Chris Minnich

When educators and the communities they serve know how much, or how little, students are learning during the year, they stand a much better chance of helping those kids reach their potential. This is especially true among historically marginalized communities, in which schools may receive fairer treatment if we rated them based on students’ academic growth from year to year, in addition to the levels at which they’re achieving. Too many states and districts only consider the latter, which is strongly correlated with students’ socioeconomic statuses, so schools’ ratings are unduly based on the population of kids they serve, not what’s happening in their classrooms. Instead, we ought to—and can—differentiate between schools with low achievement and high growth and those with low achievement and low growth.

And since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, many states have designed and implemented accountability plans that do just this by measuring and prioritizing growth. For example, it accounts for two-thirds of the core academic indicators on which schools in Illinois are judged. And in Georgia, it’s 50 percent. Indeed, the accountability plans of all fifty states and the District of Columbia, all of which the Department of Education has...


This is the final entry in a three-part series looking how American high schoolers feel about our education system, and how engaged they are in their classroom. Each iteration is based on the findings of Fordham’s What Teens Want from Their Schools, a report published last year based on a survey of students from forty-eight states and the District of Columbia who representing all types of schools—traditional public, public magnet, parochial, independent, and charter.

The first explored how young people feel about different activities, from teacher lectures, to group projects, to student presentations. (The general answer? Not very enthusiastic, but it depends on individual teachers and classrooms.) The second looked at what students say about their own approaches and attitudes toward school. (Teens are—surprise!—inconsistent, and a lot of students who are phoning it in at least some of the time.) This one discusses the ways in which different student groups and students at different types of schools report different levels of engagement.

Although high schoolers are often are uninterested in classroom activities and frequently put in less than their best effort, there’s much variance between individual students and student groups. These differences sometimes correlate...


For decades, the federal government’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) grants have funded the creation, replication, and expansion of high-quality charter schools. More than half of the nation’s states have been awarded grants since 2009, and some of the highest performing charter networks in the country—including IDEA Public Schools, Success Academy, and KIPP—have also received awards.

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a spending bill that includes $440 million for CSP, an increase of $40 million and the highest-ever funding level for the program. The increase has been celebrated by charter school proponents, and rightfully so; CSP funds are indispensable for states looking to grow their sectors, and there are dozens of charter management organizations (CMOs) that would benefit greatly from additional funding.

But as advocates, charter networks, and state leaders gear up to apply for a piece of the pie, they would be wise to consider creating new and innovative charter high schools instead of just replicating the usual suspects. Without a doubt, the CMOs and state programs that have been funded in the past deserved their awards. They earned their reputations by educating traditionally underserved students really well, and the more...

Gisèle Huff

Thomas Jefferson, in a 1787 letter to James Madison, wrote, “Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.” Those words should resonate with everyone alive today, as we struggle to maintain even civil discourse and civic engagement. Because Jefferson was right—in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, an educated populace is imperative.

We have failed to heed his words, although it is not from lack of trying. Since the publication of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983, a steady drumbeat of reforms and innovations have been brought to bear on our K–12 education system, all strongly supported by private dollars. As executive director of the Jaquelin Hume Foundation, I am part of this effort, so I applaud those of my foundation colleagues who recognize the fundamental part K–12 education plays in lessening myriad societal problems.

Unfortunately, our collective efforts have done little to improve the performance of our children. This is partly because those providing the money, many of whom are revolutionaries in their...


Over the course of the 2018–19 school year, the Education 20/20 speaker series, sponsored by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Hoover Institution, will prod prominent conservative writers, intellectuals, and policymakers to provide compelling answers to the age-old question, “What's the purpose of school?” On, September 27th, an event featuring Heather Mac Donald, author of The Diversity Delusion, kicked off the series with her perspective on race-based discipline reform, including why it hurts the children it purports to help and how it cuts against one of the core goals of schooling.

These were my opening remarks.


Good afternoon. I’m Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. Thank you for joining us today, here in person or online, especially given the competition we’re facing from a certain hearing across town.

It is my honor to welcome you to the first event in our Education 20/20 speaker series. In a moment I’ll introduce today’s amazing speaker, Heather Mac Donald, but first let me spend a few minutes explaining the purpose behind the series and what we’re hoping to accomplish.

And if you’re following along on Twitter, please use the...


