Curriculum & Instruction

Will the move toward virtual and “blended learning” schools in American education repeat the mistakes of the charter-school movement, or will it learn from them?

Try this thought experiment: How much more successful might U.S. charter schools look today if, at the beginning of the charter movement two decades ago, proponents had spent the time and effort to consider what policies and supports would be needed to ensure its quality, freedom, rules and resources over the long term? What mistakes might have been avoided? Damaging scandals forestalled? Missed opportunities seized?

We can’t go back in time for charters but we can be smarter about the next major phase of education reform and innovation: taking high-quality virtual and blended schools to scale—and to educational success. To this end, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, with the support of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, has commissioned five deep-thought papers that, together, address the thorniest policy issues surrounding digital learning. The goal is to boost the prospects for successful online learning (both substantively and politically) over the long run.

In "School Finance in the Digital-Learning Era", Paul T. Hill zeroes in on the policy area most in need of reform if digital...

To improve student learning in Ohio, and in other states, we need to improve the quality of our teaching force. Statistics don’t lie when it comes to the impact of teachers on children’s learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has observed that “having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background.” Yet, according to a new report by the National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and US News and World Report too many of our new teachers enter the classroom unprepared. 

Over a century ago, Abraham Flexner provided a withering critique of the nation’s medical schools, which led to a transformation of a sub-standard system of doctor preparation into preparation programs that would become models of quality for the rest of the world. NCTQ wants to do the same thing for teacher preparation that Flexner did for medical training back in 1910.

Toward that end, NCTQ and US News and World Report have issued their Teacher Prep Review. The Review provides data on the 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained new teachers. Forty-six institutions in Ohio were included in the Review. The findings...

The performance of America's top students was a hot topic on Wisconsin's WSAU radio this morning, as Mike appeared to discuss the findings of Fordham's recent High Flyers study.? A key question was why tracking based on ability is common in other countries and other aspects of American schooling, but rare in classrooms. As Mike explains,

We still do this in math. We understand that if a kid is ready for calculus, it doesn't make sense to put that kid in algebra. But we don't have the same attitude when it comes to English, or when it comes to history, or when it comes to science.? We have this idea instead that everybody should be together. You know, look at our sports: In a high school, if you are one of the best players in the school you play varsity. If you're not, you play JV. You know, we're not afraid to have tracking when it comes to sports, when it comes to music, but when it comes to academics, for some reason that's different.

Listen here for more:


Amber Winkler, Fordham's VP for Research, recently traveled China as a Senior Fellow with the Global Education Policy Fellowship Program (GEPFP). She'll be passing along her observations on education in the People's Republic with periodic ?Postcards from China.?

I've now had the opportunity to sit and peek in several schools and classrooms in Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi'an. I knew upfront that the Chinese were only going to show us what they wanted us to see--and that's proven true. In all three cities, we visited some of the best public and private schools they had to offer. Naturally, our study group is left wondering what education looks like for rural children outside the city borders and for "migrant" youngsters within city limits.? We'll keep wondering.

Still, I have a feeling that what I witnessed in these top-tier classrooms, specifically in terms of student and teacher behaviors, is rather typical of China as a whole.? These private and public institutions--a mixture of elementary, middle, and high school grades--shared some common characteristics, most of which Western educators have heard before about Chinese education. I'll expound on two.

First, Chinese teaching is dominated by direct instruction. Mostly...

Last night was fun for the kids, but today is every education wonk's favorite holiday: NAEP release day! Kevin Carey is already out with some savvy analysis; let me add some thoughts on the trends in reading.

The big news is that we finally eked out some statistically significant progress in 8th-grade reading. This goal has eluded us before, and has led commentators such as E.D. Hirsch to note that we're not doing enough to build kids' content knowledge and vocabulary. Initiatives like Reading First might have helped our youngsters to decode, goes the argument, but that's not enough to create strong readers, especially as kids get older.

