Susan Rhodes

In December 2003, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Daniel Golden interviewed me about the identification and admissions policies of our district’s gifted program. I served as the gifted coordinator of a district with fifteen thousand students in pre-K through twelfth grade. I was instrumental in the movement to create the district’s first gifted magnet school for students in first through fifth grade, that opened in the year 2000. Our team had done extensive research on developing an identification process that would closely reflect the demographics of the entire district. The conversation with Mr. Golden was focused on admissions of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the impact of No Child Left Behind. The conversation began with the mechanics of our district’s identification system and federal mandates and ended with forever changing the course of one family.

I described to Mr. Golden our district’s identification process of administering the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test to all kindergarten students at the end of January each year. In March, students receiving a score of 1.5 standard deviations above the group norm were then invited to learn more about the gifted magnet school. Teachers and parents could also nominate students who demonstrated achievement at one grade...

Ben Lindquist

A month ago, a prominent philanthropist described today’s education reform climate to me as “The Empire Strikes Back.” I had to acknowledge that 2018 capped off an extraordinary run for opponents of education reform. If only the American public understood how high the stakes are as we enter 2019.

Let’s recap some history. After A Nation at Risk appeared in 1983, America entered a three-decade era of initiatives aimed at boosting the effectiveness of our K–12 schools:

  • In the 1980s and 1990s, many states put grade-level standards and criterion-referenced tests in place to boost and monitor student learning, especially in the primary grades.
  • In the 1990s, the passage of charter, open enrollment, and voucher laws began to bring choices, innovation, and competition to the education mainstream. The charter movement in particular fostered diverse approaches to teaching and learning by empowering educators to assume direct responsibility for creating and leading autonomous public schools. 
  • In the 2000s, the focus turned to holding schools accountable. The Federal No Child Left Behind Act raised awareness of stark, enduring inequities by revealing large, persistent achievement gaps between different subpopulations. NCLB also sought to drive school improvement via a prescribed series of interventions.  
  • Between 2008
  • ...

The ringing in of the new year brings a changing of the guard as twenty new governors take office. This new cohort could bring new opportunities for education reform, but there are indications that they may be less enthused than their predecessors were on the issue. Among these are the stark partisan divides and fiscal pressures that make pursuing new ideas extremely difficult.

This state of affairs is disheartening. States are in greater need of a strong and viable education system, and no amount of sunny optimism can obscure the hazard of governors relinquishing their responsibilities for educational improvement. For over two decades, the governorship has been a linchpin for education policymaking in our country, and “education governors” like Jim Hunt, Jeb Bush, Bob Wise, and Mitch Daniels underscore the importance of state leadership in generating forward momentum. Paragons within the outgoing class have followed in their footsteps—Bill Haslam, John Kasich, Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval—all of whom put education at the center of their agendas. Now it falls upon the new governors to drive their states’ education efforts. But who among them will put the pedal to the metal? There are at least three...

James Paul

The Fordham Institute’s analysis of “charter school deserts” helps answer a vital question: Where are neighborhoods in which low-income children lack access to schools of choice? Their interactive tool provides a literal roadmap for expanding charters where they are most needed.

A recent update to the map conveniently shows that private schools pick up the slack in many charter school deserts. This is especially true in Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis. It is no coincidence these cities are in states with vibrant private choice programs, such as vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and education scholarship accounts (ESAs).

But the map also illustrates how many communities remain deprived of choice. Look at Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Boston and you recognize the need to establish oases of opportunity in charter school deserts.

Hundreds of thousands of children have benefited from private choice programs since the first—Milwaukee’s voucher program—was enacted in 1990. As America closes out the third decade of private choice, here are three developments that could help states fill the access gaps.  

Customized, multi-use choice

The original voucher concept was simple, and has long been practiced in higher education: Instead of sending funding directly to a school, attach the funds...


For the new year to bring a new politics to America—one marked by a pragmatic search for solutions, with good ideas from left, right, and center—it’s going to have to come from the bottom up, far away from the Washington outrage machine. A good place to start would be the contentious challenge of school discipline.

As with so many culture war issues, especially those under the gaze of federal regulators, this one has ping-ponged from one extreme to another. Five years ago, the Obama administration declared that racial disparities in student suspensions could be grounds for civil rights investigations—even if driven by differences in pupil behavior rather than discrimination by educators. Today, from the opposite side of the table, we see the Trump administration not just canceling the previous policy but going an unnecessary step further by making a spurious connection between Obama’s action and the tragic Parkland, Florida, shooting.

In this age of base politics, that’s how the game is played. Thankfully, communities nationwide can reject such cynical approaches and craft school discipline policies that can bring us together rather than drive us apart.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy. It’s true that African-American and Latino youngsters are...

