Charters & Choice

The introduction of the Common Core standards is shaking up the $7 billion textbook industry, according to this great piece by Sarah Garland. Traditionally monopolized by a few very large publishing Goliaths, such as Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the standards shift now favors small start-ups, which are nimbler and more eager to embrace change. Gadfly cheers the possibility that the Common Core could break up the behemoths’ oligopoly and pave the way for the little-but-fierce Davids, like Core Knowledge.

For the last few months, Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has steadfastly refused to release $45 million of federal funds earmarked for the Philly schools until the teacher union agreed to major concessions, including a pay cut. But on Wednesday afternoon—with the union unwavering and civil-rights groups beginning to circle (and after the tragic death of young girl from asthma at a school that, due to budget cuts, did not have a nurse)—Corbett relented, arguing that he was satisfied with the other reforms made by the district. Which was probably the right call.

We know this much: Moody’s investment analysts don’t much care for parental...

We know this much: Moody’s investment analysts don’t care much for parental choice, but they care a lot about the credit-worthiness of school districts. A Moody’s report released this week shows that as charter schools gain public school market share in cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C., they’re putting financial stress on their local school systems, which have ended up with negative credit prospects due to the students they’ve lost. “Charter schools can pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs,” the investor service reports.

Moody’s has its sights set on cities where more than a fifth of public school students are enrolled in charters. Its analysis, however, has several weaknesses and flimsy assumptions. The first has already been handily countered by Nina Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, who correctly notes that cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia were distressed long before charters enrolled a significant share of public school students. Charters may not have made their job easier, but these school systems have been creeping toward insolvency and negative credit ratings on their own just fine.

More troubling is the...


As waves of reforms and would-be reforms have washed over American public education these past three decades, high schools have mostly stayed dry. Although test scores have risen slightly in the early grades, especially in math, National Assessment results for twelfth-graders have been flat or down a bit. SAT scores are also flat, and ACT averages much the same.

ACT, the organization that administers the college-entrance test of the same name, judges only one-quarter of its test-takers to be fully ready for college-level academics, and the College Board is not much cheerier. In releasing SAT results for the 1.6 million members of the high school class of 2013 who took the test, the board estimated that just 43 percent met its benchmark for college and career readiness—a score of 1550 or better (out of 2400), which translates to a 65 percent chance of having a B-minus (or better) GPA during the freshman year in college.

And that’s among those who stick it out and graduate from high school. Millions of young people drop out. School discipline remains appalling,...


As former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Lisa Graham Keegan knows a thing or two about education policy and the reforms that come with it. But in writing this book, she had a different goal in mind: to describe how she came to be a choice advocate and to provide a guide to other parents. With all the urgency of a politician but the patience of a mother—and she is most definitely both, as well as a smart, savvy, and likable human being—Keegan reviews her childhood, her career, and her experience raising four children in a piecemeal family of divorcees and step-moms. Drawing on these experiences, she reveals three “guideposts”: (1) Parents are and should be treated as sacred because children see themselves as reflections of their parents; (2) cultivate and cherish your children’s unique traits; and (3) see and help your children see their lives in a sacred context. Weaving in her background as a linguist and speech pathologist, Keegan illustrates how parents can provide their kids with what they know will help them succeed—and that’s communication. By age 3,...

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, is no friend of charter schools. He’s been clear, for instance, that if he steps foot in City Hall, Bloomberg’s policy of not charging them rent would be stopped and frisked. In response, 17,000 parents, students, and teachers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Tuesday in support of charter schools and Bloomberg’s education policies. For a particularly good summary of the issue, take a look at Daniel Henninger’s piece in the Wall Street Journal. For our analysis, check out this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast.

North Carolina and Los Angeles have both encountered problems with their high-profile tablets-for-students programs. In North Carolina, around 10 percent of the 15,000 devices distributed have reportedly been defective, leading the state to suspend the program. And in L.A., some enterprising students managed to hack the tablets’ security filters (score for teenage resourcefulness—send them all to programming class!), leading officials to disallow taking the tablets off-campus—and boding ill for the program’s future after the school board reviews it later this month....