That's still true, I think, but the NAEP results might indicate that those decoding skills are nothing to scoff at. The middle schoolers who took the NAEP last spring were in first grade in 2004--the heyday of Reading First implementation. It's possible that scientifically-based reading instruction got them off to a better start as readers, and that head-start has been maintained through elementary and middle school. I can't prove it (it's NAEP--no one can prove anything!) but it's a hypothesis worth exploring. Furthermore, the 8th graders who made the...

This national survey of education school professors finds that, even as the U.S. grows more practical and demanding when it comes to K-12 education, most of the professoriate simply isn't there. They see themselves more as philosophers and agents of social change, not as master craftsmen sharing tradecraft. They also resist some promising reforms such as tying teacher pay to student test scores. Still, education professors are reform-minded in some areas, including tougher policies for awarding tenure to teachers and financial incentives for those who teach in tough neighborhoods. Read on to find out more.

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The Education Gadfly

[pullquote]"I got to tell you, the only viable political strategy for getting broad-based support of school reform on that premise is to get those middle-class parents drunk.? -AEI's Rick Hess[/pullquote]We wrap up coverage of Monday's panel discussion, ?The Other Achievement Gap,? with a peek at some of the more entertaining debate between the American Enterprise Institute's Rick Hess and the Center for American Progress' Ulrich Boser.? At issue is whether America is overly focused on the Achievement Gap?and if so, whether that leads to poor policy. ?Below is a short clip, which we hope convinces you to?watch the whole discussion.

-The Education Gadfly

Guest Blogger

The left-leaning Think Tank Review Project reviews virtually every analytic report that Fordham publishes—and they have yet to find one that they like. So it is completely unsurprising that they issued an unfavorable review last week of our report Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Typically, we don't engage with them since it is clear that their ideology is at least as important to how they view Fordham's work as is our work itself.  But after having read their review, we and the Kingsbury Center, who we contracted to conduct the study, wanted to clarify three issues that were off base in Dr. Jaekyung Lee's review.

1)      First, ours was a descriptive study, seeking to catalog the degree to which early high achievers are losing their way.  Mr. Lee described our method as a “black-box approach that assumes a link between its findings and NCLB-related policies”.  Yet nowhere in the report (including the Fordham-penned Foreword) do we claim that the growth patterns observed among high achievers were the direct result of NCLB.  Rather, we acknowledged that many factors could partially explain these disturbing numbers.

2)      Second, Mr. Lee took issue with particular...

Guest Blogger

In this guest blog post, the team at? K5 Learning delves further into the data from the Fordham Institute's recent study Do High Flyers Maintain their Altitude? K5 Learning offers an online reading and math program for K-5 kids and urges parents to be pro-active in their children's education.

New data tells us that students who are not performing well above average in reading and math by grade 3 are highly unlikely to ever become academic high achievers.

Last month the Fordham Institute released Do High Flyers Maintain their Altitude?,? an examination of the performance of high achieving students (those scoring in the top 10 percentile on widely written standardized tests).? K5 Learning has reviewed the Fordham data to analyze those students who were not high achievers when first tested in grade 3.? The results are a wake-up call for every parent of young children.

Grade 3, and the academic ship has sailed

In this massive study of tens of thousands students, children who performed in the bottom 1/3 in reading or math in...

The Education Gadfly

Listen live this evening at 5:35 p.m. EST as Mike Petrilli appears on San Diego talk radio to discuss the implications of Fordham's recent report Do High Flyers Maintain Their Altitude? Performance Trends of Top Students. International competitiveness, gifted education, and the demise of tracking will all be on the table in what promises to be a lively discussion.

For those in D.C. interested in the plight of high achieving students, be sure to register for The Other Achievement Gap, a panel discussion on October 17th that brings top experts together to break down their latest research and work on the issue.? Chester E. Finn, Jr. will moderate a conversation you won't want to miss.? If you can't make it in person, you will be able stream the whole event live online on our website....