Teacher quality is acknowledged, nearly universally, as one of the most important contributors to student learning. Debate revolves around how to best train, hire, improve, support, and retain teachers. This last point is especially relevant to a large urban school district like District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), which sees 8 percent of its “effective” and “highly effective” teachers leave every year. This is a significant loss—financially and in human capital. A recent report from Bellwether Education Partners presents results of a DCPS-administered exit survey and extracts recommendations for it and other urban school districts about how to retain quality educators.

The survey was administered to 1,626 teachers departing the district between February 2015 and January 2018 and asked their reasons for leaving, their next career moves, and how DCPS might have kept them. Researchers disregarded answers from teachers who were retiring and moving, and from teachers who said no change would have retained them. Of the remaining respondents, 772 self-reported their last rating according to the district’s teacher evaluation system: 69 identified themselves as minimally effective, 220 as developing (these two categories comprise “low performers”), 319 as effective, and 164 as highly effective (these two comprise “high...

Susan Pendergrass

Can we call a place a desert if we refuse to let water in? The Fordham Institute recently released an interesting look at which communities in the U.S. have a significant portion of low-income students but very few choices when it comes to their education. Fordham calls them “charter school deserts,” and they created interactive maps of each state with the deserts highlighted.

Sadly, these are easy to identify in Missouri. Just find the Census tracts where more than 20 percent of children live in poverty and circle them. The school choice spigot in Missouri is firmly turned off, with little hope that it will be turned on any time soon. The Missouri legislature has refused to transfer any power away from local school boards and into the hands of parents. As a result, students who live in areas of concentrated poverty around Springfield, in the southern part of the state, and in the bootheel have no options beyond their assigned public school. Going by the current laws governing charter schools, you would think that all the parents outside of St. Louis and Kansas City are perfectly satisfied with their children’s assigned public school.

In contrast, our two...

Eva Moskowitz

When my eldest son Culver was in elementary school, he was an avid reader, but I couldn’t get him to touch anything but science fiction. By the time he was eight, I was becoming concerned that he would never read anything else, so I headed to Bank Street Bookstore, a wonderful children’s bookstore on the west side of Harlem. A young woman who worked there approached me to ask how she could help. When I described my dilemma, she smiled, “I’ve seen this before—you just haven’t found the right books.” She asked me more about my son and began picking out books outside of the sci-fi genre, drawing on what appeared to be an encyclopedic knowledge of high-quality children’s literature.

Culver was enraptured with Sarah’s picks. Thanks to her selections, his reading took an omnivorous turn and I regularly returned to the store for more recommendations. Just around that time, in 2006, I opened the first Success Academy and had to stock our classroom libraries. I ordered the pre-set publisher’s collections that are used by so many schools—but I was shocked by how little the sales people knew about what they were selling. My experience buying books for my own...

Robert Maranto

As a school board member, I lament that public education is all too partisan. 

Democrats and Republicans disagree on teacher salaries and benefits, school prayer, discipline, vouchers for poor students to attend private schools, sex education, arming teachers, gender-neutral bathrooms, and saluting the American flag, among other things.

Yet each party mainly likes charter schools.

A brainchild of reform Democrats like Bill Clinton, charter schools are public schools authorized by public bodies. They cannot impose religion, charge tuition, or discriminate in admission. Yet they are autonomous like private schools, chosen by parents, able to focus on a single mission like Montessori schooling, and often staffed by untenured teachers who principals can hold accountable.

In short, charter schools combine public school equity with private school flexibility and customer service. 

Two decades of research finds charter schools excelling on parent satisfaction and graduation rates. Overall results are mixed, but within low-income communities, charters typically show greater test scores gains than traditional public schools counterparts, and far greater success preparing disadvantaged students for college.

This fits with decades of common sense and research, summarized in the late Jeanne Chall’s classic The Academic Achievement Challenge. Chall and a range of other researchers find...

Sam Duell

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute published a geographical analysis and interactive website recently that shows the saturation (or lack) of charter elementary schools in socio-economically disadvantaged areas. The report identifies geographic locations with both high rates of poverty and no charter elementary schools, giving them the title of “charter school deserts.” According to Fordham’s analysis, there are over 500 charter deserts across 39 states. This is a thought-provoking analysis that deserves attention.

First, let’s discuss what this analysis is and what it’s not. “Charter School Deserts: High-Poverty Neighborhoods with Limited Educational Options,” answers three basic questions:

  • Where are charter elementary schools located?
  • Where are there concentrations of poverty according U.S. Census data?
  • How do these two areas overlap?

Assuming that families with lower incomes need more educational options, the analysis clearly indicates that America has work to do. With an average of 10.8 charter deserts per state, we can also assume that charter schools have room to grow while serving economically disadvantaged populations. The analysis and interactive website are tools for communities across the country to understand which neighborhoods might want new educational opportunities.

Fordham is clear about the limitations of the report. It’s not claiming that charter...