It’s no exaggeration to say that private school choice has been a success. Every serious study into the efficacy of vouchers and tax-credit scholarships has shown either positive or neutral benefits for students, and virtually no significant research has found any signs of academic harm to children. This makes the popular narrative about school choice—that vouchers have done little good because the students who participate don’t outperform their public school peers—all the more frustrating. The mainstream press has advanced this story line. The latest version comes from (semi-mainstream) Politico and reporter Stephanie Simon, who concluded in a 1,600-word story this past weekend that, as taxpayers prepare to direct $1 billion annually toward private school tuition, “there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains” and that the research literature on vouchers is “mixed.”

Mixed, they say? Consider, for instance, the work of Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, who has examined the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship and found that it led to improved reading achievement among participants while also increasing a student’s chance of graduating high school by 21 percentage points. Consider, too, that random-assignment studies of privately funded voucher programs in ...

The hacker edition

In this week’s podcast, Mike and Brickman talk tablet woes (and praise teenage hackers for their healthy disrespect for authority), charter support in NYC, and the research on voucher effectiveness. Amber tells us about PISA for geezers.

Amber's Research Minute

OECD Skills Outlook 2013: First Results from the Survey of Adult Skills by OECD (OECD Publishing, 2013).

It’s not a radical statement to say that private school choice has been a success. Every serious study into the efficacy of vouchers and tax-credit scholarships has shown either positive or neutral benefits for students. Virtually no significant research has found that they have academically harmed children.

That makes the popular narrative about school choice all the more frustrating. It says vouchers have done little good because the students who take public money to private schools don’t outperform their peers left behind in school districts. The mainstream press has advanced this story line, asserting that the research literature on vouchers is “mixed.” The latest contribution to this comes from Politico, which concluded in a 1,600-word story this weekend that, as taxpayers prepare to direct $1 billion annually toward private school tuition, “there’s little evidence that the investment yields academic gains.”

Such a declaration, however, distorts the findings from multiple gold-standard and peer-reviewed studies, which are decidedly not mixed—if one’s definition of mixed means a combination of good and bad results. In that sense, the verdict on charter schools is mixed, but the judgment on vouchers is not.

The empirical record on vouchers reports either positive gains for scholarship...


Dear Deborah,

We've been writing about the democratic control of education (or the lack thereof), but let me shift the conversation back to the education of democratic citizens. I strongly agree with those who argue that our current fascination with “college and career readiness” overlooks a third, probably more important, c-word: citizenship. That's public education's raison d'etre, right? To prepare our young people to take their rightful place as voters, jurors, taxpayers, and leaders—to become “the people” that gives our government its legitimacy?

Many people are doing good work on this challenge; let me recommend that you check out the new group Citizenship First, for starters. (Here's a neat idea it is promoting: By 2026, every high school graduate should be able to pass the U.S. Naturalization Exam.)

But I want to put a related issue on the table that rarely gets discussed. It's the most basic requirement of citizenship, a responsibility that we "experts" often overlook in our quest for more ambitious goals: self-sufficiency.

Let me state it clearly: If we haven't prepared our young people to be financially self-sufficient once they finish their educations, we have failed in our most fundamental duty. And the "we" is meant to be inclusive: our education system, our social service agencies, our families, our churches, you, me, and all of us.

Yes, the poor we will always have among us. And there will be times—like these past five years—when the economic situation throws people out of work. We absolutely need a safety net for such contingencies (including food stamps).

But it ought to make us blush that at times of relatively "full" employment—such as we experienced for much of the 1990s and 2000s—we still had nearly one in five children growing up in poverty.

As you know from our discussions last spring, I've become increasingly interested in the issue of poverty. As a newcomer to the field, I come in with fresh eyes. I've been reading up on all of the classic books and studies, investigating all of the potential solutions that have been floated during the fifty-year War on Poverty. A few things are clear.

First, it's really, really bad to be born poor. Most children who are born poor will spend significant periods of their childhood poor, and only half will escape poverty by the time they are twenty-five. On the other hand, children who aren't born poor are very unlikely to experience long-term poverty as children or as adults.

