Anna J. Egalite and Trip Stallings

In the 2017–18 school year, 7,344 North Carolina K–12 students received a state-funded voucher to attend private school through the state’s $28 million Opportunity Scholarship program. Enacted in 2013 and launched in 2014, the program will enter its fifth year of operation in the fall of 2018, yet little is known about how it has impacted participating students' math and reading achievement. This is unusual for a program of this nature.

The legislation that created this program—North Carolina General Statute 115C-562—calls for an evaluation of the "learning gains or losses of students receiving scholarship grants," as compared to similar students in public schools, but there has been no official state-supported evaluation conducted to date. There are at least three major barriers to conducting a rigorous evaluation.

First, there is an outcome-data barrier. The accountability provisions built into the program require participating private schools to administer an annual assessment to voucher-receiving students and to share student test scores with the state. At first glance, this provision sounds promising, as it could allow for the collection of data that researchers might leverage to learn more about the program's academic impact. Unfortunately, private schools are permitted to administer any nationally norm-referenced...

Dale Chu

School is out (or soon to be), which means the season of summer blockbusters is now upon us. “The Incredibles 2” will be a huge draw for families with young children, as well as fans of mathematics. Those who attend are also in for a special treat, as the short film playing before the feature offers some education-related themes. Titled “Bao,” it explores the travails of an empty-nesting Chinese mother. Having seen it already—my brother wrote the music for it!—I can tell you that it’s one you won’t want to miss.

“Bao” is a timely installment that is simultaneously entertaining and offers insights into the high expectations and high standards of Chinese parents, and the contrast of two different cultures and parenting styles. As a rookie father raised in a traditional Chinese household, I’m fascinated by the burgeoning influence of this latest trend on parents’ eternal struggle to find the right balance between academic rigor and a child’s own interests.

I don’t believe it’s as simple as leaving children to their own devices. My experience has been that children won’t gravitate to things they initially don’t like without some gentle pressure. I lean towards...

Ruth Wattenberg

Mayoral control should not mean unchecked control over data and information.

Each time there’s an educational scandal (and they occur like clockwork), understandably concerned residents and writers argue: We can’t “go back.” And we can’t.

But we also can’t go forward without a hard look at our situation. Improvement requires honesty and diagnosis.

The argument for mayoral control of education, here and elsewhere, is that it leads to greater accountability. Results would come more quickly, especially for lower-achieving students. Politics would not infect and slow reforms. The mayor could bulldoze through obstacles.

But the District’s mayoral control is unique. The mayor names all three major education leaders: the chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, the deputy mayor for education and the superintendent of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).

Everywhere else, mayor-controlled school districts are part of a state. These districts are overseen by politically independent state education agencies run by politically independent state superintendents, overseen by state boards of education. The state superintendent is typically named by and responsible to the board or the governor or some combination. Crucially, these state superintendents are not responsible to the same mayor who appoints the district chancellor and who is...


Starting a charter school is a laudable endeavor—but it’s also an arduous one. So arduous, in fact, that it usually requires a mix of arrogance and ignorance. Arrogance to think you can just rally a community and start a school from scratch. And ignorance of the hardships ahead, without which there’s no way you would do it. Every so often, however, a special person comes along who exhibits neither of those traits but bravely decides to start a school anyway. Dr. Jacqueline Elliot, the author of a new book, Passionate Warrior: My Charter School Journey, is one of those people. She is humble, determined, vulnerable, and dedicated—in addition to being a seasoned, successful educator.

Elliot started the first public charter middle school in Los Angeles, Community Charter Middle School, in 1999. Passionate Warrior begins with her mid-career shift from community healthcare to teaching, and then pulls you through the muck and euphoria of starting and maintaining great schools. “The charter movement provided me with a pathway to create a school that would incorporate the elements and strategies I knew would result in students’ success,” she says, “and the community embraced that school and asked for more.”

Teachers’ unions would...


Sometimes it seems we’ve tried everything in our efforts to reform public education, yet nothing has worked to boost student achievement at scale. And despite all of our reform attempts, we have ignored one of the most promising catalysts for student success.

What is this magical, elusive factor?

Student effort.

As education economists John H. Bishop and Ludger Woessmann have put it, “Student effort is probably the most important input in the education process.”

The principle is simple: When students work harder, they learn more. In the United States, though, we don’t expect most kids to work very hard, and they don’t. For all of the talk about “raising standards” and implementing “high stakes testing,” the United States is an outlier among developed nations when it comes to holding students themselves to account, and linking real-world consequences to academic achievement or the lack thereof.

In this article, we look at the evidence that external motivation—especially via external, curriculum-based exams—can encourage middle school and high school students to work harder and learn more. In a longer article at Education Next, we also consider efforts to experiment with well-designed cash-incentive programs, discuss the importance of maintaining high standards for earning good...