CJ Szafir and Will Flanders

On January 7, 2019, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, a Democrat, will take the oath of office as Wisconsin’s next governor. His narrow defeat of Republican Scott Walker represents the end of an era for education reform in the Badger State, which now faces a governor who is famously hostile to school choice. He must, however, work with Republican choice-supporting majorities in both houses of the legislature, so it is unlikely that he can get much through by way of statutory changes, but there's plenty of other ways of making mischief on the education front. Here’s what you need to know.

Evers wants to increase school funding—even more than Walker

Despite a lack of evidence that spending increases (above a certain threshold) improve traditional public school performance in Wisconsin, Evers made much during the campaign of his plan to boost it. His final budget as state superintendent sought a $1.4 billion increase for public schools—10 percent more than current funding. Of particular interest to Evers are increases for special education and for low-spending, primarily-rural school districts that have seen their state aid stagnate in recent years. 

After a one-year decline at the end of federal stimulus...


During the news lull between Christmas and New Years, the Wall Street Journal published an alarmist piece about the high rate of teachers and other public educators quitting their jobs. Reporters Michelle Hackman and Erick Morath examined Labor Department data on employee turnover during the first ten months of 2018 and found that educators were exiting at the rate of 83 per 10,000 per month, which would work out to almost one in ten over the course of a full year. This, they noted, was the most since job departures began getting tracked in 2001, although they cautioned that it didn’t necessarily mean all were quitting public education altogether; some number of them were changing schools, relocating, etc.

It’s worrying, though, especially when this turnover is combined with the teacher shortages that many districts (and charter and private schools) are facing, creating an absolute inability to fill some jobs with qualified individuals.

Yet making sense of these data requires some context and additional explanation. The journalists provided a bit of the former when they noted that the overall rate of turnover among all American workers during that period—231 per 10,000 per month—was almost triple the rate for public educators....


In 2015, Ohio imported a successful program used to help community college students in the City University of New York (CUNY) system persist in school and complete a degree in three years or less. A new policy brief from the nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research organization MDRC—also an implementation partner in both the CUNY and Ohio programs—looks at the first data from Ohio.

The Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) began in 2007 with a suite of supports and requirements for CUNY students. Based on research showing where students’ ambitions and abilities were mismatched, these efforts included incentivizing full-time enrollment; encouraging students to take remedial courses immediately rather than putting them off to focus on whatever credit-bearing courses are available; providing comprehensive support services such as intensive advising and financial support; and offering blocked courses (seats held open in specific courses that college officials deem necessary for participants) and condensed schedules. Six years of data on the CUNY program can be found here.

The Ohio iteration, implemented at three independent and geographically separated community colleges—Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, Cuyahoga Community College, and Lorain County Community College—was designed similarly to the New York program. The Ohio...

Frederick Hess

For the better part of two decades, school improvement has been focused on narrowing “achievement gaps” by raising the reading and math scores of low-performing students. While this charge has undeniable merit, it also carries some real costs. Among these is a lack of attention to students who are performing passably but are eager to pursue learning that stretches beyond the corners of state academic standards.

For those concerned about the failure to adequately challenge these students or push their intellectual horizons, this state of affairs has been disheartening. William Fitzhugh, founder of The Concord Review, the world’s only quarterly journal for academic research papers by high school students, is one of them. Frustrated by decades of mostly-ineffectual efforts to persuade high schools to prioritize long-form, rigorous student work, he recently offered a suggestion that’s half tongue-in-cheek but wholly worth pursuing.

As Fitzhugh puts it:

One of my favorite scenes in the movie Hoosiers is when the coach first drives into the town early in the morning or late in the evening, and he passes the HS senior shooting hoops. This student is the one who defends the coach and puts up the winning shot in the...


No, this has naught to do with the next election. It’s about an immediate target here at Fordham: to generate and publish some fresh thinking, mostly from prominent conservatives and other sensible folk, about the future direction of American education. We call it Education 20/20, and it got off to an awesome start in the final third of 2018 with a line-up of seven superb thinker/writer/speakers.

All of their talks and subsequent discussions at Hoover’s lovely D.C. conference facility are available online and will in time be readable, as well. And the New Year will usher in six more events with a dozen stellar speakers, to be followed, in 2020, with a book and much more.

Allow me now, about a third of the way through this ambitious project, to recap some of what we’ve learned so far—and to suggest why you, too, may want to take this unfolding project seriously, not only because of the accumulated acumen and articulateness of this all-star cast, but also because of the reminder it supplies that smart, right-of-center folks—we sought the kind who don’t do ed policy every day—are eager to think anew about important and perplexing challenges.

The courageous Heather...