Second, the reason the overwhelming majority of children are born poor is that they are born to young single mothers without much education or many job prospects. These mothers will struggle mightily to provide the kind of home environment that is necessary to help children get off to a good start in life and in school. To put it bluntly, they tend to be bad parents. (Not "bad" in a moral sense but “bad” as in “ineffective,” with their brains and energies literally maxed out with basic survival, it's easy to understand why.)

Nothing I've said so far is particularly newsworthy or controversial. Since our discussions last spring, the public discourse has been full of news articles and research studies pointing to the link between poverty, parental education levels, and family structure. How to spur social mobility has also been a major topic of debate.

And there seems to be something of a new consensus forming. As Derek Thompson of the Atlantic wrote last month, "There are two basic ways to improve the lot of children. The first tries to make bad parents less relevant. The second tries to make bad parents less bad." He places preschool and education reform in the first category. He puts home visits and parent trainings in the second. The latter, of course, are controversial: "Asking the government to support policies that send workers into private homes to teach parenting skills smacks of Big Brother—or, perhaps, Big Mother. But do we still have the luxury of rejecting solutions simply because they feel too direct?"

The bigger problem is that even these programs don't do enough. They help at the margins but they aren't breaking the cycle of poverty. So what might?

Let me float a third option: A renewed effort to encourage young, uneducated, unemployed women to delay childbearing until they are ready—emotionally, financially—to start a family. Let's promote a simple rule: Don't have babies until you can afford them. If everybody in America followed this rule, most long-term child poverty would disappear, and parenting would improve dramatically.

Again, this isn't a new idea. Social scientists have long known about the "success sequence": Finish your education, get a job, get married, start a family. Stick to that sequence and you avoid poverty, and so do your kids.

And allow me to be crystal clear: I'm not saying that some people shouldn't have children. I understand the evil history of eugenics and wholeheartedly reject that path. I am saying that people should wait until they are no longer poor before they start families—which will happen for just about anyone who follows the success sequence.


Over the summer, I read two fantastic books by Kathryn Edin (thanks to Dana Goldstein's recommendation): Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage and Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City.

Edin and her co-authors (Maria Kefalas for the first book and Timothy Nelson for the second) spent years living in low- and working-class Philadelphia and Camden neighborhoods, where they met and interviewed the young parents (white and black) who were their subjects. As works of social science, these studies are impressive; as works of storytelling, they are masterful. Like a favorite aunt, Edin strikes a loving, respectful tone toward these young moms and dads—but isn't afraid to call them on their BS, either.

What she and her colleagues find is that these kids (most of them in their teens and twenties) didn't try very hard not to get pregnant. It's not exactly that they had decided to start families at fifteen or eighteen or twenty-two. But they weren't opposed to the idea, either. So after they had "associated" with someone for a while, they stopped using birth control. And when (surprise!) pregnancy followed, most treated the news with excitement, rather than regret.

In many ways, it is impressive, even touching, that their respect for life is so strong. Families and community members enforced a clear moral standard: The "right" thing to do was to "take responsibility" for the child and raise it. To have an abortion or "give it away" would be taking the easy way out—and wrong.

So have the baby, and raise the baby, they did. But didn't they know they were signing their children—and themselves—up for a life of hardship? Didn't they understand that if they were going to "climb the mountain to college"—or even to a decent paying job—doing so as an uneducated teen with a baby in a stroller or snuggly was going to make the ascent that much tougher?

What Edin and her coauthors show is that both the young women and men see parenthood as a chance to "start over" and to do something good with their lives, as well as to connect deeply with another human being. "In these decaying, inner-city neighborhoods, motherhood is the primary vocation for young women, and those who strive to do it well are often transformed by the process," they write in Promises. Furthermore, "Children provide the one relationship poor women believe they can count on to last. Men may disappoint them. Friends may betray them. Even kin may withdraw from them. But they staunchly believe that little can destroy the bond between a mother and child."

Edin and Nelson pick up this theme in Doing the Best I Can: "Fatherhood offers the opportunity to connect with a child—an unsullied version of oneself—in an intensely meaningful way. But fatherhood is also a tool, almost a magic wand that youth...can use to neutralize the 'negativity' that surrounds them as they come of age in chaotic and violence-charged neighborhoods like East Camden."

Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, these hopeful attitudes eventually give way to the grinding reality of daily life. Because most of the romantic relationships between the parents were shallow to begin with, almost all had fallen apart within a few years. The dads desperately wanted to spend time with their kids—but not their kids' mothers—a situation that would eventually prove untenable. And so another generation of children was born into poverty, with single mothers doing most of the childcare and trying to make ends meet and fathers having additional babies with other women in a fruitless quest to "start fresh" and "do the right thing."


What to make of this? I can imagine that liberals read books like these and recommit themselves to building a stronger safety net. (This is the preference of Edin et al.) Let's pump some serious resources into home visits, child care, preschool, food stamps, K–12 education, tax credits, and all the rest, in the hope that the next generation of kids will be better prepared for "college and career"—and thus will see a reason to put off children until they are ready. After all, that's what motivates upper-middle-class teenagers to put off childbearing—the promise of the college years, the exciting career, the fun of the "roaring 20s" sans babies.

But it's hard for me to blame others who respond to this cycle of poverty story with outrage. "You're telling me that because these teenagers want to have a baby so as to 'feel loved' and 'start fresh,' I'm supposed to fork over my hard-earned tax dollars to feed their children, send them to daycare, pay for their preschool, and pay for their education? While I'm struggling to make ends meet myself? That I shouldn't be 'judgmental' about people who are happy to have the government raise their kids? This is CRAZY!"


So here's my question for you, Deborah, as the educator among us: Is there anything schools can to do to encourage their students to follow the "success sequence"? Did you talk about these issues with your Central Park East kids? Did you tell them about the importance of finishing their education and getting a job before starting a family? Do you think any of the "teenage-pregnancy prevention programs" are worth pursuing? (Some of them have impressive evidence of effectiveness.) Should we consider paying low-income individuals to put off child-rearing? Mayor Bloomberg is already experimenting with cash incentives to encourage all manner of positive behaviors. Maybe offer "25 by 25": All young men and women who graduate from high school, get a post-secondary credential, get a job, and avoid a pregnancy and a prison record get $25,000 in cash at the age of twenty-five. Is that worth trying?

Or is the best way for schools to tackle this issue simply to provide a top-grade education to their charges? To instill in them the "hope in the unseen" that they, too, can aspire to college, to a good career, to an early adulthood full of intellectual and social and emotional challenges and experiences, not to include parenthood (yet)?

I look forward to your advice.


This article originally appeared on the Bridging Differences blog, where Mike Petrilli is debating Deborah Meier.


As a Relinquisher, I’m weary of broad government mandates. I believe educators should run schools, parents should choose amongst these schools, and government should hold schools accountable for performance and equity.

So what to make of the Common Core—which will be the broadest combination of federal- or state-initiated regulatory overhaul that we’ve seen in decades?

Admittedly, it took me a while to sort through my competing impulses. But here’s the path I followed:

Skepticism: The research on standards

1.    There’s very little evidence that higher standards lead to higher achievement. As Tom Loveless notes, states with better standards do not show more growth on NAEP.

2.    There’s also a financial, political, and labor-opportunity cost to working on standards over other things more directly related to Relinquishment (charter expansion, human-capital pipelines, etc).

Pragmatic hope: The research, logic of assessments

1.    All states have standards, and experts seem to agree that the Common Core standards are better than most existing state standards—so if we’re going to have standards, we might as well make them higher quality.

2.    Why? Because I think this standards shift will include something that has not consistently happened under the NCLB standards shift: assessments will become more rigorous.

3.    Great standards can sit on shelves. Great assessments must be dealt with—and there is some evidence that increasing rigor of assessments in fourth-grade math and reading (by raising cut scores) is correlated to achievement gains. While causation is difficult to prove, this finding matches my experiences in working with schools. Effective educators know that assessment items define rigor, and they backward-map their lessons from these items.

4.    Time will tell if states stick to the more rigorous assessments—this will remain a political enterprise—but my bet is that the percentage of states with rigorous assessments will increase due to the Common Core.

Question: What about the market?