Paul L. Morgan and George Farkas

The U.S. Department of Education is considering delaying the new “Equity in IDEA” regulations. These regulations expand federal monitoring of whether U.S. schools are over-identifying children as having disabilities based on their race or ethnicity.

The regulations mandate that U.S. states use a standard methodology to examine whether “significant disproportionality” is occurring in school districts. If so, then school districts must reallocate their federal funding to reduce the disproportionality. They must also review their disability identification practices, policies, and procedures.

Although well intentioned, the Equity in IDEA regulations are misdirected. This is because they do not address the true inequity: Federal legislation and policy should be monitoring for under-identification, not over-identification.

Minority children are less likely to be identified as having disabilities than otherwise similar white or English-speaking children while attending U.S. schools. This has been reported across many peer-reviewed studies.

The Equity in IDEA regulations use risk ratios and thresholds to monitor for whether schools are racially discriminatory in how they identify children as having disabilities. Yet risk ratios do not tell policymakers whether schools are being racially discriminatory in their disability identification practices. This is because risk ratios do not adjust for variability in children’s clinical needs for...

Alex Hernandez

I remember this day as one of the worst days of my life. I remember opening the newspaper, looking at the internet and being like…what?!? It was like someone threw a brick at me. And there’s nothing worse in your professional life than working incredibly hard and then getting crappy results. Nothing feels worse than that. And that is what happened.

—Doug McCurry, co-CEO and superintendent of Achievement First

When New York’s first round of Common Core state test results came out in 2013, student results plummeted across all schools; district and charter. The decline was especially pronounced at charter school networks known for their stellar academic programs, names like Achievement First (AF), Uncommon Schools, and KIPP New York.

State tests are not the ultimate measure of a child’s education, but the declining scores were concerning because the Common Core standards asked students in grades 3–8, for the first time, to make meaning of a text, find evidence to support an argument, understand concepts, and apply their thinking. When students were asked to think more deeply, most could not.

Achievement First’s co-CEOs Dacia Toll and Doug McCurry are candid about their feelings in the...


In a recent AEI meta-analysis of school choice attainment literature, Michael McShane, Patrick Wolf, and Collin Hitt use thirty-nine impact estimates from studies of more than twenty school choice programs to argue that standardized-test impacts are too unreliable to serve as the “exclusive or primary metric on which to evaluate school choice programs.” In their words:

Programs that produced no measurable positive impacts on achievement have frequently produced positive impacts on attainment. And on the other hand, null effects on high school graduation and college attendance have been reported from programs that produced substantial test score gains. Across these studies, achievement impact estimates appear to be almost entirely uncorrelated with attainment impacts.

Are they right about that last part? As avid Fordham readers know, my colleague Mike Petrilli has already criticized the authors’ methodology and conclusions at length. But for those of you who don’t have time for Mike’s six-part mini-series, here is my abbreviated critique.

First, for a study’s achievement and attainment estimates to “match” under the authors’ methodology, both the sign and their statistical significance of those estimates must be the same. So, for example, if one estimate is positive and...


The effectiveness of public schools in developing engaged citizens has rarely been examined empirically,” notes a new Mathematica report on the impact on civic participation of Democracy Prep, a network of charter schools that educates more than 5,000 students, mostly in New York City. Perhaps not, but it’s certainly been assumed. We remain sentimentally attached to a gauzy myth of the American common school ideal and its presumed role in citizen-making, even without evidence of its effectiveness.

The number of Democracy Prep alumni who are of voting age is relatively small. Founded in 2006, and with twenty-two schools in five cities, the network only graduated its first class in 2013. But Mathematica’s study, using the most conservative interpretation of its data, found that “Democracy Prep increases the voter registration rates of its students by about 16 percentage points and increases the voting rates of its students by about 12 percentage points.” As a summary from the American Enterprise Institute notes, “the raw numbers were even stronger, a twenty-four-point increase in both, which suggest Democracy Prep doubled its students’ likelihood to register and vote.”

Bravo, Democracy Prep. But as a former (and hopefully future) DP civics teacher,...


Last week, I had the privilege of visiting several high-poverty urban schools in Cleveland. Each was serving some of the nation’s most disadvantaged students and beating the odds by arming their pupils with the knowledge, values, and skills they need to succeed.

Whenever I visit a school, I look for the unplanned things that give you a window into hidden vibrancy or challenges in the community. During my visit to one school last week, two unplanned interruptions stood out. First, the assistant principal received a call from her middle school social studies teacher to share some good news: A group of their seventh graders won first place in the John Carroll University “We the People” Call for Action and Social Justice Program, the school’s third first-place victory in as many years.

Not long after, an upper-elementary math teacher stepped out to take a call from the Cleveland Cavaliers. It seems that one of her students is the only student in Ohio to be chosen for the NBA Math Hoops competition, and its organizers wanted to let her know that they were sending the Cavs mascot to cheer on the student.

Was I getting a VIP tour of the latest hot...