About a year ago, I was walking through a rush hour crowd of office workers and tourists in Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan when a voice called out to me, “Mr. P. Mr. P!” A young man approached me, carrying a hard hat and grinning. “Do you remember me?” he asked. I did. Vividly. It had been at least ten years since I’d seen him, but I greeted Henry, my former fifth grade student, by name.

I’d lost touch with Henry, whom, like many of my former students at P.S. 277 in the South Bronx, I follow on Facebook. A few years prior he’d moved to South Carolina, then went quiet. But here he was back in New York, working as an asbestos abatement supervisor on a construction site. We chatted for a few moments, promised to keep in touch, and said our goodbyes. I was pleased to see him doing so well, and truthfully, surprised. If you’d asked me to predict his future when he was in my class, I’d have been less than sanguine. Henry was an indifferent student and a bit of a troublemaker who spent far too many lunch detentions in my classroom. Sometimes we would...


A recent Fordham report highlights the country’s “charter school deserts,” which are contiguous high-poverty census tracts with no charter elementary schools. It finds that, in 2013–14, states with charters had an average of 10.8 deserts. That’s more than 450 nationwide—a rather overwhelming number that makes it difficult to focus on local challenges to charter expansion. We wanted to know which of these communities were most desperately in need of charters, so we searched for localities with large charter deserts, unusually deep poverty, or both. Using the report and its accompanying website (which uses 2018 data), we’ve identified twenty such places, which we discuss in more detail below. For each, we describe the current conditions of the charter school landscape, including what factors may deter charter school operators from opening in these areas of need.

Some of the communities we identify are in or around cities where state law has no provision for charters or where districts and local leaders are vehemently opposed to charters, while other cities we discuss have highly-rated state charter laws and already have many charter schools. They all nevertheless have sectors that meet our criteria. Even in cities with a wide variety of...


When the media report on teacher pay, the data cited can often be misleading. A state’s average teacher salary seems like a sound number, but pay varies between districts, and different states have different rules about minimum salaries. A recent policy brief by the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Kency Nittler and Nicole Gerber examines salary data in a way that goes beyond averages for ten states that make teacher salary information for all districts available: Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

Seven of the ten sampled states set minimum salary schedules, which increase pay at specified intervals as teachers gain experience and graduate degrees: Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Two, Illinois and Missouri, only set a minimum salary for all teachers, regardless of experience. And one, California, defers its teacher pay decisions to individual districts. Based on these three categories alone, average salary means something different in each. But there’s more.

Districts must of course meet salary minimums, but they need not stop there. And many don’t—which compounds intrastate variance. Nittler and Gerber found, for example, that starting salaries between districts in sample states vary...


Headlines this year have largely focused on teacher pay. But just a few years ago, a different set of teacher-policy issues were in the limelight, including teacher evaluation, tenure, and collective bargaining. At that time, states were pursuing aggressive reforms challenging decades-old laws that many viewed as more protective of educator jobs than promoting student learning. Though not all of these efforts yielded dramatic changes, Florida eliminated tenure for new teachers starting in July 2011. Instead of facing extensive and often costly dismissal procedures, this reform allows school leaders to remove low performers from the classroom by not renewing annual teacher contracts.

In theory, removing tenure in K–12 education can both positively and negatively affect student achievement. On the one hand, it may increase achievement as teachers are incentivized to focus more intently on student learning, knowing their job is on the line each year. Over the long haul, the overall quality of the educator workforce may improve if incompetent teachers are removed more swiftly and frequently than they are today. On the other hand, school leaders may be prone to poor judgment and erroneously dismiss some effective teachers. Proponents...

By John Thompson

I enjoyed most of the submittals in the Fordham Institute’s Wonkathon, but my favorite was Max Eden’s, “Reformer, Heal Thyself. You’ve Ruined High School.” I don’t agree that all of high school has been ruined, but technocratic reformers did wreck my Oklahoma City high school, and they did so by ignoring the predictable ways that their data-driven accountability systems would produce huge amounts of unintended harm.

Eden wrote:

The notion that sitting a bureaucrat trained by the Broad Academy in a chair could fundamentally change the life trajectories of thousands of deeply disadvantaged students within just a couple of years is, to put it mildly, willful wishful thinking. On the other hand, the systems, expectations, and professional incentives provide means and motive to commit fraud. In the rare event that reporters ferret out the fraud, technocratic wonks provide alibis rather than accountability.

Our high school first received a Broad Academy–trained superintendent in 2007. Ninety percent of our students were low income, but his only education experience was as a technology director of a school district in which only a quarter of pupils were low income. He told my students that he planned to install television cameras in...