1.    Part of me remains interested in (a) getting rid of government standards and assessments, (b) giving everyone vouchers, and (c) letting the market work. The left can escape from the clutches of testing. The right can escape from the clutches of government intrusion. And the libertarians can escape from the clutches of government monopolies. A move towards common standards is not a step toward this vision.

2.    But if the above is tried, it will be tried at the state level. Most likely, it will be a red state that first adopts this model—and this state will likely have opted out of Common Core long before this experiment is underway. So I doubt Common Core is going to be the policy that prevents this experiment from occurring.

3.    Lastly, proponents of this vision need to be a little more humble; to my knowledge, a system like this has never delivered both performance and equity. While I’m not saying that it couldn’t, there is a lot of distance between here and there.

Another question: What about individualized learning?

1.    There’s a tension between individualized learning and annual Common Core assessments. If we really believe that students learn at different paces, should we be testing all children annually on the same material?

2.    I’m very open to moving toward a system that tests students every two to three years rather than annually. This can still provide for school-level accountability and would allow students more space for individualized learning paces between assessment cycles.

3.    I view Common Core as a slight but real hit against this model—as the new assessments may work to solidify a culture of annual testing.

More pragmatism: Lessons from New Orleans

1.    Conservatives who are against the Common Core would be wise to take note that the urban system (New Orleans) that most resembles a free-market system only exists because of accountability and standards.

2.    The New Orleans system came to being because Louisiana, sequentially, implemented a statewide accountability system, created a state-takeover mechanism to act on schools that fared poorly on this system, and utilized charter schools to replace these failing schools.

3.    In most other states, vouchers have followed the same path: Only students in failing schools are eligible for vouchers.

4.    In short, the legal, political, and moral justification for moving toward Relinquishment is a direct result of standards and accountability.

5.    This is worth remembering. For many (reasonable) people, the legitimacy of choice options such as charters and vouchers comes from the performance of these options on standardized tests—and not due to any philosophical views the role of government.

To sum up

Common Core is complicated. And it has some real downsides, such as the tension with individualized learning.

But, in the end, I support it for two reasons: (1) There is some evidence (and logic) that increasing the rigor of assessments will lead to increases in student achievement and (2) rigorous standards and accountability systems have been the bedrock of effective charter sectors.

Is Relinquishment compatible with broad government mandates? In this case, I think so.

Neerav Kingsland is CEO of New Schools for New Orleans.


The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), which gives public dollars to low-income students to escape low-performing schools for private schools of their choosing, has come under fire from the Department of Justice for “imped[ing] the desegregation processes” of two dozen school districts. Not so, says this new study in Education Next. In fact, the University of Arkansas authors find that the transfers resulting from the voucher program “overwhelmingly improve integration in the public schools students leave (the sending schools), bringing the racial composition of the schools closer to that of the broader communities in which they are located.” The government will eventually reopen, but here’s hoping that the DOJ lawsuit goes away permanently.

Reviewing the latest misguided barnburner by former Fordham trustee (and current rabble-rouser) Diane Ravitch, the Manhattan Institute’s Sol Stern has penned a scathing but fair rebuke. He points out that her newfound “educational romanticism”—characterized by her suggestion that all children read poetry and be freed from the demands of knowledge-rich curricula—does not just contradict her life’s work but is also terribly short-sighted, especially for low-income children: “If they’re not taught lots of content knowledge in the early grades,” Stern writes, “they’re doomed to fall further behind. They will never be able to read Walden or understand poetry.” He labels her bottomless blog a “propaganda hub for the national anti-corporate-reform coalition” with “all the subtlety of an Occupy Wall Street poster”; he faults her book for its “pie-in-the-sky” solutions; and he labels her career turn a tragedy. Sadly, we concur.

The debate continues over Amanda Ripley’s contention that America’s love of high school sports is partially to blame for the nation’s low academic achievement. On, academics Daniel Bowen and Collin Hitt delivered a strong rebuke, arguing that high-quality school-sponsored sports actually increase academic success—and they offer evidence to back their contention. For his part, Jay Greene dubbed Ripley’s idea “flim-flam”: If the fact that Finland and South Korea both have higher test scores and pay less attention to sports than we do serves as evidence that sports are to blame, one could just as easily make the case that those countries’ higher rates of fish consumption is the variable to target. While we value the central point of her book—that other countries may indeed focus more on learning than ours—it seems the sports example may be a red herring. So bring on the fish—and the football.

