after twenty-five years, charters in most places remain an alien implant in the body of American public education, and all sorts of immune reactions persist. Still, we can treat some of these symptoms while also repairing glitches in the original policy design.

Our book suggests a number of fixes...

It isn't perfect, but Jeanne Allen's new education reform "manifesto" makes a number of valuable points and powerful suggestions for the future. Notably, she argues for a fresh emphasis on innovation, an earnest embrace of upward mobility, and a heartfelt commitment to universal opportunity, flexibility, and transparency. She is right that we ought not confuse means with ends, allow charter schools for poor kids (valuable as they are) to be the only thing reformers obsess over, or spend so much energy bickering amongst ourselves. It’s sage and timely counsel from a veteran reform warrior.

But I'm not as glum as Jeanne about the accomplishments of recent years. Low-hanging fruit always gets picked first, and implementation is just plain harder than policy change. It inevitably brings mid-course corrections, delays, and some backsliding. (So do election returns.) Meanwhile, charters and choice continue to burgeon—a good thing—but it's clear today that ensuring high-quality school options is harder than simply providing options. Standards are more rigorous. Achievement among poor and minority kids has risen a bit. Teacher evaluations are more serious. Tests are better.

Yes, we have miles to go—many, many miles—and bravo for Jeanne’s pushing us forward. Sometimes, though, we also have to clean up behind ourselves. For...

A new study by WestEd researchers looks at the validity of ratings from the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, a very popular classroom observation instrument often used in teacher evaluation systems.

The study is small in scope, examining the framework’s use in just one district (Nevada’s Washoe County, which we profiled a few years ago for its work in implementing the Common Core.) Its purpose was to determine whether the ratings differentiate among teachers, measure distinct areas of teaching practice, and link to teacher effectiveness.

The data cover 713 Washoe elementary, middle, and high school teachers (both tenured and non-tenured) who were observed on all twenty-two components of the Danielson instrument in the 2012–13 school year. The instrument covers four domains: planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. Each domain has five or six components that roll up into a single four-point rating for the domain (from ineffective to highly effective).

Key findings: Ratings showed at least 90 percent of teachers were rated effective or highly effective on nearly every one of the twenty-two components, with “effective” the most common rating. So principals tend to use the ratings to discriminate between effective and highly effective teachers but...

In this survey, ACT asked thousands of K–12 teachers, college instructors, and workforce supervisors and employees about their views on current educational practices and “college and career readiness expectations.” According to ACT, these expectations rightly include not only “core academic skills” in English, reading, mathematics, and science, but also “cross-cutting capabilities” like technological literacy and collaborative problem solving, “behavioral skills” related to self-regulation, and “education and career navigation skills.” (No one could accuse the organization of having a narrow perspective.)

Overall, survey respondents identified “acting honestly” and “sustaining effort” as the most important “non-academic characteristics” for young people to develop. And in a separate set of questions, “content knowledge” and “conscientiousness” were ranked highly by every group, from elementary school teachers to workplace supervisors. However, two skill areas were ranked highly only by workforce respondents: technology (by employees) and collaboration with peers (by supervisors).

Based on these results, the authors recommend that state and local education agencies track the development of students’ non-academic skills and incorporate them into instruction. They also suggest that states and districts invest in technology training for teachers. Both suggestions might be sensible in a world of perfect information and implementation, but as matters stand, they...

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to incorporate at least one non-academic indicator—which might include (but isn’t limited to) factors like school climate or safety—into their accountability frameworks. That makes this study, published in Educational Researcher, well-timed. The authors set out to test the theory that reductions in school violence and/or improvements to school climate would lead to improved academic outcomes. Instead, the evidence they discovered suggests that the relationship flows in the opposite direction: A school’s improvement in academic performance led to reductions in violence and improved climate—not the other way around.

The authors found serious gaps in prior studies of school climate and safety, many of which illustrated only correlation (not causation) among the variables examined. This motivated them to test the assumption that improved school climate must come first in the chicken-egg scenario. Using six years of student survey results (2007–13) from a representative sample of 3,100 California middle and high schools, analysts employed a research design known for its ability to test causality when large-scale experimental designs aren’t possible. (For the curious, this is described as a “cross-lagged panel autoregressive modeling design,” which determines whether variables at different points in time are correlated...

My friend Tom Loveless is right about most things, and he’s certainly right that scoring “proficient” on NAEP has nothing to do with being “on grade level.” He’s also right that Campbell Brown missed this point.

But Tom, alas, is quite wrong about the value of NAEP’s trio of “achievement levels” (basic, proficient, advanced). And he’s worse than wrong to get into any sort of defense of “grade level,” as if that concept had any valid meaning or true value for education reform.

In his words, Tom’s post sought “to convince readers of two things: One, proficient on NAEP does not mean grade-level performance. It’s significantly above that. Two, using NAEP’s proficient level as a basis for education policy is a bad idea.”

We agree on the first point, not on the second—and not on his implicit argument that there is merit in basing education policy on “grade-level” thinking.

Unless one is talking about academic standards—Common Core or otherwise—or about the cut scores on high-stakes, end-of-year, criterion-referenced exams like PARCC and Smarter Balanced, “grade level” has no meaning at all. It’s a misnomer that we adopted during decades of using norm-referenced tests. These were “normed” such that the average...