Veteran education analyst Marc Tucker wrote something the other day that stopped me cold. Describing some of the highest performing education systems in the world, he said, “Students do not routinely arrive at middle school from elementary school two or even three years behind. It simply does not happen.”

If we could replicate this in America, it would change secondary education forever. No longer would middle schools be faced with the impossible task of catching up kids who are desperately behind while at the same time accelerating the progress of their grade-level peers. There would be no more excuses for assigning work to students far below their grade level, as TNTP just found to be a widespread practice. And if most students were on track academically, or close to it, high schools could offer real college-prep and career-readiness pathways that lead to success in postsecondary education, good jobs, and far more.

But could such a track record be replicated here? There’s no one way to go about that, no silver bullet, but several key pieces would help: high-quality preschool to help kids get closer to readiness for Kindergarten; effective, evidence-based reading instruction, including phonics and phonemic...


School districts all across America have long suffered from “excellence gaps” in which advantaged students reach high levels of achievement at significantly greater rates than their less affluent peers. But some school systems are working to combat it.

One such place is Montgomery County, Maryland, a large district in the Washington, D.C., area that’s made strides in diversifying the students served by its gifted education programs. By expanding the number of seats, universally screening every third grader, using more holistic identification criteria, and selecting students based on how they perform compared to kids at their school instead of the entire district (using “local norms”), administrators increased the proportion of black and Hispanic elementary-school participants from 23 percent in 2016 to 31 percent today.

What school leaders, policymakers, educators, and advocates need to recognize, however, is that these very important, short-term changes are only part of the solution. It’s not enough to diversify gifted education offerings. The programs must also continue to challenge all of their students and maximize their potential. They must remain, in other words, excellent.

Yet one of the problems with achieving both of these aims is that various forms of inequality cause disadvantaged students, through no...

Mike McShane

In the beloved 1990s British television series Father Ted, Ted ruins a Rover 213 that was supposed to be an auction prize to raise money to fix the Craggy Island parochial house roof. After spotting a dent, Ted tries to hammer it out. Hammering out the small dent creates another dent, which he then tries to hammer out, and by the time he’s done, he’s destroyed the entire car.

It is a great visualization of the bad consequences of good intentions.

Reading recent stories about the trials and tribulations of unified enrollment systems reminds me of Ted’s misadventure. Central planners tinker and tinker, causing new problems for each one they solve. Perhaps they should stop before they’ve wrecked the whole thing.

For those who may be unfamiliar, unified enrollment systems were created for cities that have a lot of potential school choices for families. Rather than admit students on a first come first served basis or have each and every school manage its own enrollment and hold its own lottery, a central system is created that allows families to rank their preferences. These preferences are fed into a computer algorithm that, in theory, should maximize the number of children getting...


Interesting factoid: 54 percent of students who take the SAT retake it at least once. I was one of them back in the day, hoping that I could muster a high enough score to see my way into my number-one college pick. It didn’t happen. Mind you, I did score higher the second time, just not high enough.

Turns out, I’m not alone. Many young people see higher scores on college entrance exams the second time around, as evidenced by a new National Bureau of Economic Research study conducted by Joshua Goodman, Oded Gurantz, and Jonathan Smith.

They examine the impact of retaking college entrance exams, specifically the SAT, on test scores and college enrollment. They gather student-level data from the College Board—specifically, 12 million students from the high school classes of 2006–14 who had valid scores on all three sections of the SAT and first took it by November of their senior year and thus had time to retake it prior to graduating. They match SAT data with college application and enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse.

Because SAT retakers are likely to differ from non-retakers along any number of dimensions, analysts needed an “exogenous source of variation”..., an organization that allows teachers to request classroom supplies and experiences for their students, is guilty of discriminating against parochial and private schools. At first blush, it’s easy to see how its decision to only allow public school teachers to receive donor funds would make sense to many people who care about opportunity and equity in education. But let me tell you why it doesn’t.

I am a frequent—and proud—contributor to projects, and the truth is, I hadn’t really done my homework and was not aware until recently that I could not fund a project at the New York City Partnership Schools or the Cristo Rey Network or any other parochial or private school that serves low-income children.

If not for a conversation on Twitter discussing the issue, I would still be an ignorant supporter who just assumed that poor children, at any and all kinds of schools, were being helped.

Private versus public

Often when we hear “private school,” our minds immediately conjure up images of elite and almost aristocratic private boarding schools attended by former presidents, members of Congress, and the children of actual royalty. Schools full of poor children don’t generally come to...