Bill de Blasio, the Democratic candidate for mayor of New York City, has made his distaste for charter schools abundantly clear. As outlined in this Wall Street Journal piece, he has stated on numerous occasions his intent to toss out Mayor Bloomberg’s policy of giving charters free space in city buildings. Marc Sternberg, a deputy chancellor of the city’s Department of Education, and soon-to-be director of the Walton Family Foundation’s K–12 Systemic Education Reform focus area, called de Blasio’s tack “beyond regressive”: “This is the best of public education, and we welcome them into buildings that are as much theirs as they are ours.” Exactly.

This week’s contender for Most Cringe-Worthy News: In Michigan, Wednesday was “count day”—the day when a district’s school-attendance rolls will determine 90 percent of its state funding (the other 10 percent is determined by a second, less important count day in February). The infamously cash-strapped Detroit public school system resorted to bribing students to come to school, offering special barbeque lunches, popcorn, pony rides, raffles, and more. While we are sure the kids had fun, this is certainly not an acceptable school-finance system.

The University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has emerged as the leading voice of reason on the vexing overlap between charter school policy and special education policy. In this new report, CRPE turned to Manhattan Institute scholar Marcus Winters to examine data from New York’s charter and traditional public schools to help explain why it is that charters enroll fewer special-education (SpEd) students. Just as CRPE previously argued, diagnosing and addressing this gap (around 4 percent, according to earlier estimates) requires nuance—and New York State lawmakers made a serious mistake by rushing enrollment quotas into law three years ago. Winters examined students in Kindergarten through third grade from the 2008–09 to 2011–12 academic years, targeting twenty-five charter elementary schools that participated in enrollment lotteries in order to compare lottery winners and losers. He emerged with four key findings. First, the primary driver of the SpEd gap is the type of student who applies to attend a charter in Kindergarten: Those with autism and speech impairments were less likely to apply to charter schools in the first place. And though this study cannot tell us why, it tells us that parents of SpEd students switch schools a lot until they find the right fit for their child. Second, charters are less likely to indicate that students need SpEd services, and they’re more likely to declassify students who are “special needs”; specifically, students in charters are more likely to have their Individualized Education Program (IEP) classification removed by Year 4 than those in traditional schools. (Since these are schools of choice, one must assume that parents agree with shedding these labels.) Third, more students in general education are leaving districts for charter schools, which has the effect of skewing the SpEd percentages in each sector—in short, more SpEd students are staying in school districts, and more general-education students are enrolling in charters. And fourth, the growth in the SpEd gap over time occurs almost exclusively in the category of “specific learning disability”—which is arguably the most subjective category. As a whole, these data indicate that charters are not rejecting or pushing out SpEd students; indeed, they lead us to wonder if enrollment quotas will, in the end, force charters to label kids unnecessarily. New York ought to reconsider its ill-informed law—and other states considering a similar policy should take heed.

Marcus Winters, Why the Gap? Special Education and New York City Charter Schools (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, September 2013).

As part of the AEI Teacher Quality 2.0 series, the authors of this paper take on the delicate issue of school-staffing design. In the first two pages, they rip apart arguments others have spent years carefully constructing: Teacher pay may be too low, but, they counter, across-the-board raises are impossibly expensive for even profligate spenders ($16 billion per year, or roughly the entire Title I budget for just a $5,000 per teacher raise, according to their calculations). Professional development is also important, but won’t do much good when teachers have so little adult interaction and feedback. And of course we want able, motivated individuals to enter the profession, but they leave quickly when they find no pathway to advance professionally as they could and would in other lines of work. So what’s the alternative? The authors offer up several staffing models that have in common a reduction in the number of teachers—who, in today’s standard model, are chiefly responsible for two-dozen or so students at a time. Since the 1970s, they remind us, the number of staff in our schools has increased by 84 percent, while the number of students has only increased at least a tenth of that rate. Instead, the paper calls for giving top teachers more students or oversight over multiple classrooms, allowing those in the primary grades to specialize by subject, employ blended learning, or even teach remotely. Touchstone Charter Schools in New Jersey, for example, created a teacher career ladder by allowing “master teachers” to oversee and support other teachers, as well as students who are learning at their own pace. Such proposals would create opportunities for many more pupils to be taught by higher-quality, better-paid teachers using the same dollars we already spend. Moreover, it would elevate the work of experienced educators and attract highly motivated talent with the promise of higher pay, more rewarding work, and the ability to be promoted into different and more fulfilling roles without having to leave the classroom. There would certainly be resistance, for each of these models questions fundamental assumptions about the way our schools have “always” been; for these ideas to work, reformers need to shift the public conversation away from the union-backed idea that class size is all that matters. But the potential upside of these new ideas—more students taught by outstanding instructors—is worth the fight.

Bryan C. Hassel, Emily Ayscue Hassel, and Sharon Kebschull Barrett, “Staffing Design: The Missing Key to Teacher Quality 2.0,” prepared for the American Enterprise Institute conference, “Teacher Quality 2.0: Will today’s reform hold back tomorrow’s schools?” (September 12, 2013).

In this week’s podcast, Mike and Michelle debate whether to teach family planning in schools, whether an extreme love of sports hinders academic achievement, and whether Michigan’s “count day” is a great way to distribute state education dollars (hint: it’s not). Amber asks us not to mind the charter-district SPED gap.

The Common Core State Standards will soon be driving instruction in forty-five states and the District of Columbia.

While the standards are high quality, getting their implementation right is a real challenge—and it won't be free, a serious concern given the tight budgets of many districts and states.
But while critics have warned of a hefty price tag, the reality is more complicated.

Yes, some states may end up spending a lot of money. But there are also opportunities for significant savings if states, districts and schools use this occasion to rethink their approach to test administration, instructional materials and training for teachers. The key is that states have options, and implementation doesn't need to look (or cost) the same everywhere.

States could approach implementation in myriad ways. Here are three:

• One, stick to "Business as usual" and use traditional tools like textbooks, paper tests, and in-person training. These tools are very familiar in today's education system, but they can come with reasonably high price tags.
• Two, go with only the "bare bones" of what's necessary: Experiment with open-source materials, computerized assessments, and online professional development in ways that provide the bare bones of more traditional, in-person approaches. This could save major coin, but could require more technology investment and capacity for some states.
• Or, three, find a middle ground through "balanced implementation" of both strategies, which offers some of the benefits—and downsides—of each model.

But how much money are we talking? Take Florida: 

If Florida sticks to business as usual, it could spend $780 million implementing the Common Core. Under the bare bones approach, the tab could be only $183 million. A blend of the two? $318 million.

But that's the total cost; don't forget states are already spending billions of dollars each year on textbooks, tests, curricula, and other expenses. Look at it that way and the sticker shock wears off: The estimated net cost of putting the Common Core in place in the Sunshine State, for example, ranges from $530 million to roughly $67 million less than what we estimate that they are spending now. 

Each implementation approach has its merits—and drawbacks—but states and districts do have options for smartly adopting the Common Core without breaking the bank. Further, they could use this opportunity to create efficiencies via cross-state collaborations and other innovations.

To learn more, download "Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?"

The University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) has emerged as the leading voice of reason on the vexing overlap between charter school policy and special education policy. In this new report, CRPE turned to Manhattan Institute scholar Marcus Winters to examine data from New York’s charter and traditional public schools to help explain why it is that charters enroll fewer special-education (SpEd) students. Just as CRPE previously argued, diagnosing and addressing this gap (around 4 percent, according to earlier estimates) requires nuance—and New York State lawmakers made a serious mistake by rushing enrollment quotas into law three years ago. Winters examined students in Kindergarten through third grade from the 2008–09 to 2011–12 academic years, targeting twenty-five charter elementary schools that participated in enrollment lotteries in order to compare lottery winners and losers. He emerged with four key findings. First, the primary driver of the SpEd gap is the type of student who applies to attend a charter in Kindergarten: Those with autism and speech impairments were less likely to apply to charter schools in the first place. And though this study cannot tell us why, it tells us that parents of SpEd students switch schools a...